“Can you make me a meal plan?” This is a very common question around the gym. My answer: No, meal plans don’t work. I truly believe this for most individuals looking to live a healthy lifestyle long term. People may argue that yes meal plans work, many people have had a meal plan and lost weight or have seen results. This is great, but chances are these people are still not on that meal plan and there is a great possibility they may have gained some weight back as well.
Meal plans are restrictive. This is what we want to avoid when we are working on building habits that will stick. Meal plans will only have what you can or should eat. What happens when you have a bad meal and fall off the plan? You get down on yourself and feel as if you have failed. A more realistic approach is to not restrict yourself but start to add in better choices that will slowly displace the foods that may not be as nutritious. For example, you love your bowl of cereal in the morning with orange juice. We know that this is a lot of sugar but instead of fully eliminating cereal and juice and changing drastically to a smoothie or smoothie bowl that you may not even like, then start by adding in some yogurt and top it with some of your cereal then add some berries on top. This way you are not restricting yourself of your cereal but you are making a better choice than having a full bowl of cereal and you have now added protein to your breakfast with the yogurt.
Meal plans tend to be perfect and do not have much flexibility. A meal plan is written perfectly with all great amazing meals and foods. But again we know we will not be perfect and if we are it is not maintainable. Maybe a meal plan has an option for a cheat day. Great, but what happens if you are out for dinner two times in the week and you only have one cheat day? My point is allowing a cheat day is not teaching you how to make better choices when you are out at a restaurant or how to build a health savings account. Remember as long as you have built up your savings in your health account with workouts and eating well it allows you to enjoy yourself when you would like to.
Building healthy nutrition habits means improving your poor habits. Trying to totally eliminate your poor habits and build new healthy habits will set you up for failure. Yes, meal plans may work for bodybuilders or athletes short term to reach their athletic goal. Once they have reached this goal they will be going back to their old habits. Another reason meal plans do not work is because a lot of them may not take into account when you workout and days you do not workout. Fuelling your body before and after workouts will not be planned out for you, as well on “off days” you may not need to eat as much if you are not as active. This also needs to be factored into the plan.
To be successful in creating habits that are going to last and get you results that last, you must be able to adapt along the way and enjoy the process. You must build a healthy relationship with food and enjoy the journey you are on and the food you are eating. Quick results are what we are all after, but they will not last. Be patient, make small consistent changes and you will build habits that last a lifetime and get results that will last.
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