Why meal plans don’t work for most people…

One of the pillars of our my online nutritional coaching programs is teaching my clients which foods are going to propel them toward better health and then helping them develop an approach to eating that centres around these foods. Getting clients to this point does require a little elbow grease and even some discomfort on their part (which comes along with habit change). That being said, I totally get it when on occasion a client asks if we can just combine the habits and make them a meal plan, but I must decline. I decline because I want to help my clients for the long term, not the short term.

I coach people who are interested in learning life-long nutritional skills and habits that (quite frankly) make me obsolete. I want you to get to the point where you don’t need me, a meal plan or a diet because you’ve learned what works for you and you have confidence in your ability to implement it. My hope is that my clients will never again feel the urge to jump into a fad diet or do a cleanse.

Here are some of the problems that are common with the meal plan approach:

  • Meal plans are a short cut: they don’t require you to make any decisions about food. You’re told what to eat, how much to eat and even when to eat. I bet that statement just turned half of you off the idea of meal plans, while the other half we’re thinking “That sounds perfect! Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” To those who fall into the second category it’s important to remember that this approach robs you of the opportunity to learn how to eat for yourself. Though it requires more patience and skill it also serves you for the rest of your life, not just the immediate future.
  • Discourages listening to hunger cues: meal plans are designed to be followed closely. You’re supposed to eat what you’ve been told to eat when you’ve been told to eat it! This teaches people to ignore their hunger and satiety cues in the same way a parent telling their child to finish what’s on their plate does. The inability to read the hunger cues our brain sends us and confusion about how to respond to them is one of the reasons that people become overweight. A big part of my coaching program focuses on teaching clients to tune into those hunger cues intelligently and skillfully so they don’t need a meal plan to be successful.
  • Meal plans can be inconvenient: invited out for dinner with friends? Going on an all-inclusive vacation? Entertaining clients at lunch? Sure, some meal plan advocates might say that there are ways around all of these roadblocks. Why can’t you bring a tupperware with chicken and broccoli to your friend’s birthday? The reality is that most people have no interest in doing this and can you blame them? Unless you are a competitive athlete it’s just not necessary to take your diet to such an extreme in order to see results. So, what happens when you’re on a meal plan and these things pop-up? You either make an excuse as to why you can’t go or you blow your meal plan. Luckily, there is a much better way! Vacations, restaurants and special events are a lovely part of life. This is why I teach my clients how to indulge moderately, plan for special occasions and make wise choices that still allow them to reach their goals.
  • Meal plans make you vulnerable to rebound: often times, meal plans fall into the strict category. That is, they restrict many foods and often reduce calories more quickly than is necessary for the individual to see results. Plus, they haven’t provided you with strategies for success after the meal plan is over. Here is the the perfect storm for a rebound: you have a hungry person who may have white-knuckled their way through a restrictive plan and is now free to eat whatever they want. When you think about it in this light, it’s easy to understand how a person might go on to gain back all the weight they lost on the meal plan (and then some). Being “on” plan or “off” plan perpetuates the all or nothing pattern, the binge and restrict cycle and black and white thinking. How you eat is what you get good at – so, getting caught up in a binge and restrict cycle will re-enforce bingeing and restricting. This is not an enjoyable place to be. In fact, it’s downright stressful and frustrating. Developing healthy eating habits, creating balanced meals, using hunger cues and being mindful is a more enjoyable and peaceful road to better health and fat loss.

If you need help learning how to eat to reach your goals in a healthy and sustainable way, I’m here to help. I offer online one-on-one coaching and online group coaching. Contact gillian@gillianthomasfitness.com with any inquiries and follow me on Facebook for updates!

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