Today our Nutritional Therapist, Marissa-Catherine Carrarini is answering our most frequently asked questions about meal plans and their place within the recovery journey as an eating disorder sufferer…
What is a Meal Plan?
A meal plan is a timetable of eating times with specific meals and snacks for each given time. It can be very detailed and include some measurements and liquids or it can be quite vague – allowing you to be more independent.
The Benefits of Having a Meal Plan
To someone in the throws of an eating disorder, a meal plan can offer vital support and guidance. It can help you to try and get adequate nutrition or make up for nutritional deficiencies. It can also be useful when you would otherwise feel very overwhelmed. Plus it can be a teaching tool – showing you a more helpful way to eat and portion.
Using Meal Plans in Eating Disorder Treatment
At The Recover Clinic, we believe it is vital to make bespoke meal plans for each individual client – with the client 100% involved in the choices.
Generally meal plans are used at the beginning of treatment when clients feel better having this support. If a client is feeling “restricted” by the meal plan, that’s a sign to move away from it.
Sticking to a Meal Plan in Eating Disorder Recovery
At first, meal plans can feel overwhelming. They usually contain more food than you feel safe eating or contain difficult foods to eat. Yet, when it comes to tackling the food plan, we never expect A* grades. Instead we value trying. And trying again. We ask clients to ask for support from those who are going to be helpful – this may (or may not) be a family member or friend. It should not be their children or any one who struggles with their own boundaries or has an unwell relationship with food. Meal plan supporters should not be punitive, critical or judgemental. Meal plan supporters are not in charge. They are there for kindness and gentle prompting.
If you do not stick to your meal plan, there is always the next day. It is not ideal but it is not a failure. Keep persevering. Success does not depend on each individual meal but about the hard work and the effort to get better as a whole.
On the flip side, you may feel very negatively (guilty) by actually sticking to your meal plan. If this happens, it is best to voice it and to always use self-care tools such a listening to music (do you need loud or quiet music?) or having a cry or talking to someone.
Moving Away from Meal Plans
We encourage clients to be curious and carefree with their food. We encourage risks and we aim for each individual client’s food to reflect their individual food personality. Meal plans cannot offer this.
When you are ready, we will work towards you eating beyond the meal plan. We encourage you to challenge the meal plan yourself e.g. to eat at different times, to have bigger or smaller portions than those recommended by the plan, to not compensate, to eat foods at “wrong” times of the day, to eat “dinner for lunch”, to not base a food choice based on what else was eaten or not eaten in the day.
Intuitive Eating – Going ‘Meal Plan Free’
No eating-disordered-free person eats according to a plan or to a set of rules. Moving from a meal plan to no meal plan is challenging, but vital for whole recovery. So while meal plans are a safe and supportive necessity at the beginning of treatment – long term they can stifle recovery. Like many things in recovery, they have their place and their value but for true fluent recovery then also have their end.