Your Meal Plan: Build a Strong Foundation

July 01, 2019

I often ask my clients to think of their meal plan like the blueprints for building a house. Some parts will be more tedious than others (like sorting out wood for framing) and there will be lots of repetition (just think how much hammering goes into building a house). Some parts will be scary and require support (there’s a reason roofers don’t work alone), while other parts will require creativity and flexibility (picking finishes). There will also be parts that are fun and enjoyable (time to decorate).

You have to get through the tedious, repetitive and scary parts to lay a strong foundation. This takes practice, long rides on the waves of anxiety and there are usually more than a few tears. At first, the process is going to feel mechanical. Many people try to rush through it or cut corners, thinking a little less here or there won’t matter in the end. However, these little changes can be the downfall of the house. They come up later like cracks in that beautiful paint job – the unexpected, not-fun-to-deal-with-surprise on the home renovation shows. The good news is that these larger cracks can be prevented. It requires identifying where there might be little cracks, making a plan to fix them, learning to use the tools needed and calling in support for those that are tough to reach. When the cracks are addressed, you get to move on to the fun stuff! The decorating, gardening and all the parts that I’m confident you’re so eager to get to in recovery.

Here’s an example, let’s call our person Jane.

Jane has a meal plan. Jane is so sick of having to follow her plan every day and feels like she’s been on it for an eternity. She’s eating in a much more recovery-oriented way compared to the past. While most of the noise in her head around food has decreased and her meal time anxiety waves are more like ripples, her eating disorder still has her convinced that some foods aren’t necessary. So, she starts to cut corners. This limits her from eating more freely with her friends and, when she does join them, she’s really more in her head than in their conversation.

No one really notices how often she’s corner-cutting except her dietitian, who keeps pointing out that this is the behavior that keeps her eating disorder functioning. Jane is so annoyed by this – it feels to her like her dietitian keeps harping on the cut-corners and isn’t recognizing the great strides she’s making elsewhere in following her meal plan. Her dietitian explains that, while many areas are going very well and there is reason to be proud, the variations also need to be addressed. She explains that these corner-cuts are keeping the eating disorder present and powerful, running the risk of it growing stronger with time, seeping into other areas of her process and moving her further away from her goal of full recovery. They review her goals and values, talking through where this behavior conflicts with each. Jane sees how continuing this behavior, while it doesn’t feel like a big deal now, could lead to bigger struggles down the road.

Jane isn’t thrilled but, together, they make a plan to address the behavior with food challenges and accountability over the coming weeks. Jane is determined to honor her value of connection, by being fully present with her friends and meeting her nutritional needs. She recognizes that to do this she needs her foundation to be strong and, in order for it to be strong, there is no room for her eating disorder.

Now it’s your turn:

Can you identify any cracks in your foundation that need addressing? What could these cracks lead to over time? Does a house with cracks fit your goal of recovery? How can you start to address them, what tools will you need to use and whom might you need to for support? How will this lead to your vision of recovery?

Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CEDRD-S has private practice in Virgina Beach, VA and oversees all nutrition across Oliver-Pyatt Centers as the Director of Nutrition Services. In addition to her role at Oliver-Pyatt Centers and her private practice, Ms. Dye continues to work as a consultant for New York University Abu Dhabi, providing one-on-one counseling to students of the university, and advising faculty on the assessment and treatment of eating disorders. Ms. Dye is an active member of the Nutrition and Health Management Committee of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and has conducted numerous workshops and seminars across the country. For more information or to contact Mary, please visit