When I take on a new client for nutrition coaching, one of the most common questions I get asked is “will I get a meal plan?” And the answer is no, I don’t give my clients meal plans.
People who are looking to improve their eating think meal plans are the answer. There are some instances where following a properly prescribed meal plan is necessary, for instance, professional athletes or body builders who make their living with their bodies and athletic skill. But for the rest of us, most of the time meal plans don’t work. Here are some of the main reason why:
You don’t stick to the plan
With a meal plan you are told to eat this thing exactly, in this exact amount, at this exact time. Regardless of how enthusiastic you are, meal plans are hard to follow. Life gets in the way. You get busy, kids get sick, work is extra busy and you have to stay back late, social occasions come up, you’re not always prepared. I’m sure you can think of a few more!
You follow the plan for a while but you’re miserable
You start to see some short term results but you don’t love all of the food on the plan. Eventually, you get so put off with the process that you regress or quit altogether.
You follow the plan too well
Most meal plans are meant to be temporary. They’re designed to get you to a specific short term goal e.g. losing some weight before a wedding, cutting weight for a sporting competition, learning how to manage blood sugar etc. Our bodies can usually adapt to a rigid way of eating for a short period of time but if you’re too strict for too long, you could end up with unrealistic eating habits and there can even be lasting metabolic or hormonal problems.
So, what’s the best way to go about improving your nutrition?
If you want to eat better, you need to think about what you’re already eating, and how you could make it a little better by making small changes and improvements to what you normally eat and enjoy, one small step at a time. Have a look at each of your meals and ask yourself how you could make it a little better - not perfect, just better. Or, when your choices are limited, for example, when you’re travelling or eating at a workplace cafeteria, how can you eat a little better than you might have. Again, whilst being realistic, not perfect.
When I work with my nutrition clients I call this meal transformation. How can I make this meal just a little better in every situation. For example:
It’s 7.30pm. You just got home after a crazy day.
You picked up some take away pasta in a cream sauce on the way home. All you want to do is eat straight away, have a couple of beers to unwind and zone out in front of the TV.
Similar concept, but:
* You’ve added some protein to your meal by picking up a pre-roasted chicken from the supermarket on your way home instead of takeaway pasta.
* You’ve quickly cooked your own pasta.
* You’ve added some vegetables, just by adding some handfuls of pre-washed salad leaves out of the fridge.
* You still need to unwind so you still have those couple of beers.
Way to go, more improvements still:
* The composition of your meal has adjusted a little – the portion size of pasta has reduced (to approx ¼), the amount of chicken has increased (to approx ¼).
* Your salad has increased to approximately 50% of your meal and instead of just lettuce, you’ve added some other vegetables you enjoy eating plus a little healthy dressing.
* You’ve cut down the alcohol to just the one drink.
So we’re playing at pro level now!
* You now meal plan and prep.
* That chicken is still a quick and convenient option but instead of the pasta you now have some pre-cooked quinoa on hand.
* You always have plenty of your favourite salad items in the fridge and so you can whip up a delicious salad in no time at all. Or, you have some pre-roasted vegetables that you prepped last night that just need to be quickly heated up.
* Most week nights you don’t feel the need to drink any alcohol but if you do, you’re having a single glass of good quality wine and taking the time to savour it.
Meal transformation is not about reaching for perfection. If you’re at stage 1, all you need to do is aim for stage 2. If you’re at stage 2, aim for stage 3. You may never reach stage 4 or it might only happen at times when you’re less busy and have a little extra time and that’s ok!
If you would like some advice on how to get this process started for you, please get in touch.