‘Can you make me a healthy meal plan?” A question we get asked all the time from clients. So are meal plans the answer for you to reach your goals? Will they help you? Lets explore meal plans to help decide whether one is right for you.
What is a meal plan?
A meal plan is usually a 5 -7 day guide that lists what you should eat at each meal during the day. These plans usually list not only the foods to be eaten, but how much of each food as well.
Why do people usually want a meal plan?
Meal plans can be attractive to people who are looking to reach certain health goals such as losing weight or reducing cholesterol. Many people feel a meal plan is ‘easy to follow’, ‘not much effort’, ‘will definitely make them reach their goal if they follow it’.
Many meal plans make promises that if people ‘follow this meal plan’ they will definitely reach their goals. And having the structure of a meal plan in front of them, can help to boost their confidence and simplify the changes that are required to be made.
How meal plans can be helpful
Meal plans can be helpful in giving people guidance on what to eat when working towards certain health goals. They can give good general advice on examples of what to eat and when. They can also be helpful when someone is completely changing the way they eat and there is specific information to follow; while people are getting used to this new style of eating, meal plans can serve as a resource of information and structure.
Changing the way you eat, can be very difficult and for some people having external cues as motivation can be very helpful. Meal plans can serve as a good reminder for people to keep trying to change their habits and keep them on track.
How meal plans can be detrimental to reaching goals
While general meal plans may be helpful in some cases, there are also a number of reasons why meal plans can actually not help people reach their goals and may actually make efforts worse off.
One of the main reasons why meal plans can set people back, is meal plans are usually prescriptive, strict and with no flexibility. While following a 7 day meal plan (or even a 14 day meal plan) people may seem happy for the first couple of weeks- but what after that? Most people get sick of following a plan, stop following it and then because they haven’t learnt anything (and are also bored and screaming out for different foods), easily slip back into their old eating habits quite quickly.
Meal plans lack any real ‘learning’- what happens when a food is not in your meal plan? Can you eat it or not? What if you don’t feel like a certain meal or food for dinner- what can you supplement it for? These questions are the most common questions people have from following meal plans and sheer frustration with lack of flexibility can also cause people to stop following the plan and revert back to previous eating habits.
The lack of success in keeping to the meal plan can have negative consequences psychologically, often giving a sense of failure and inadequacy that can extend to other areas of life. ‘I just lack the will power’, ‘I love food too much’, and the thought of a strict meal plan is enough to make some people put off ANY changes for a long time, i.e. ‘I’ll start this tomorrow’, but tomorrow never comes.
Learning more about why changes are required can be more motivating and can provide more success that changes are made long term.
Nutted Out Nutrition’s Approach
The key to successfully changing eating habits (whether it be for weight loss or other health/ emotional reasons) is ‘learning’; which is exactly what we, the dietitians at Nutted Out Nutrition, work hard to achieve with our patients.
A meal plan may form part of our treatment and advice to our patients- but it is not the be all and end all (example we do not have 1 appointment with a patient, hand them a meal plan and off they go). A meal plan may be used as a resource in the first few appointments, but the key is learning the reason WHY a change is necessary, WHAT changes are necessary and most importantly HOW you can make the changes. And these changes come over time as we work alongside our patients and their individual circumstances and situations.
We assess each of our patients on an individual basis and discuss in detail what they would like to achieve and how they feel they can do this. This is when a patient may request a meal plan and we would discuss the pros and cons, depending on their individual circumstances, health goals and our professional opinions, before developing one.
We work with you to change the root of the problem, not just making the problem go away for a short time (we do not work with band-aid approaches). If it is eating or exercise behavior that makes weight management difficult, then we look at how to change those behaviors. If it is the way you think that’s hindering you from eating better then we can help you to nut out more helpful thoughts. Changes are never easy, which is why a DIY style diet never really works in the long term.
So is a meal plan right for you?
While some people may feel that attending a once off consultation and receiving a meal plan is the most cost effective way to achieving their goals, this is not normally the case. We see many examples of people who have tried multiple approaches to reaching their goals, have had multiple meal plans (which they have paid for) and have not had any success.
Having a number of appointments with one of our dietitians over time to learn lifelong skills and information is more cost effective than a ‘stop start’ approach in which people try multiple things before this approach.
If you feel a meal plan is what you would like, then we can definitely accommodate that, however we would also like to work with you to assure flexibility, knowledge and enjoyment is also built into our recommendations; which may take some time.
But think about the benefits long term; knowing what to eat, having many of the ‘dieting’ myths dispelled, understanding what to eat when eating out, what to buy at the supermarket and most importantly enjoying food and your life.
Contact us to make an appointment if you would like to make changes to your diet and lifestyle!