Intuitive Eating newbies often ask: what should I eat when I don’t know what to eat? If deciding what to eat without a structured diet plan feels frustrating and out-of-control, you’re not alone. I hear this all the time from my clients recovering from chronic dieting. The feeling makes sense, especially if diets are all you’ve ever known! Many clients worry that without a diet plan they will just graze and binge forever, which of course is something they hope to prevent.
With these tips, you can learn to make choices without all the anxiety and guilt diet plans cause you, and without losing control. This post will help you feel good about your choice when you don’t know what to eat.
what to eat tip #1: address your food rules
Food rules are any internal expectation of behavior based on what, when, and how much you “should” eat learned from past diets, cultural norms, and family rules growing up. These rules don’t always reflect your needs or values, which is why they cause overwhelm and inner conflict every time you go to make a food decision. If you feel deprived or guilty after you eat, chances are that food rules that need addressing.
For example, a client of mine found she was expecting herself to do choose lunch that was:
- within X calories (something taught to her by a former diet plan)
- included vegetables and protein (this was taught as a “weight loss hack”)
- from scratch (packaged food felt “bad”)
- after 12 PM, regardless if she got hungry earlier (to avoid “unnecessary calories”)
These expectations were all about losing weight and did not match her needs in the moment. Often with just 20 minutes between work calls, she felt stressed and didn’t want what her food rules demanded of her. Overwhelmed, she’d graze on everything in sight thinking, “I don’t know what to eat”. Using my No Guilt Framework, she could let go of all the rules and plan for meals that actually made sense to her needs.
what to eat tip #2: accept not all meals will be mind-blowing
Food offers more than just nutrition. And sometimes, that’s about all it will offer. This is okay, and it’s part of life! Some meals will need to be practical for the purpose of getting you through the day. Sometimes meals won’t work out and you can learn from it.
Accepting reality helps you more quickly choose food “good enough” for the moment you are in. If you aren’t sure what to eat, consider how you want to feel. Make the choice that brings you closest to the feeling you want, instead of aiming for perfection every time and getting overwhelmed.
My clients work to identify patterns in their eating body cues and eating style so they can work toward meals that satisfy more often. This generally makes them feel free and effortless around food in a way that is also realistic in the absence of an in-home chef.
what to eat tip #3 :make room for convenience food
Be realistic: how many times per week do you need, or, want to lean on convenience food? Stop shaming a need for convenient food. When you plan for it, you are less likely to experience food guilt and can listen to your body’s cues better.
In addition, saving energy on food preparation in line with your values means more energy for things that matter to you. My clients explore meal kit delivery, pre-chopped vegetables, favorite take-out options, and pre-made frozen meals. My clients work with me to consider how this strategy fits into their overall personal needs and values so they can benefit from convience without guilt.
tip #4: list meals and snacks you like
A key part of the No Guilt Framework is creating a practical hunger plan. This plan offers the structure of a meal plan, but with way more flexibility to account for your body cues and the realities of your day-to-day life.
One step of creating a practical meal plan is listing out meals and snacks you already know you like and that make you feel satisfied. Important: don’t get exotic during this step! Think back: what meals do you recall enjoying in the past?
When you aren’t sure what to eat, you remember your practical hunger plan. It’s almost like an imaginary menu to choose from when you need it most!
One of my “go-to” meals when I don’t know what to eat is grilled cheese and tomato soup. I usually have all the ingredients in the house, whether or not I plan to eat it on any given week. This makes me feel fed and satisfied. More importantly – when I don’t know what to eat- having it in the back of my mind makes meal times simple (yes, because I’m leaning on canned soup, a convenience food, from tip #3!)
What would feels easy and nourishing to you? Create a short-list of practical food choices you can live with during those times you don’t know what to eat. Speaking of timing, another way you might meal plan is by supporting yourself to eat regularly, let’s talk about that!
<h2> tip #5: time your meals for success </h2>
For those of you who have dieted for most of your life, listening to hunger cues can feel like a real challenge. You either don’t trust it (yet!) or you don’t feel it at times you might expect!
For chronic dieters, waiting to eat based on hunger isn’t a great way to tell if you’ve “eaten enough” because it is too impacted by stress, distraction, self-silencing habits, and ideas about calories/macros/points (or whatever other diet plan you used to use!)
Typically, I show clients how to work on improving these factors while they learn to pair hunger sensations with other important Intuitive Eating skills: like satisfaction, observing their energy levels, and considering their non-weight related health goals.
Especially after you’ve neutralized your guilt causing food rules, just as my clients do, you will find knowing what, and when, to eat can feel more effortless and streamlined streamline around your needs and wants. No diet plan necessary!
The tips in this post are part of the No Guilt Framework I teach clients through 3 month coaching programs and courses. Individual tips like these work best you moving through the process in a way that represents your unique history, values, and goals.
When we work together, I walk you through feeling at ease around food step-by-step. I offer group and private coaching programs that help you create a plan and practice these skills with the focus and consistency you need to FINALLY be okay with your body. Apply for coaching and I’ll meet with you to describe how you can go from feeling completely stuck in the diet cycle to feeling free and peaceful around food in 3 months, just like my clients do.