In this article, I will explain why meal plans aren’t the solution to weight loss.
When people think of meal plans, by default, they think of a coach. Typically, the ones we see on social media, a marketing strategy is to show your clients’ progress or “before & afters”. This is fine, BUT oftentimes these coaches/clients achieved their results via rigid meal plans, at an inappropriately aggressive rate of weight loss (aka aggressive dieting, see the appropriate rate of weight loss article) and ultimately these results aren’t sustainable.
You want to lose weight and keep it off.
If you want to lose weight, you want to keep it off, that’s obvious. That is, by definition, successful weight loss.
Wing et al (2001), “We propose defining successful long-term weight loss maintenance as intentionally losing at least 10% of initial body weight and keeping it off for at least 1 year”.
Learning is better than following instructions
You may think meal plans are enticing due to the fact it’s simple & easy to “eat this, at this time”. However, there’s essentially no thinking or tracking involved. You may think this is positive? BUT you’re learning nothing about your own nutrition, or how to navigate it in your typical day to day life; you are essentially putting your life on pause for X weeks while “on the meal plan”.
Why flexibility works
A lot of coaches expect this because of “#commitment” but, it’s simply not sustainable and doesn’t get you successful results.
Stories of people who aren’t “allowed” (that even hurts to type) to heat (yes heat!) their oats because they “need to eat them as the overnight, cold variation” or you can eat an apple at 11 am but not a banana, because your meal plan says so.
Rigid beliefs/behaviours reduce likelihood of successful weight loss
This creates a binary view of dieting on/off, which isn’t great as a long term approach. Imagine eating a banana and thinking you’re “off” your meal plan, because it says apple! This can quickly convert to a mindset of when you’re off the meal plan, you’re “bad”. Plasascha et al (2015), showed in a study that black/white thinking about food/eating may prevent weight loss maintenance (aka success) due to rigid beliefs.
People confuse rigid dieting for maximum results, “The harder I diet, the better my results will be”. Maximise adherence to maximise results (Alhassan et al, 2005). If your diet is easier to adhere to (day to day), you’ll be more consistent with it (week on week/month on month) and it will be more sustainable long-term (years). Berg et al (2018), showed that flexible dieting behaviours predicted greater weight loss.
A meal plan isn’t coaching
I, and a lot of evidence-based coaches, give a sample meal plan when building nutrition programs. This is useful for clients, to show them how to align their dietary preferences with their goals; as well as navigate day to day life. Find a coach who will teach you how to be flexible with your nutrition. That equips you with the tools to navigate through life’s obstacles while advancing on your goals.
Over at recalibrated bodies, we use the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” and the service reflects this concept #EvidenceBased.
To summarise why meal plans are not the solution:
Rigid meal plans dictate your nutrition, coaching enables you to learn about YOUR nutrition.
Coaching should equip you with tools and show you how to be flexible with your nutrition!
- Alhassan, S & Kim, Soowon & Bersamin, Andrea & King, AC & Gardner, C. (2008). Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: Results from the A TO Z weight loss study. International journal of obesity (2005). 32. 985-91. 10.1038/ijo.2008.8.
- Berg, Alison & Johnson, Kristen & Straight, Chad & Reed, Rachelle & O’Connor, Patrick & Evans, Ellen & Johnson, Mary. (2018). Flexible Eating Behavior Predicts Greater Weight Loss Following a Diet and Exercise b Intervention in Older Women. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics. 37. 1-16
- Palascha, Aikaterini & Van Kleef, Ellen & Trijp, Hans. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain?. Journal of health psychology. 20. 638-48. 10.1177/1359105315573440.
- Wing, Rena & Hill, James. (2001). Successful Weight Loss Maintenance. Annual review of nutrition. 21. 323-41. 10.1146/annurev.nutr.21.1.323.