Last week, I did a Facebook Live on this topic that garnered a lot of private messages along the lines of, “Thank you so much, this is exactly what I need to hear.”
Unfortunately, the video got a little garbled thanks to some tech issues, so I decided to put the ideas down in writing so that they could live on permanently (and coherently)!
So let’s talk about meal plans.
When some clients want to work with me, they approach me wanting a meal plan. They want to be told, down to the gram, exactly what foods to eat and when.
But… I don’t give meal plans.
For two important reasons:
- First of all, eating is a very personal experience. People eat based on their preferences, their backgrounds, their traditions, and their schedules. Often, a “meal plan” that I would give someone – which would definitely work in terms of goal achievement – would be absolutely incompatible with the way that they would naturally eat, even at the peak of health. “Healthy eating” is going to look different from person to person, although there will certainly be common denominators that will jump out.
- Secondly, and even more importantly, I don’t give meal plans because in essence I would give communicating to the client this idea: “You can’t trust yourself to make food decisions for yourself.” When I work with clients, my goal is to do the opposite – to build up the client’s food selection skills so that healthy choices become easy and automatic.
What To Do Instead
So, instead of doing meal plans, I often make suggestions. I offer a full cookbook with all the nutrition facts to give people a boost of ideas, but mostly I help the clients talk through a typical week, their pitfalls around food, and what strategies they could use to help themselves prepare more skillfully for managing food intake to suit their personal goals.
As I often tell clients, the most important thing isn’t what you eat – it’s how you eat. Your eating habits will ultimately dictate your results and how long you can sustain them – not what kind of diet you follow or what eating ideology you subscribe to.
If you are keen on using numbers as part of your weight loss or healthy eating plan (which is a great idea to do!), then these are the numbers that will be most helpful for you:
- Overall calories
- Protein 20-30 g per meal and 10 g per snack
- Keep sugar to 10 g or less per serving
If you map out a plan of eating that fits these numbers and matches your personal style of eating, you are golden.
Tracking and Improving
Then, the next step in the process is to track and watch yourself for a certain period of time – maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. What patterns emerge when you watch closely? Where are your particular Achilles heels when it comes to food? Is it nighttime snacking? Is it dipping into dinner as you cook? Is it the afternoon energy slump? Are you eating out too often?
Once you find those weak areas, is there a way to retrace your steps to put preventative measures in place, so that the way you are actually eating matches up more closely with your desired way of eating? Are you overdoing it on afternoon snacking because you skipped lunch? Are you dieting too hard during the week, causing a weekend binge? Are you eating out too often because you’re not grocery shopping? Are you snacking too much at night because there’s too much “junk” food around?
Become a detective in your own life, using the numbers as a framework, not as a method of self-policing. Tracking can be a freeing tool of tracking improvements, instead of “keeping yourself in line.”
Where I come into this process is objectivity. I can help by being a guide as well as a witness to what you are doing, and by providing sensible feedback when things don’t go well. I may even be able to foresee when something won’t go well, and help you dodge an oncoming problem.
But I am not imparting secrets – I am simply helping clients redirect themselves with what they already know will work. In fact, I work with clients to facilitate building self-trust, because any health professional who makes you feel like you don’t know how to eat (and they do) is not going to give you the skills you need.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Trust me – you have all the answers you really need. Don’t put your faith in meal plans or diets. Instead, take an attitude of humble curiosity toward your own eating, and aim for small improvements that move you closer to where you want to go. Sustainability will be better, because you will be happier and more empowered.
Do some food decisions just come down to plain old-fashioned willpower? Absolutely. But we want to minimize these moments as much as possible, and create a personal plan of eating that we can flow with, instead of fight against.