Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Meal plans are only useful if they teach you how to not follow a plan. Let me explain. If done properly, a meal plan is a temporary tool to guide you to make better food choices. Structure helps. And detailed prescription is useful for some people who need it to stay on track. Sometimes you just want your coach to tell you what to do so you can make a start. That’s understandable. But a meal plan will only work if it starts to educate you about what to eat, when to eat it and why. If it doesn't do this, then to me it has failed. It doesn't matter how crazy you before and after photos look. If you blindly followed a plan and didn't understand the 'why' behind it, it is no more than a quick fix that will be difficult to maintain. Based on where you're at, we want to move you from food novice to food pro. But that takes time to break and make habits. You shouldn't expect to jump from a fast food junkie to a health fanatic in a week. Likewise, you might not need to change all that much to see the results you want. Why do more than you need to?
Here's my non-negotiables.
Eight non-negotiables for meal plans that work
1. It starts (and ends) with you.
You are uniquely you. The first step is to assess what and how you already eat. A meal plan should be tailored to your food history and patterns and consider how your body responds.
2. You can stick to it.
It doesn't matter how keen you are today. If you all of sudden have to work late, can't prepare your meals, have a special occasion or just don't feel like a certain food, then the plan you meant to follow easily becomes the plan you didn't follow. An effective meal plan needs to account for the realities of your lifestyle. What's the point of a complete food make over if it's impossible to follow?
3. You will learn from it.
If you simply follow the plan, then you will be no better at the end of it than you were when you started. The main job of a food coach is to help you to learn how to make healthier choices, in a way that you enjoy and can sustain.
4. It accepts that you can't always convert food into macros and calories.
If you have to religiously adhere to a meal plan based on numbers, then it's almost impossible to include actual foods unless you make it from scratch and measure it all out. Meals like salads, curries, casseroles or roast meats are all full of nutrients. But let's face it, you will never be able to say how many grams of fat are in your Greek salad, or how many calories are in that hearty casserole. If your meal plan teaches you that it is 'bad' to eat out, that's unnecessary and not sustainable.
5. It sets up a foundation for a long term healthy approach to food.
Don't let the quick fix distract you. Most bodies can handle a limited and strict diet for a short while, but if you are too rigid for too long then you set yourself up to inevitably fail. This can have physiological consequences (for example, on your metabolism and hormones). It is also mentally untenable - who wants to commit to a bland and punctual diet for the rest of their lives? Even if you can do this, it's not realistic and likely to negatively impact your social life and family time if it's too set in stone. And sadly, it can warp your relationship with food and destroy your ability to eat intuitively. Would you really choose your dream body in 12 weeks if your health takes a hit and it's not sustainable?
6. It is meant to change.
This means small, smart adjustments to reflect your progress and complement your unique body.
7. You enjoy it!
It you do it right, you'll find that the variety of foods you eat taste delicious and satisfy you. And your favourite foods should be in the plan! Not each day, but not off limits.
8. Ultimately, it puts you in control.
A meal plan should help you to learn how to make better choices, rather than just stick to the rules. It shouldn't create a yo-yo dieter who relies on others to tell them exactly what and how much to eat.