Why Meal Plans Fail

‘Just tell me what to eat’‘I don’t want to think about it, I just need to know what, how much and when’These are very common statements from people during nutrition consultations, and it’s understandable. People have so much other stuff to think about, so many other stresses in life, that they don’t want their nutrition to be another one. The amount of times this works though? Zero.

People rarely know the food they will have access to on a day to day basis, so how is someone else expected to plan out a weeks or even months worth of food for them without this knowledge?

(Also, unless someone is a registered dietician, they aren’t allowed to legally do this for you anyway)

So what’s more useful then, than a rigid food plan? Some education around portion control and caloric intake, macronutrients and their benefits and effects on the body and some guidelines around them all is a great place to start.

Meal plans are often just explicit prescriptions, which nutrition shouldn’t be about. If a meal plan says ‘Tuesday lunchtime: Chicken and Rice’, anything other than ‘Chicken and Rice’ is seen as going off the plan. So what if someone doesn’t have access to chicken? Is lunch completely ruined? If we can’t have the chicken and rice then we may as well just go and have a pizza or big mac meal right? Because they are just as off plan as anything else. This might seem ridiculous, but it’s quite a common thought process

However, if Tuesday lunch reads ‘1 palm sized portion of protein, a small handful of vegetables and a fist sized serving of carbohydrates’, and someone has been given an education on macronutrients and what foods fall into that category, then it becomes much easier to manage if their access to foods is limited. Or if they’ve been given some guidelines on how much they should be eating day to day, they can decide to reduce their intake at lunch and make up for it later in the day. It doesn’t need to be so rigid, life doesn’t allow for that!

It’s also the case that most people know what decisions they are making that are having a detrimental impact on their goals. No one is thinking that chocolate has more nutritional value than vegetables, or that wine is more hydrating than water. Humans just make irrational decisions. So taking this into account, what most people need are guidelines on how to fit their nutrition around their lifestyle, not the other way around. How to best manage after a stressful day at work when we become much worse at saying no to things we want to be saying no to? What to do when out for a work lunch? Or how to manage their intake around social events at the weekend?

This often allows more flexibility with a diet as well. It allows for a glass of wine here and there, some cheese and biscuits on the side, or a slice of cake when out for lunch with friends. Because if you’re controlling your overall intake of food, these won’t have a negative impact on your weight or health.

Sacrificing the foods we love really isn’t worth it. They are one of life’s great pleasures! So whilst it may take a bit of effort to learn how to manage your calorie intake, learn what meals fit well with the guidelines you’ve been given, get an idea of how much protein, carbs and fat is in the foods you are eating. These are behaviours that are going to make managing your nutrition long term much easier, and allow you to live your life whilst still working towards your goals. You can have your cake and eat it too, literally!

Mark Hallam

Mark is a movement specialist, nutritionist and personal trainer that has an enormous passion to help make everyone he works with healthier. In his opinion, a healthier life is a better life and he aims to inspire and educate his clients to take care of the way they move, breathe, eat, sleep, train and recover to ensure they are getting the most out of their bodies.

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