Eating Plans

Issues around eating plans are the most controversial aspect of eating disorders. Approaches range from seeing diets and eating plans as the major cause of eating disorders to saying that no one is in recovery unless they are following a rigid eating plan. Even addicts who do not recognize an addiction to eating struggle with diets or eating plans.

Food Plans

In many places, eating plans are called “food plans”. That term was better than “diet”, but it still focused on the foods rather than the eating. Overeaters Anonymous has also changed the name of one of its Tools of Recovery from “food plan” to a “plan of eating”.

Everybody Has One

We maintain that everyone has an eating plan. It is how people decide when, what, and how much to eat. An eating addict who is bingeing may be using a eating plan that says, ‘‘I’ll eat everything I want to eat anytime I want it.” So not every eating plan is healthy.

Reasonable vs. unreasonable Essentially, an eating plan that works is probably reasonable, and one that doesn’t may be pretty unreasonable. We will talk generally about eating plans, and then make some suggestions about the goal of any eating plan, which is to help you eat moderate, regulated meals.

Degree of structure How much structure do you need? You may find that you like some definite guidelines about your meals, or you may be able to eat moderate meals by guessing and asking your Higher Power to help. Your particular compromise may fall anywhere between a very rigid eating plan and very general guidelines.

If the plan is too lenient, there is not enough guidance to gradually manage weight, to avoid mood alteration or cravings caused by particular foods, or to avoid obsession caused by these things. Also, if you are an eating addict, you should have enough structure to know, and say, that you are eating moderately.

If the plan is too rigid, the excessive concentration on food and fear of losing control will produce obsession about food, diet, and other things in life.

Following an eating plan To be effective, an eating plan must be seen as a tool rather than a restriction. It should make your recovery easier, not harder. Ultimately, the strength to follow the eating plan must come from a Higher Power or some source of guidance rather than will power.

Individual differences Different people have different needs. There are far too many variables in human bodies and in nutrition to suggest that a “one size fits all” eating plan will work for most food addicts, much less other addicts.

Staying on it A rigid eating plan, especially if you equate it with abstinence, is a setup to fail. Any deviation is translated by your diet mentality into a perception of failure. And every addict knows that failure is ample justification for a binge.

What if you get off it? The dichotomous thinking of success or failure may work in the short run to keep you out of trouble, but it breaks down in the long haul. We like to talk about a lapse (like a near miss), a relapse (a minor accident), and a collapse (a tragic accident). This analogy makes it more apparent that the quicker you can reverse a relapse process, the better. See the module on Relapse prevention.

For eating addicts, if you find yourself straying from your food plan, get back into it solidly, and start talking with others in recovery. Don’t try to figure out whether it was a relapse until after you have gotten back solidly into recovery.

Food Preparation

For eating addicts some of these common patterns of compulsive eating relate to food preparation:

  • Not thinking ahead
  • Impulsive shopping or eating
  • High-sugar or high-fat foods
  • Fast foods
  • Nibbling (not just tasting) while preparing food
  • Reading/watching TV while eating
  • Cooking and eating alone

Planning Food planning and food preparation are related. You need to plan to buy what you are going to prepare. We have heard of people who are required to plan and “call in their food” to another OA member every day. Some people plan for a whole week. Others plan just a few hours or even minutes ahead of time. Do whatever fits your lifestyle and helps free you for living, if it actually works.

Planning can be a great aid, if you don’t go to the opposite extreme of obsession and fear. Having reasonable guidelines and a reasonable eating plan are important. You should be neither too much nor too little involved in food preparation, and there is a wide range in this, according to your situation.

Healthy Patterns

You need some flexibility in how you plan and prepare meals. Work on getting some kind of balance. You may need to make significant changes in how you cook or prepare meals, or they may be minor changes. Remember that nutrition is important in food preparation. Most eating addicts, and other addicts concerned about their weight, should avoid deep-fat fried food, gravies, and fatty sauces. You may need to avoid foods high in sugar content. Even underweight anorexics should be encouraged to make good nutritional choices, choosing, for example, less saturated fats.

You can prepare tasty foods without spending too much time, if you have a realistic eating plan.

Eating plans, see also: Abstinence, Allergies, Binge history, Biochemistry, Control, Craving, Delusion, Eating addiction, Fats, Habit & structure, Judgment, Metabolism, Moderation, Moodifiers, Nutrition, Obsession, Physical aspects, Step One, Sugar, Weight.

Updated 1 Sep 2015


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