Having a meal plan prescribed to you may sound like a simple, easy way to reach your goals. After all, you hand the keys to someone else and let them drive the route to your aspirational outcome. With no need to proactively think about what you’ll make for your next meal, you can just remain in passive mode, and pass on the responsibility to somebody else.
Unfortunately, following a meal plan is not a long-term solution to good health. Following a meal plan means you don’t have to engage your brain. You’re purely reactive, you don’t take control of your choices, and you're dependent on the provider of the meal plan to keep up with your healthy lifestyle.
The first problem is encountered when you don’t like what’s on it. Even though most meal plans claim that they are “tailored” they are usually generic, with a few tweaks here and there, if any. For instance, you may not like poached salmon, or you may just not fancy that poached salmon on that particular Tuesday evening, despite the fact that it’s on the meal plan menu.
The key to a successful lifestyle change is consistency, and consistency will not be achieved if you don’t like what you’re doing or eating.
Variety is another aspect that can be lost with a meal plan. Most meal plans are fairly repetitive.
Food variety is critical for a healthy gut and also a healthy mind.
Most importantly, meal plans have a high potential to develop black-and-white-thinking. You’re either on or off the meal plan. When you’re on it, you are super rigid, adhering to it 100%. However, life gets in the way. This is very likely to happen because there is bound to be a birthday, holiday, wedding or just the inevitable case of dietary fatigue – and you find yourself deviating away from the plan. In this case, more often than not, the “might as well” thinking pattern creeps in, and you end up going full throttle on all things you’ve deprived yourself of beforehand. This can very much result in an unhealthy relationship to food, creating a binge-restrict pattern, particularly if “falling off the wagon” is followed by an extra-long and hard session in the gym, a period of even more restriction, or just a profound feeling of guilt.
Meal plans come with a certain level of micromanagement, which is not necessary for anyone that is not a physique competitor, professional athlete or suffers from a particular illness. In fact, for many, micromanagement can backfire. The truth is, for the average person who just wants to be healthier, this level of micromanagement can foster obsessive and perfectionist eating behaviour, as well as dependence on the meal plan provider.
A good nutritionist, dietitian or other health professional, doesn’t want you to be dependent on them. They will offer guidance, education and tailored advice around your specific situation and needs, but will let you decide on the execution. Our aim is for you to learn new habits, develop a new attitude and embrace a new lifestyle. It’s like learning a new language.You can watch videos and listen to podcasts on how to best learn a new language, but you won’t be able to speak it until you have practiced speaking it.
If you want to make some changes to your diet and overall lifestyle to a healthier direction, but don’t trust yourself to do it without any rules or restrictions, a good start with a framework. An example of this would be to aim for a certain number of servings of vegetables and fruits per day (say, for instance 4 vegetables and 3 fruits), to include a source of healthy fats on a daily basis (e.g.in the form of oily fish, seeds, nuts or vegetable oils) and to ensure to have a source of protein with each meal (e.g. legumes, lean meat or fish). Nutrition may be complex at a granular level, but an overall healthy lifestyle is mainly common sense. Don’t let any online summer-body blitz meal plan persuade you otherwise.