When someone wants instant results, its usually the trend to want to get a meal plan that tells you exactly what to eat so you can get those “instant” results that you want. However, in most contexts this is usually the wrong thing to do. Firstly before I move forward, I want to clarify that there are different types of “meal plan” methods with one being very applicable in certain contexts, while the other should never be used in my opinion.
- – A meal plan that is more of a guide than a plan. It gives you the calorie content and macro values of all foods and meals, and it serves as your ideal template that you can work from rather than follow mindlessly. It allows you freedom and flexibility, but still gives you the structure that you need. It is fitted to your lifestyle, your preferences and addresses your barriers.
2. – A plan that says nothing but exact foods with no education or guide. This is often a cookie cutter plan that is handed out to everyone. This is often the case when you “buy meal plans”. This is not fitted to you or your lifestyle and doesn’t address any of your individual barriers. This is the method that 99% of people will not benefit from in the long term. You might get results in the first few weeks, but once motivation and discipline starts to decline, your lack of education and understanding will lead you back to square one – if not worse.
If you were to look at food tracking using a relevant app, then it helps solve many issues. It also something that most people can implement as a life style change long term.
- It provides education of what is in food and what its nutritional values are
- It allows you flexibility and variety within your food selection
- It can increase sustainability as a life change rather then a quick fix
- It helps you feel in control on a day to day basis rather then guessing
- It helps you meet your calorie, protein and nutrient targets
- It can give you an assessment of the quality of your current diet when you initially log
However, when someone initially tries to track food it can go horribly wrong and be frustrating for them. This is because they don’t have the habits and structure needed, or the education needed to be able to use it properly. Issues such as the following are most peoples down fall:
- Picking at food
- Eating on the go
- Being unprepared
- Eating too many high calorie foods
- Having a low protein intake
- Having low vegetable and fruit intake
- Viewing food as clean or bad and being overly restrictive as they feel they have to be “good”
- Demonising certain foods or food groups – such as bread or carbs in general
From experience of working with many people – most peoples tendencies toward food leave them doing at least 75% of the above.
This is where a meal guide/template (the first option above) can play a role and be a vital tool. It is given with education, based around your lifestyle and preferences and can be used as a sample to work from rather than to just follow. It follows three basic principles and doesn’t forgot about any:
- Controls your calorie intake
- Ensures you hit your protein goal
- Aims to make sure you are not deficient in any nutrient
After this is covered, then flexibility of what you do with the rest of the set of is all up to you. You have the choice and control. The meal guide has all calorie and macro totals listed, so it allows you to swap foods in and out once you match up the targets. This could be an initial phase to learn about nutrition before you transition in to your own tracking. Only now you will have all the needed habits and understanding required to be successful when tracking. Other times it may be useful is if:
- Someone is experienced with food but they want to remove the stress of tracking.
- You have a specific goal like getting on stage or doing a photo shoot
- It can be a break from tracking to remove the psychological stress and food focus tracking can cause some people.
I hope you can see from this, that with nutrition in general there is no one size fits all approach, and there is no best approach – there is just an approach that is suited to a particular person at a particular time. The context matters, and the same one person may change their approach on a regular basis to suit what they need at that given time. This is where a skilled coach or someone with experience can play a huge role. As most people know – food and the role it plays in life is FAR MORE than a list on a piece of paper or document.