Some time ago, I used to give people meal plans in an attempt to lose weight, lose fat, get fit, etc. What I started to notice is rarely did anyone ever follow them. It sucked because contrary to popular belief, it takes a lot of time to develop individual plans (if you are a good trainer or coach.) Meal plans in my opinion make people neurotic, obsessive, and a lot of times end up being very restrictive, causing a person to eventually go back to the habits they once had. This really gets you nowhere. I used to give clients meal plans all the time that were dietitian approved, and now look back and realize it was more of a disservice I was providing rather than helping.
Do meal plans have a purpose and a place? Yes, there are circumstances when meal plans are appropriate. Those times being if you are a physique competitor or training for something very specific which I do for people on occasion. Then yes, a detailed meal plan will for sure be your saving grace. This is of course short term, and trust me, after the pictures and stage body wear off, the first thing you want to do is eat something NOT on the plan(speaking from experience as a previous competitor).
Since most people are not Olympic athletes or Bodybuilders, then there is really no reason to be following a strict meal plan in my opinion.
Did I mention that if someone isn’t seeing progress they will usually blame the “meal plan.” Let’s dissect this just a little further. Really it’s not the plan that is failing, it is you that is failing to work the plan.
Let’s look at some reasons why your “meal plan” isn’t working:
-The office candy dish where you take a handful of jelly beans.
-The “extra” bites, licks, and tastes you don’t account for such as trying a “small sample” of your kids food at the restaurant or that they leave on their plates after dinner. How about licking the knife to get all the peanut butter off? Trust me, it all matters from a calorie standpoint.
-The “small” amount of creamer you put in your coffee every morning, once or twice a day perhaps.
We tend to do these things day in and day out unaware of the consequences and effects it has towards our goals. Let me give you an example. I once added up a day’s worth of samples from Costco and it ended up being 300 calories! Are you kidding me?!
Maybe 300 calories doesn’t sound like much to you, but now imagine if you are getting an extra 300 calories per day and not even realizing it?
300 calories per day x 7 days =2100 calories per week x 52=109,200/3500(amount of calories needed to lose/gain a pound of fat with this number being based on dieting wisdom, there’s more to it but for simplicity sake, this is the number I’m using) =31.2 pounds per year! Shift your mindset and take responsibility of the fact that maybe the “little” things are the reason you never progress in your weight loss.
But, we all revert back to blaming the “meal plan.” I’m sure it was probably the one sweet potato you are allowed to eat daily that really didn’t work for you. Those damn carbs, they always make people gain weight. Wrong. In 95% of the cases, it’s not the meal plan.
So, here’s why meal plans just don’t work…
-Short term results: Let’s be completely real. Are you honestly going to follow the meal plan for the rest of your life? No. Typically you will follow it for a few weeks, maybe even a month at best. At this point you’ve been so restricted that you literally want to eat your arm off and go on a week long binge fest. Then what happens? Well, you give up. The short term plans can provide you the fish, but it won’t teach you to catch one later on.
-B-O-R-I-N-G: I’ll admit, I’m a person who eats pretty boring. Not because I have to, but I want to. I don’t have to exhaust myself from making decisions about what to eat all the time, plus it’s just easier. However, most people do not like eating the same things day in and day out, and will also reach a breaking point of extreme boredom meaning…. back to the old habits!
-Too many changes at once: When people reach out to me or want my help, I know they have the desire to want to change.
Have you experienced this? At first your motivation levels are extremely high, you’re excited and ready to change your entire life in one day! Then what happens? A week into it the steam engine stops. You go off the beaten path even once and say “Screw it, I’m just going to eat the whole bag of chips and start again Monday.” And the vicious cycle continues…Once willpower is exhausted and you hit the bottom, emotions and the comfort of our previous habits take over. Long term success is where lasting results come and this is done by evaluating lifestyles and seeing where one or two behavior changes can be implemented.
I think I’m a little wiser in my approach at helping my clients achieve lasting results. I may not have the ultimate solution, but I do know what is working for me and my clients. Instead of telling clients what to eat, I give them a guideline approach. I teach them about macro nutrients (how much protein, carbs, fat, and fiber they should aim for daily) and make recommendations based on their stats, goals, etc. This allows for flexibility and freedom in their nutritional programs.
If they want to have cake, they have it. If they want to go out and have some drinks, they do it. Finding ways to incorporate those things into your diet is what makes it not feel like a “diet” at all. My clients understand “lifestyle” changes and never feel restricted in any way. Being less strict with your diet will actually make it work better for you due to long term adherence.
That being said, I don’t preach that you go out and eat junk food and drink every night. Whole foods are obviously always the best choice, we all know that, and should eat plenty of them. Give your body what it wants , then have want you want after those nutrition needs are fulfilled.
My clients learn how to create a healthy relationship with food vs. a restrictive one. They can go out, be social, go to restaurants or a family get together and not have to worry about and stress if something is “on their diet” or not. I even start as small as only having them hit a certain number of protein/fiber grams per day. Once you prove to me that you can do 1 or 2 things for a few weeks, we then look at other habits we can implement and start to master.
So, unless you are getting ready to flex your muscles on stage or getting half naked for a magazine, stay away from the restrictive meal plans. If you can’t maintain it for life, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Find a coach or trainer that can help you identify strategies and help you focus on making the “plan” work for you and your lifestyle..