My clients work to build a lifestyle that encompasses a non-restrictive approach to eating. We call this food freedom. Throughout the process, we utilize the principles of Intuitive Eating to rebuild trust from within. For those unfamiliar, a large part of learning how to eat intuitively involves raising body self-awareness. We work to increase body attunement in order to identify feelings of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
However, there’s a misconception about what it means to “eat intuitively.” To those unfamiliar, it can sound like an unstructured lifestyle that works only to honor personal preferences. If you’re hungry you eat and if you’re craving pizza you eat pizza. Right?
Well… not exactly. There’s so much more to this process. Learning how to eat intuitively teaches us about the importance of compassionate self-care; and from our phones to our tablets, we live in an era where self care often takes a back seat to over-booked schedules.
As a millennial, a mom, and a full time dietitian, I find myself more often than ever multitasking through life’s busy schedule. My clients, who are either fellow millennials or Gen Z’ers, also fall into the realm as professional multitaskers. With so much distraction and so much to coordinate, it’s easy to forget about the need for self care.
Side note: I’m not referring to the kind of self care that involves getting a massage or booking a spa day. Those are luxuries. For the sake of this article, I’m referring to the basics of self care: nourishment. Nourishing our body is self care. However, busy schedules deem us vulnerable to instances that block our ability to fuel sufficiently throughout the day.
Let’s say you’re navigating an afternoon of classes, which is then followed by rehearsals, calls, and emails. Before you know it, it’s 8PM and you’re ravenous. Your schedule didn’t lend time for a break and now you’re scrambling through the kitchen in search of anything to fill your gnawing hunger.
The problem with this scenario isn’t that it happened… rather, it’s that this is today’s reality. How often can we find time to actually sit down for a meal? While this is a goal, having tools to manage busy days is essential. Remember, we’re building habits that are not only balanced, but are also practical (and sustainable).
In addition to helping with busy schedules, meal planning also provides a framework for those just starting to rebuild their relationship with food. Similar to a cast that is placed upon a broken arm, meal planning offers external structure that helps to nourish the body while simultaneously allowing for internal healing. This healing however is from a history of restrictive eating.
Years (even months!) of restrictive eating can damage our innate ability to feel and listen to hunger and fullness. Creating a flexible plan assures that we are meeting our body’s primitive needs for nourishment while working to repair our instinctual clock.
Similar to a cast that is placed upon a broken arm, meal planning offers external structure that helps to nourish the body while simultaneously allowing for internal healing.
Now for the counterargument. How can we plan our meals while simultaneously learning how to trust our body’s internal cues of hunger and fullness? The phrase alone seems counterproductive to a process that works to build instinctual trust! Furthermore, meal planning can easily provoke anxiety if perfectionistic tendencies turn a flexible plan into a rigid set of rules.
The goal when meal planning is not to push aside the practice of honoring personal preferences nor is it a bandaid for learning how to eat mindfully. Rather, meal planning provides a flexible framework.
Whether it’s to navigate busy days or to begin a journey towards non-restrictive eating, consider these three tips before adding a meal plan to your toolbox.
#1: Remember Flexibility
There’s a difference between meal planning and downloading a meal plan. Caution with downloadable meal plans that dictate what you can (and cannot) eat. Rather, build a flexible framework that reminds you to nourish consistently throughout the day. Remember, life happens. We cannot control every aspect of our schedule.
#2: Consider Variety
Meal planning can be a helpful guide for meal prep. Consider your preferences and stock your pantry with versatile options. Examples includes whole grains, veggies (frozen or fresh), fruit (frozen or fresh), dairy (unless intolerant), and other proteins (like beans, legumes, nuts, poultry, and meat).
#3: Plan for Emergencies
This is often the bulk of the meal planning that I do with clients. Emergency snacks help to manage long time stretches. Coordinate daily snacks as a means to stabilize blood sugar between meals.
Now tell me. How will you incorporate meal planning while rebuilding your relationship with food?