Meal plans.  The fitness and nutrition industry has been prescribing meal plans for a long long time.  Many potential clients have come to expect to be told exactly what to eat and exactly when to eat it in the hopes that magical changes will happen.  There may be instances where meal plans are ideal such as for someone training for a body building show or someone with a specific medical condition, but overall meal plans suck and are not beneficial for the masses in the long term.

Picture this.  A client asks for a meal plan in order to lose weight.  The coach prescribes the following:

Breakfast 6:00am 

3 eggs, scrambled
1 cup vegetables
1 piece whole grain toast
1 cup coffee
1 glass water

Mid-Morning Snack 9:00am

1 medium sized apple
1 handful mixed nuts

Lunch 12:00pm

4 oz chicken
2 cups broccoli 
1 handful nuts
1 glass water

Afternoon Snack 3:00pm (after exercise)

1 scoop whey protein
1/2 cup frozen fruit
12 oz water

Dinner 7:00pm

4 oz grass fed ground beef
1 cup cooked veggies
1 baked potato
1 glass water

At first this may look amazing to someone and they may say, “great, I do not have to think at all, I can just plug these in and be successful”.  But, here are the problems with rigid meal plans like this:

  1. Life is not that predictable – things do not always go as planned and it is very challenging to stick to eating at a certain time for every single meal.  For instance, family events and special occasions will always come up and such a rigid plan takes the fun out of social situations where food is involved if you cannot veer from the plan.  
  2. Boring!!! – eating the same exact thing every single day is boring and will ultimately lead to you wanting all kinds of foods that are not on the plan and will end in a binge and make you feel like a failure.
  3. What about after the meal plan?  This does not give clients any freedom to choose their own foods.  It keeps them helpless and does not empower them to learn how to properly fuel on their own.  When the plan is over, the results go bye bye and the client is left feeling like a failure again.
  4. Short term results – alone the same lines as number 3.  You follow the plan, you feel successful, the plan ends and then so do the results.  You are right back to where you started.  
  5. Too precise – weighing and measuring everything can lead to disordered eating patterns and can get very mundane and frustrating.  The reality is that we are not able to measure and weigh all of the time and frankly it takes the fun out of eating.

Sure, there are times when a meal plan can work.  Athletes or competitive body builders, for instance, need the structure and specificity of a meal plan but this is real life and most of us do not need such rigidity in order to change our eating habits and be happy.  What can you do instead of following a meal plan?  

Find a coach who can help you figure out where the gaps are in your current nutrition.  A good nutrition or health coach will help you focus on your overall health and mindset.  He or she should help you figure out where the gaps are in your current eating plan and help you fill those voids.  For instance, are you eating enough protein?  Do you have ample fruits and veggies in your diet?  Are there any supplements that are missing that could help?  How do you feel overall and what is your mindset around food?  Have you had bloodwork done to check hormone levels?

There is a place for meal plans as I mentioned above, but they are definitely not for the masses.  It is very important to look at each individual person and work to satisfy their specific needs as a coach.  Blanket meal plans do not take diversity into account.  Make sure you interview any coach you plan to use.  If you find that they are set on only using meal plans to help you, run for the hills.  There is definitely a better way!