I do not write meal plans for clients, despite meal plans being the thing many people feel is the answer to their nutrition challenges.
Why? Because meal plans are very specific prescriptions.
They tell you that you have to eat a very specific food, in a very specific amount, at a very specific time of the day.
At a surface level, this seems easy enough, especially if said meal plan takes the guesswork out of what to eat, right? It’s one less thing to think about, if someone else can just figure it out for you.
In theory, this makes sense, but there are several reasons why following a meal plan can actually do you more harm than good:
1. Meal plans are hard to follow for the long term.
We all know life gets in the way. So what happens when you get busy, you have to stay late at work, your kid gets sick, or there’s a birthday party in the office? What happens when you don’t have the time to get to the store to buy the specific food your meal plan says to eat? What happens when you simply just don’t feel like drinking another protein shake at 10:00am or eating another stir-fry?
We all know that things will come up, and more often than not, if you can’t follow the plan to a T, it leads to panic and not knowing how to navigate the unforeseen circumstances and/or a failure mindset, throwing in the towel, and eating not aligned with your goals.
2. Most meal plans are written too strictly.
If your way of eating is too restrictive, it can lead to metabolism issues, disordered eating, and other potential problems such as nutrient deficiencies.
Many meal plans also neglect to take into consideration the hormonal balance piece of fat loss and ONLY take into account being in a calorie deficit. Calories matter, there’s no doubt about that, but so do your hormones for managing hunger, energy, and cravings throughout the day. Think about it this way – anyone can cut calories and lose weight for the short term. But the people who end up gaining it back and then some? I’m willing to bet their hormones weren’t so well-managed!
If you are eating like a bird, you will NOT get the results you actually want… which are SUSTAINABLE ones!
3. Meal plans add to the misconception that eating healthy foods has to be boring.
7am egg whites with spinach…. 12pm plain chicken breast on lettuce with a drizzle of lemon… you know what I’m talking about! You have to LIKE HOW YOU EAT or else it will not stick, and I’m sorry but there is nothing less enjoyable than having to count out 20 almonds or choking down unseasoned veggies just cause that’s what the plan said to do.
Coming up with fun and flavorful meal ideas is something I help my clients figure out so they don’t fall into the “eating healthy sucks” trap. And trust me, they appreciate having a say and some autonomy in the matter.
4. Finally, meal plans do not teach you anything about your own body.
This one might be the most important of all. Meal plans do not teach you how to get in touch with your natural hunger and fullness clues. When you eat according to the plan, or the time on the clock, you might be eating more or less food than your body actually needs or wants.
For example, maybe your meal plan says to have a certain amount of a food. You may still be hungry afterward, but you’ll stop eating and white-knuckle your way through the next few hours just because the plan said to stop. Usually this will result in over-eating later!
On the flip side, perhaps you get full before you finish the prescribed serving. What happens on a meal plan is that you will continue to eat anyways because your meal plan says to finish it all. The end result? Still over-eating.
The bottom line? Strict meal plans take you right out of your own power and teach you nothing about eating intuitively.
Look, if you are not being paid to eat in a certain way (aka you aren’t a professional athlete LOL), and you don’t have a medical reason to be on your meal plan, you don’t have to do it this way.
What you need is a more empowered approach, one where you get to be in charge.
And yes, you can look to health and fitness coaches, experts, and gurus for a place to get started, and as a place to learn. But ultimately, what you want to do for the most sustainable results is become an expert in you and YOUR body, find foods you love to eat that are in line with YOUR goals, and develop doable strategies that you can have in your back pocket for when life gets in the way.
Once this happens, you still won’t have to think about it so much! Your eating will be automated and effortless, which, at the end of the day, is the same outcome you wanted with that meal plan anyways.
This just with a much better process along the way.
Readers, let’s chat! Have you followed a meal plan before? Tell us about your experience!