Meal Plans for Recovering Anorexics: Looking at Exchanges
Recovering from anorexia has many fronts and levels of physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. However, a very difficult and key part of recovery primarily involves refraining from old habits of food restriction. After struggling with a disorder, perception of food and ability to understand appropriate portion sizes becomes incredibly skewed. One way to take steps is to create a recovering anorexic meal plan.
Since the physical symptom of restriction is faced by a recovering anorexic multiple times a day, it is important to have a plan for meals and snacks as well as a back up plan. First of all, listing safe foods and risk/challenge foods will allow a person to have a schedule on which to rely as well as create a backup plan if the day is too overwhelming to take on a stressful meal.
“Safe foods” are those foods that a person is used to eating on a daily and weekly basis. They are simpler foods to eat both physically and mentally. Risk foods are those items that terrify due to the nutrition content and emotional judgment of them. Safe foods and risk foods vary for each person, so a recovering anorexic must be able to find foods in each category that can ‘feel’ safer (though as recovery progresses, judgment on food does diminish). Below are examples of each category so you can begin to work in various food types in order to create a recovering anorexic meal plan that is balanced.
Starches: bread, cereal, crackers, pasta, rice, corn, potatoes, chips
Fruit: apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, melons, peaches, oranges
Vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, green beans
Dairy: yogurt, milk, soy milk, cheeses, cottage cheese, etc.
Protein: nuts, ham, turkey, beef, chicken, soy-based protein, fish, eggs, etc
Fats: butter, oils, peanut butter (1/2 tbs. doesn’t have enough protein to count as a protein), nuts, sour cream, dressings
Others: sugar, jelly/jam, apple butter, other ‘fruit butters’ (like peach butter, pumpkin butter)
The next step, before figuring out a meal plan is to know portion sizes and balance. Portion sizes vary amongst the food items as well as various programs; however, there are basic guidelines to reference. At the end of this article, there are several links for serving sizes of each ‘category’ of food. It is always best to measure food if and only if the person is early in recovery and uncertain of portion sizes as well those who are having a day of struggling. By measuring food, a person recovering from anorexia will not short the meal plan, something that is a major temptation for anyone who has or is struggling with anorexia.
Recovering Anorexic Meal Plan: A Sample Schedule
When eating a meal or a snack can cause anxiety, it is hard to balance this information and emotions around food. The best thing to do is to have a plan before going into a meal or a snack. Therefore, below are some sample meals that allow for a variety of food exchanges and gives appropriate nutritional energy.
4 fruits, 2 veg, 2 dairy,
Breakfast: 2 cups of cereal, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, a piece of fresh fruit,
Snack: a serving of crackers and 1 TBS peanut butter, piece of fresh fruit
Lunch: 3 ounces of deli meat, 2 slices of bread, a slice of cheese, side salad with 1-2 TBS of dressing,
Snack: granola bar
Dinner: 3-4 ounces of grilled chicken, 1 cup of steamed vegetables, a dinner roll with butter
Snack: fruit and a serving of crackers
In this sample meal plan, there is a total of the following exchanges: 8 starches, 2 dairy, 6-7 protein, 4-5 fats, 3 fruit, 4 vegetables. One key piece of advice is to not attempt to eat everything within 3 meals. This is a maintenance meal plan and a person may need to increase the intake in order to restore and regain lost body weight.* By ‘grazing’ throughout the day, a person is better able to meet their needs without feeling over-full and overwhelmed. Each type of exchange is necessary for the body to function, thus it is important to eat in a balanced manner.
By creating a list of safe foods and risk foods and having a schedule to follow, a recovering anorexic (wherever the person may in their recovery) can begin to conquer the physical side of anorexia. Finally, allowing supportive friends and family to know your meal plan and schedule will open up more opportunities to follow the plan and with time to learn to eat intuitively without the need of a meal plan.
*(I have experienced a time where my body required 13 starches, 10 proteins, 4 fruits, 4 vegetables, 8 fats, 3 others, 3 dairy’s in order to restore itself. With my nutritionist, the plan decreased as my body moved into a maintenance weight and was no longer repairing itself).
NB: The content of this article is for information purposes and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.