Meal planning for bulimia recovery

I will never forget the disbelief I experienced when I first discovered that a typical meal plan for bulimia recovery consisted of three meals and three snacks a day. Or the fear that came along with the realization that I needed to eat at least 2000 calories a day… every day. Back then I honestly didn’t think it was possible (or normal) for a person to eat that much food!
Yet I was so desperate to stop being bulimic that I made some choices.

  • I chose to face my food fears.
  • I chose to be brave.

You never chose to become bulimic, but today, right here, right now, you CAN choose recovery. You can choose to be brave, as I did back then.

Meal planning needs to play a key component in your bulimia recovery. Put simply if your planning to recover from bulimia you need to start planning your meals.

A lot of people are apprehensive about meal planning and eating to a strict schedule when starting recovery, and it’s not hard to understand why.

For the majority of us, the only times we’ve ever found ourselves deciding on what we’ll eat ahead of time, or creating set meal plans, is when we’ve been stuck in a desperate cycle of restriction.

But in those early days of recovery, creating meal plans and structuring your eating is vital if you are to be successful.

Creating a solid meal plan for bulimia recovery can really help you to get started.

That said, I really do appreciate how daunting the idea of creating your own recovery meal plan can be, especially if you don’t know that much about nutrition or ‘normal’ eating.

Luckily, the process of planning nutritionally balanced meals for recovery is no where near as complicated as it may seem. Even if like me you won’t have the luxury of working with a Registered Dietitian, creating you own meal plan for bulimia recovery is still a really good idea.

If you’re struggling to create a meal plan for bulimia recovery then try following my tips for meal planning success. I did all of these things during my my own recovery from bulimia and found them to be essential to the process.

Learn about the importance of structured eating

Understanding how and why structured eating works for recovery is a big first step. It will help you to feel motivated, empowered and ready for change.

If you’re new to Bulimia Help then please take some time to sit and read through the wealth of structured eating information contained in first section of the method. If you’re anything like me, it will change everything you thought you knew about the relationship between food and recovery.

What is structured eating?

Structured eating is really the backbone of bulimia recovery. It involves making yourself available to do planned eating at planned times each day. While following a structured eating plan you try to:

  • Eat three meals and three snacks a day, every day.
  • Eat regularly, leaving no more than 3 hours between meals and snacks.

Constant bingeing and purging desensitizes you to natural hunger and satiety signals gives you a warped perception of portion sizes, and really forces your body to forget how to eat naturally. But the good news is that normal eating is a skill that can be learned.

Why do I have to eat three meals and three snacks?

Eating this amount of food can be a very scary step because basic logic would make you think if you increase your food intake then you will also increase your weight. But it is never that simple!

When you have bulimia your body fights back, doing everything it can to ensure you do not lose weight. Including lowering your metabolism, storing anything you do eat as fat rather than using it for energy, kicking off massive food cravings and giving you an insatiable appetite!

By using structured eating you are telling your body it will get a steady stream of nutrition, therefore it does not need to send out powerful cravings to binge.

Why do I have to eat so regularly?

Eating regularly and spacing your meals in this way gives a massive boost to your metabolism, increases your energy levels and dramatically helps to reduce binge urges associated with distressed hunger.

(Learn more about different types of binge urges by signing up to our free e-course).

This is an example of a time frame for structured eating:

  • 07.30am – wake up
  • 08.30am – eat breakfast
  • 10.30am – mid morning snack
  • 1.00pm – eat lunch
  • 3.30pm – mid afternoon snack
  • 4.30pm – another snack
  • 6.00pm – dinner
  • 8.30pm – evening snack
  • 11.00pm – Time for sleep

Creating your structured eating plan

Creating a plan involves planning meals in advance, deciding what will be eaten, when and how much. Planning meals and times in advance takes the stress and strain away from deciding what to eat and when.

How to do this:

  1. Think about what you will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and what snacks you will eat in between.
  2. Choose foods you feel comfortable eating, you may decide to avoid trigger foods initially at this early stage.
  3. If you do not have your food available, then it is a good idea to do a grocery shop.
  4. Packed lunches can help – plan them and prepare tomorrow’s meal.
  5. Plan the times when you will eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and your snacks. (See the print off for more examples)
  6. Try to keep as close to your structured plan as possible.
  7. It can help to plan your meals and snacks the night before.

Your structured eating plan should include…

  • A full breakfast
  • A full lunch
  • A full dinner
  • Snacks in between meals to stop you getting too hungry

How do I know how much food to eat?

Some people find roughly keeping track of calories can help, while others look to what others eat for ideas, buy food that is individually portioned or seek advice from a qualified nutritionist.

How long should I use a structured eating plan for?

Most people in recovery find that they need to stick to some form of structured eating plan for AT LEAST 6 months.

Eating in a mechanical way can become emotionally draining at times, and may even feel like a diet. But know that structured eating is not a diet, it is an eating method that allows you to lay the foundations of your new bulimia free life.

Plan well balanced meals from day one

I can not stress this enough – the sooner you commit to eating regular, balanced meals, the sooner you are going to see the amazing benefits that recovery has to offer you. So while it’s fine to introduce new or triggering foods slowly, it’s best to plan nutritionally balanced meals from day one.

For recovery meal planning that means including some carbohydrate, fat and protein with EVERY meal. It also means striving to eat a good balance of foods from each of the main food groups overall.

It’s a big step, it’s going to challenge you, but you are more than capable of pulling this off. Your body needs this constant balance of food to recover. Striving for food-balance from day one is something I attribute to my own success. I believe it is the main reason I was able to avoid relapsing early on.

Ensure any meal plans you create reflect YOUR needs

I know it’s tempting to make food comparisons. You see people living seemingly healthy lives on low-carb or low-calorie diets and you desperately want to do the same, but right now I need you to remember that you are recovering from a life threatening eating disorder.

Your body is exhausted and you are likely suffering from malnutrition. Your basic nutritional needs may be vastly different to other peoples.

Please understand that what the other people around you are eating has nothing to do with what is best for you to eat, especially while you’re recovering from bulimia.

Allow some flexibility with your meal plans

There will be times when, for one reason or another, you just can’t stick to a meal plan, and that’s okay. There is no need to panic. It’s okay to allow some flexibility when needed. Even without a plan you can still make food choices that support your recovery. If you always strive for balance and you always strive for non-restrictive eating then your best IS good enough.

Keep any meal planning excuses in check

When you first start to create and follow your meal plans you are going to face some new challenges.

  • You may find it difficult to plan meals around your work or study schedule.
  • You may struggle to find the time to plan and prepare regular meals due to child care commitments.
  • You may worry about what others will think or say of the change to your eating patterns.

If you live a busy or emotionally chaotic life then even as you’re reading this your brain is likely bombarding you with you with reasons and excuses as to why you ‘can’t’ make the time to meal plan in recovery.

As hard as this may seem right now, I promise you that for every challenge in recovery there IS a solution, you just have to be willing to find it. You have to be willing to start facing your fears. By taking the time to plan your meals you can reduce a lot of the stress and pressure that comes with making food choices that are supportive of recovery.

Use food-facts to counteract your meal planning fears

When you understand exactly how the food you’re eating is facilitating your recovery you are going to have more motivation to stick to your meal plan, so take some time to explore the benefits of eating certain foods.

For example, before recovery I used to be terrified of eating anything that contained fat, so when it came to following through with the nutritionally balanced meals that I’d planned, I would remind myself of the many health benefits of eating fat and focus on the factual benefits rather than the misguided fears.

Understand that all foods have a place on your meal plan

We all want to eat healthily, but a big part of recovery involves cultivating what I like to call a ‘healthy eating attitude.’ To me, someone with a healthy eating attitude strives for balance and eats a nutritionally rich diet, but also allows themselves to eat other, less typically ‘healthy’ foods like chocolate, sweets and fast food, in moderation.

You may feel out of control around these types of foods right now, but by gradually including them in your meal plan will allow you to create a normal relationship with them over time.

Are meal plans absolutely essential to recovery?

Generally meal plans will be more of a help than a hindrance, especially in the early stages of your recovery, however if you’re someone who finds the meal planning process to be especially triggering then it’s okay to try out a more relaxed approach.

In truth, meal plans are not always necessary but structured eating IS. So if you feel confident enough to make balanced food choices in the moment then go for it, but I would still urge you to eat mechanically, by the clock, because you just can’t trust your intuitive hunger and satiety cues at this stage.

Starting to normalize food intake can be scary so think of this as an experiment…

If after 6 months you are dissatisfied with the results you can always resume back to your former eating style – although, I can assure that you will not want to do that!

Helpful tips before you begin

  • Understand that small fluctuations in body weight are to be expected.
  • Keep your food plan simple and try not to obsessively count calories.
  • It’s okay to stick to foods you feel safe eating but do try to include all of the major food groups.
  • It’s okay to initially avoid your main “trigger foods.”
  • Remember food planning is work-in-progress aimed at normalizing food intake and normal eating behavior, don’t expect to get this “perfect.”
  • Consider keeping a record of your food in a food journal to get a better understanding of what works for you and what doesn’t.
  • Understand that you just can’t trust natural hunger and fullness sensations at this time so you may have to eat when you don’t feel hungry and stop before you feel full.

You can learn more about meal planning by signing up to our free recovery e-course.

Please note: The advice on this page is NOT intended to replace professional nutritional advice. You should consult your doctor, dietitian or another medical professional before creating a meal plan.

Be bold and be brave!

When you’re sat there with your first meal plan for bulimia recovery in hand and you look down at the pages it is going to feel like you’re asking yourself to eat A LOT of food.

You’re going to feel that it is ‘too much’ food, but I promise you, it’s not.

I urge you to be brave, and to take comfort from the knowledge that the sooner you give your body the nutrients it is craving, the sooner you will be waving goodbye to those overwhelming bulimic urges that brought you here in the first place.