A Nutritionist Tells All: Meal Plans Set Us Up for Failure

emilygough Mindset, Nutrition

I think as a Holistic Nutritionist it can be surprising that I don’t offer meal plans, even as part of a package.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that meal plans work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having a general idea as to what you’re going to eat, especially if you cook most of your meals at home and are mapping out what you will need at the grocery store.  That can be incredibly helpful to both your budget and your waistline, saving you time and money from multiple trips to the store, and keeping things organized, especially if you are starting a new chapter in your health journey.

Strict meal plans, however, are a short term solution to a long term issue.  Let’s face it, we’re going to be eating food for the rest of our lives.  Short term solutions simply won’t do.  We need to find a way to eat that will meet three main standards:

  1. Enjoy what we eat
  2. Benefits our health
  3. Gives the results we want

Because let’s be honest, eating nothing but spinach and chicken for the rest of our lives won’t meet any of those standards.

Meal plans are not sustainable.  We will eventually get tired of them, or more often than not we will be invited out to a social engagement or have a particular non-standard eating event coming up that takes us so far off of our meal plan we throw in the towel and have trouble going back on it again.

Often meal plans will make people feel deprived, because they rarely build in any kind of nutritional relief.  A square of chocolate, a glass of wine, a small cookie, any type of treat that you enjoy.

Another reason why meal plans don’t work?  Every one of us is genetically unique.  Even if I, as your nutritionist, question your likes and dislikes along with taking into consideration your nutritional requirements and a whole host of other issues, there’s no way for me to be able to be with you as the client in real time to help you determine exactly and specifically how each meal is making you feel.  Do you feel satisfied after eating it?  Are you still hungry?  Is the exact serving size I instructed you to have (that experience and textbooks tells me should be the specific amount you require) enough food for you?  Too much food?

And what about all of the other factors that impact our food choices?  Sleep and stress are two of the biggest factors when it comes to our hunger and cravings, along with our energy.  A busy executive who has been finishing some big projects on deadline this week is going to have higher stress levels than usual.  A new mom with a brand new baby is going to be taxed from lack of sleep and the emotional and physical stress.

Neither of these women, experiencing different kinds of stress, are likely to be served well by a strict meal plan at this particular snapshot of time in their lives.  Their hunger may be different than it normally is under more typical circumstances as well.  Maybe the executive is working out more than usual to try and burn off some of her stress and therefore requires a higher volume of food than laid out for her, and perhaps the new mama is just trying to make it through the day right now and the last thing she would ever need to be worrying about is trying to stick to a particular way of eating.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when meal plans are appropriate for a short time if you have a health issue that requires an overhaul of the way you eat or are in the midst of trying to rebalance a body system, digestion or hormonal issue that is causing problems for your body and not making you feel your best.

But, meal plans intended for the sole purpose of helping one lose weight will always inevitably fail because there’s no way to design them to account for what’s happening in our daily lives.  What’s worse is that when someone is on a meal plan and “falls off the wagon” as the unfortunate saying goes, that person feels a massive amount of guilt, which can often be the fuel that feeds overindulging in foods that don’t make us feel our best.  Even more importantly is how that guilt can have an effect mentally and emotionally in the longer term.

Instead, I teach women how to build consistency into their diets, because consistently making healthy choices the majority of the time is what will get you the results you want, while still making the process enjoyable and bettering your health.  It meets all three of the standards we require for how to eat well long term, and becomes intuitive with practice.  Better yet, it allows for small treats of your desire without any guilt.

Women are telling me all the time that have difficulty sticking with consistently healthy habits, especially when eating at a restaurant or some other social gathering where the food available is not what we would usually stock in our kitchen.

One way to start creating more consistency for yourself is through what I can an #IntentionalEdible.  An #IntentionalEdible is a small treat or nutritional relief that I teach women to build into their diet regularly, daily if possible.  This is something that might look different for everyone, because every individual has unique tastes.  Some that I like and that clients enjoy is a couple squares of dark chocolate, a little bacon, a couple bites of a cupcake shared with a friend, anything that is going to make you feel as though you are having a small yet totally indulgent treat you enjoy.

By having an #IntentionalEdible regularly, it becomes normalized, removing the feeling of deprivation that causes us to overeat along with removing the guilt we often feel when we indulge.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we can have any food we want, anytime.  Many places in the world are not so fortunate to be able to say that, but generally speaking this is true for most people that would be reading this.  When we remember that any food we want is available to us, it removes some of that mindset of scarcity that a strict meal plan can deeply ingrain in us.

There is a better way than meal plans.  We’re going to need to eat for life, so the best way to do that is to enjoy it while still maintaining our health and getting results.

Here are some additional ways on how to build consistency into your daily life without all the restrictions that won’t account for life getting in the way, and most importantly, #DesignYourDiet to fit YOUR individual life.  It will help you to create healthy habits that can be used for life, and you’ll never feel the need for a strict meal plan.

Are we connected on Facebook?  Let me know what you think of meal plans and consistency!  What do you struggle with the most when it comes to nutrition?

 

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