Hello and HAPPY SUMMER! I have really enjoyed getting your feedback on my last 2 blog posts. I shared some really personal thoughts and experiences about my health journey. I felt a lot less nervous about those posts once I realized they were resonating with you (let's be honest, we all worry about being judged). If you haven't done so already you can read those posts here and here. If any of my messages speak to you please don't be shy to let me know, share the post on your social, or better yet - send to a friend or family member who would benefit from reading (particularly the fitness post).
Last week a very close family member and I had a conversation about his nutrition. He mentioned wanting a meal plan to follow. I realized I get this question all the time. Since he is family, it was easy to be honest with him and move on to some useful advice, but with clients and potential clients it isn't always so easy. I am sharing my thoughts on meal plans today for two reasons. First, to help you better understand my nutrition beliefs and methods. Second, and most important, because I want you to take a second to check your mindset. Consider what you believe about a "healthy" diet. Consider what you believe to be the answer to a healthier you. Consider what information you are consuming that may be instilling negative thoughts around yourself and food. If you've ever thought about following a meal plan - this post is for you.
the meal plan dilemma
I am not the only dietitian who cringes at the words or mere suggestion of a meal plan. Do any of these sound like you?:
- I can follow any plan just tell me exactly what to eat
- I don't care if the food doesn't taste good, I can tolerate anything if I can get results (weight loss, fat loss, etc)
- I am willing to eat the same thing everyday
- I want this (weight loss/ fat loss) so badly, I will do anything you tell me to do
- I lost weight once following a meal plan, it was great, but I gained it all back
- Tell me exactly what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat to achieve weight loss
See some common themes here? The seeker of the meal plan truly believes it is the only way to reach their goals. The seeker also believes they are willing and able to give up all joy of eating (and life) to see a change in their body or the scale. Many don't trust themselves around food and feel that a concrete plan (aka a set of rules around food) is the only way to forgo temptation.
These requests make me feel a bit stuck. On the one hand, I want to give the client what they want. On the other, I want them to see reality and seek a truly sustainable way of eating. Typically, I explain the why, and then encourage the client to come on a less rigid journey with me.
why you will be disappointed
Meal plans don't guarantee results, but they do guarantee disappointment. Why?
First: It's impossible to be accurate. All of the predictive equations in the world STILL won't accurately tell you (or me) how many calories you need. That's right, your MyFitnessPal app is basically like a roll of the dice, and the calorie number it gives you should be taken with a grain of salt. While there is advanced research tools that can measure your resting energy expenditure, it is almost impossible to know what your needs are during stress, after intense exercise, (ladies - during your menstrual cycle), and so on. As a dietitian who believes in individuality, coming up with meal plans of different calorie ranges is not helpful if I don't know how much you actually need. Repercussions of giving an inaccurate calorie goal include potential under- or over-eating and slow metabolism.
Second: Life gets in the way - plain and simple. The long desired meal plan will fail YOU, because it will not adapt to your life. It won't adapt to a change in your work schedule, or an unexpected meal out, or holidays, or birthdays, or vacations, or happy hours, or dinner invitations, or a busy schedule, or anything and everything else that life throws at you. Because it won't adapt with you, it pushes guilt on you. All of a sudden, you're to blame. You get mad and frustrated with yourself, talk negatively to yourself about lacking self control, and eventually ditch the meal plan all together because it is too hard to follow and is making you feel downright crappy about yourself.
Third: Even if you see results, eventually, one of the first two reasons will occur (life, regain of weight, frustration with yourself, etc).
You might be super irritated by what I am saying. You might be wondering, what is the answer then? Why is this so complicated? And why did Susie lose so much weight on x or y meal plan? Well, it doesn't need to be complicated. And about Susie... refer to the 3rd reason for disappointment...
The answer to reaching your goals lies within you. Literally it can be that easy. But, you need to make sure your goals are realistic. You also need to evaluate your goals and find out if you are focusing on appearance, or on happiness, energy, and health (this is a big one to contemplate). If you have good goals, that focus on realistic outcomes and come from a place of self love, then your body has the power to do the rest. Your body will tell you when it feels full. It will tell you when it needs food and what it needs. See that sandwich above? If your body said it was craving that, would you allow yourself to enjoy it? Stop trying to manipulate your body, and instead take a minute to listen.