I Think Meal Planning Is Like Food Prison. Here's Why

Written by Trista Johnson

Photo by Stocksy

As a type 1 diabetic, I always need to be prepared with snacks and a plan for when I will be eating throughout the day. I usually prep my breakfast and lunch the night before, and I even like to batch-cook ingredients for dinner so that I don't have to spend much time in the kitchen after work.

This is all well and good, but recently, I found myself forcing down my overnight chia pudding before work and then at lunch I felt obligated to eat my salad when what I was really craving was a sandwich. It occurred to me that all of my efforts to plan my meals was making it difficult to tune into my body and listen to what it desired in the moment.

Meal prep is all the rage these days, especially among the fitness crowd. Check Instagram on a Sunday night, and you will see many pictures of perfectly portioned batch-cooked meals ready for the week ahead. There are a lot of healthy benefits to meal prepping. You can save time and money by cooking food in advance, and having a nutritious option ready to eat prevents spur-of-the-moment takeout orders. As a type 1 diabetic, I appreciate the efficiency and security that meal planning provides. Lately, however, I've started to wonder if I am still reaping the benefits of prepping my food in advance or if this scrupulous planning was actually leading me away from my healthy intentions.

Here are three ways I felt my meal prep was detrimental and how I solved for them:

1. I ate out of obligation, guilt, and rigidity.

When I make several days' worth of breakfast on Sunday night, I wake up on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday feeling obligated to eat what's waiting for me. While routine feels good, forcing down cold chia pudding when you would rather be eating a warm slice of avocado toast does not. I've found myself eating my prepared meals without even being hungry because I felt guilty at the thought of wasting food.

The shift: When I make my breakfast the morning I am going to be eating it, I can adjust according to my hunger level and desires so that I do not feel obligated to eat something my body doesn't truly want.

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2. I felt distanced from my own body.

Knowing hours (days) in advance what I am having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner gives me no reason to tune in to my body's hunger signals or cravings. Mealtime becomes a robotic routine instead of a mindful ritual. I find myself going through the motions of eating and not feeling completely satisfied, which has me seeking an unplanned snack later in the day.

The shift: Try choosing one meal to leave unplanned depending on your schedule.

3. I felt rushed in both cooking and eating.

I understand that part of the appeal of meal prepping is to save time and eliminate stress in our busy lives. I'll admit that I was surprised to find that as I began to experiment with not preparing my meals ahead of time, I actually enjoyed cooking my meals in the moment.

The shift: Somehow this felt less stressful than the pressure of needing to have three meals ready for the next three to four days. I also felt that I put more love and care not only into cooking the food but into cultivating a mindful eating environment.

We are all busy, and if the thought of cooking multiple times a day is highly unrealistic for you, try choosing one meal that you do not plan in advance. Maybe you can wake up a little earlier to make yourself a hot breakfast before your day begins. Or, if the morning is too hectic, maybe cooking dinner in the evening could be a pleasant way for you to unwind from your day. If you have kids that need your attention in the morning and at night, try mixing up your lunch routine. Take the full lunch hour to try a new restaurant, go to Whole Foods and mindfully create a meal, or even pack the ingredients to make a sandwich at your desk. You will be amazed at how it feels to unplan one aspect of your day.

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