Meal Planning as an intuitive eater

Working towards becoming an intuitive eater requires flexibility and sometimes imperfect eating. Imperfect in the sense that each day can be different, each day does not have to be planned out perfectly, and your body will actually thank you. Flexibility meaning that food should be fun, exciting, and sometimes a little impulsive, while also still satisfying your nutritional needs. A gentle reminder: your body WILL NOT change or go into distress mode if you eat a whatever food: eating in between meals, taking a few bites to taste a food you prepared, or eating an unplanned food because it was offered at your work and it looked satisfying. Actually holding out and not honoring your cravings could possibly lead to overeating or binging. This could look like initially avoiding a whatever food, searching for something "healthier" to replace the food initially craved, maybe eating one or several items to replace that craved food yet still feeling unsatisfied, and eventually going to find that food that was avoided earlier on. Can you still meal plan as an intuitive eater? ABSOLUTELY! Intuitive eating is a lifestyle that stresses body attunement and selfcare. So for example, understanding that your Monday will be filled with meetings and draining conversations that won't allow you to step out and buy food or make lunch, and that you will need not just caffeine but actual energy-rich foods to get you through the day, is acting as an intuitive eater. Below are several tips to support you in practicing, or striving for, intuitive eating, and supporting you where you are at in your relationship with food. 

1. KNOW YOUR SCHEDULE AND PRIORITIZE FOOD For instance, take the above example. Planning for a busy Monday could involve making extra for dinner the night before to have for lunch the next two days, packing a variety of snacks to satisfy the sweet but also salty and savory needs, making a sandwich and one to two sides in the morning, or stopping at the nearest grocery store to find a ready-made sandwich or frozen entrée to nuke in the microwave at work. All of these are absolutely okay and can be filling enough to get you through the day, without losing concentration. If you find yourself hungry after a planned meal, having snacks available is another way to prioritize food. Keeping a planner or having access to your work calendar at home (without obsessing over it, but checking maybe one time on Sunday to help you prep and plan food for the next day) can help you in planning whether more snacks or a substantial meal and a couple of snacks would set you up for success best. 

2. GROCERY SHOP WITH AN INTENTION Grocery shopping is a key step in prioritizing food and planning ahead. Without shopping with intent and buying randomly (this can have its place 100%, just not when food is hard to plan in the moment during the week), meals may be overwhelming or harder to decide on. Here are some tips to enhance your grocery shopping for prepping ahead:

  • Shop with a list
  • Try Instacart or another online shopping platform
  • Use Pinterest, Tasty, or another food recipe app for inspiration
  • Keep a journal of your favorite recipes to pull from
  • Shop with a satisfied stomach
  • Keep stock of your favorite staples
  • Shop in bulk- this saves time and is more cost effective

3. IT'S OKAY TO PLAN SIMPLE Your meal prepping and planning does not have to be glorious, like the social media influencers who make a following on what they eat in a day and create stacks of meal prep containers with similar ingredients they feel safe eating for the week. No… your meal prepping can be for one meal the next day or for a few days. It also should not be the same grain, protein, and fruit/vegetable repeatedly- variety is key for optimal nutrition plus feeling satisfied from food. You can use whatever containers available, or find ready-made meal ideas such as frozen entrees, a wrap, or leftovers from eating out the night before. 

4. EAT THAT WHATEVER FOOD, WITHOUT BEHAVIORS Don't stress over wanting something outside of what you have planned. Also, there may be days where you're hungrier than others, and what you packed for lunch will not fuel you until dinner. That's okay, and there's nothing wrong with you or your body just because you are feeling hungrier: our hunger/fullness cues ebb and flow. Giving yourself permission to eat something satisfying related to hunger, sight, or smell is supportive in improving your relationship with food. For example, if a coworker brings in brownies at lunch, and it's your favorite dessert, add this to your lunch, or have it for a snack later. DO NOT compensate later by eating less, exercising more, or taking supplements to get rid of this extra food. Your body will know what to do with it. Plus, think of the types and amount of food you eat as an average, and that not one day will change your body-basically limit the all or nothing thinking. (On the flip side, it's also okay to say no to food people offer you when you are full and working on honoring your internal cues.) 

5. UNDERSTAND YOUR HUNGER CUES Increasing your body awareness, body attunement will help you in planning ahead for the week and packing enough food/beverages to keep you satisfied. First, think about your specific hunger cues at each level, where 1 is famished, 5 is neutral but a snack could be satisfying, and 10 being very very full. Second, consider the type of day you'll have ahead of you: your stress levels during a particular day (what adds to your stress?), activity levels before, during, and after work, the amount you will be on your feet, and how much of a break you'll have between activities of daily living or work tasks. Your hunger cues are always going to be there, but hunger may be present earlier on with being more active or increased stress. On the opposite side of the spectrum, stress and emotions can sometimes decrease your appetite, but does not mean your body isn't in need of food. Fourth, take the time to learn what food options are satisfying at each level of hunger/fullness. Lastly, avoid appetite suppressive behaviors to push off hunger and meet the task at hand vs satisfying your hunger. Drinking caffeine, chewing gum, chugging water or low calorie drinks, or sipping on carbonated beverages may give you a false sense of fullness, but is not what your body truly needs in that moment and will interfere with developing solid hunger/fullness cues. 6. TAKE TIME TO EAT Start by limiting distractions while you eat, such as working while eating, video games, scrolling through social media, or work meetings. Light TV, conversation, or reading (a book, newspaper, or on your phone or Ipad) may be okay. Allot a minimum of 25-35 minutes for a meal (eating and socializing with colleagues, more if it requires prep time beyond just microwaving leftovers), and 10-20 minutes for a snack. Step away from your office space, current task at hand, and any stressful situation in general. I like to remind my clients that a work-life-food balance is necessary to not only develop a healthy relationship with food, but to keep work enjoyable as well. If you are having a hard time delegating time to food, block it off in your calendar or set alarms on your phone for meals. You deserve breaks and self care multiple times a day. If you like the sound of becoming an intuitive eater and want more meal planning ideas, seek support from a registered dietitian at Enhance Nutrition. We love talking about food!...and want to support you in improving your relationship with food, no matter where that start line is.