Meal prep is a relatively normal concept within the world of wellness. That classic meal prep we have come to know from Instagram and Pinterest looks something like this…….cooking up batches of brown rice, steamed brocolli, poached chicken and hot sauce on a Sunday, then eating it for the rest of the week. This goes against all of the principles of mindful and conscious eating. It is such a rigid and prescriptive way of life that immediately leads to feelings of restriction, deprivation and isolation.
Let me tell you something from the outset. Eating is a learned behaviour.
Hear it again – eating is a learned behaviour. This is one of the most empowering statements you will have heard in a long time. It allows us to know and understand that any ineffective habits we have can be relearned for new and better ones. We can reboot our relationship with food.
Mindful Eating takes this statement a step further. It teaches you how to use your mind to manage your own behaviours around food and eating.
Learning how to increase your interoceptive awareness begins by listening to your body and bringing an awareness to what it wants and needs in that moment. This is a huge foundational step in transforming your relationship with food.
I begin by training you how to create little moments of space and quiet in your busy mind. This allows you to then tune out a lot of those external noises and mixed messages from family, friends and particularly social media and listen to your inner cues; your own body and mind.
The next biggest challenge you will face is then beginning to relearn how to trust those instincts.
Diet Plan Deprivation and Restriction
Meal planning, as described above, stems from some very outdated and flawed paradigms of diet culture. From the outset the very notion of a rigid meal plan seems so counterintuitive. When you tell your brain you can only have these certain prepared foods at certain times for the next 6 days you have subconsciously created limitations and mental constructs of deprivation and restriction that you must now stick to.
In order to succeed you will now require will power, determination and some form of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. From a long term wellness perspective you are setting yourself up for something which is not sustainable and can only lead to failure.
Ultimately, this will have a negative impact on your mindset, your self belief and your motivation in the long term.
Another reason why rigid meal prep does not work for the long term is due to a sensory aspect casually known as “mouth boredom”. We have a variety of different hungers besides physical hunger in our body. One of these is mouth hunger and subsequently mouth boredom. After 2 or 3 meals of eating the same food our mouth becomes physiologically bored with the sensory aspect of that food. You experience boredom with the repeated experiences of texture, thermogenics and flavours from that food. Our mouth craves excitement and something new in order to feel satiated.
Cheat Days & a ‘Blown It’ Mentality
With every meal plan comes a saviour, that thing you live for – your cheat day. To put this into context over the course of a year you will set yourself up to restrict and deprive for 313 days! 313 days of believing you can never have a delicious and satisfying food that you really want.
Out of an entire year you only have 52 days of “cheating joy” !!!
When you get your “cheat day” a lot of my clients say they experience this tendency to ‘loose the run of themselves altogether’. Your mind set shifts and age old evolutionary instincts of deprivation and stock piling kick in. The internal dialogue sounds something like “Well, I can have whatever I want now I deserve it”, “I’ve been so good all week”, “I have permission to do this” and “Well, I’ve blown it now anyway”. Any level of moderation around your eating behaviours quickly dissipates. Then after one of two cheat foods you want to loosen the reins, you want to give yourself permission to seek and achieve that satiety and satisfaction you have been missing all week. This can then lead to a downward spiral effect of over eating, cycles of deprivation and bingeing which will then result in feelings of shame and guilt at the end of the day.
These feelings then trigger a very harmful mindset loop which you now find yourself trapped in.
So, the moral of the story here is stop restrictive meal prep and plan for some flexible meal preparedness
A New Way of Meal Prep
Get Curious: Tune in to your inner wisdom
A key tenant of mindful eating is to tune into your inner wisdom. This means becoming very aware of those interoceptive feelings of hunger and fullness. Begin to notice “when am I hungry? On as scale of 1-10 how hungry am I right now ? How full am I right now ?” Get curious and ask yourself “Am I only eating because it is 1 o’clock and I am socially conditioned to eat lunch at this time regardless of hunger levels or do I really want this in the moment?”
When eating according to a rigid plan you must acknowledge you are overriding all your bodies natural instincts. You are probably not eating for hunger and you are very probably not eating for satiety at this point either. The result of this is you will never fully experiencing sensations of hunger and fullness in the truest sense and moreover you will never getting that real sense of satisfaction you desire from your food.
When you don’t get this feeling of satiety, inevitably you will continue to crave other foods, graze and mindlessly nibble throughout the day in order to try to achieve that feeling of satisfaction. By bringing in a flexible approach to this you can allow yourself to honour your inner wisdom and instincts, eat what you love and then move on with our day.
Listen to your body and honour those instincts for satiety.
Taking An Unapologetic Joy From Food
You need to allow ourselves to take an unapologetic joy from your food.
The food you prepare should be guided by your inner wisdom ( hunger levels, sensory preferences, self care needs) and by your outer wisdom.
Your outer wisdom can stem from simple nutrition strategies and be guided by the fact that there are what I refer to as “sometimes foods” and “everyday foods”.
Your prepared foods should be your everyday foods and then if you need or want something else you have the flexibility to have it. If you are following a nutrition plan for health or performance then this too can be built in.
As part of mindful eating we practice simple nutrition; the Canadian food guide is one of the best and simple visual guides to follow.
Your meal plan should not be a rigid playbook but rather should serve as a loose suggestion of a variety of choices. If not, you will spend your day needlessly picking and grazing trying to reach that point of fulfilment and satisfaction.
For success in eating mindfully and meal preparedness I consider 3 factors vital: ease, nutrition and satisfaction
Here are my Top Tips for Meal Preparedness not Meal Prep
Mix and Match Vibes – Prep the component ingredients for simple nutritious foods, not the entire meal. Have a selection of wholegrain carbs, lean proteins (animal and plant based ones ) and fruit and vegetables ready to go.
Themed Days – If you like routine and structure let’s do it in a way that creates flexibility and variety. Instead of having very specific meals planned out for each day let’s think of it more as themes – Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whatever Wednesday, Pasta Thursday, my personal favourite FoodTruck Friday, Salad Saturday and Sandwich Sunday. This allows for so much freedom and choice but you still have an idea of where you are going.
If it is the same pesto pasta chicken every Thursday – great – if you all love it and look forward to it then super! Salads on Saturday are great and this can go from being a quick and easy roast chicken, avocado and sun blushed tomato salad to a big warm salad of grilled pudding, crispy bacon, sautéed potatoes, a poached egg and some hollandaise sauce. Another favourite of mine for Sandwich Sunday is griddled steak, roast garlic mayo, red onion and rocket all on a toasted ciabatta.
- Umami – As an Umami cook I create every recipe to include umami ingredients to give that delicious savoury flavour. Think about preparing nourishing and wholesome foods that are good for your gut, good for your soul and full of flavour. Some great simple examples of this are:
- Preparing a batch of chicken goujons with added parmesan, onion powder and garlic powder in the crumb.
- Use ingredients like miso paste for an incredible hit of that delicious umami savouriness. I have the most delicious recipes for miso and orange glazed salmon and miso glazed pork skewers.
- Sun blushed Tomatoes are an amazing ingredient to use – tomatoes naturally have plenty of umami and when you dehydrate or age them the levels of umami increase exponentially. These can be used in a big quinoa or cous cous salad. Make it up at the start of the week and then it keeps for up to 3 days in the fridge or even freeze little pots of it.
- If you are eating cheese choose a little amount of hard cheese like an aged cheddar or a vintage gouda.
- When choosing bacon choose lean cuts like medallions but get an aged/smoked rasher as they will have so much more of a flavour hit.
- Adding oyster sauce to a stir-fry instead of soy sauce will hugely increase the flavour pay off.
- Breakfast – Always have ingredients for at least a couple different breakfast options. Cereal, eggs, frozen fruit, yogurt, bread, and granola are pantry staples at our house.
- Snack Time – Make a big batch of hummus – beans are naturally full of umami and when you add a little tahini, garlic and lemon juice it is a match made in heaven. To make it low fat use a little vegetable oil and then ice cold water is the secret. For extra smooth hummus remove the shells of the chickpeas. A delicious batch of fresh pesto can be such a great little asset in the fridge.
For other snack ideas think about adding a little extra nourishment to your cup of coffee. My quinoa & oat cereal bars are perfect for this as are my delicious oat and chocolate chip cookies. Make a batch and freeze them immediately to resist the temptation to eat them all fresh out of the oven. Then when you are falling into the trap of mindless eating you can just reach for something wholesome, nourishing and delicious from the freezer instead of another empty calorie snack.
Soup – Soup is a winner all day long – so filling, full of all the good stuff and the ultimate comfort food.
Eggs are your saviour. Packed with natural umami and a great source of lean protein and a little fat. They are so versatile too.
Cook Once Eat Twice. Plan for leftovers! I like to use mine for lunch, or you can always cook extra of one item, and plan to use it for leftovers later in the week. Make bigger batches and freeze. I love to use the slow cooker once a week and do a double batch of something – a gorgeous chilli for chilli beef nachos, sour cream, guacamole, jalapenos, cheddar cheese. Then with the other half I can do sweet potato taco fries, fajitas and wraps for lunch. Fabulous recipes like corn fritters and halloumi topped with chilli jam are great too. Make a batch of fritters freeze them and then pop them in the toaster to reheat.
Shopping for Store Cupboard Ingredients –
A general framework for grocery shopping involves thinking about the components of a balanced meal (wholegrains/starch, fat, protein and fruit or vegetables) and buying a few different types of each category to prepare together. When you go shopping stock up on ingredients that will add lots of flavour to your food – think dried aromatics like onion and garlic powder, cumin, parsley, chives, dill, stock cubes, Worcester sauce and a really good quality sea salt.
Dressings – make up a batch of dressing; a different one at the start of each week and use this on salads for lunch, in wraps and sandwiches, over roast chicken or vegetables, as a dip for raw cauliflower and broccoli, with pitta chips.
Buy and use fresh herbs, salad leaves and berries. Store fresh perishable ingredients like this wrapped up in damp kitchen paper. It holds for days and stays super fresh.
Self-care – Sometimes self-care means fuelling your body with something other than food first. Then if you still feel you need more nourishment eat what you feel like you need and move on with your day – knowing that you can aim to maximise satisfaction at each next meal.
And remember this is not about perfection it is about small steps each day and to remind yourself “And Thats OK”.
Self compassion, forgiveness and kindness play a key role in eating mindfully.
If you are interested in learning more about mindful eating, have a read of some other great articles here which have been created to increase your self awareness levels and set you free from diet culture.
When you are ready to transform you relationship with food and relearn how to eat forever send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can book you in for a 15 minute discovery call. Following on from this you can then book an appointment for the new 2 hour Eating Mindfully 1:1 personal masterclass.