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Eating Disorder Recovery Meal Plans

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What Is The Purpose Of A Meal Plan In Eating Disorder Recovery?

Eating disorders, especially those involving very low caloric intake, will require a meal plan carefully constructed by a registered dietitian to re-nourish safely. Eating disorder recovery meal plans will vary from person to person.

There can be risks when we introduce food back into a very restrictive diet including digestive issues and refeeding syndrome. 

An eating disorder meal plan will do several things for someone recovering from an eating disorder: 

  • Helps them to re-nourish safely
  • Can help the person struggling with an eating disorder feel as though they have “permission” to eat (for example- my dietitian or doctors says I HAVE to eat this much)
  • The prescriptive nature of an eating disorder meal plan can help soothe the eating disorders urge to restrict food
  • Provides adequate nutrition for the body
  • Can support weight restoration for patients that have lost significant amounts of weight.

What Should I Eat In Recovery?

A balanced meal plan for eating disorder recovery will typically consist of: 

  • Grains and Starches: bread, english muffin, bagel, pita bread, grits, oatmeal, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, quinoa, bulgur, millet, polenta
  • Meat or Meat Alternatives: chicken, fish, beef, pork, tofu, beans, tempeh, legumes
  • Dairy or dairy alternatives: milk, soy milk, buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, almond milk
  • Vegetables: tomatoes, carrots, kale, broccoli, collard, artichokes, green beans, celery, cucumber, potatoes, winter squash, peas, corn
  • Fruit: apricots, banana, dates, grapes, oranges, juice, melons, strawberries, pineapple, raisins
  • Fats and oils:butter, mayo, olive oil, salad dressing, olives, avocado, hummus

The amount of each of these food groups will vary greatly for each individual.  

Is It Safe To Initiate Eating Disorder Recovery Meal Plans At Home

This will highly depend on the level of restriction and total amount food a person is consuming through the day at the time the plan is to be initiated.

If someone is consuming less than 500 calories a day (the equivalent  of one small meal a day) A recovery meal plan at home is generally not safe.  

This level of malnutrition often requires a higher level of care such as an inpatient facility or medical monitoring at a hospital. 

The decision to start a recovery meal plan at home should be carefully assessed by the eating disorder treatment team which includes a registered dietitian. 

If someone is consuming very low nutrition, it is recommended that when food is increased the person is doing a comprehensive metabolic  panel (blood draw) with their physician two times a week. 

The comprehensive metabolic panel is intended to monitor for re-feeding syndrome, which can be life threatening. 

When food is re-introduced, it should be gradual.

Recovery Meal Plan For Anorexia

How Do You Start Eating After Starvation?

If it is deemed safe by your medical team that you follow a meal plan in your home, here is a meal plan that will be safe to follow for most people. 

Recovery Breakfast Portions: 

  • Grains-1
  • Meat/alternatives-1
  • Dairy/alternatives-1
  • Fruits/Vegetables-1.5
  • Fats/Spreads-1

Recovery Lunch Portions: 

  • Grains-2
  • Meat/alternatives-1
  • Dairy/alternatives-0.5
  • Fruits/Vegetables-1
  • Fats/Spreads-1

Recovery After Noon Snack Portions:

  • Grains or Cereal Bar-1

Recovery Dinner Portions: 

  • Grains-2
  • Meat/alternatives-2
  • Dairy/alternatives-1
  • Fruits/Vegetables-1.5

Recovery After Dinner Snack Portions: 

  • Dairy/Alternative-1

It’s important to consider that the recommendations for starting out with a recovery meal plan WILL NOT meet the actual nutrition needs for most people. 

You should plan to gradually add to this plan weekly with the guidance of your treatment team. 

The serving sizes appropriate for following the meal plan above are outlined in the chart below.  

How Many Meals Does Someone Recovering From Anorexia Need?

People recovering from an eating disorder including anorexia should plan to have a meal or snack no more than 3 hours apart. 

A typical recovery treatment plan will include at least 3 meals and 2 snacks per day for someone recovering from anorexia. 

Bulimia Recovery Meal Plan

Bulimia can present itself with varying levels of restriction.  Thus, the meal plan for recovery will vary somewhat based on the symptoms that a person is experiencing. 

For someone experiencing bulimia nervosa, they may be engaging in binging, restricting, or both. 

For a bulimia recovery meal plan, the intention is to alleviate the restriction.  A recovery plan for bulimia should consist of regular meals and snacks through the day (about 3 hours apart).  

A bulimia recovery meal plan should consist of  at least 3 meals and two snacks per day. 

What Is The Rule Of Three’s In Eating Disorder Recovery?

The rule of threes in eating disorder recovery is a simple  way to remind ourselves when and how to nourish. 

The rule of threes includes having this structure daily: 

  • Three meals
  • Three snacks
  • No more than three hours apart

While individual needs will vary and should be discussed with an eating disorder dietitian, a general eating disorder recovery meal will consist of: 

  • A grain
  • A Fat
  • A Protein
  • A fruit or veggie

What Does The Plate By Plate Method Look Like In Eating Disorder Recovery?

The plate by plate approach focuses on the composition of each plate at every meal. 

Some individuals can benefit from this approach as it does not require measuring individual portions or calorie counting. 

The plate by plate approach focuses on: 

  • 1/2 plate of grains/starches
  • 1/4 plate veggies/fruits
  • 1/4 plate protein
  • one fat
  • 1 serving of dairy

This plate may be modified slightly for children or those with bulimia nervosa. 

Have Can We Be Successful With A Recovery Meal Plan?

Easy disorder recovery is no easy feat, and is certainly something that no one should face alone. 

Your support system can provide valuable meal support while this meal plan is carried out. Even with all of the instructions seemingly lined up in a recovery meal plan, carrying out the recommended nutrition is often very difficult for someone struggling with an eating disorder. 

No one should begin to reintroduce food after restriction without proper guidance from an eating disorder treatment team. 

An eating disorder recovery meal plan will vary from one person to the next. We can expect every recovery meal plan to include variety and balance, as well as provide guidelines for frequency in meal consumption. 

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!

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