Meal planning: Why would you?
Meal planning seems to be all the rage right now. I see several adverts every time I turn the telly on, but is meal planning really helpful if you are trying to lose weight?
It all depends, I guess.
What does meal planning mean to you?
For some people, meal plans are a set of menus designed by their nutritionist/dietitian – calorie counted – everything accounted for including snacks and drinks – and don’t you dare eat anything else!!
For others, a meal plan is a set of pre-prepared meals that are calorie counted and can be stored in your fridge/freezer, no cooking required – just heat and eat. With many of these plans, you can choose your own snacks and drinks and even sides.
Recipe boxes have become very popular recently. Typically these are boxes of ingredients and recipe sheets – some of these are calorie counted while others cater for vegans, pescatarians, gluten-free, etc.
But will a meal plan help with weight management?
Meal plans have lots of pros:
- Takes the decision making away which is one less stressor.
- Can provide lots of guidance on healthy foods.
- Shopping is much easier.
- Can be an excellent way to break unhealthy eating habits by providing more nutritious alternatives.
However, there are also a few cons:
- What will happen when you stop following the meal plan and go back to “normal” eating?
- If you are using a recipe box will you have the time to make the meals? Or will you end up ordering in because you are too tired?
- Will you get the variety you need? Does the plan include the foods you like (I love plantain, but am yet to come across a recipe box that includes this)? Are you likely to get bored?
- Some plans are so limited in terms of food types (especially after you account for the foods you don’t like), you could end up limiting your nutritional variety – you might lose weight, but do you want to lose your hair too?
What should you consider?
If you are aiming to use a meal plan to lose weight you should, at a minimum, ensure your plan:
- Takes account of your specific nutritional needs (this will depend on your current health, lifestyle, commitments, etc.).
- Helps you stay within your calorie limits.
- Includes a good variety of whole / fresh foods using the best ingredients – refined or overly processed foods will be much less helpful to you even if part of a calorie-controlled diet.
- Can be adapted easily as your nutrition and calorie requirements change.
You should also consider whether you see this a sustainable lifestyle change – is the plan suited to you such that you would continue irrespective of whether you still need to lose weight? If the answer to that question is no; you should stop and think hard…
It is all well and good sticking to a plan to get to your target weight – hats off to you for being disciplined. However, if this is something that has been approached as a short term “fix”; guess what will happen once you breathe a sigh of relief and stop adhering to the plan – within a few months you end up right back where you started wondering why diets never work.
From my perspective, plans are useful tools for ideas or perhaps as a way to break out of unhelpful habits.
Our habits underpin the reality of our lives.
Unhelpful habits tend to creep into our lives whilst we are not looking and can be extremely difficult to shake. Sometimes our unhelpful habits have come about because we never realised there was a different way. At other times the habits evolve because we are trying to satisfy a particular need – e.g. comfort food.
Either way, the key to successful and permanent weight loss is to identify our unhelpful habits and find a way of replacing these with habits that serve us better.
Understanding our habits and the underlying drivers can involve a great deal of introspection and self-assessment – it can be hard to accomplish this objectively by oneself (but not impossible). The prize at the end of the journey is well worth the effort though, as once new habits are formed and normalised within the subconscious, there will never be a time to worry about dieting ever again.
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