Please keep in mind that you never need to recover from an eating disorder alone. Many people benefit from additional support after treatment, or during their transition back to home meals, so in those cases, we would recommend continued support from a dietitian. Our team at Within has also created a care program which meets you virtually at home, or wherever you need eating disorder care. You are never alone.
Benefits of meal planning
One of the main goals of eating disorder recovery is to re-establish regular eating patterns. Usually this is established by an individualized meal plan created by you and your eating disorder treatment team. A goal of treatment for some people could be to eventually get to intuitive eating, and research shows that structured eating and meal planning is an effective way to fulfill this goal. (1)
Other benefits of meal planning include:
- Planning meals ahead of time can decrease the number of grocery trips necessary, which can reduce anxiety.
- Meal planning can save you money and time.
- It can give you a sense of control, which can reduce the risk of returning to disordered eating behaviors.
- Creating a list can ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed by your options.
- Meal planning can reduce the amount of time you spend at the grocery store.
- Planning meals for the week helps you manage your expectations about what types of food you’ll be eating so you can emotionally and mentally prepare.
- The structure of meal planning can decrease anxiety and stress.
- Meal planning can ensure you eat a nutritious and balanced variety of foods.
- Meal planning can prevent “decision fatigue,” which occurs when you have to make too many decisions.
- Meal planning reduces food waste.
Strategies for meal planning during eating disorder recovery
Even if you’ve never planned meals before, it’s never too late to learn. Here are ten tips to help you get started with meal planning and meal prep:
- Set a schedule for when you will go grocery shopping—typically, once a week is adequate for the majority of your planned meals.
- Make a grocery list ahead of time so that you can focus on what you need to get and avoid becoming overwhelmed
- Ensure your shopping list includes all of the ingredients you need for each meal or all of the pre-made foods you can assemble for your meal.
- Plan two or three options for meals you can rotate but still have variety and don’t get sick of the same thing.
- Make sure to include snacks in your meal plan.
- If you are pressed for time or know that you’ll be too tired or busy to cook, plan for premade meals from the grocery store.
- If you plan to go out to eat with friends or family, you can try to take a look at the menu ahead of time
- Remember to be flexible and give yourself permission to change your mind or plan a spontaneous outing.
- Choose foods you associate with positive food memories.
- If you are recovering from anorexia, you may find choosing nutrient-dense foods helpful if you are struggling with reaching meal plan goals.
Having some go-to foods that are nutritious and nutrient-dense can be a great starting point for you. This is especially true if you are struggling to return to eating normal portions. Here are some great nutrient-dense foods:
- Oily fish
- Baked beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Greek whole milk yogurt
- Smoothies or shakes
Strategies for meal planning for caregivers
Caregivers and families may find cooking and meal planning for their loved one in recovery stressful or overwhelming, but supporting your loved one doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing. Here are some tips for caregivers who are preparing or helping prepare meals for someone in eating disorder recovery:
- Have several options for planning breakfasts so you can offer variety.
- Think about how your loved one can achieve nutrition goals for the week. Writing ideas down may be helpful for you or them, but don’t spend too much time thinking about things says in advance
- Set aside time each week to plan the coming week’s meals.
- Plan family dinners on a weekly basis, choosing meals that can be adjusted based on people’s preferences (such as salads, pasta dishes, and tacos).
- Make sure to factor in snacks to your meal planning and grocery shopping for the week.
- Keep your child or loved one’s recovery goals in mind (if they need to gain weight, plan some energy-dense or nutrient-dense meals).
- Make sure to communicate with your child’s eating disorder treatment team, especially if you have questions or need guidance.
- Include your child in the meal planning, if advised by their provider.
- You may also want to talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist about your meal plans to make sure that your child is getting the balanced, nutritious meals they need.
Getting help from a registered dietitian
If you are finding meal planning challenging, you can always seek out assistance from a registered dietitian who can help:
- Monitor your weight
- Create a menu that considers your personal needs and preferences and helps you achieve your goals
- Educate you about your nutrition needs
- Teach you how to recognize your body’s hunger and satiety cues so you can learn and practice intuitive eating
Your dietitian can teach you the skills you need so that you can continue engaging in meal planning, no matter where you are in your recovery journey.