Why I Ate Wednesday: Is Meal Prepping A Problem?
Why I Ate Wednesday: Meal Prep and Studying
Kicking off another Why I Ate Wednesday with a round up of meals that worked while I was studying for the RD Exam the past few weeks. I started this series mostly on Instagram Stories and this blog post to show all the different reasons and factors that go into us choosing how/when/why we eat - vs. just what we eat. Traditional WIAWs can appear picture perfect or rigid without showing the in-betweens of meals on the go, convenient foods, or just a more holistic view into all the foods that make up our regular, normal diets. Talking about the why here is a little reminder that all foods fit, and finding what works for you (not just what someone you follow on Instagram says) is what’s most important. For more WHY I Ate Wednesday content check out #whyiatewednesday on Instagram for great posts and not your typical curated food pics.
In the past month I graduated from my dietetic internship and got right into studying for my RD Exam. I was lucky enough to be able to study full-time, which meant full days at the library and packing meals to go. During the year, I had relied on our meal stipend for lunches at the hospital so getting back into the swing of prepping ahead was a bit of a learning curve and goes along with one of the most common questions I get asked as a nutrition student and (new) Dietitian:
“Do you have a suggestion of a meal plan? What do you think about meal prepping?”
What is Meal Prepping and Why is it (sometimes) a Problem
“Meal Prepping” and meal plans are popular terms used to talk about time and money-saving ways of cooking meals ahead of time for the week. These aren’t new or revolutionary ideas, it’s basically intentional leftovers or batch cooking, they provide some structure and guidance to preparing for the week ahead. A point of concern comes in how the terms are used and what they’re normally associated with, especially on social media and popular blog posts. Typically, any article or information we see about food online is a mixed bag of health advice, wellness trends and a million different ‘best’ ways to eat, hopefully with some straight-forward recipes and nutrition information sprinkled in too. The way most ‘meal prepping’ is depicted is as part of a diet or way of eating that is often restrictive in some way. Whether it’s by having recipes for meals at a certain low-calorie number, excluding certain food groups, like carbs or in limiting daily intake to only the foods prepped and readied. What can happen with this method of food prep is that you end up feeling (1) restricted to eating a certain type or amount of food (2) left craving/wanting more or different food than you’ve prepared or (3) not feeling satisfied. Note: this is a stereotypical portrayal of the prominent information and articles about Meal Prepping, and oftentimes the people we can see meal prepping on social media or through different ‘diet reset’ or similar challenges - the methods are restrictive and not based out of trust with our bodies.
Wait…Is MY Meal Prep Restrictive?
Let’s start out by remembering that different things work for different people and for the most part if you find something that works for you - I’m all for it! …most of the time. It all depends on our definition of “works.” In the diet world, “works” can often translate to “does it make you lose weight?” But since we know that when we adopt a diet, we are adopting a rigid mentality around food and our body, one that 95% of the time fails and results in an increased obsession around food, lowered self esteem and body image. That doesn’t sound like a “works” to me! If you’re an avid meal prepper or feeling like you ‘should be’ doing it but don’t want to be heading in a restrictive direction, there are a few things to consider and check in about with your intentions and motivations.
What’s your WHY?
What’s your motivation behind prepping meals ahead of time? Do you prep your meals ahead because work/school is crazy busy during the week and it helps you have something on hand for busy days? Cool. Do you feel like you need to have your own food available because you’re fearful of what foods might be available if you aren’t prepared? Not so cool. How does a prepped meal day differ from a day when you don’t have meals prepped?
How flexible are you?
What happens when you don’t have meals prepped or your homemade food available? Or if the office brings food in when you’ve already brought your lunch? Think about any thoughts, feelings or anxieties that might bring up for you - or not.
Thinking about how you’d act and react in these situations can help shed a light on your feelings and dependence on meals that are prepped. There’s some level of normal anxiety around wanting things to go as you’ve planned but if the thought of not having your specific - or measured/calorie counted/diet-approved foods on Thursday feels really scary to you, you might want to look into what else is going on there. At the end of the day, convenience and routine are great but if the deviating from your plan is scary or not possible, it’s worth investigating the WHY behind that. Reaching out to a registered dietitian and therapist who specializes in Intuitive Eating and a non-diet approach would be a great option.
WHY I Ate: Intuitive Meal Planning
Since every day is different it makes sense that our mood, energy levels, appetite and foods that sounds satisfying would be different too. Here are a few examples of meals that have made up my past month studying and on-the-go in a different schedule, stress level and environment than normal as a reminder that our choices around foods are impacted by SO many factors. Tuning in and figuring out what works for you - not just what a diet program or influencer prescribes is a pivotal step in Intuitive Eating and building a healthy relationship with food and your bod. That being said, there are a few guidelines that can be helpful in creating balanced and flexible meals - prepped ahead or in the moment!
Enough - an unofficial part of many meal plans or meal prepped recipes is that they aren’t providing enough food - whether they’re cutting out a food group or are low calorie. Ensuring you have enough food for you to be comfortably full and satisfied is an important part of any meal preparation. Same goes with if you realize halfway through that you’re comfortably full and satisfied - you can honor that feeling without feeling like you need to clean the plate. “Enough” means listening to your body and trusting that it knows what you need.
Variety - even if you’re a ‘routine person’ you don’t need to latch onto one meal or food for the sake of health. A stereotypical meal prep scene is of grilled chicken breast with broccoli and brown rice - nothing wrong with this meal but if you are having the same thing every day without any variety, you’ll probably become bored of it and you’re missing out on other yummy foods! Think about what you can add to your meals to add some variety - a new fruit, a fun snack, a different dressing, a funky looking veg from the farmer’s market. Whatever it is!
A Balance of Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein - with meals and snacks! All three of these balance out our meals to keep us full, satisfied and give us the energy and nutrients we need to function!
Foods You Like - not so groundbreaking…unless it is! You should like the foods you eat! At least most of the time. This doesn’t mean every meal should be your favorite meal from a 4 star restaurant but it does mean that you forcing yourself to eat foods you hate isn’t helping anyone.
For me, over the past month that’s meant making meals that are filling, easy and portable (so they could travel with me to the library or to a friend’s to study) like egg tacos, Trader Joe’s frozen veggies and chicken burgers, canned beans, dressings to add variety. Lots of shared meals with friends. Fewer coffees out, more made at home with my French press - to save money and time walking to the coffee shop. Fun meals hosted by our amazing internship Director, Pat and my friend Jess' mom when we were studying at her house on Sunday (read Jess’ Wellful Faces here!). Some thrown together meals when I was cleaning out my fridge to move and trying to use up the last of ingredients. Some things weren’t as satisfying or exciting as others and definitely none of them are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I’m sure my meals living in Bermuda will also be different - different food brands are available, some things are pricier and I’ll probably be cooking at home more (will update!) The purpose behind WHY I Ate Wednesday and these photos is to show a variety of foods and situations and think about the many factors that go into our food choices - not just the ‘what’ we are eating. Happy Humpday!
What do you think of this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you want to see more of! Comment below!
Friendly reminder that this article does not replace individual nutrition therapy or counseling with a Registered Dietitian or credentialed professional.