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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: 

  • Help them  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 doctor says I HAVE to eat this much)
  • The prescriptive nature of an eating disorder meal plan can help soothe the eating disorder’s urge to restrict food
  • Provides adequate nutrition for the body
  • Can support weight restoration for patients that have lost significant amounts of weight.

Someone suffering from an eating disorder likely has a loud eating disorder voice which will make it very difficult to get adequate nourishment on their own.  A meal plan can help.

An eating disorder meal plan can get rid of the confusion about when, where, and how much to eat for weight restoration and long-term ED recovery. 

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, bananas, 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 person.    

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 eating throughout the day at the time the meal plan is to be initiated.

If someone is consuming less than 500 calories a day (the equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk) A recovery meal plan at home is 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 haes dietitian

If a person is consuming very low nutrition they may require the following when refeeding: 

  • A comprehensive metabolic panel CMP(blood draw) with their physician two times a week. 
  • A DEXA scan (especially if the person has gone more than 6 months without a period)
  • A magnesium test
  • Monitoring blood pressure
  • Monitoring heart rate

The comprehensive metabolic panel and magnesium test 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?

guide for serving sizes in eating disorder recovery

If it is deemed safe by your medical team you follow a meal plan in your home. It is very important to remember that for both anorexia and atypical anorexia, a meal plan is necessary and will most likely support weight restoration.

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. Typically an increase of 500 calories per week is appropriate. 

A vegan eating disorder recovery meal plan will look slightly different in terms of food choices, but will include the same amount of calories.

Hypermetabolism in anorexia recovery can significantly increase the amount of energy one needs throughout the day and should be closely monitored for while someone follows an eating disorder recovery meal plan.

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. 

template for eating disorder recovery meal plan

Bulimia Recovery Meal Plan

Bulimia can present with binging, restricting, or both. 

A meal plan for bulimia recovery will vary somewhat based on the symptoms that a person is having. The primary goal of a meal plan in bulimia recovery is:

  • Adequate intake
  • To create meal structure throughout the day
  • Provide permission to eat

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 throughout 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 Threes 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 you Been Successful With A Recovery Meal Plan?

Easy disorder recovery is not easy. It’s reddened with many emotions and comes along with an abundance of physical discomfort. It is certainly something that no one should face alone. 

Your support system can provide valuable meal support while this meal plan is carried out.

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
  • balance
  • Frequency in meal consumption
  • Portion guidelines

I often refer people on the support team to the book “sick enough” by Jennifer Guadiani for additional support with the medical complications of eating disorders.

Reminder: The links below are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

For more support on safe refeeding guidelines, check out these other eating disorder recovery books.

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Is it safe to initiate eating disorder recovery meal plans at home?

It depends. Those with an energy intake less than 500 calories a day will likely need a higher level of care.

What is in a meal plan for ED recovery

Grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, fats and oils

What are some anorexia recovery meal plan examples

Anorexia recovery meal plans typically consist of 3 meals and 3 snacks per day. They may start at 1600 calories and move up to the appropriate level of intake for the person.

What are the goals of the meal plan in ED recovery

balance, permission to eat, appropriate meal frequency, adequate nourishment

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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