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  • Writer's pictureIraina Rosenthal-Tawil

Why Meal Plans Don't Work

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

Why meal plans don't work

“Do you make meal plans?” is the most common question I get from clients.

I can’t blame them for asking.

​People rather have someone else figure it out for them. After all, nutrition is a complex and confusing science.

Meal plans are a big money maker in the health and wellness industry- click bait, if you will. We've been convinced that if we follow their meal plan, the weight will come off.

Let’s face the facts: People don’t stick to meal plans

When life happens, meal plans are thrown out the window... It’s pizza Friday at work or it’s someone’s birthday or your cravings for ice cream kick in.

And when you fall off the wagon, you feel guilty, anxious, and regretful. That's when you start developing an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating habits to follow.

Meal plans don’t work for a host of reasons

  • Meal plans aren’t individualized. We end up relying on a generalized plan that doesn’t consider, our preferences or cravings or intolerances.

  • Meal plans require too many habit changes. Your eating habits are learned over decades. Adopting a new meal plan requires implementing and mastering 100 new habits over days. For most people, implementing more than two habits at a time is overwhelming.

  • Meal plans make healthy eating feel like a punishment. People rarely enjoy the food that is recommended on a plan meal. And enjoying the food is the secret to sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Meal plans focus on nutrients, not foods. We eat sandwiches, lasagna, curry and casseroles- not 4oz of brown rice and 4oz of broccoli- this would be a boring way to live!

Meal plans are meant to be used on a temporary basis. They’re for people with a short-term goal, say to drop 3 pounds in one week. But your long-term goals require learning how to eat intuitively, because you don’t want to be on a meal for the next decade, do you?

Sustaining a healthy lifestyle requires lasting changes

It’s not to say that meal plans are totally useless. They may help you understand how to portion foods correctly and how to identify food groups. But the real goal of a meal plan is stop using a meal plan, isn’t it?

So, what’s the alternative?

The alternative is learning how to eat intuitively and make good choices.

Consider the healthy foods that are already in your routine and improve your diet from there. Start with one meal at a time.

For example, if you enjoy eating pancakes in the morning, how can we make those pancakes healthier?

Here are some ideas:

  • Use a whole grain batter with plant-based milk

  • Add chia seeds to the batter

  • Reduce the amount of syrup used

  • Add blueberries and banana on top

Instead of a meal plan, focus on creating healthy patterns and habits

Start by ensuring you’re eating enough fruits, vegetables and dark leafy greens. Drinking adequate water is important too.

Do some research on the nutrient quality of your food choices. Choose foods that are nutrient dense, but not calorie dense.

Choose an enjoyable exercise to get yourself moving.

You’ll discover that overtime making healthy choices will become more intuitive. You’ll stop following someone’s rules and start living by your own.

This process is not about achieving perfection. How far you take this lifestyle change depends on your goals.

Set yourself up to achieve those goals

  • Make sure your short term and long-term goals are realistic.

  • Give yourself a time frame to achieve your goals.

  • Set aside time to cook, go grocery shopping. If cooking or grocery shopping is not reasonable for you right now, how can we make these things easier?

Remember, you know yourself the best!

How a Registered Dietitian can help you:

As a registered dietitian I can help you:

  • Strategize how to eat versus just telling you what to eat.

  • Implement healthy habits, so they become a sustainable part of your life.

  • Provide medical nutrition therapy that is individualized for your health needs.

  • Ensure that you’re covering the nutrition basics.

I don’t tell you what to eat—I help you overcomes the obstacles that will prevent you from achieving your goals. You’re always in the driver’s seat!

Meal plans do not replace dietitians or other health professionals. Individuals require different types of coaching and education to be successful.

Learn how MNT (Medical Nutrition Therapy) can help you achieve your health goals

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