Meal Plans...DO THEY WORK?!
Meal plans. They've been around for as long as dieting has existed. There are SO many varied opinions on their level of success. Some people say that they would NOT be able to "diet" or reach their goals without them. On the other hand, some people are VERY "anti" meal plan. Both sides have their reasoning and I am going to do my best to look at both sides of the spectrum. I am going to list a FEW PROS and CONS of meal plans...
As a coach and personal trainer what I like to do is treat EACH client as an individual. What works for one person will NOT work for another. We are all unique in our fitness goals, where we are at in our journey, our "dieting" past, and what we want to get from a coaching experience.
As mentioned in my previous blog about "The Best Diet"...I believe that whatever you can ADHERE to long-term is the BEST DIET FOR YOU. For some people, sticking to a meal plan is exactly what they want! They want to be told exactly what foods to eat in what amount and this is what works for them. Of course, since we are all different, some people may find that meal plans leave them feeling deprived and restricted.
It is also important to note that there are MANY different meal plans! While some are very specific with few "options"...it is possible to create a meal plan (maybe "guide" is a better word?) that instead teaches clients how they should be structuring and planning their meals.
Some clients have NO idea what to eat.
I get it. You have NEVER dieted before. You have little to no experience with cooking or planning meals. You rely on pre packaged, already made meals or fast food. The idea of cooking and preparing your own food scares you! You have no idea what a macro or micronutrient is NOR how these foods make you feel. In this case, I would recommend that a client follows a meal plan for a PERIOD OF TIME. Not forever. A meal plan with simple recipes, a grocery list, and a guideline on how to use food to fuel your body and reach your goals. As the client learns and becomes more confident with navigating the kitchen and planning meals, a meal plan should be needed less.
It helps to replace old habits with healthier ones.
The most simple and effective way to form new habits is to replace the old ones. If someone has certain recipes or meals that they always make...replacing them with a new, pre planned one is a simple way to ditch poor choices! For example, if a client frequently skips breakfast...providing them with a guide and some options on whole, nutrient dense breakfasts to have will be very helpful for them! I have many clients that come to me UNDER EATING. They are stuck in the "diet" mentality that less is more. By giving these clients a meal guide to follow they are essentially being told to eat more food..something that they NEVER would have done on their own!
Controls portion sizes and overall caloric intake.
If someone has NEVER exercised portion control...a meal plan may be a great way to open their eyes to how to portion out the foods they are eating to reach their goals! This doesn't mean you HAVE to buy a food scale and measure everything to the gram (although doing this for a period of time is very useful). You can learn tips and tricks on how to "eyeball" portion sizing for each macronutrient. If your goal is to lose weight...at the end of the day "calories in vs. calories out" will get you to your goal. While it is not necessary to become obsessive over counting every single calorie that enters your mouth..learning what each food is made up of and the sizing you should be eating of it is something you can use and practice for the rest of your life!
Meal plans can be restrictive.
Depending on the type of meal plan you are given...you may feel restricted by your food choices. If you don't like the food on your meal plan you may find yourself craving other food. Some meal plans don't allow for flexibility...and require you to pack a food scale or Tupperware prepped meals around with you. If you are prepping for a competition this may work (for a period of time) but for someone looking to make fitness lifestyle...restrictive plans are not sustainable.
Meal plans might get boring.
Some people are perfectly OK with eating similar foods and meals. On the other hand, some people may find that meal plans get boring because they like to eat a much wider variety of food. I don't think that it is necessary to follow a meal plan for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Eating a variety of foods provides your body with nutritional variety....which is great for the body!
Meal plans can be "black or white".
What I mean by this is that some meal plans are SO strict that you may become fearful around foods that aren't in your plan. If you eat something not on your plan or do not have access to the meals you are supposed to eat...you may feel guilty about eating other foods. Some meal plans do not allow for flexibility and do not teach you how to make SMART food choices.
These are just a FEW pros and cons that I think of when someone mentions meal plans. I believe that there are many different types of meal plans and that they can range from being very strict to very flexible. Ultimately I believe that having a client follow a meal "guide" for a period of time can help teach proper nutrition and how to plan healthy, nutrient dense meals. I think that it is important to help teach my clients how to make SMART food choices on their own and not feel lost if they don't have a strict plan to follow. By proving my clients with guidelines, tools, and education to do things on their own I think they are learning valuable lessons on how to reach their fitness goals.
Ask yourself: is what you are doing regarding nutrition RIGHT NOW something you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life? If not...you may want to look at more sustainable and maintainable options. We are all unique and different...which is one thing I love about fitness! It is NOT a one size fits all model and what works for one person may NOT work for another.