How Meal Planning Can Support Intuitive Eating

As a dietitian I get asked all the time from friends, family, and clients...

"but what should I eat, just tell me what to eat!" 

And my answer is usually..." I'd rather talk about why you are confused about what you should be eating". Because really this lack of being able to tune into our own wants and needs is the real issue.

You see me telling you exactly what to eat, and giving you a very specific meal plan or "program" to follow is just not ever going to be a sustainable lifestyle change. It also removes the person from the intuitive part of the process, which is so important to both intuitive eating and for someone looking to embrace a more sustainable way of eating. 

the only right way to eat is to eat in a way that is right for you

There is not one right answer, or one right way to eat because we are all unique! And while sure I am always providing my clients with helpful guidelines, tools, and resources to support their own personal food discovery, I never want to remove the control from my clients hands.

Because ultimately one day...when we are no longer working together, I want them to be able to know how to feed themselves exactly as only they personally can know how. 

It is amazing how disconnected we have become from this innate intuition that absolutely every other species has to feed itself. Somewhere along the way, we decided to complicate our relationship with food, turning it into something that is "good" or "bad", or capable of causing a great amount of shame. We began to use it as a tool for managing our stress and feelings rather than addressing them. 

This is why I talk about our relationship with food, our bodies, our culture, and our environment so much because it is this disconnection between all these things that I believe is the cause of so much of our confusion.

How Meal Planning Can Support Intuitive Eating - The Well Essentials

but where do you begin when you are entirely overwhelmed by the thought of even beginning to tune into your body's needs?

Everyone needs to start somewhere, and when you are feeling overwhelmed or confused, sometimes being told to tune into your body's wants and needs can feel even more overwhelming...because you are so out of tune with those wants and needs to begin with. 

And let's not forget that as much as I wish we could live in a stress-free world where people weren't quite so busy...that probably isn't going to change anytime soon either. So rather than fight those daily stressors and busy work schedules I want to help people combat them, by quite literally creating a plan and a changed mindset around how to handle those stressful moments or busy days when they arise. 

Virtually everyone who has a somewhat  busy life I think can really benefit from some general guidelines, tips, and planning tools that can help make the process of quite literally re-learning how to feed our bodies, while simultaneously removing all the emotional stuff we have been harboring around food, a little bit easier of a transition. 

where i think personalized meal planning can play a role 

And by personalized I mean YOU the person eating the food decided what to eat and made a loose outline for your day or weekly meals. In the beginning, I love to focus more on a few fundamental nutrition principles that we know through research can help encourage satiety, promote healthy hormone production/balance, and encourage the enjoyment of ALL FOODS. 

For the most part this involves creating meals that include ALL macronutrients and food groups. 

Because all foods really do fit you guys, and when you allow yourself to eat ALL FOODS and not label your food as "healthy" or "unhealthy" or "good" or "bad" you start to realize that you can better hear what it is your body wants and is craving versus what your mind wants.

Here is a screenshot from my meal planning guide that shows you my essentials for success in meal planning (with intuitive eating in mind).

How Meal Planning Can Support Intuitive Eating - The Well Essentials

so how does meal planning support a transition towards intuitive eating?

I love using meal planning as a tool to help encourage intuitive eating and a connection with our food in a busy world. Because in many ways if you have a busy job or life, and you aren't doing any planning around your meals, it can actually make it more difficult to tune into your own intuition. Not having any plan at all can sometimes lead to worry about what you are going to eat, or lack of resources because you didn't do any planning and now you have no food in the house.

This is how intuitive eating principles and a little gentle planning can actually work really well together. It also is important to remember that just because you have a "plan" doesn't mean you can't vary from that plan if your body is telling you it wants something else.

Even today after many many years of embracing intuitive eating, and working towards a more seasonal approach to eating, I still find that meal planning (note I didn't say prepping) really helps me feel prepared during the week so I am not making choices based off a stressed or emotional moment.

It also I find really allows me to determine whether what I planned is actually what I am craving, or if I really would rather go out to eat that night or make something entirely different. 

How Meal Planning Can Support Intuitive Eating - The Well Essentials

when i don't find meal planning to be helpful with intuitive eating

Where meal planning goes wrong though is when people use it as just another form of dieting or being restrictive. That isn't the point of meal planning in my opinion and certainly isn't a sustainable behavior change. Instead I like to encourage my clients to work through the steps I outline in my Meal Planning Guide and create a "plan" that isn't rigid, but structured enough that they know it will work for them personally. 

I also LOVE to have my clients who are just beginning to transition to more intuitive eating plan for a few indulgences a week. I don't even like to use the word indulgence but for lack of a better word, I like to challenge my clients to embrace some of their "fear foods" and literally plan for them, and allow themselves to enjoy them.

I find that planning them into the week and purposefully going into those meals with compassion and mindfulness can be really helpful in reducing some of the fear and restriction that accompanies so many different foods for so many people. 

With time some of these "indulgences" may not even have an appeal anymore because you allowed yourself to consume them. Or you may find that you actually enjoy them more but feel less out of control around them. 

This is all a part of the intuitive eating process and is one of the most magical transformation parts that I love witnessing in my clients.

So if you want to get started with meal planning in a more kind, and compassionate fashion that supports all the foods and intuitive eating I would recommend incorporating some aspects of meal planning. Just make sure the purpose is to help support your personal health and lifestyle, and to embrace the process of planning some of your meals from a place where all foods can fit and be enjoyed.