Is creating a binge eating recovery meal plan counterintuitive to recovery?
In the early stages of binge eating treatment, my clients can’t imagine a time when they will ever be able to have a normal relationship with food and eat intuitively. They love the concept of intuitive eating and may have attempted to put it into practice. Only to conclude that they were too stuck in their eating disorder and that it was a tool for people who had a better handle on their eating. For some people creating a specific binge eating recovery meal plan can help.
I think that part of the issue is that the concept of intuitive eating is often over-simplified. Statements such as ‘listen to your body’ and ‘tune into your hunger and fullness’ sounds so straightforward. In reality, there are ten principles around intuitive eating and it is a practice that takes time, patience and an expectation of lapses. It is a learning journey that can take months, possibly even years.
Personally, I believe that all clients can get to a place of peace around food. With time and guidance anyone can develop the ability to eat in an intuitive way. However, I believe that for clients that have been in a destructive cycle of restriction and binge, some structure around eating is recommended.
Many of my clients have been engaged in calorie counting and have a belief that 1200-1600 calories is sufficient to sustain them. This is thanks mainly to diet culture and the messaging regarding calorie deficit for weight loss. Add to this that many clients are also fairly physically active as an additional control/coping mechanism. It’s of no surprise as to why they are binge eating.
Once I have dispelled their beliefs and we have a discussion about needing to fuel the body appropriately, there is understandable anguish at the prospect of eating more and the ultimate fear of loss of control and weight gain.
How much do I need to eat?
This is one of the first questions that will be asked. Truthfully, no definitive answer can be given as we are all so unique. Although I don’t set calorie targets with my clients, we know that a typical calorie intake for a female might be 2000-2500 (or more if very active).
So, if the aim is to increase volume in eating to ensure the body is sufficiently nourished, without obsessive calorie counting, what steps can be taken?
Flexible meal planning
Calorie tracking is not a feature of my practice. But my clients will undoubtedly have an internal calculator in their minds and have a fair idea of their consumption. I fully expect that for a period of time they will still be totting up their days eating in their head. As we get further into our work together, this will lessen.
For someone with an eating disorder, I believe it is helpful to have some form of structure around eating. This can be achieved by creating a specific meal plan for binge eating disorder. This is absolutely not a diet or rigid meal plan but a tool to give the client a sense of ‘control’ and reduce fear of food.
Creating a meal plan for binge eating disorder enables clients to ensure they have sufficient balanced meals available. This will minimise meal skipping or impulsive eating.
What should I eat?
Eating balanced meals containing protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats will help clients feel satiated, maintain stable blood sugars and reduce urges to binge. As a guide, around ¼ of the plate should be a protein source e.g. chicken, ¼ carbohydrate e.g wholegrain rice, ½ colourful veg and a little healthy fat e.g. olive oil
Some examples of these foods can be found in my balanced plate guide.
The meal plan for binge eating disorder does not have to be rigid. It’s a good idea for clients to have 2 or 3 core meals they enjoy available as options for breakfast lunch and dinner.
How often should I eat?
Most people need to eat every 3-4 hours. My clients will typically have 3 balanced meals a day and 2 snacks.
This is especially helpful for clients who overeat/binge eat at night. They often find the consistency of eating regularly throughout the day greatly reduces binge frequency.
How much is enough?
Self-trust is very low in someone with an eating disorder. So much time has been spent following external rules, plans and programmes which further fuels disconnection from our body’s own innate wisdom.
If there has been a period of severe restriction and undereating, it’s possible that the body will simply want more energy for some time to make up for the deficit. Finding that sweet spot of eating ‘enough’, takes time.
A food journal is helpful to record feelings of hunger and fullness before and after eating. It also allows us to turn our attention inwards to our own cues and signals. It can allow reflection on what meals were more satisfying and satiating. All of this help to grow confidence in trusting that the individual knows what is best for their body.
Journalling is also a fantastic tool for clients to gain deeper insight into their triggers for binge eating. It can also aid in the creation of strategies to manage urges.
Progress is being made when a client is:
- Feeling more satisfied by what they are eating
- Not fighting or distracting themselves from hunger
- Not obsessively thinking about food
- Significant reduction in binge eating episodes
It’s important to note that recovery is never linear and to expect lapses and setbacks. Things may be going great for several weeks and then seemingly out of nowhere, a binge occurs. The temptation to revert to the safety of restriction will be high when this happens. Breathe and reframe the binge as a learning event as opposed to a failure. Self-compassion is essential on this journey!
If you’d like more personal support in creating your binge eating recovery meal plan, why not book a 30-minute discovery call to explore ways of working with me?