What Is the Plate-By-Plate Approach® for Eating Disorder Recovery?

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As eating disorder dietitians, we love the Plate-by-Plate Approach® to meal planning. Created by dietitians Wendy Sterling and Casey Crosbie, it’s a visual approach to meals that doesn’t require the constant counting and measuring that other meal plans call for.

Every day, we see firsthand how devastating eating disorders are and how hard recovery can be. Recovery requires a comprehensive and individualized approach, and typically several healthcare providers and lots of appointments. We’ve found that the simpler the meal plan can be, the more likely you are to follow it.

In a nutshell, the plate-by-plate approach is a visual guide that shows you what and how much to eat for eating disorder recovery. It doesn’t call for counting or measuring food. Instead, it’s all about putting certain amounts of each food group on a plate for each meal. This approach is the first step in restoring a healthy relationship with food and promoting overall well-being free from disordered behaviors.

The Plate-by-Plate Approach encourages individuals to create balanced, nutritionally adequate meals without counting or measuring.

The approach emphasizes variety and nutritional adequacy. It’s a template for eating disorder recovery that guides you in eating enough of each food group (and enough overall, as a result) without telling you EXACTLY what or how much to eat.

Plate-by-plate Instagram post that shows the 1/2 plate starch approach and the 1/3 plate starch approach, using mandarin chicken, rice, and broccoli
Source: instagram.com/platebyplateappraoch

When following the Plate-by-Plate approach, you’ll start with a basic template of what your plate should look like:

  1. 1/2 starch, 1/4 protein, 1/4 fruits or vegetables + 1 serving of dairy + 1 serving of fat. This plate is the “standard” Plate-by-Plate approach meant for teenagers, athletes of all ages, and anyone who needs weight restoration/weight gain.
  2. 1/3 starch, 1/3 protein, 1/3 fruits or vegetables + 1 serving of dairy + 1 serving of fat. This plate is for those with lower energy needs, including young children, adults who don’t need weight restoration/weight gain, people who need to stop purging before addressing other nutrition/eating issues, and people who might need time to work up to the “standard” plate.

All three meals will follow your assigned template. Plates should be 10-inches wide, and you should fill the entire plate.

As part of the Plate-by-Plate approach, you’ll also eat at least 2-3 snacks per day (sometimes more — this is up to your dietitian). Each snack should include at least 2 items. For example, a snack might be a yogurt and a handful of granola, a protein bar and a banana, or a bagel and peanut butter.

As you continue with the Plate-by-Plate approach, your dietitian might make some adjustments to help you keep up with your recovery goals, like increasing the amount of starch on your plate or adjusting the size of your snacks.

The Plate-by-Plate Approach promotes a healthy relationship with food during recovery and beyond.

Recovering from an eating disorder means eating adequately AND improving your relationship with food and your body. Unlike some other types of recovery meal plans, Plate-by-Plate Approach helps you establish a better relationship with food by encouraging you NOT to count or measure your food.

Instead of measuring your food and tallying up exchanges, or putting all of your food into a calorie tracker, this approach teaches you what an adequate meal looks like. Although your needs will change throughout and after recovery, it’s easy to tailor your plate for your energy needs.

With other meal plans, you might feel even MORE obsessed than before with what and how much you’re eating during recovery. But with Plate-by-Plate, you have the flexibility to choose which foods you eat from every food group, and you can eyeball portions on a plate instead of measuring them out.

The approach promotes flexibility and variety in food choices. It encourages you to incorporate a wide range of foods into their diet, including that you may have feared, binged on, or restricted before. It challenges food rules and beliefs by allowing ALL foods, too.

  1. Promoting Body Acceptance and Self-Care (300 words): The plate-by-plate approach goes beyond just nourishing the body; it also focuses on nurturing the mind and promoting self-care. Eating disorders often stem from deep-seated body image issues and a lack of self-compassion. This approach encourages individuals to adopt a more accepting and compassionate attitude towards their bodies.

The approach is great for parents trying to help their child or teenager through an eating disorder.

When it comes to adolescent eating disorders, parent involvement is absolutely crucial to recovery. At Ruby Oak Nutrition, we recommend the book How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder: A Simple, Plate-by-Plate Approach® to Rebuilding a Healthy Relationship with Food to all of the families we work with.

Plate-by-Plate makes things a bit easier on parents, because you can cook the family recipes that you love as long as you’re able to put the right amount and types of food on the plate.

Adults can also use the Plate-by-Plate approach to guide their own recovery.

Eating disorder recovery is different when you’re an adult, because you’re typically in charge of your own food. This can make things harder, especially when your eating disorder voices are loud and telling you to restrict, binge, or purge.

Many adults find the Plate-by-Plate Approach easier than calorie counting or following an exchange plan, because it gives more freedom and flexibility.

We’re excited for the October 2023 release of the book How to Nourish Yourself Through an Eating Disorder: Recovery for Adults with the Plate-by-Plate Approach®, which guides adults through making their own meals according to Plate-by-Plate


If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, we can help! We’re a group of dietitians who takes an anti-diet, body-positive, identity-affirming approach to recovery and healing your relationship with food. Learn more about nutrition counseling for adults and teenagers, in-network with Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plans and offered virtually to clients in North Carolina and over a dozen other states. Not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.


You might also like:

What Is Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders?

What Is Anorexia Nervosa? How Can a Dietitian Help?

What is Bulimia Nervosa? How Can a Dietitian Help?

What Is Disordered Eating, Exactly?

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