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Can Meal Planning and Meal Prep Work with Intuitive Eating?

At first glance, it would appear that Intuitive Eating and meal planning/meal prep don’t mix.

Intuitive Eating is about listening to your body’s signals to help you decide what and how much to eat; meal planning and meal prep “decide” that for you ahead of time.

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is “reject the diet mentality”; meal plans, meal prep and meal planning are often the cornerstones of diets, weight loss programs or “lifestyle changes” to help people lose weight.

So why would I still have the gall to identify as an Intuitive Eater while meal planning every week?

You Can Meal Plan/Prep and Eat Intuitively

In some ways, our diet culture has trained us to believe that we need to do things “right” in order to be healthy – we need to “stay within our points”, “eat our macros” or “cut out X”, and if we miss even by one point, gram or morsel, then we’re doing it “wrong”. So, I just wanted to put it out there that there is no “right way” to eat intuitively – some people like to include more treats or “play foods”, some people don’t. Some people find that movement gives them energy and joy, while others find it triggers restrictive thoughts. In fact, a single person can find themselves going through all these phases as they discover Intuitive Eating.

So, how do you know whether you’re practicing Intuitive Eating or you’re just on a diet in disguise? The answer is: intention.

In diet culture, meal planning and meal prepping are often about making sure that you’re eating the “right” things at the “right” portions, and keeping the “bad” foods out of your diet. It doesn’t matter if you are feeling hungry or unsatisfied all the time – you need to stick to the plan! With that in mind, it would totally make sense for someone who is starting out with Intuitive Eating to let go of all that planning and prepping – why plan if I don’t know what I’m going to feel like eating an hour from now, let alone the rest of the week? Why prep if the portions are so small, or the food is so boring that I’m going to go get some other food anyway?

When I meal plan, I’m not doing it because I’m forcing myself to eat a certain way, and it’s NBD if I don’t follow it to a tee. It’s just really nice to have an idea of what I’m having for supper every week, so that:

  • When I get groceries, I buy what I need, which saves me time, money, and multiple trips to the grocery store.
  • I’m more likely to use the ingredients that I have, so I’m not throwing out forgotten vegetables from the back of my fridge every week.
  • My husband can see the meal plan, and can start/prepare dinner if I’m out late.
  • It gives me something to look forward to, instead of stressing about what I’m going to have for dinner.

Most importantly, it really just keeps me from being HANGRY and wanting to EAT ALL THE THINGS, because when I’m at that stage, it keeps me from doing anything well. In other words, it’s an act of self-care, not self-control. (Thank you, Christy Harrison, for this phrase!)

Interestingly, my meal planning didn’t always look like the way that it does now. When I was in university and just cooking for myself, I never had a set meal plan, but tended to buy similar foods from week to week, so I could put together what I felt like. I guess now that there’s two of us with different schedules and different palates, I prefer to be a little more organized!

If you’re still not sure whether your meal planning or meal prep is coming from a place of self-care or restriction, my colleague Fiona Sutherland of Body Positive Australia has written a nice summary of this topic as well!

Do you do any meal planning or meal prep? What does it look like for you? Do you feel like it’s coming from a place of self-care or self-control? Please share your insights in the comments below.

4 Comments

  • Rebecca Bitzer on Aug 18, 2017 Reply

    This is great. Yes, I agree. Planning is key even with intuitive eating.

    • Vincci Tsui on Aug 18, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Rebecca!

  • Lori on Aug 17, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for this. In certain Facebook groups I’ve been scolded or corrected for meal planning. At first I was discouraged and then it occurred to me that if you’re too “religious” about intentional eating, that can be a diet mentality too. As I’m moving away from dieting and emotional eating and towards intentional or intuitive eating I’m figuring stuff out. I didn’t meal plan this week and so I haven’t had good ingredients on hand and so I’ve had suppers that didn’t feel good. When I meal plan, I plan delicious dinners and have the ingredients on hand to create them. If I get an invitation to go for beer and wings, I’ll push my chicken caesar salad to the next day. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m trying to not get hung up on language and definitions as much as taking care of me in a way that makes sense to me. Meal planning makes sense for me. If it doesn’t fit into someone else’s definition of Intuitive Eating, NBD.

    • Vincci Tsui on Aug 18, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Lori. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve run into the “Intuitive Eating police” – I think there are many people who are at different places on their journey from dieting to Intuitive Eating/Health At Every Size, and it can be difficult to not revert back to some of those same “diet mentality”/”food rules” types of thoughts and behaviours. It sounds like you’re figuring out what works best for you.

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