Holly Lowery
Eating Disorder Recovery Coach & Anti-Diet Advocate


Holly Lowery - Blog

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Meal Planning: Can it Coexist with Intuitive Eating?


This subject is something I've been hearing about a lot lately. While I normally don't advocate for any sort of "meal planning" that governs what when or how you should eat, there are a couple of valid reasons one might actually need a type of meal plan while they work through the beginning stages of giving up dieting and recovering from disordered eating. Everyone arrives to the Intuitive Eating/ Healthy at Every Size/ Anti-Diet movement coming from a different place; one might have started to recognize some obsessive thoughts about food & body size and decided enough was enough. And one might be coming from a past filled with some more severe eating disorder history. Either way, Intuitive Eating is the answer to feeling better in your body and learning to eat "normally" again.

However if someone is coming from a place of more sever disordered eating habits (anorexia, bulimia, binging etc.) what happens is that their internal hunger cues start to fade away, making it really difficult to just "listen to your hunger & satiation cues."

This is the time when meal planning could be extremely helpful- and most likely necessary to truly give your body what it needs & get it back to it's set point.

But how do you know if you're out of touch with your hunger/ satiation cues?

Below are some easy ways to tell if meal planning could be useful for you:

  • you find yourself eating to the point of uncomfortable fullness more often than not
  • you don't notice you're hungry until you're absolutely ravenous
  • you experience the rollercoaster effect, with extreme highs and lows of energy throughout the day
  • you find yourself turning to outside sources to tell you what/when/how much to eat (calorie counting apps, internet meal plans, what/ how much the people around you are eating, serving sizes on the back of food packages, diet programs, trainers etc.)

If you think you're out of touch with your hunger/ satiation signals then having a meal plan to get back in tune with what your body needs to thrive again. But I'm not just talking the types of toxic meal planning you can find all over Pinterest, YouTube or Instagram- you know, the ones from some weight loss/ nutrition obsessed "guru" that tell you exactly what to eat in order to "look like them"... Don't even get me started on the "what I eat in a day" videos!

I'm talking about a meal plan developed by an actual non-diet registered dietitian who has experience working with clients who struggle with disordered eating and body image. They can help you figure out how much you should be eating to get your body back to a healthier weight, and when that happens your body's hunger/satiation signals can become easier to detect. And when that happens, the concept of Intuitive Eating becomes a lot easier to swallow.

So to answer the question, "is there a place for meal planning while learning to intuitively eat?

Most of the time, probably not as Intuitive Eating is about eating according to your internal cues. And constantly relying on external sources to tell you when, how much and what to eat will drown out those internal cues. However, if you've been struggling for a while with disordered eating and chronic dieting to the point that you can't tell when you're hungry and full, getting a little extra support from a non-diet dietician might be incredibly helpful.

Some resources I can get behind:

Christy Harrison, Non-diet dietician

Ophelia's Place, Support center for eating disorders, disordered eating and body dissatisfaction

NEDA, Nation Eating Disorder Association


Switching gears a little bit, I will say that once you become more comfortable with Intuitive Eating, food doesn't hold the same power as it once did; it's no longer this all consuming thing that has the power to make or break your day/ mood/ body etc. When you get to this yummy place of feeling like food has no power over you- like you can coexist without any sort of anxieties, you'll begin to notice that you're spending so much more of your time and energy focussing on different things. 

For instance, I used to be *obsessed* with cooking, recipe testing, eating "healthy" etc. But all of that was really due to the fact that my body was starving and all of it's energy was geared toward finding and eating food. So of course I spent my free time thinking about food- Biologically speaking, I literally couldn't do anything else!

Once my body began to trust that food was coming- no matter what, it began to free up all that headspace again. I started writing, reading non-diet related books (which for the longest time were the only books in my Amazon cart! yeeeeeesh!); I began to relax and enjoy social gatherings again because I wasn't preoccupied with what I "shouldn't" be eating, or what I was going to eat when I got home. I was able to be a full person in my relationships again. I found the courage to speak up about my experience because I wanted to save other women the time and energy of repeating my mistakes. I'm a happier human being.

But I'm also a busier human being.

So this is where meal planning might play a very small, teeny-tiny, unconventional role in the way I eat these days. Lately I've been eating for fuel purposes. Not to say I don't enjoy my food- that couldn't be farther from the truth. But the hours I used to spend in the kitchen planning the weeks ahead out and prepping all the produce and separating meals into little boxes for the week- those days are long over because I just don't have the time.

I do however make a few staple dishes for the week so that my partner and I can have leftovers for lunches and easy dinners if we have a busy evening. We also try to make sure that we have other staple pantry items in the house for quick meals that lend us the energy we need to carry out all the crazy-amazing-weird stuff on our plates.

Items like beans and grains, frozen veggie burgers, fresh baked bread from our favorite bakery, some eggs, and some fruits for snacks and the occasional smoothie come in handy and are pretty much regulars in our house. And don't forget the taco shells. I can pretty much make a taco out of anything.

But that's about the extend of my "meal planning." There's no big, extravagant planner. No nutrition calculating or portioning. No secrets or tricks or savvy tips. No abundance of superfoods. Just make some food- make extra of it to have in the fridge for leftovers or backup, so you don't get hangry when you're busy. And then go do something way cooler and more fulfilling than thinking about what you "should" eat.