What is a meal plan?
A meal plan is a plan of eating that is specifically tailored to the individual. If you are struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, it can be extremely helpful to meet with a registered dietician who specializes in working with individuals having this expertise in recovery from eating disorders. The dietician will work with you to come up with a meal plan that is realistic for you, tailored to your nutritional needs and takes into account where you are in your recovery and how much change you can tolerate. Meal plans are a process and often change throughout recovery.
Will a meal plan make me “fat”?
This is a common fear. But rest assured, as a registered dietician that works exclusively with eating disordered clients, the goal is never to prescribe a meal plan that will make someone “fat”. For someone that does not need to gain weight, they will be prescribed a weight maintenance meal plan that will help them to maintain a healthy weight. If someone is underweight, they will most likely create a meal plan that promotes appropriate weight gain, in order to reach a goal weight where their body is healthy. What is often not realized is that we do not just need calories for energy – to do our external daily activities like walking to class or cleaning our dorm room. We also need energy for our heart, liver, brain, muscle, lungs, and kidneys (to name a few) to function properly.
If I try foods I have previously restricted, I am afraid that I’ll keep eating and eating, feel out of control, and never be able to stop. Is this likely to happen?
Oftentimes, when certain foods are restricted from a person’s diet, these foods start to get more credit than is due! It is important to give yourself permission to challenge your fears by trying different foods in a proportion that feels comfortable on a regular basis. Some find it helpful to eat these foods in the company of others. The more that you allow yourself to have a portion of that food, the less alluring it may become. This often results in a decreased desire for you, and the less likely you will be to overeat or binge on this particular food. Remember that it will take time to adjust to allowing for these foods in your diet. Therefore, if you find that you over eat them initially, do not give up! In continuing to give yourself permission to try these foods, they will no longer feel as “scary”, and you will find that you can enjoy them in a proportion that feels comfortable to you, without having to give it too much thought or effort. If they continue to be difficult to eat in moderation, then you may decide with your nutritionist to avoid them.
It really scares me to have someone tell me what to eat. What if my dietician is wrong about what I need?
Initially, it will be a challenge to trust in another person telling you what to eat, when you have been over-thinking and trying to control what you have put in your mouth for a long period of time. A dietician will meet you where you are at with the food, and gradually challenge you to increase your quantity and variety with a meal plan that works for you.
I’ve heard people talk about intuitive eating. I can’t seem to do that – what is wrong with me?
Intuitive eating is about listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues and eating mindfully. If you are struggling with this, know that it is not an easy thing to do! Some individuals with disordered eating have lost touch with their ability to listen to their bodies for what is needed. This is when a meal plan can really come in handy. In having a meal plan to follow with the quantity of food that is needed, it leaves less for you to try and figure out on your own. It can really be quite freeing.
How does a meal plan work in terms of getting to my goal weight or healthy weight? What is that? What if I am not happy with this predetermined weight?
Your goal weight is a weight at which your body will be getting in enough nutrients and energy to allow your body to function at its maximum potential. It will be determined by specific equations as well as your weight history. Once your healthy weight has been determined, the amount of energy (or calories) that your body will need to gradually get to that weight will be calculated. If you are under your goal weight, the meal plan will help you get to your ideal weight over time, not all at once. If you are of a healthy weight, the meal plan can be used as a guideline to keep you within a healthy weight range until you begin to feel comfortable with the process of intuitive eating.
Alison Forte, RD