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Eating to Gain, Part 4: Building On What You’ve Learned

This post could also be called “the biggest mistake I made in recovery.” But then again, I don’t know if it’s possible to have “mistakes” in recovery. Certainly steps forward and steps back. But it’s a process and it’s supposed to be messy.

But anyway…

Among the most popular posts on my blog have been the Eating to Gain series. You can find them here:

These recount my experience of the first stage of the recovery process–restoring weight–and I share what I’ve learned with my readers to help them through this weight restoration process, as well.

The next step of recovery, as many of my readers may already know, is to transition into learning how to eat intuitively.

Tofu and eggplant stir fry, rice, and sauteed bok choy

I remember for me this felt like a really sudden shift. I remember feeling that with intuitive eating, I had to start totally from scratch. The meal plan, I thought, was for gaining weight only, and if I continued to eat like I did on that plan, I’d continue to gain weight…or so I assumed.

Not until relatively recently did I realize that the meal plan and intuitive eating weren’t supposed to be two entirely unrelated parts of the recovery process. Quite the opposite. One of the primary goals of the meal plan, in fact, was to approximate normal eating to make it easier to transition to intuitive eating.

In other words, the meal plan was meant as a guideline to help me learn what normal eating would be like.

Take the example meals I shared in the first post in this series. I often added eggs to my breakfasts while I was trying to restore weight because they added calories. But when I first tried to learn intuitive eating, I dropped the eggs again…because they added calories. That’s not intuitive. That’s diet mentality.

In the last six months or so, at the direction of a dietitian, I’ve added the eggs back in (not every morning, but often). Why? Because they add energy/calories/protein and fat, plus, of course, other good nutrients. I didn’t learn the first time around that those eggs were meant to teach me a normal eating behavior that would help sustain my energy and stave off hunger.

Same with drinking juice or milk at meals. I let liquid calories return to being fear foods for me after I was weight-restored, rather than realizing that milk and juice are excellent ways to add extra nutrients to meals.

In fact, in terms of average energy intake, I now eat about the same as I did back when I was gaining weight. Exactly the same? Of course not. If I do green beans alongside my spaghetti and meatballs instead of a glass of juice, of course, I don’t stress. But sometimes, I do drink the juice.

And do I keep gaining weight? Maybe a bit. My clothes have gotten a bit tighter, but for the most part, they still fit. And I have started getting my period on a much more regular basis…so that tells me I’m doing something right that I wasn’t doing right before.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to forget about my recovery meal plan in learning to eat intuitively…to dump the meal plan and abandon it with no warning like junior high kids do to their boyfriends and girlfriends.

Quite the contrary, I’ve done better keeping my meal plan in mind but simply letting it become much, much more flexible.

To be honest, I think most people have some kind of “meal plan.” They know what’s normal for them, and they use that knowledge for planning purposes. For example, if 100% intuitive eater is packing her lunch, does she say “Well, I give up! I have absolutely no way of knowing how hungry I’ll be when lunch break comes around!”? Of course not. She knows that a single apple isn’t going to fill her up. She’s probably not going to pack an entire extra-large pizza, either, because she wouldn’t be able to finish it and it would be a hassle to deal with the leftovers. She plans, instead, by packing what she estimates will be about enough, but she’s flexible if she’s not quite hungry for everything she packed or if she’s extra hungry and needs to supplement what she packed. She builds on her knowledge of herself, in other words, to eat intuitively.

That’s what a meal plan is meant to let you do: to learn about your body and how you eat, how often you get hungry, what satisfies you, etc., so that you can then build on that knowledge as you transition to intuitive eating.

Did you find the transition from a meal plan to intuitive eating abrupt? What was the hardest part about making that transition for you?

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8 comments

  1. Cora says:

    What a good point! I think it’s very easy for anyone who had to go through the weight gain phase of disordered eating recovery to have this awful stigma/belief about “the meal plan.” –> That it was there only and purposely just to make one gain weight. I know I did, and I still struggle with this. But… It made us gain weight because we were underweight and undernourished. But for the common healthy person, it could just simply be a regular or slightly more hungry day. Its a plan that includes all the vital nutrients. It also opens us up to the possible spectrum of how much we/one can eat, so that when we transition to IE and are having a particularly HUNGRY day, we can hopefully not freak out because we know our bodies have “been there done that can totally handle It.”

    1. Joyce says:

      Yes–and the meal plan was just supposed to be the minimum, anyway. Not that I was very good about letting it be the minimum and not the minimum and maximum simultaneously. :S Oops. That probably *is* the biggest mistake I made in recovery.
      Thanks for sharing your articulate thoughts, Cora.

  2. Alyssa says:

    It was very hard to transition from a meal plan to intuitive eating… bc i honestly felt like i could never trust my body. a meal plan gave me a crutch to lean on. intuitive eating was scary and confusing. i had to fully tune in to myself (something i’m still working on) and get as intuitive with what i needed!

    1. Joyce says:

      Intuitive eating is still scary and confusing! But getting better. Thanks for sharing, Lyss.

  3. Diane Wahto says:

    I would like to get that book. Claire said it’s pretty useful.

    1. Joyce says:

      Intuitive Eating, you mean? It’s a great little book!

  4. Kaylee says:

    Shared this over on my blog yesterday because it was so awesomely written!
    Part of me is scared to take the next step in recovery because I thought it would mean having to give up the way I’m eating now if that makes sense. Recovery gives me an excuse to eat in a way diet culture doesn’t approve of. Where in reality, like you said, the meal plan is a fall back for intuitive eating, a guide, and doesn’t necessarily have to be all that different.

    1. Joyce says:

      I’m so glad to hear you found this post useful, Kaylee, and thanks for sharing it!

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