They have some benefits, which I’ll outline, but the pros outweigh the cons.
They don’t “teach you how to fish,” and it’s guaranteed that sooner or later (usually sooner) you’re going to want to
– eat something else
– need to go grocery shopping / don’t have what you need on hand when you need it
– go out for dinner
– exchange one of the carbs / proteins / fats for one you actually enjoy
– potentially eat more or less than the meal plan allocates, and
– have less time to prep than the meal plan allocates
And potentially hundreds of other scenarios in which you can’t actually follow the meal plan because well, shit happens.
The only certainty is uncertainty, so we have to be flexible and we have to be adaptable.
But this lack of individuality is exactly the meal plan’s downfall.
Meal plans don’t allow for individual tastes, a love of cooking and variety in your diet, experimentation or LEARNING.
One of the best ways for example, to discover what works best for you is to have a protein and calorie target and hit it consistently for a little while. You’ll learn from experience which foods keep you fuller, how eating a lot of processed food leaves you hungry, tired and lacking in nutrients and makes it nearly impossible to hit your macros. You’ll learn how many meals works for you, instead of eating a number of meals which doesn’t work for your lifestyle, and you’ll learn which foods you tend to reach for over and over again out of CHOICE, and thus, make up the majority of your meals.
For example, my breakfast and final meal of the day are always the same – 2 eggs on toast for breakfast and either protein oats or protein fluff for dessert depending on if it’s cold or warm – and won’t change. Only the 2 meals between them do, which is where I like to experiment. I just discovered over time that these two meals were the ones I went back to time and time again because they’re filling, quick and tasty.
THE REASON MEAL PLANS APPEAL TO US
It seems to be from confusion regarding what the “optimal” diet includes, and from a vast array of dieting options out there.
You can adjust everything from the individual foods, to the meal frequency and size, eating windows and/or fasting patterns, the distribution and amounts of proteins, carbs and fats and many, many more.
It can get confusing when you’re starting out as to which one to choose. Diet anxiety is real, and in shopping around for the “best” diet we often don’t start, and end up frozen into inaction by the sheer amount of choices and ways to manipulate our food that are out there.
There is no best diet, except the one you can stick to.
And sometimes the best way to get started is just to get started – and a meal plan will make our approach a bit less anxious and a bit more determined. It can be a shield for when you don’t want to brain, and just want to eat (but still get results).
Unfortunately the optimal diet doesn’t exist, and a meal plan is a time-limited panacea for the myriad of reasons I gave above.
Even the best meal plan is going to fall dramatically short once it’s outlived it’s purpose, and usually that happens within days – not weeks or months, and that’s hardly a recipe for success.
Here are a couple of sample meal plans I popped together for a calorie intake of 1600 and 2000. These are the same as ones you can find all over the internet, well – except that I wrote them.
WHAT IF THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU?
In 99% of cases, this won’t.
Don’t like eggs? You’ll have questions about what else you can eat.
Don’t have time to cook? You’ll have questions about time saving options and (restrictions for healthy options depending on where you live).
Can’t eat gluten?
This is just the tip of the meal plan problem iceberg.
If you need to eat more or less calories, more or less frequent meals, more carbohydrates to fuel performance, less carbohydrates due to personal dieting preferences, if you’re vegetarian or vegan etc or you simply don’t like these foods – then this isn’t going to work for you. If you don’t know how to cook – this is going to be harder than it needs to be.
Because meal plans don’t allow for customisation.
And this is their downfall.
Learn to customise your own diet and you’ll have much longer lasting results and a much more enjoyable time overall, because YOU can control those aspects of your diet that are most important for, and specific to you, to make it easier to follow, and thus more likely to work.
Since YOU are the one doing the diet, YOU know what you need and YOU know what you will enjoy.
And that’s kind of my point!
Meal plans can give an idea or represent a concept, but they don’t give all the answers.
TO WRITE YOUR OWN MEAL PLAN
1. Start with a good understanding of your baseline calorie needs from an online calculator such as TDEE calculator.
2. Choose if you want to do a cut, maintain or add lean muscle.
3. Choose if you want higher or lower carbs. What you choose should be dependent upon things like your training frequency and style of training, goals and lifestyle (sedentary folks typically need less carbs) etc.
4. Use an online calorie tracking app such as Cronometer to input your daily food and aim to hit the macros provided, then adjust up or down every 1-2 weeks depending upon your results. This allows you to make your OWN meal plan and to have a flexible approach to your meals, meaning you don’t have to eat the same thing in the same portions every day.
If you need more help / advice, or more individual guidance then….
THE PRIMER MIGHT BE A BETTER PLACE TO START
Rather than specify exactly what to eat for the same meal every day, The Primer educates you on how to build a meal (protein + 1 or more other macros), which foods to use to build them, and how to adapt your meals according to pre or post workout needs.
In the past I used The Primer to help people with fat loss, however it’s now been updated to cater for maintenance, performance and muscle mass as well as weight loss, and for only $50 it includes lifelong access to all publication updates, the dedicated FB support group and 3 free recipe books.
HOW ABOUT A TAILORED NUTRITION GUIDE?
I DO give you meal ideas, but I also give you:
– A run down of the things which are lacking in your current diet, and how it may impact your progress
– An understanding of the things that need to change in order for you to improve your results
– A macro target should you wish to adopt your meals and diet flexibly,
– Meal ideas based on your current preferences but tweaked to hit your macros and the improvements I outlined which you need to make, and
– A list of foods (proteins, carbs, fats and unlimited additions) their substitutions and portion sizes should you wish to make your own menu, or need flexibility and choice in order to stick to your diet.
I will also hook you up as a client in Cronometer, where at any time I can view your logged foods and provide feedback on any changes to make.
Over a decade of coaching clients, I’ve discovered that this amount of information and options for customisation is the best way to help those both looking for something rigid, those looking for something flexible, and those who fall in between.
Pop your details below to get your CUSTOM diet guide, and mention this article for $20 off.