I personally believe meal plans are one of the most important tools in recovery from any eating disorder. They’ve helped me to establish new rules and routines for myself and have taken some of the choice anxiety out of daily food decisions. My meal plans have been worked out for me personally by the dietetics team at my EDU so aren’t going to be suitable for everyone. Most are weight gain plans, but now I’m just trying to maintain, maybe gain a little if it happens. The weight gain ones are kind of high calorie, though it does get easier to eat that much food so it doesn’t feel too bad. Now though, it’s just kinda seeing what happens.
I’m finally trying to maintain, which means a lot less meal plan business really. Obviously, this is only a good plan if you’re at a healthy weight, which the dietitian has decided I am now, but it isn’t suitable for anyone who’s underweight. I still follow a structure and find it hard to eat without a routine. When I stray from my routine too much, I often end up going way too long without eating, then getting really hungry and eating a lot to catch up later. This sounds normal and most of the time it is, but sometimes I end up going like eight hours without food to the point where I end up feeling exhausted, sick, irritable and dizzy. I’m getting better though. And I’m getting better at eating kinda the right amount of food without having to really try. I’m aiming for around 2,200, but my team want me to stay away from calories now so I am as much as I can. It’s not intuitive eating, but it’s closer now. I don’t measure anything anymore which is really, really good. I still have breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack which works well for me, though I’m able to work out my hunger a bit so sometimes add/subtract throughout the day to end up at roughly the same. After following all the other plans, this is kinda daunting, but it’s actually not so hard or too bad. I couldn’t have done this from the start, but I’ve worked at it and got there and it’s a lot less stress than it has been previously.
Because there isn’t really a plan, I’ll just give an example. Like today, I’ve had…
A big bowl of muesli with unsweetened soy milk and a handful of blueberries with a black coffee.
Today, just an apple or something, but if I’m hungry I’ll have a cereal bar as well.
Hummus and salad sandwich with crisps , salad and dressing. If I’ve got leftovers, I might have them instead. I usually have dessert of yogurt with fruit as well.
This can be anything. Today I had a skinny almond latte, a marzipan chocolate and a bowl of all-bran with a handful of dates.
Protein, carb, veggies and fat as per. Today I had salmon fillet with new potatoes and salad with mango, chilli and lime dressing. It was really good. I had a cherry bakewell muller corner for dessert too.
Mostly, I have a bowl of cereal, but if its days like today when I’ve already had two bowls, I’ll have something else. Today it was a carrot and pineapple muffin with walnuts, oats and mixed seeds in from Waitrose as I did a grocery shop.
I’m also paying special attention to varying up my foods a little. I get stuck eating the same, safe things over and over and although that’s fine for physical health, it’s less good for me mentally. Plus a lack of variety in the diet is one of the factors that makes future relapse more likely, and I’m trying to avoid that obviously. One of the ways I’m doing this is through planning my dinners a little better, especially my protein sauces. Everything else kinda comes together after the protein is picked. I’m most comfortable with (and really enjoy) vegan foods, but seeing as I’m not vegan and actually like meat, I’m actively trying to eat incorporate it into my diet more. Each week, I try to have two veggie dinners with pulses or something for protein (though never fake meat. If I want meat, have meat), two fish dinners (making sure at least one is oily fish), two dinners with red meat (especially as lamb and venison are my favorites and I tend to avoid them more than beef, so if I don’t make the effort to eat red meat, I don’t eat food I like) and one poultry dinner. I know that’s a bit long and a bit obsessive, but otherwise I do just eat hummus, butter beans and lentils for weeks on end.
I’m not really on a meal plan right now. I went back to my original 2,500+ plan for a while and still vaguely follow that, but now I’m aiming for 3,000+ everyday so it involves a hell of a lot of food really. Lots of chocolate on top of high-calorie everything else. It’s ok though. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s less hard. It depends on the day really. I’m trying to get in a decent amount of fat and protein now, so lots of oily fish as well. I still eat regularly and I still try to follow the meal plan as much as possible. Just adding more along the way. I’ve worked out that the original 2,500 meal plan is actually bang on calorie wise (which I didn’t believe before). I’ve learnt from all my previous meal plans and pulled something together from all of them to get here. I’m pretty proud of myself.
I have got a new meal plan! It’s version 2 as it’s not based on calorific consumption exactly, so it’s supposed to help move me away from calorie counting. It should add up to around about 2,500kcals a day if I follow what is suggested, so that’s pretty good. It’s based on exchanges to make sure I get enough of all the food groups, spread kinda evenly throughout the day. This was tailor-made for me by the dietician, who I love, though the portions are from a generic plan she had on her computer (for instance – who would want to gain weight on low-fat yogurt? And seriously – I really don’t like cheese), but she added some bits in special for me, which I like, and the amount of portions in certain food groups are supposed to challenge me, but be achievable (more fat, but more emphasis on carbs – which is easier for me). I won’t suit anyone and everyone, but it is supposed to suit me. Right now, I’m still sure I could under-eat substantially and still technically follow the plan, so I’m going to try adding my calories up at the end of the day to make sure I hit my targets. It’s fun though – having this meal plan is kinda thrilling (jeez what a lame-o)! I can do what I like with it! Plus it’s supposed to add some range into the amount of calories I eat so I get less stuck in routines and eating the same thing every day. It’s stressful but exciting.
So here’s the meal plan. I thought I’d put it up so you can see how my day plays out and why it can be just so difficult for me to find the time for anything but recovery. It’s just constantly happening, and by the time I’ve finished one bit of eating, it’s basically time for the next. It might seem excessive to some of you, but if I don’t follow this, I end up under-eating as I worry about what is too much or not enough and what the best time for meals are and how late I can make it and when is the best time to stop eating and how many times should I even eat anyway. Basically, I freak out and end up restricting.
Following this has made me so much better at dealing with food though. Before I was put on meal plans, I wouldn’t eat breakfast until 2pm and it would be a sachet of porridge made with tons of water so it was more like soup and with 25g of fruit. Then at 5pm I would have an apple, maybe two if I really couldn’t resist and failed to the temptation. I would start making dinner at 8pm, and it was either soup or a warm salad and I’d take as long as I could measuring it out and making it so I wouldn’t eat till 9. Sometimes I’d have a dessert of 25g fruit and 75g onken fat-free yogurt (the lowest calorie). The rest was just black coffee and diet coke. Literally I don’t know what I would have done without the dietetics team at the hospital. How did I do anything at all on only 500kcals a day, if that?
So I guess I just wanted to show you all how time-consuming this whole thing is, but also just how crucial it is that I stick to this. I fall back into old ways easily. For instance, if I miss a snack and start to get a little hungry, that just drives me to see how far I can push it – how long I can go without eating – just to see if I’ve still “got it.” I do and it’s easy and by that point I’m sucked into restricting again. It’s much more difficult to stick with it than it is to just go backwards. It’s been re-worked a little to fit my eating patterns (like dinner is now 700kcals and my morning snack is 200) but it’s basically the same as the one the dietician gave me. It took me months to get this far – I was first started on a 1,200kcal plan (to actually get me eating regularly, six times a day, plus to prevent refeeding syndrome), then moved to 1,700kcals, then 2,000kcals and now this. It’s meant to be flexible, and this is a minimum (anywhere up to 3,000kcals is recommended) but I can’t seem to up it yet so stick to my minimum target pretty exactly. I just hope it can help explain some of the difficulties I have in finding time to be social – especially when I hate eating in front of other people. This is crucial though as I can’t be better mentally until I’m better physically. I can’t negotiate else I just end up going backwards again. It takes all my effort (especially as I have to keep a food diary and write it after every time I eat – urgh!).
Version 1.0 & 1.1 I won’t put up as one was a sub-clinical starvation diet and the other a weight loss diet in most people and seeing as I’ve become morally opposed to any form of serious restriction to control body weight, I don’t really want to share them. Look at me all moralistic. Sorry. If you are at the very early stages of refeeding though, set me a comment and I’ll link you to some good, early recovery meal plans to prevent refeeding syndrome.