Should you follow a meal plan?

When it comes to nutrition coaching, the first thing I’m always asked is, “Will I get a meal plan?” and the response will almost always be no. While meal plans can be very useful for helping dedicated individuals reach their goals, for most people they’re almost impossible to follow, and a sure fire way to fail. 

So if most meal plans lead to failure why is it that most people still seem to want them? This probably comes from the fact that most people’s intro to health/fitness/nutrition is through bodybuilding, and meal plans are extremely common for these athletes to get stage ready and get to ridiculously low levels of body fat. While this approach has proven effective here, you have to keep in mind that these athletes are extremely committed and dedicate almost all of their free time to their aesthetic goals, which probably doesn’t fit in with most people’s lives. 

Another reason why meals plans aren’t the answer is that it assumes that you a) like the foods and meals listed out for you, and b) have the skills and/or kitchen tools to actually make those meals. While this may seem like a small thing, there can be a lot of anxiety in this if you’re not sure how or what to substitute because your local grocery store doesn’t have the ingredients you need. 

Meal plans also follow a basic calories in, calories out formula to determine how much you should eat to reach your desired weight…and while this is a good theoretical place to start, the actual application is much trickier as food labels aren’t always reported accurately, the body doesn’t necessarily absorb all the calories listed, and how many calories you burn is pretty difficult to determine and can be influenced by activity level, previous diet history, and all other aspects of your lifestyle.

So what do you do instead?

While it may seem that I’m against meal plans, I do find them useful for certain individuals, but for the vast majority of people they're better off doing without one. Instead, most people should just focus on reducing the number of processed foods that they eat, and instead opt for fresh produce, dairy, and meats. Eating slowly and until satisfied are the next steps to take, and will actually provide more benefits than most people would think. These few steps are enough for most people to begin to see some weight loss progress and improvements in their health, and it is super easy to do.

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