Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Today we're talking about a hot topic! Meal planning meets Intuitive Eating!
When you think of Intuitive Eating, some words that might come to mind are: flexible, free, spontaneous, intuitive, flowy, and no rules.
And for good reason!
Most of these words are a huge part of what makes Intuitive Eating so special and what makes Intuitive Eating a direct counter to the rules, 'shoulds,' and rigidity of diet-culture.
👉How then, can one incorporate meal planning and organized grocery shopping into the Intuitive Eating framework?
That's what we'll explore in this blog post!
Can IE and meal planning really go together?
One of the biggest differences between diet-culture meal planning and Intuitive Eating meal planning is the INTENTION behind it.
Many people traditionally create meal plans from a place of rigidity and control.
From this perspective, the meal plans are created as a roadmap of rules to follow. People following meal plans in this way typically place a lot of focus on the types of food you’re eating each day, the nutritional value of those foods, and making sure your daily & weekly plans are “balanced.”
This line of thinking is very much rooted in the diet mentality. Where certain foods are labeled "good" and "bad" and the reason you have a meal plan to begin with is probably to help you "stay on track" and avoid certain "bad" foods.
❌❌This type of meal planning will NOT support your Intuitive Eating journey.
One of the principles of Intuitive Eating (for a full rundown of the 10 Principles, check out this blog post) is "Reject the Diet Mentality."
👉So, when approaching the idea of meal planning and grocery shopping to support your Intuitive Eating journey it still needs to be done with an intention of grace, flexibility, and the belief that all foods are allowed and welcome in your diet.
Some of the benefits of incorporating meal planning on your Intuitive Eating journey are:
Increasing your satisfaction with food
Minimizing decision fatigue
Taking into account the realities of your life and what food is available to you at any given time
✨Benefit #1: Finding satisfaction with food
Rather than approaching your meal plan from a place of 'shoulds' and striving to meet certain quotas, you can create a meal plan around what kinds of foods sound appealing and appetizing to you!
In fact, instead of calling it meal planning, you could even call it "meal dreaming!"
👉Sit down at the beginning of the week and intentionally consider:
What sounds good to me this week?
What foods have I been craving recently?
What foods have I gone a while without eating that I miss?
What food is in-season that would feel extra nice to enjoy right now?
What's my favorite type of cuisine and what night do I want to eat that this week?
Wouldn’t it be fun to brainstorm what foods you want to buy at the grocery store and what you want to cook this week from a place of “What sounds good?”
Principle 6 in Intuitive Eating is "Finding Satisfaction with Food" and I actually believe meal planning/dreaming can help you do just that! Hopefully, you'll begin looking forward to your meals and seeing them written down on your calendar will feel supportive and exciting!
✨Benefit #2: Minimizing decision fatigue
I was talking with a client recently who said now that no foods are off-limits for her (hooray!), it feels like the world is full of SO much opportunity that it can almost be overwhelming!
When you give yourself permission to eat anything you want it can feel a little daunting to check in with your body and constantly try to decide what you're in the mood for or what you want to eat.
If you open the refrigerator and tell yourself you can have whatever you want but there is no sort of structure or plan in place, you might begin to feel tired or overwhelmed trying to continually decide what to eat.
This is called decision fatigue. It takes energy to evaluate options and determine which one is best at any given time. Having some sort of structure and boundaries in place around your meal times and grocery shopping trips can simplify and streamline your decision-making process.
✨Benefit #3: Taking into account the realities of your life
Do you live near a grocery store?
Do you have a short or long lunch break?
How much money do you have set aside for dining out versus grocery shopping?
Do you even enjoy cooking or is it more of a chore?
By answering these questions and coming up with some sort of a plan that works for your lifestyle, you’re actually making Intuitive Eating more feasible for yourself.
👉Intuitive Eating doesn’t mean you think about what sounds good at every meal and then do whatever it takes at all costs to go get that food. No, we need to honor your life.
By being intentional with your grocery shopping and meal planning, you'll be able to really consider your multi-faceted life and all the different factors at play around you.
Intuitive Eating is nuanced (unlike diet-culture) and you can actually use your meal plan to create a structure and system that works for YOU (not your mom, your neighbor, or your favorite IG influencer).
Why structure is important
Everyone, and I mean everyone, benefits from SOME structure in their life.
Even if you're the most free-spirited person in town, it can quickly feel exhausting swimming in a sea of endless possibilities with no guidance on where to go, where to turn, or when to stop.
Creating some structure in your meal planning and grocery shopping can actually open up space for even more creativity and fluidity than having NO plan or intention would.
When you set certain parameters (which parameters you set is up to you!), you're giving yourself some boundaries and guidelines that help you function more freely.
For instance, deciding you want to eat breakfast between 7-9am every day is a form of structure, of loose planning.
Having this intention in place clears up some of the mental noise you might have first thing in the morning rather than waking up and thinking "I have no idea when I'm eating, what I'm eating, or how I'm going to make this food appear." Having such a wide-open space of possibility could feel overwhelming for some and might even prompt you to skip breakfast because it feels like "too much" (I hear this a lot from clients!!)
If you can plan for some of those variables, it frees up time and energy for you to spontaneously and intuitively lean into some of the other aspects of your dining experience.
Some ideas for creating loose structure
✨Themed nights: Pizza night, breakfast for dinner, Mexican, try a new local restaurant, etc. Setting theme nights can be something you do every now and then or you could establish a tradition of having pizza every Friday night! This is a fun way to play around with structure (the theme) and spontaneity
(what kind of pizza or breakfast do you want?)
✨Set meal times: Aim for ranges. Again, we’re not trying to create rigid plans, but setting an intention to eat certain meals or snacks within a certain time range could be useful in helping you schedule your day. For example: Shooting for breakfast between 7-9 am, lunch 12-2, dinner, 5-7, etc. Or whatever times work for you!
✨Delegating who cooks and when: If you're not the type who likes to decide what you're eating on certain days of the week, maybe it would be helpful to decide who is cooking on what nights. Do you and your partner take turns? Do you order takeout some nights?
✨Similarly to the previous one, it can be helpful at the beginning of the week to decide how many nights you want to cook versus dine out over the course of a week and
use those as a loose structure to help you plan what to eat and when.
✨Use meal delivery services: Most services deliver 3-4 meals a week. This gives you some structure of knowing you have those designated meals on hand, but you can keep it flexible and decide the day-of which of the 3 meals you want to cook that night! This allows you to check-in with your body and see what sounds good.
✨Having organizational systems in place for creating grocery lists, grocery shopping, meal planning, collecting recipes, etc.
☝☝THIS ONE!!! This has seriously helped me SO MUCH in decreasing my own overwhelm with meal planning and grocery shopping.
👉Note: You don't have to use ALL these ideas at once. In fact, I'd suggest you don't because that would probably be more structure than you need!
Play around and experiment with different ways of creating some fun and playful structure in your meal planning so that it still feels like there's room for changing plans, trying new things, and honoring your body's unique cravings and hunger levels throughout the week.
I hope some of these tips were helpful! Please let me know what you try out!
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May all your future cooking and grocery shopping endeavors be filled with joy!