Will you write me a meal plan? This is a common question I get asked when clients start working with me. The short answer is: No. Sorry. I do understand why you think you need one. However, many meal plans are one-size-fits-all prescriptions, that are rigid like diets. Moving away from dieting and towards intuitive eating will help you to make a PERMANENT change to your relationship with food. Read on to see why I don’t recommend meal plans and what to do instead.
Why meal plans don’t work
I know you love meal plans because it gives you structure and tells you exactly what to eat. It’s one less thing you have to think about and surely the Nutritionist knows what is best for you to eat to achieve your goals, right? Nope!
In theory, meal plans sound great. Pay someone (ideally a nutrition professional) tell you exactly what to eat, how much food to eat and when to eat it. Most of my clients initially believe that if they just knew what to eat, they’d be able to reach their goals. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way.
In my almost five years of being a Nutritionist and Eating Psychology Coach, I’ve given out only a handful of meal plans, because people simply do not stick to them. Way back in the beginning of my private practice, I started doing this for clients. It seemed like the perfect win-win. They wanted to lose weight, I wanted to be a good Nutritionist, so I gave them exactly what they wanted.
Spoiler alert – They still came back to me week after week with the same issues surrounding food.
Hungry. Binge eating. Emotional overeating. Restricting.
When we work together one of my goals is to empower you to start making small and meaningful changes to your relationship with food and your body, that you can sustain.
A meal plan does the exact opposite.
At its worst, it encourages dependency on the Nutritionist. It’s the diet equivalent of someone else doing your homework – you learn nothing! …so what are you paying for? …how is that serving you? It tells me that you may not ready to do the hard work it takes to make meaningful change. That’s okay. You have to be ready.
It’s also important to understand that when we limit food choices and create rigid plans that require sacrifice and leads to deprivation, the likelihood of bingeing increases. Also, most people are really enthusiastic for the first few weeks but then they can’t stick to it because life gets in the way. This is totally normal.
Thinking you have ‘fallen off the meal plan wagon’ can often to lead to giving up and binge eating too.
These are all valid reasons why meal plans don’t work.
Sure, some people do benefit from meal plans
Recovery from all eating disorders requires the normalisation of regular eating patterns. This is best accomplished through flexible planned and structured eating. If you’re trying to stop binge eating or in recovery from binge eating disorder the following meal planning tips may help:
- Planning helps to make eating less impulsive.
- Planning takes emotions out of eating.
- Planning leaves you less vulnerable to binge eating.
- Planning means the eating disorder will be less likely to take control.
- Planning can also help put parameters around grocery shopping, leaving you less likely to make impulse buys.
Planning a few meals a week allows for the flexibility to explore a new restaurant or to pick up some takeaway depending on your mood. This flexibility is important.
For everyone else – you don’t need a meal plan to eat normally.
What to do instead?
Ultimately if you want to stop binge eating it’s about tuning in to what you want to eat in that moment and learning to trust what you are hungry for. This takes time but with practice, it is 100% achievable. Instead of looking outwards turn inwards and ask ‘what sounds good to me right now?’ ‘How hungry am I today?’ ‘How active will I be today and how much fuel will I need to get me through my busy day?’.
I know change is hard and letting go of a plan can feel like jumping off a cliff, with great distrust about where you will land. Most people are scared about letting go of the structure that diets provide, especially when sticking to the rules was the one thing that had (mostly) ensured they were doing it right with food. Even if it was just for a week or two.
But your body is really smart and more intuitive than any plan telling you what you can and cannot eat. You have unique needs that change season by season, week by week, day by day and even hour by hour.
Instead of following external factors like diets, meal plans or food rules. Instead of me telling you what to eat next Thursday for lunch, we focus on: meal prepping (very different to a meal plan), meal timing, meal and snack options, kitchen organisation etc. (ie: the things that get you sustainable long-term results).
Trust that underneath the anxiety and distrust, you are a smart and capable woman that knows how to take good care of yourself. You have a wise inner voice. You just have to be willing to slow down and listen to her.
Meal plans don’t work. Stop wasting your time and money.
You deserve to nourish yourself with the food you love and have a relationship with food that is easy and enjoyable. And that cannot be found in a diet plan designed by someone else or a computer program.
There’s an old saying…”Give a woman a meal plan and she’ll eat for 3 weeks. Teach her how to eat intuitively and she’ll feed herself for a lifetime”. I have no idea who said that, but I love it.
If you would like help with this, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me here>>
We’ve all done it: eaten a big box of popcorn at the cinema and then wondered where it all went so fast. When it comes to eating, many of us could benefit from an eating practice known as ‘mindful eating’. Here’s a powerful mindful eating tip for you to practice.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is about bringing your focus to the task of eating and paying deliberate attention to what’s going on inside and around you as you eat.
It’s a simple-to-learn life skill that can help people break free from ‘food rules’ and begin to enjoy healthy, flexible and relaxed way of eating again. It’s not a diet. It is about the way we eat, not what we eat.
Being mindful is about focusing your attention and awareness on the present moment to help break the cycle of habitual, behaviours and habits with food. Such as eating too much, or eating when you’re not actually hungry and don’t need to eat.
This approach to eating also employs strategies which can help change the way we respond to food, both physically and emotionally.
Why try mindful eating?
Research shows that mindful eating may help people control binge eating and overeating, enjoy food and feel more in touch with their bodies internal hunger and satiety signals. A lot of us may not be aware of the reasons we engage in mindless eating.
Mindful eating tip
Here is a simple mindful eating exercise you can do at home to practice the skill of eating mindfully.
1. Choose one piece of food. It might be a slice of mandarin, a potato chip or a chocolate.
2. Begin by looking at the food. Examine the shape, colour and texture.
3. Bring the food to your nose and smell it.
4. Place the food on your tongue and let it sit there for a few seconds. Notice the response of your salivary glands.
5. Take a bite and be aware of the sounds in your mouth and the texture and taste on your tongue.
6. Notice how the texture of the food changes as you chew.
7. Now swallow. Pay attention as the food travels down your throat to your stomach.
8. Try practicing a mindful bite at least once every meal.
Slowing down is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need. The body actually sends its satiation signal about 20 minutes after the brain, which is why we often unconsciously overeat. But, if you slow down, you can give your body a chance to catch up to your brain and hear the signals to eat the right amount.
If this is something that you need help with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I spent most of my twenties and thirties feeling very out of control with food, my weight and body image. Fad dieting and an obsession with exercise, lead to a life with Bulimia Nervosa. After fifteen years of this I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I knew something had to give and if I kept treating myself like this, I could end up dead. In the post I explain how I turned that all around and 5 ways you can rebuild your relationship with food and weight.
How to rebuild your relationship with food
So, how do we restore food to its proper place in our lives, where we can enjoy eating without guilt and judgement, and find a healthy balance without the obsession?
By becoming someone who eats mindfully.
“Mindful Eating is using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. By acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment. Whilst also becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating, so you can rebuild your relationship with food (The Centre for Mindful Eating, 2017).
Someone Who Eats Mindfully:
*Acknowledges that there is no good, bad, right or wrong foods or ways to eat, but varying ways to eat and enjoy the experience of food.
*Accepts that their appetite and eating experiences are unique them.
*Is an individual who by choice directs attention to eating on a moment-by-moment basis and does not worry about what was eaten in the past or what may eaten in the future.
*Builds awareness of how they can make choices that support their health and well-being.
*Practices mindfulness to promote balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance of what is. Such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, walking, gardening, ti-chi.
5 ways to rebuild your relationship with food
Eating mindfully means eating undistributed or whilst multitasking. Turn off your TV and computer, silence your mobile phone, and put away the book or magazine you’re reading, so you can focus your attention on your meal. This may feel quite awkward at first. However, it will pay huge dividends over time to how and how much you eat.
1. Plan for your meal to take at least 20 minutes. It takes at least this amount of time for your stomach to register fullness, so you’ll be less likely to eat past the point of comfortable fullness.
2. Truly taste your food. A couple of delicious cookies eaten mindfully can be much more fulfilling than an entire packet eaten while distracted. A classic mindful eating practice involves eating a raisin (yes, just one raisin) or you can do it with single chocolate. Over a 5 to 10 minute period, first looking at, smell, feel, and even putting the raisin or chocolate up to your ear and listening for any sounds while rolling the raisin between your fingers or the sounds of the chocolate wrapper. Slowly placing the raisin or chocolate on your tongue and allowing it to melt for a minute or so. Then, chew it slowly and really savour the taste, before swallowing. That is the full eating experience using all of your senses. Give it a try.
3. Rate your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 10. With 1 being absolutely starving and 10 being absolutely Christmas lunch stuffed. Check in with yourself several times a day to gauge where you are in terms of being physically full. Ideally, going below a 2 or 3 would not be advisable, as being ravenous (and possibly light-headed or hypoglycemic) might also set you up to binge and/overeat. Furthermore, try to not go go above a 7, as this would probably be both uncomfortable and perhaps a sign that you’re eating for emotional rather than physical reasons.
4. Be aware of your emotional triggers to eat. If you’ve rated your hunger levels as 5 or 6 and you’ve eaten anyway, first of all that’s okay, however you’re not eating for physical reasons. Try asking yourself, What am I really hungry for? What am I feeling right now? You might be feeling lonely, sleep-deprived, bored, angry, or anxious. Try to address these needs directly, rather than eating to cope.
5. Face life head-on. Being preoccupied with food is a way to hide away from the stresses of life (albeit momentarily). However, if you rebuild your relationship with food, it means you won’t have to turn to food as a distraction. Ask yourself, What does focusing on food do for me? What am I avoiding? Turning your attention to your emotions and to the present moment, however pleasant or unpleasant, is preferable to hiding your head in the sand. Because at the end of the day eating won’t make your problems go away. It may only make them worse.
If you need support to rebuild your relationship with food, please do not hesitate to reach out to me here or take a look at my one-on-one Stop Punishing Start Nourishing coaching program here.