Using structured eating to create a meal plan for bulimia recovery

Richard Kerr's picture

Meal planning needs to play a key component in your bulimia recovery. Put simply if your planning to recover from bulimia you need to start planning your meals.

A lot of people are apprehensive about meal planning and eating to a strict schedule when starting recovery, and it’s not hard to understand why. 

For the majority of us, the only times we’ve ever found ourselves deciding on what we’ll eat ahead of time, or creating set meal plans, is when we’ve been stuck in a desperate cycle of restriction. 

But in those early days of recovery, creating meal plans and structuring your eating is vital if you are to be successful. On this page you’ll learn about the importance of structured eating and how to start creating your own recovery meal plans. 

What is structured eating?

Structured eating is really the backbone of bulimia recovery. It involves making yourself available to do planned eating at planned times each day. While following a structured eating plan you try to:

  • Eat three meals and three snacks a day, every day.
  • Eat regularly, leaving no more than 3 hours between meals and snacks. 

Constant bingeing and purging desensitises you to natural hunger and satiety signals, gives you a warped perception of portion sizes, and really forces your body to forget how to eat naturally. But the good news is that normal eating is a skill that can be learned.

1. Why do I have to eat three meals and three snacks?

Eating this amount of food can be a very scary step because basic logic would make you think if you increase your food intake then you will also increase your weight. But it is never that simple!

When you have bulimia your body fights back, doing everything it can to ensure you do not lose weight. Including lowering your metabolism, storing anything you do eat as fat rather than using it for energy, kicking off massive food cravings and giving you an insatiable appetite! 

-- The truth about bulimia recovery weight

By using structured eating you are telling your body it will get a steady stream of nutrition, therefore it does not need to send out powerful cravings to binge.

2. Why do I have to eat so regularly?

Eating regularly and spacing your meals in this way gives a massive boost to your metabolism, increases your energy levels and dramatically helps to reduce binge urges associated with distressed hunger. 

(Learn more about different types of binge urges by signing up to our free e-course).

This is an example of a time frame for structured eating:

07.30am - wake up

08.30am - eat breakfast

10.30am - mid morning snack

1.00pm - eat lunch

3.30pm - mid afternoon snack

4.30pm - another snack

6.00pm - dinner

8.30pm - evening snack

11.00pm - Time for sleep

Creating your structured eating plan

Creating a plan involves planning meals in advance, deciding what will be eaten, when and how much. Planning meals and times in advance takes the stress and strain away from deciding what to eat and when. 

How to do this:

  1. Print off this meal planning sheet
  2. Think about what you will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and what snacks you will eat in between.
  3. Choose foods you feel comfortable eating, you may decide to avoid trigger foods initially at this early stage.
  4. If you do not have your food available, then it is a good idea to do a grocery shop.
  5. Packed lunches can help - plan them and prepare tomorrow's meal.
  6. Plan the times when you will eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and your snacks. (See the print off for more examples)
  7. Try to keep as close to your structured plan as possible. 
  8. It can help to plan your meals and snacks the night before. 

Your structured eating plan should include...

  • A full breakfast
  • A full lunch
  • A full dinner
  • Snacks in between meals to stop you getting too hungry

How do I know how much food to eat?

Some people find roughly keeping track of calories can help, while others look to what others eat for ideas, buy food that is individually portioned or seek advice from a qualified nutritionist. 

How long should I use a structured eating plan for?

Most people in recovery find that they need to stick to some form of structured eating plan for AT LEAST 6 months.

Eating in a mechanical way can become emotionally draining at times, and may even feel like a diet. But know that structured eating is not a diet, it is an eating method that allows you to lay the foundations of your new bulimia free life. 

Starting to normalize food intake can be scary so think of this as an experiment...

If after 6 months you are dissatisfied with the results you can always resume back to your former eating style - although, I can assure that you will not want to do that!

Helpful tips before you begin

  • Understand that small fluctuations in body weight are to be expected.
  • Keep your food plan simple and try not to obsessively count calories.  
  • It’s okay to stick to foods you feel safe eating but do try to include all of the major food groups. 
  • It’s okay to initially avoid your main “trigger foods.”
  • Remember food planning is work-in-progress aimed at normalizing food intake and normal eating behaviour, don’t expect to get this “perfect.”
  • Consider keeping a record of your food in a food journal to get a better understanding of what works for you and what doesn’t.  
  • Understand that you just can’t trust natural hunger and fullness sensations at this time so you may have to eat when you don’t feel hungry and stop before you feel full. 

You can learn more about meal planning by signing up to our free recovery e-course

Please note: The advice on this page is NOT intended to replace professional nutritional advice. You should consult your doctor, dietitian or another medical professional before creating a meal plan.



The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


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