Why Meal Plans Don’t Work, and What To Do…

I used to make meal plans. Hand them out. Expect results. Get puzzled. Repeat.

But…it never happened. And with speaking with multiple other nutrition coaches, and dietitians, they all said the same thing.

Meal plans sound great in theory. Just eat this EXACT plan and you will get results. If they are made properly and calculated correctly, they CAN totally work. But usually from a quick fix standpoint or something that is not truly sustainable.

The time and effort that can be put into a meal plan, only for it to break apart in one meal is unmatched.

“My meal plan says 4 ounces of chicken, 1 cup of rice, and 1 cup of broccoli…but I had to go out to eat for work! HELP!!!”

Meal plans are too rigid. They take away any actual learning about food that is involved, and they only work for people who are willing to eat the same twigs and sticks every single day.

Now – there is a difference between a meal plan and a sample day (which I use). A sample day is one single example of what a day at a certain calorie/macro level might look like. But, nobody is expected to follow this one day for weeks, months, or years.

It is only an example of what the day might look like. Why? Because people often underestimate how many calories they eat, and seeing it on paper, and maybe trying it for one day can be very eye-opening.

Showing an example of a day at a set calorie level is good, but teaching sustainable habits and how to be flexible with your diet is better.

What is flexible dieting? 

Let me use an example. Let’s say your current goals are to lose weight. After finding that you currently eat 3000 calories, I would start with a nice deficit of 300-500 cals. So your goal will be to eat 2500 calories.

After figuring out your macros (carbs, protein, fat) – let’s say your goal is this:

2500 calories – 220 grams Carbs (25-35 grams Fiber), 220 grams Protein, and 82 grams Fat (these are all hypothetical)

With flexible dieting, your goal is to hit these numbers every day, by any means possible***

Some people will think this means you can eat whatever you want…which yes, you can! However, as fun as that may sound, it might not be the best idea.

Let’s go back to that photo from above.

These both are 1470 calories. The meal on the left is what we call calorie dense. It means there are a ton of calories (1470) in a small volume of food. The meals on the right are more nutrient dense – more volume, less calories.

If you think you could eat these foods, and hit your macro targets, you are good….but that might be highly unlikely.

Most calorie dense foods are high in fat, and carbs, and LOW in protein and fiber. Think about things like donuts, greasy burgers, pizza…

These three foods account for 154 carbs, 89 fat, and 69 protein, with only 9g of fiber.

That leaves our hypothetical person with:

66 grams of carbs – 151 grams of protein – and NEGATIVE grams of fat…

So pretty much the rest of the day would have to be PURE protein, and some rice…not the healthiest day.

How can you “have your cake and eat it too”?

Once you have your macros set – and you know you want a donut, go ahead and plug it in.

Then work the rest of your day AROUND that choice, with nutritious, whole foods, and high nutrient dense options.

Yes, this involves a basic understanding of nutrition, how to track, and how to measure foods…but when you understand how this all works, and it does, and it is like “magic” every single time you eat those foods that make your friends say…

“I thought you were trying to lose weight?”

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Stay healthy my friends,

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