“Decide what you want to eat because I am making you something for free that you have to eat,” the head cook proclaimed as I rushed to the kitchen with an armful of dishes. “If you don’t tell me what you want, you will be eating a rare burger.”
“But I’m vegetarian.” I managed to squeak out as my eating disorder voice began to hiss inside my head. His impish smile told me that he had been teasing, but I also could see that he was honest about the rest. What was I going to do?
Most Saturdays are spent at home until I go to work. These are my one day to spend in my pajamas on my computer. However, I had play practice at school yesterday and then went straight to work. Because of this, I had my normal weekday diet of foods that are condensed and easy to carry but not filling. Thus, my food choices fit into my meal plan but are on the low end of the range. This is partially because of my eating disorder but also simply because taking these things to school is easier.
So, I had most of my meal plan (or at least as much as I usually eat) for the day already. How could I suddenly add in another meal? True, I had only had large snacks and not true meals the whole day. Yet, the thought of consuming more grains or proteins terrified me. This would push me closer to 1oo% of my meal plan – nearer than I had been in years. It might even cause me to have more food than my plan prescribed.
All of these thoughts raged through my head. However, another part of me knew that I needed some normal food. Protein bars are great, but they cannot compare to homemade felafels with hummus and tahini. After eating healthy but unsubstantial snacks for the past few days, my body craved the Mediterranean cooking. If I caved to this desire, I feared I would be over-eating and giving in to my weak, selfish body.
Meal plans are helpful tools. Having one lets me know the amount of food my body needs to function. It taught me that protein, vegetables, grains, fats, fruits, calcium, and even a dessert are important parts of an everyday diet. Each plays a different role in sustaining my body. Without my meal plan, I feel afraid and lost. What do I eat? How much should I eat? Am I really hungry or full?
At the same time, people with meal plans need to realize that it is a tool to help them not an exact formula that will go haywire if something is a bit different one day. That is the reason there are ranges in my meal plan. A piece of bread or some rice are both considered a grain despite their differences. It is helpful to have a balance of different types of food with each type instead of only eating safe foods or ones on the low end of the range.
Often I plan my day around my meal plan. However, as I grow stronger in recovery, my days are changing a bit. Now, I start to plan my meal plan around my day. Will I be at school without a place to put a yogurt? Well then I should probably have two milks at home before I leave in the morning.
The most important thing that I learned yesterday from this experience was that my meal plan holds too much power right now. Yes, I need to follow it and work to increase the percentage of it that I eat. However, my life cannot always fit easily into my meal plan. Thus, being flexibility and adapting my meal plan is important. That might mean having an extra grain one day but one less milk. Right now, I am not ready for that. However, maybe that is a goal to work toward with my dietitian.
Last night, I faced my fear and had some delicious felafel with vegetables. Sure, it terrified me. And yet, I also felt good about my decision. It caused me to have a bit more food than usual (although it still fit into my meal plan) but my body needed that. A meal plan is something that should be adapted to fit me not something that I need to adapt to fit.