"My meal plan is so rigid...Aren't I supposed to be learning to be less rigid with my food?"
The above statement is an example of what I occasionally hear from my clients. Yes, a meal plan can seem rigid. However, to some extent, it has to be...and for good reason! It's no secret that a meal plan is what assures you that you are meeting your nutritional needs. A reason much less talked about, however, is that a meal plan is a teaching tool. A meal plan will teach you what a normal plate of food should look like for your needs. Your meal meal plan is what will actually usher you to normal eating habits again. Sure, thinking through your meal plan can take a lot of thought in the beginning and at times, it can be down right confusing and frustrating. In the beginning, it can take a lot of effort to remember all of the exchanges that you need, a lot of time to figure out which foods fit within each exchange group, and a lot of work to remember what the portion sizes are of various foods within each exchange group. Then, it can take even more effort, time, and work to figure out how everyday meals and snacks fit into your meal plan. When you are first put on a meal plan (by your dietitian, of course), it may feel like too much work to give your meal plan a fair shot. However, do not give up on your meal plan. It will get easier and you will learn that following your meal plan will be worth it! The more effort you put into your meal plan in the beginning, the less you will need to think about it as time goes on and the more automatic following your meal plan will become. The rigidity of your meal plan is what will actually help you learn to become less rigid down the road. Sure, it might take you some time to figure out how a dish at your favorite restaurant can fit into your meal plan. Once you figure it out though, you will likely remember how to do it. This means that the next time you eat at your favorite restaurant, the less you will need to think about it (as well as each time after that). Additionally, you will be able to apply the "know how" of one meal to a similar meal, each time taking less effort, time, and work than the meal before that. Once you learn that you can trust your meal plan with various meals (and individual foods), the more risks you will be able to take and the less rigid you will be able to become. The little bit of rigidity with your meal plan in the beginning of eating disorder treatment is what will pave the way to becoming less rigid and more flexible in the future.