The non-diet trend has given rise to lots of new “lifestyles” that, as it turns out, are just diets in disguise. One of the more frustrating of these actually-a-diet diets is the meal plan.
Now before I get carried away let me say that there are absolutely benefits of planning meals in advance. It can be helpful to sit down with your schedule over the weekend and consider which meals are going to work for you in the week ahead. If you have a late meeting on Tuesday, plan a dinner that you can prepare quickly. Or maybe just recognize that you’ll be ordering out on Tuesday. All of us benefit from some routine so it’s reasonable to have a few go-to breakfast and lunch options. Find two or three meals that are enjoyable, simple to prepare, and leave you feeling satisfied and energized. As you begin to build meal patterns that truly work for you you’ll find that it takes far less thought and energy to make nutritious choices.
But ok – while planning ahead can be helpful, jumping into a so-called meal plan may be a recipe for disaster. Meal plans, like all other diets, are inherently restrictive, rigid, and un-realistic.
Restrictive: One of the allures of a meal plan is that it takes all the decision making out of nutrition. I’ve heard many clients express something like,
“If someone would just tell me what to eat I know I could lose weight!”
Here’s the thing – there are lots and lots of diets that tell you what to eat. But there’s a reason those diets are hard to stick to. No matter how manageable a diet or meal plan may seem at first, your cravings for disallowed foods will eventually become difficult to manage. And even if you love eating green veggies, you may find that having a salad at lunch every day feels a little punishing. A meal plan seems like a good option until the initial appeal of a clear-cut set of nutrition rules morphs into yet another diet prison.
Formulaic: There are thousands of meal planning tools and services out there. Some meal plans offer three or four options at every meal. Some provide a day by day menu with recipes. Many plans give the impression that they are individualized but the reality is these services are based on a formula that is only loosely aligned with your specific needs. Whether it’s calorie or carb control, Whole 30 or Keto, every meal plan adheres to its own set of rules.
But our nutrition needs, both physiological and psychological, change from day to day! Human metabolism is not a series of equations – it’s a biological process that’s always in flux. Our calorie needs vary and our food preferences shift. No matter how supposedly customizable a meal plan is, it simply can’t meet our ever-changing needs.
Not Compatible with Real Life: The ultimate downfall of most meal plans is that they simply aren’t flexible enough to accommodate a real-life schedule. Sure, most of us can stick to a meal plan if we’re working 9 to 5 and have an empty social calendar. But what about when we’re traveling for work? Or when there’s a lunch meeting with catered food? What if we get stuck in traffic and just don’t have the energy to cook when we get home? Or, God forbid, what if we want to go to dinner with our girl friends?? If your schedule is anything like mine, you’ll probably have events that result in meal plan conflicts a few nights a week.
Ok Stephanie, I get it, a meal plan is just another diet. But can’t you please just write me one anyway?? Nope! Although I make a point to learn my client’s schedules and food preferences I can’t possibly predict what you’ll be craving on Tuesday or if you’ll get stuck having to work the weekend. It’s critical that you learn for yourself what works, what you enjoy, what's realistic, and what delivers the best possible nutrition without leaving you feeling restricted. I can provide guidance, but I simply refuse to make your food decisions for you. Because there’s a difference between having a plan and being handcuffed to one.