In the past I’ve been on several meal plans designed by other coaches to help push me to meet some challenging goals. Generally, those who are held accountable by other people tend to be more successful in meeting their physique goals. I definitely learned a lot through working with other coaches but I recently came to the conclusion that meal plans just aren’t for me. Why? Well, I just can’t imagine following one for a long period of time anymore. The thought of that just sounds like a prison sentence to me. The food prep (bulk cooking)… The meal prep (measuring out into containers)… Packing food so you don’t (heaven forbid!) “miss a meal.” Doesn’t that sound exhausting? Is that really the way to live your life? And for what? Slightly smaller thighs? Slightly more chiseled abs? If it’s worth it to you, then by all means, go ahead! They can work well, provided you have a good and knowledgable coach and you’re willing to put in the hard work. I just think I’m at a point in my “journey” where that just seems like nonsense and the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. Maybe I’m getting old and stubborn? 😉
Before I go any further, I just want to clarify exactly what I mean by a “meal plan.” A meal plan is a formally designed planned with precise foods and measures of foods that one is to follow to achieve a certain goal. That goal might be fat loss, muscle gain, or even maintenance.
So let me tell you why I’m no longer a big fan of them and why I don’t prefer to provide them for my own clients…
1. No one really learns anything from following a strict meal plan. While yes, it may be nice that you don’t have to think about what you’re going to eat because it’s all laid out for you, don’t you think that you should have to think about what you’re eating? Don’t you think there is something important about making a conscious decision about what you’re putting into your body? I think it’s important for an individual to figure out what they like or dislike eating and what agrees or disagrees with their body, without the intervention of a coach telling them what is good, not-so-good, or “bad” even.
2. Freedom. As humans, we like to feel like we’re making decisions for ourselves. Once someone tells you what you can or can’t do, don’t you get a slight feeling that you want to rebel against that? That feeling is natural. If your coach tells you that you aren’t allowed to have cake, don’t you all of a sudden start craving some cake? Even if you don’t really like cake…? It’s silly, but our minds do tend to work that way. Put something completely off-limits and boom, ya want it!
3. Off-Plan Guilt. So when you finally decide to go for that amazing slice of cake, you have a tendency to feel guilty for having eaten it because it wasn’t “on your plan.” And now you have to deal with the consequences of that. Maybe your trainer will be upset with you (if this is the case, fire them), or you might become upset with yourself. Getting down in the dumps about eating a slice of cake is the opposite reaction you should be having! You just ate some delicious cake! You should be enjoying that experience to the fullest! Not feeling crappy about it afterwards. Yeesh.
So what’s my solution? How can you get around following a strict meal plan yet still achieve your goals?
Count your calories and macronutrients.
“But Jessssss, that’s so neurotic and time consuming!” Uh… No. No, it’s not. It’s especially not as neurotic and time consuming as constantly cooking, constantly prepping, and constantly packing the same meals day in and day out. When I count calories and macronutrients I essentially eat like a normal person, varying my food choices from day to day, and just calculate my totals towards the end of the day or before my last meal. Then I just adjust my last one or two meals at the end of the day to account for more or less calories.
In case you feel like I’m leaving you out on a branch wondering what the heck macronutrients are, they’re proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These make up the bulk of your diet. I like to vary these throughout the week to ensure that I’m getting a broader amount of nutrients. If you eat the same things day in and day out, you’re more likely to be lacking in certain important nutrients. And that’s no bueno.
So how do you know what your calories and macronutrient percentage should be? Well, that’s going to be completely individual. I don’t know you and I don’t know your goals, so it would be irresponsible of me to advise you one way or another. A good general starting place if you don’t know your current maintenance calorie level is to take your current weight and multiply that times 15. Eat that many calories for a couple weeks and see what happens. If you gain weight, you might want to lower those calories (unless weight gain is your goal.) See? It’s all trial and error anyways. You just have to tweak things as you go. I generally set my protein intake at 1g per pound of bodyweight or a little lower and fill in the rest of my calories with a good balance of carbs and fats. Easy peasy. I don’t get too crazy about it as I have no plans of stepping on a competitive stage in a bikini.
Have you ever followed a meal plan? How did it make you feel?