Monday, December 10, 2012

Recover Week Day 1: Meal Plan Madness

Welcome to Day 1 of the recovery week series :) Whose ready for the topic that haunts us, scares us, literally can keep us up at night? MEAL PLAN! There is a lot that goes into this so sorry this is long post, but I broke it into chunks so maybe just read it in chunks...or just skip to where you want. To help make it a little bit of a lighter read though I threw in funny this one:

Baby got a meal plan. Jk...but really...this may have been the face I made at first.

Who need a simple sheet with boxes could be so terrifying. Certainly not me, but after being on meal plans for the last 4-5 years of my life....I know now. I have tried all different types, calorie based, exchange based, and mixed. But the one I am on's the bom dot com. Well...except for the exchanges....always tend to think those are too much, but what's new. ED always thinks everything is too much.

Alright, back on track. So people have asked me to share my meal plan and I am gonna share some general aspects and pros/cons of ones I've been on in the past, but I am not gonna share my specific exchanges on here and this is why. I know for me something I struggled (okay...present tense...struggle) with a lot was comparison and this even came down to meal plans. If I was eating more than others I got a weird, twisted pride that my body could handle more than them, but also had deep guilt over eating more. If I was on a lower meal plan, I had guilt over needing less and that fed into ED telling me I needed to diet. So to prevent this mental chaos for anyone else....just gonna keep it general here.

Meal Plan Types 101

First thing is first....the types of meal plans. There is not a one-stop shopping world in the land of meal plans. Different dietitians do things different ways. Oh, yeah that's the other thing. Please do not try the whole "invent my own meal plan" method. Been there, done that, doesn't work. For recovery it's best we separate ourselves from the numbers and control of our food and leave that to professionals who have been to a university and gotten a degree and aren't ruled by a monster in their head telling them what to eat. So please, please, please consult with a dietitian. I know they are expensive, but when the other expense is losing your life...budgeting extra money doesn't seem so rough. You can also explain your situation to dietitians and they can work out payment options.

Okay so meal plans (geez Jess back on track). I have noticed there are three realms. Different things work for different people...but here is my experience (because well...that's the only one I know).

Seriously....I don't think people are ever that happy about a meal pan

  • Exchange based: this is the one generally accepted as "right" and used by most treatment centers and dietitians. Honestly it is great. It's based on the diabetic exchange system and basically your nutritionist makes a meal plan that meets your nutrient needs. They specify what is needed at your meals and snacks (for me these are broken into 3 meals and 4 snacks) in the categories of protein, starch, vegetable, fruit, dairy, and fats (for me its easier to call these essentials not fats). I love exchanges but I struggle with still calorie counting, skimping portions, and trying to justify things as exchanges they aren't. But it definitely helps free you from counting and you can read more about that here.  Also, its nice because you know you are getting the nutrients you need and begin to think of foods in terms of their benefits instead of just numbers. Again, a problem for me I have been to too many treatment centers and now try and mix what was an exchange at one place, with what my N chooses as an exchange, with what other places said all to get the least amount. It's an ongoing battle, but I am learning to cope with this way of eating. It definitely is nice though like I said. So summary in my experience. 
    • Pros: freedom from calorie counting, see food as nutrients, know you are getting balance (logically you know this, but ED of course creeps in)
    • Cons: if been on different exchange counts it can get confusing and hard to trust, calorie counting can still creep back in 

  • Calorie based: VERY VERY VERY RARE that any dietitian will put you on this kind of plan, and they are smart with that. I was on one for a few months because I was convinced I could prove to the world you can count calories and recover from anorexia....yeah not so much. It feeds into the obsession with numbers and there are a lot of emotions and judgments placed upon your choice of foods by ED. Then you start to focus on other numbers and in fact this lead to me developing fears of sodium, sugar, carbs, and other nutrients I never feared before. Luckily I have overcome those (that's right you don't need to fear them), but why make recovery any harder than it already is. The plus is there is more freedom in food choice than exchanges because you don't have to stick to specific categories at each meal. You also can learn that really anything can fit into a healthy diet, but you can also learn this on exchanges too. 
    • Pros: allows more freedom, see that any foods can fit into a healthy diet (but you can get this in exchange too)
    • Cons: sooo many of these, feeds obsession with counting, can cause fear of other nutrients, can lead to unhealthy obsession with measuring, causes fear food list to grow many times, hard to do it on the go, limits freedom in eating things/places you don't know the counts on, can cause you to eat the same things all the time, can miss out on certain nutrients when become too scary and use excuse that met calorie limit, the list goes on and on
How I felt being on calorie base and realizing it was bad. 
  • And last, but not least, the kind I am on now and have never had before....the mixed system: basically I have all exchange based meals, one exchange based snack, three calorie based snacks. The exchange based meals help provide me with the structure I need to ensure I get the right balance of nutrients as does the exchange based snack. It's also a lot faster and more freeing to put together exchange based meals instead of having to calculate everything. I even have a little song to help me remember the exchange categories. Same benefits go with the exchange based snack. The three calorie based snacks give me freedom but are also semi-structure. 
    • Pros: all the benefits of the exchange and calorie based, structure and freedom, able to use calorie counting to kind of give into the urge without using it in a bad way, still get nutrient balance from exchanges
    • Cons: you also get some of the cons of the other exchanges but to a lesser extent (especially with the calorie counting because you are using it at a few snacks, not for whole intake), really there aren't many cons to it I have found yet

My plan

Alrighty, so now a little more about my plan. As I stated earlier I am not gonna share my specific exchanges (numbers and such), but will share the general format that me and my nutritionist have worked on for over a year to find the right one that works for me (and by golly George I think we got it).

Meals: so my meals are completely exchange based, but when my nutritionist started to realize my brain always pushed me to go for the lowest calorie exchanges...she decided to intervene. I also get into this rut of having the same thing every day so she had to fix that too. So some additions to the typical meal plan that have helped sandwiches allowed or sandwich bread. Why? Because I was forcing myself to have to have one sandwich meal per day. It wasn't even because I like sandwiches (in fact having a break from them for 3 weeks made me realize I actually hate them) was just because it was a pattern that developed that become a form of bondage thanks to ED. Another lovely addition mandatory 1% chocolate milk at lunch for dairy. Why? Because I am scared shitless of it, was never allowing myself to have it, and was always choosing a lower calorie dairy exchange. And I am pretty sure my fruits are gonna be mandated soon too because I tend to go for low calorie on those too. It's a habit I am trying to break myself of...the whole thinking in terms of calories, but its been a "skill" programmed in my head for years.

Non-negotiable Snacks: well none of my snacks are negotiable...I mean I have to do them all, but two of my snacks are spelled out for me what they have to be and they have MINIMUM calorie limits (I capitalized that more for me than for you all as I tend to forget my calorie based parts are minimums and treat them as maximums). So what are these lovely snacks? One I have fought tooth and nail and still struggle with (thus I still have to do it) and it is Dining Hall Bagels. These aren't your regular, everyday, let's go to the store and by a bagel kind of bagels. These are colossal 5 oz bagels that I always used to measure with a food scale. I started to realize not all bagels were created (or sized) equally and that made ED not so happy. So I weighed them and always went under the weight they were supposed to be. Well, my food scale was taken away a few months ago and thus I have tried other forms of measuring the bagels to "check" their size. And I've struggled with tearing them and leaving parts behind just in case they are bigger. The past week I've done really good though...but until it becomes "easy" (or at least doesn't send me into a mental tailspin) those are there to stay. Oh and they have to have a topping to fit my calorie goal for that snack...and I never put toppings on stuff. Again, not because of preference....just because ED said no. My nutritionist is trying to get me to branch out to scarier toppings...but for now she just wants me to eat the bagel with topping in some sort of peace. The other snack Protein Shake. This actually came because I love my protein powder sooooo much. But we needed me to get more calories in so instead of taking away this "snack" (more like a meal to me) my nutritionist worked with me to make it more nutrient dense. Here's the recipe I follow that I love :)

1 cup sliced frozen bananas
2 scoops Biochem Whey Protein (vanilla preferred)
1 cup Honey Kix or Fiber One Honey Squares or Total 
Dash of water
2-4 ice cubes

Blend these all together in my lovely knock-off magic bullet (it was $15 vs $80...and it works the same). I know it seems weird to put cereal in a shake, but it gives it a weird (in a good way) doughy consistency and I love it. Sometimes, when I feel brave, I even add some PB2 (dehydrate peanut powder) to it. 
Stick it in fridge for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better) and you get a shake like, dough like concoction. 
Throw it in the freezer and you get more of a soft serve/ ice cream texture. 

Triumph Treat: So this is another one of my snacks (the last one I haven't mentioned is just a regular exchange based snack). It's another calorie MINIMUM one but basically it has to be a sweet, dessert-like item. The intent of my nutritionist is to make these cakes, cookies, pies, etc every night...but we are working our way up to it. It's hard enough for me to allow myself to have something sweet every night let alone have it be something with a higher content of fat than I am comfortable with. But I do things like pudding with something (animal crackers, rice cakes, Frosted Mini Wheats, etc), fro yo sundaes, Rice Krispy Treats, Skittles, etc. It's been hard, but also freeing to see nothing scary happens just because I have a treat. Oh and I renamed this one. It was called a discretionary...but I didn't want to eat something I had discretion Triumph Treat it is. That way...even if I cry through it...the name makes me smile :)

OMG All COlors Bombons - Interesting  Fun Skittles Candy Nutrition Facts - This Rainbow Colored Cand
Puppy having a triumph treat. See how exciting it can be :) 

Freedom Foods: again you have all heard about these and read about them on my Freedom Friday entries, but basically I have a list of foods I haven't/ am scared to try. I basically face them over and over again until they aren't scary. In fact, my nutritionist had me doing certain ones every week and then adding 5-7 on top of that for me to do that week, but we pulled back a bit when I started to struggle in other areas. Now we are adding these back in and she is making me choose them in her office (otherwise my brain gets clever and chooses the "safest" of the fear foods after I look up label facts). They are really scary, but sometimes its nice to have a focus other than just your meal plan. Little mini-goals to focus on accomplishing. 


So as you see plans are individualized and you can work to customize them to what works best for you and your recovery needs. For me I need structure, but also some freedom. That's why I have calorie based and exchange based. But I also need to be pushed out of my comfort zone which is why I have non-negotiables, triumph treats, and freedom foods. 

No matter what though....meal plans aren't going to be easy to follow at first (at least for me they weren't) so I just treated them as homework assignments or checklist. I used my people-pleasing nature for good not evil. I told myself I didn't want to let my team down and thus had to get my exchanges. 

Just imagine how good it will feel to do your meal plan :)

Something that's really helped with accountability is sending my nutritionist a nightly food log. I hated keeping food diaries because I would look back and judge myself on past entries. But these ones I just e-mail and as soon as I e-mail them I clear the form. If anyone wants a copy, just e-mail me :) 

There is so much more that goes into meal plans too. There's exercise limitations (mine is yoga twice a week), meal timing (something I'm working on), and dealing with changes to meal plans. I can go more into these in later post if people want, again just let me know :) The important thing is to work with a dietitian or other professional to make your plan and to be honest when you are struggling. Don't use that as an excuse to struggle, push through your struggles and reach out for help, but if you do slip let your team know ASAP. It's hard especially for a perfectionist like me to admit when I am struggling, but its also the only way to freedom from your struggles.

Again, sorry this is so long, but meal plans aren't as easy as nutritionist make them look. Any questions? Things I didn't touch on? Comment below or send me an e-mail :)


  1. this post was epic for me. thank you so much!and yea id totally love if you went into more detail about some of the other stuff that goes into the meal plan(changes to it and how not to freak out lol), timing!(thats a biggie for me) going out to eat? i love you so much and really truly thank you for post this in such a non triggering way! you are awesome.period!

  2. Hi. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST (even if it was years ago). Could you send me your meal plans examples? My email:

    Right now I am in a phase of calorie counting. :( mad. sad.