Have you ever followed a meal plan or restrictive diet? If so, did you reach the goals you set out to reach? And, when it was over, what happened then? Did you feel empowered to continue making healthy lifestyle decisions for you and your family, or did you feel lost without the plan in place?
This week, we’re sharing excerpts of a post from Precision Nutrition that touches on the topic of meal plans, and why they usually don’t work out. If you’d like to read the whole article, you can follow this link to check it out!
“Lots of people looking to improve their eating think meal plans are the answer. The only problem? Meal plans usually suck… and they rarely last.
Sure, meal plans have long been a staple of the fitness and nutrition industry.
Unfortunately, most of the time, meal plans don’t work.
You see, traditional meal plans are explicit prescriptions. Eat this exact thing, in this exact amount, at this exact time. You might be thinking, “Good! I want a plan. I’m sick of trying to figure all this stuff out! Just tell me what to eat!”
Unfortunately, when we try to follow rigid prescriptions like this, lots can (and often does) go wrong.
Scenario 1: You just don’t stick to the plan.
No matter how enthusiastic you are, meal plans can be tough to follow.
This is normal. Life can get in the way.
- people get busy
- we’re not always prepared
- kids get sick
- bosses expect you to work late
- it’s always someone’s birthday (or a special holiday)
- sometimes you just don’t feel like having a protein bar at 10 am
What’s more, even if you’ve actually paid to have someone make your plan, you might find yourself rebelling against it in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways.
This is also normal. Unfortunately, it means you might not get the results you hope for.
Scenario 2: You follow the plan perfectly.
In fact, you follow it too well and for too long. Most meal plans are meant to be temporary. They’re designed to help a person get to a specific short-term goal, like dropping a few extra pounds before a wedding, learning to manage blood sugar, or cutting weight for an athletic competition.
Our bodies can usually adapt to a rigid way of eating for a short period of time.
But if you’re too strict for too long, you could wind up with disordered eating habits and lasting health (mental, metabolic, hormonal, etc) consequences.
Scenario 3: You follow the plan for a little while but it sucks.
It isn’t sustainable. It doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t keep you sane.
Maybe you see some short-term results (or not). But you hate living and eating this way. You never want to see another stupid piece of lettuce or 4 ounces of chicken.
Eventually, you get so turned off by the process that you regress or quit altogether. You conclude that “eating healthy” sucks. And you miss your big chance to learn how to make healthier, more enjoyable, more lasting and real changes.
One of the biggest (yet generally unacknowledged) problems with traditional meal plans is their focus on “nutrients”.
Real people don’t eat “nutrients”. We eat food.
We eat meals, often with other people.
We eat meals that match our cultural background and social interests.
And we rarely measure things precisely.
Sure, sometimes an explicit prescription is necessary. For instance, professional athletes or bodybuilders (in other words, people who make money off their bodies and athletic skills) use meal plans to prepare for training and competition.
But most of us don’t need that level of surgical precision.
We don’t normally eat “ounces” of things, or refer to food by their nutrients (like “omega-3 fatty acids”). Instead, we eat foods like:
- tacos and burritos
- pasta and noodles
- sandwiches, wraps, pitas and rotis
- stews and curries
- cereal and granola
Bottom line: If you want to eat better, you don’t have to get weird about things.
You don’t need to weigh and measure everything, or count out your almonds. You just need to think about what you’re already eating, and how you could make it a little bit better.
This means fiddling and adjusting. Making small changes and improvements to what you already normally eat and enjoy, one small step at a time. Think about a spectrum of food quality rather than “bad” or “good” foods.
The real goal of a meal plan is to stop using a meal plan.
Fit, healthy people who have a good relationship with food don’t need other people to tell them exactly what to eat at all times.
Living a fit and healthy life doesn’t require perfection, either.
If you are using a meal plan:
That’s OK. Some people like prescription, especially if they are working towards a specific short-term goal, like cutting weight to compete in wrestling, making sure they get enough nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy, or fueling their triathlon performance.
Keep it short-lived. Meal plans are supposed to be temporary, working towards a short-term goal.
Keep it real. As much as possible, try to make the meal plan fit your real life, not the other way around. If your meal plan is making you feel:
- anxious and fretful
- overly rigid and/or preoccupied with food…
or any other negative, unproductive emotion…
…and if you find that meal plans result in you:
- “falling off the wagon”, hard
- getting obsessive and compulsive about food
- restricting foods and food groups, or
- doing “all or nothing”, usually ending with “nothing”
…then consider trying another approach.”
We’re often asked if we provide meal plans – and we think PN really hit the nail on the head with why this isn’t the best way we can help our clients.
If you’re looking to make some nutrition changes this fall, and aren’t sure where to start, try our Nutrition Fundamentals Course; a 12 week online program that starts up September 16th, and ends the first week of December, just in time to leave you feeling empowered to navigate the holiday party season.
As you’ve probably guessed from the above article, this course is not a meal plan, a diet, or a detox. It’s not a bandaid and it’s not a short-term switch from your normal routine.
This course is meant to educate and to practice putting healthy habits into place – a little bit at a time – for sustainable, long-term lifestyle change.
Sound up your alley? We’ll be rolling out more details on our social media over the next couple weeks, or you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.