When I meet a client recovering from chronic dieting who wants to learn about and practice intuitive eating, they are usually weary of strict rules and guidelines but fearful of NO structure whatsoever.
Most people tell me that they have followed various food rules for so long, their brain feels inundated with contradictory, confusing nutrition information – and that even trying to practice intuitive eating without more structure feels impossible.
They ask me how they’re supposed to eat “intuitively,” or “mindfully” as some people call it, when staring at the fridge or going to the market still feels so scary.
When so much of the current mainstream rhetoric around meal plans, recipes, and food is coded with moralized language and focused on the “health” benefits of this, that, and the other, we must be careful with potentially triggering language around what is helpful to eat at this early stage of recovery from chronic dieting.
This is the point where a meal plan or meal pattern of eating can be very helpful.
Today I want to share some tips with you on how meal plans or meal patterns can help, by giving you some structure instead of strict rules.
Help! I want to stop dieting, but I don’t know what to eat! Will a meal plan help me?
When I’m asked this question, my answer is most likely yes, but it depends on a couple of factors.
A meal plan acts like a safety net or cast for a broken “hunger and fullness meter.” It is like training wheels for the not-yet intuitive eater.
A dieter will eventually discover their own internal measures of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, but often need some guidance around this.
A meal plan can be helpful to the person who has lost touch with the basic tenets of a balanced plate.
Through years of chronic dieting, restricting, bingeing, or any behavior that disconnects the body from the brain, a meal plan can serve as a bridge from disordered – to “ordered” – eating. Letting go of diets and food restriction can be both a liberating and scary feeling at the same time.
To start the process of letting go of diets, I often recommend a “beginner” meal plan/meal pattern consisting of 3 balanced meals and 2-3 snacks consumed throughout the day.
Let’s look at what a beginner meal plan / meal pattern would look like.
Eat Meals & Snacks at Regular Intervals
Consistency is very important when it comes to feeling better in your body and creating new, sustainable habits. When you “biologically” fuel your body, you’ll be able to recognize and manage your needs more readily. You might notice that it feels easier to “decide” what you feel like eating, and how much food your body needs, rather than relying on an outside source, like a diet!
Meals and snacks that combine protein, fats and carbohydrates, will keep your engine (metabolism) revving. However, remember that you will be relearning “how” to eat and experimenting with a variety of combinations, and meal timings can help you find the intuitive eater that has been lost to years of dieting, or restricting and binge eating!
With intuitive eating, you will start listening to your body to have portion(s) that feel satisfying, but don’t stuff you.
You may find yourself having some difficulty in the beginning, but that’s okay! This is how we learn – with practice and lots of patience. You might want to use a hunger-fullness scale to start paying attention to how the foods make you feel.
(You can download a copy of a hunger fullness scale here to print and use for yourself.)
Meal Plan And Snack Ideas
Let’s look at some general guidelines and potential options/ideas for each meal and snack of the day. Experiment to see what type of food you feel like having – heavy or light, hot or cold, salty, sweet or savory.
*Note 1: Please remember that these are just ideas and an important goal of intuitive eating is to treat all foods as equal. This means there are no “good” or “bad” foods. We learn which food(s) feel good to our body over time. If you have a specific health or medical condition requiring modification of your diet, some individual guidance is always a good idea.
*Note 2: Please enjoy and celebrate your own, unique background and cultural heritage with foods...They make us who we are and connect us with our past.
Breakfast Meal Ideas:
After an overnight fast of anywhere from 6-8 (even 12) hours, your body likes fuel to start your engine (metabolism). A reasonable goal is to have breakfast within a few hours of waking and at around the same time each day.
- Eggs, toasted bread with butter or other spread, fruit or juice
- **Pancakes with syrup, glass of milk, fruit
- Waffle(s) with nut butter and honey, yogurt
- Hot cereal like oatmeal, or cold cereal with milk or milk substitute and fruit or juice
- Avocado on toast
- Fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt
- Bagel with cream cheese, milk or yogurt, fruit
Lunch Meal Ideas:
- Egg salad on roll with lettuce, tomato, fresh fruit, chocolate chip cookie
- Spaghetti and meatballs, salad with dressing, oatmeal cookie
- Mixed salad with protein source like poultry, tofu and/or beans with salad dressing, roll with butter
- **Grilled cheese sandwich and soup, chips
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana, milk or milk substitute
- Bean burrito and chips with guacamole, fruit sorbet
- Macaroni and cheese, cut up raw veggies and dip
Dinner Meal Ideas:
- Chicken quesadillas topped with cheese and broccoli
- Stir-fried tofu or beef with vegetables, rice (or grain like millet/bulgur/barley), milk or milk substitute
- **Stuffed Peppers
- Vegetable lasagna with garlic bread and green beans
- Saag Paneer
Having between meal snacks are an important part of learning to listen to, and honor your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. In general, snacks can help prevent blood sugar levels from dropping between meals and allow your body to help anticipate food at regular intervals.
- Nuts or yogurt and fruit
- Cheese and crackers
- **Hummus and pretzels
- Muffin with milk
- Bean soup and buttered roll
- Apple or banana with peanut or almond butter
- Ice cream or pudding
If you find yourself craving food soon after a meal or snack, see if you can check in with yourself:
- Am I truly (biologically) hungry?
- Did I eat enough at the meal or snack?
- Did I exercise more than usual?
- Is there another kind of hunger I have such as filling an emotional void?
- Ask yourself, “Am I hungry? Bored? Sad?”
- What can you do to find comfort somewhere else?
These are just some introductory ideas to get you started on the path of intuitive eating and away from strict diet plans. Please remember that the idea is to start noticing how you are feeling in your body with the variety of different foods you will be trying.
Remember, if you have some of your cultural foods that you love to eat, you do NOT have to restrict yourself from these. Be sure to read this article, 5 Tips for Enjoying Your Cultural Foods.
If you feel that you need more guidance along the way of letting go of diets, contact Erica for a free 15-minute consultation.
Diana Ushay (one of our Dietitians at Erica Leon Nutrition) and I have teamed up to write a Cookbook and Recipes for Recovery and the meal and snack items above noted with the *** are all in this new cookbook. See below to purchase your copy now!
When you are recovering from chaotic or disordered eating or eating disorders, planning for your success is critical to your recovery. Flexible meal planning, as well as experimentation with different meals and snacks, is one of the top methods my clients work on to heal and recover; learning to view food as a path to nourishment, pleasure, and connection rather than one of stress!
My colleague and fellow dietitian, Diana Ushay, and I created the Recipes for Recovery Cookbook to help you challenge the eating disorder voice and take back control of your life. Recipes for Recovery is a cookbook to inspire you to try new flavors, to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and find satisfaction with your food.
Following the Recipes for Recovery Cookbook will help you:
- Reconnect with positive eating experiences you had before the eating disorder
- Explore new flavors, colors, textures and aromas that connect your senses
- Experiment with previously forbidden foods that bring awareness to the present moment
- Challenge and let go of food restrictions and rigid rules to rekindle a healthy and fulfilling pattern of eating
- See success as you continue to discover food freedom
Are you ready to move forward on your Recovery Journey with more food freedom?
Click here to purchase your Recipes for Recovery Cookbook now!
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
Download our Free Intuitive Eating Guide and get off that Diet Roller Coaster for good!