Following a meal plan: Why it might be setting you up for failure

I always joke with Cam that as soon as I got certified as personal trainer I immediately heard things like "Can you make me a meal plan? That's what I really struggle with" or "I just need someone to tell what to eat and when." Unfortunately I am not qualified to do that. But even if I were, I don't think meal plans are for everyone. I think there are some major issues with having a meal plan created for you and here's why.

For starters it's usually BORING AS HELL. Please, take it from my own personal experience. I once paid a guy on Instagram to make me a meal plan (yes, I know, I got freakin' catfished on Instagram. Learn from my foolish mistakes!) I was at the point where I was like "ugh, I don't want to take the time to figure out how to eat healthy. I want someone to do it for me". This guy sent me a questionnaire asking what kind of foods I like. I was like wow, this guy actually cares about what I like! I sent it back and literally less than 5 minutes later he responded with my meal plan. At first I was like "wow sir, your timeliness is much appreciated" and then I opened the damn meal plan. It was clear he didn't take ANY of my food preferences into consideration. In my questionnaire I had answered that I liked beef, chicken, and fish in that order. He had me eating fish CONSTANTLY. And BOILED POTATOES. Seriously, boiled potatoes almost every freakin' meal (WITH NO BUTTER). Guess what happened next? First I immediately started to despise the meal plan and thought "why does eating healthy have to suck so bad?". Thoughts like "is this really worth it?" crossed my mind. I dreaded my next meal. I had to choke down potatoes. Potato after potato. I never thought I was capable of hating a potato so much in my life. Even though I thought I wanted someone to tell me what to eat and when, it felt so restricting and powerless. I felt like all of the control regarding my own body was taken away from me. I was failing before I even started.

[Now, let me be clear. You might be thinking "hasn't she commented before that she eats the same thing for lunch every day?" Yes, I do eat the same thing over and over for lunch to reach my nutritional goals. Guess why? Because I ENJOY that food. I've learned how to prepare chicken so it stays nice and juicy. Sauteed broccoli is the shit. Rice (or any type of complex carb for that matter) will never get old for me. I enjoy the food, I look forward to it, and the repetition does not bother me. If I ever stop enjoying the food, I will switch it up (and sometimes I do!). Eating healthy does not have to equal being miserable. It's one thing to want to eat mounds of broccoli. It's another thing to be forced to do so.]

The other issue with having someone make you a meal plan is that you don't learn anything. Let's say someone makes you a meal plan for 4 weeks. What are you going to do, eat the same thing over and over, month after month? It's the exact same way I feel about meal replacement shakes. They might work while you take them, but as soon as you're done, how are you going to maintain your progress when you don't know how to probably nourish your body? Yes, you might make progress for 4, 6, maybe even 8 weeks, but what is the point if you're just going backwards once you get back to eating "normally"? 

Often the idea with these meal plans is that they are just a "jump start" to weight loss (similar to many of the multi level marketing nutrition companies I talked about in my last post). However, this way of thinking is severely flawed. For one thing, you haven't created a foundation of healthful eating. You become so wrapped up in following the meal plan exactly, that as soon as it's over (either time runs out or you give up) you revert back to old habits. It also encourages obsessive behavior, a "good food vs bad food" mentality, and many times fear of simple things in life that are supposed to be enjoyable, like occasionally eating out.

Now don't get me wrong. Planning is important. I've said it once and I'll say it again: failing to plan is planning to fail. I do my meal prep every Sunday for the entire week, but not many people can eat the same thing every day all week long. So what should you do instead? 

Include a variety of foods in your diet. If having a variety of foods means you can't prep them all on Sundays, prep them the day before you need them. Make sure all of your meals and snacks for the next day are packed up and ready to go so a hectic morning isn't your excuse to eat out. Or, if you like getting all of your prep done in one day, just prep a variety of meals. 2 or 3 entrees and a couple different snacks should be sufficient.  

Make sure they are foods you like. I feel like this one should go without saying; yet there I was, eating tilapia until it made me sick and peeling potatoes until I could hardly even look at them anymore. If your meal plan has food on it that you despise, or are starting to despise due to eating it so much, your mind and your stomach won't be happy and ultimately it could hinder your progress.

Ask for an example of what a day looks like instead. If you decide you do need to seek someone's help regarding your nutrition, ask for a snapshot of what a day of eating would look like. Then, figure out what foods are comparable to that, kind of like a substitution bank. For example, pretty much any protein can be switched out for another. Instead of chicken every day, know that you have the liberty to switch it out with bison, ground turkey, salmon, tuna or eggs. Instead of brown rice every day, try swapping it out for a sweet potato, regular potatoes (I'm not there yet..thanks Instagram guy), jasmine rice, or quinoa. 

Educate yourself. Learn about macronutrients and understand the importance of trying to meet them, instead of focusing on food individually. There are tons of articles on and all over the internet that have great information. There are calculators that can help you figure out what your macronutrient ratios should be or formulas you can use if you want to calculate it by hand (that's what I do). It's so important to learn sustainable nutrition habits so your results aren't short lived. You deserve results that can carry a strong, healthy body for life.

Leave some wiggle room. It may sound silly, but I allow myself 20-25g of fat per day solely for cheese. #Wisconsin. I can decide whether I want to throw some cheddar cheese on my eggs for breakfast, parmesan cheese on my veggies during dinner, or maybe throw some goat cheese on a salad for lunch. Do I want to make a breakfast sandwich, and put some cream cheese on that? Answer: yes, always. This wiggle room gives me freedom. And for some crazy reason if I'm not in the mood for cheese, I have enough fats left over for.. you guessed it, extra peanut butter.

More importantly.... Be realistic. It's called LIFE and it doesn't always go as planned. Sometimes you find yourself stranded without prepared food and you're hungry. Sometimes plans change and you end up eating out twice in a given week when originally you only planned on once. It happens. Sometimes you're stuck in a place where EVERYTHING is unhealthy and you just have to make the best decision possible in that moment. Food should not cause you stress or cause you to want to miss out on social gatherings. 

Remember: the one or two mistakes you make aren't going to matter in the long run, but the healthy choices you make the other 90% of the time are.