Many people who want to improve their food think that meal plans are the answer. The only problem? Meals are usually shit … and they rarely last. Instead of prescribing another doomed diet regime, you should try these 6 ways to change any diet in a sustainable way.
"Do I get a meal plan?"
This is the most common question we get from people who are thinking about, or have just started, our nutritional coaching programs.
The answer: No, we don't make meal plans.
But we can't blame people for asking.
Sure, meal plans have long been a staple of the fitness and nutrition industries. Trainers learn to create them. Customers learn to expect them.
Most of the time, meal plans don't work.
As you can see, traditional menus are explicit recipes.
Eat exactly that, exactly in this amount, exactly at this time.
For example, you will often see the following:
Breakfast – 7:30 a.m.
3 eggs, scrambled eggs
1 cup of vegetables
1 piece of whole grain toast
1 cup of coffee
1 glass of water
Morning snack – 10:00 a.m.
1 protein bar
1 handful of mixed nuts
Lunch – 12:30 p.m.
4 ounces of chicken
2 cups of lettuce
1 handful of seeds
1 glass of water
After training – 4:30 p.m.
1 scoop of whey protein
1/2 cup of frozen fruit
1 tsp omega-3 oil
12 ounces of water
Dinner – 7 p.m.
4 ounces of steak
1 cup of cooked vegetables
1 baked potato
1 glass of water
You (or your customers / patients) may think: "Good! I want a plan. I'm tired of finding out all this! Just tell me what to eat! "
Unfortunately, many (and often) errors can occur when we try to follow strict rules like this.
Scenario 1: You just don't stick to the plan.
No matter how enthusiastic you are, meal plans can be difficult to follow.
That is normal. Life can get in the way.
- People get busy
- We are not always prepared.
- Children get sick,
- Bosses expect you to work late
- It's always someone's birthday (or a special holiday) and
- Sometimes you just don't feel like a protein bar at 10 a.m.
Even if you've actually paid for someone to create your plan, you may be subtle (or not so subtle) to rebel against it.
It is also normal.
Unfortunately, this means that you may not get the results you want. For example, a diet plan that you hoped will help you lose weight might actually encourage you to gain weight instead.
Scenario 2: You follow the plan perfectly.
In fact, you're following it too well and for too long.
Most meal plans are temporary.
They are designed to help a person achieve a specific short-term goal, e.g. For example, losing a few pounds before a wedding, learning to deal with blood sugar, or saving weight for an athletic competition.
Our body can usually adapt to a rigid way of eating for a short time.
However, if you are too strict for too long, this can lead to eating disorders and permanent health (mental, metabolic, hormonal, etc.) consequences.
Scenario 3: You follow the plan for a while, but it sucks.
It is not sustainable. You don't feel better. It doesn't keep you healthy.
You may see some short-term results (or not). But you hate living and eating like that. You never want to see a stupid piece of lettuce or 4 ounces of chicken again.
Eventually, the process turns you off, so that you recede or quit entirely. They come to the conclusion that "eating healthy" is shit.
And you miss your big chance to learn how to make healthier, more enjoyable, more sustainable, and more real changes.
Another reason why meal plans fail.
One of the biggest (but generally unrecognized) problems with traditional menus is the focus on “nutrients”.
Real people don't eat "nutrients". We eat.
We often eat with other people.
We eat meals that correspond to our cultural background and social interests.
And we rarely measure things accurately.
Sure, sometimes an explicit recipe is necessary.
For example, professional athletes or bodybuilders (in other words, people who make money with their bodies and sports skills) use meal plans to prepare for training and competition.
A mandatory meal for someone in this situation could look something like this:
- 1/4 cup of dry oats
- 3 ounces of turkey breast
- 1 cup of steamed broccoli
- 5 almonds
- 1 omega-3 supplement
- 1 cup of green tea (unsweetened)
However, most of us do not need this surgical precision.
We don't normally eat "ounces" of things or refer to foods based on their nutrients (like "omega-3 fatty acids").
Instead, we eat foods like:
- Tacos and burritos
- Noodles and noodles
- Sandwiches, wraps, pitas and rotis
- Stews and curries
- Muesli and muesli
- Pan dishes
Conclusion: If you want to eat better, you don't have to get weird.
You don't have to weigh and measure everything or count your almonds.
Ask yourself, "Does anyone pay me for it?" If the answer is no, you probably don't need this approach.
You just have to think about what you already eat and how you can do it a little better.
This means fiddling and adapting.
Make small changes and improvements to what you normally eat and enjoy, step by step.
Think of a spectrum of food quality rather than "bad" or "good" food.
Welcome to the food transformation game.
If you are playing around with the idea of a food spectrum or a food continuum, you can experiment with variables like:
- what they eat, and
- how you eat it.
Think of this as a game.
How can you play "make this food a little better" in every situation?
In which situations is this easier or more difficult?
If you have a limited selection (for example, when you are traveling or eating in a cafeteria at work), how can you take pictures "a little better" while still being realistic and not trying to "perfect" be?
(Note to coaches: this is a great game to play with the people you work with.)
Let's transform breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This is what this “food spectrum” could look like in everyday life, with an example day of eating.
Let's say your breakfast consists of a whipped cream coffee drink and a chocolate croissant.
They pick it up in the passage and sip it on the way to work.
This is your starting point. It's not bad ". It just doesn't work for you anymore.
You get indigestion from the noise, the croissant doesn't hold you at all and you just spilled the coffee on your crotch while changing lanes.
The point now is to improve your breakfast a little, starting with what you already have or are doing.
Your opening moves in the Essen Transformation game:
- You can replace the croissant with a whole grain muffin.
- Instead of a "dessert in a cup" you get a normal coffee with a single cream and sugar.
- On the way out of the house you grab a yogurt bowl for a little protein.
Of course you are still rushed and busy. So you have breakfast with some distractions as you scroll through emails at work.
However, this is a solid start. Well done.
Next level of the game:
- You change the muffin to muesli with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
- You exchange the cream in your coffee for 2% milk. (Or go straight to the black coffee, you food player you!)
- You add some colorful fruits.
- You are now eating from the dishes on a table instead of the take-out packages from your car's dashboard.
Of course, you're still reading the headlines while you eat …
No problem. We keep it real.
Now you're playing seriously like a pro.
- You changed "Hurry and Panic" to give "a little more time for a leisurely breakfast".
- You have skillfully prepared an egg frittata with vegetables in advance on your food preparation day.
- The coffee turns to green tea because you noticed that too much coffee was sprucing you up.
- The protein as well as colorful fruits and vegetables have become the stars of the meal.
- You have found that you really like lemon water. (WHAT? You don't even know each other anymore!)
- They eat carefully, feel relaxed and watch the sunrise.
At this point, the idea of lunch feels ridiculous.
"Eat slowly? Who has time on a busy day? Grab a burger and go!"
Another "car dashboard" food. Another stomach ache and regret.
You decide that you may also want to play with this meal.
To improve this meal a little:
- You go to a high-end burger, where you are pretty sure that real meat is used there.
- There is a side salad with this burger and maybe just a few potato chips.
- You choose a diet lemonade instead of regular ones.
- You don't eat in your car, but you eat on your computer.
That's OK. You are making progress.
In this phase you do a little preparatory work:
- They have opened some burgers in advance so that they are practical and ready to go to work.
- They also got some nice cheese and whole grain rolls from the local market on the shopping day.
For lunch, all you have to do is take your homemade burger and its fixins to work.
They are still taking a diet soda from the machine to wash them off.
You walk from your desk into the dining room, where you get in touch with colleagues. This slows you down a little and helps you digest and relax.
You have the burger without rolls along with a nice prepared salad.
Instead of staying at your desk or in the office, take a break.
You sit outside and get fresh air while enjoying your meal.
For a drink, water is all you need.
It is 8 p.m. You just got home after a crazy day at work.
All you want to do is put food on your face and stand in front of the TV.
You can't imagine doing anything more complicated than boxes of macaroni cheese.
Ketchup and hot dogs are as chic as they can be.
Same concept, but:
- You add extra protein using a roast chicken leg that you bought on the way home from the grocery store.
- They added a side salad and only took a few handfuls of pre-washed vegetables from a bag.
- You have opened your own pasta.
The work is still in your head and a few drinks will take the edge off.
Things are becoming chic.
- You increase the protein with a little more chicken.
- You have a little less pasta.
- They also added a nice big salad to the mix.
- You cut the alcohol into 1 drink.
You also sit at the dining table instead of letting yourself fall on the couch or standing over the sink.
Here, too, we play on a pro level.
With your meal planning and preparation strategies, even a weekday dinner looks good.
- You can conjure up a delicious salad in 3 minutes and have a pre-cooked quinoa on hand.
- The fried chicken is still a quick and convenient option, but now it has some healthy friends.
- You treat yourself to a single glass of good wine these days and take the time to enjoy it.
Meal transformation is not about achieving perfection.
If you are in phase 1, you only need to take photos for phase 2. Or for phase 1.5.
If you are in level 2, you play when you reach level 3.
And if you're level 3, you can stay where you are.
You may never reach stage 4. Or it can only happen when you are relaxed and have a little more time.
Level 4 may only take place on Sunday evening, while the rest of your week consists of levels 1, 2 and, if you're lucky, 3.
And that's fine.
How far you get on the continuum depends on what you want, what you need and what you can reasonably do at the moment.
Things can change over time.
Play YOUR game.
The secret of success: do a ritual for preparing food.
You could look at these photos and think, "How can people do all this?"
A secret of success: a food preparation ritual.
The idea is simple:
Practice planning and preparing healthy foods in advance.
This makes healthy eating convenient and easy.
This also makes decisions easier: you don't have to make a choice if you're rushed and hungry.
Your food preparation ritual can include:
- Shopping (or arranging the delivery of groceries)
- Menu and meal planning
- Wash and chop vegetables
- Cooking / preparing protein (e.g. cooking some chicken breast fillets)
- Cooking meals in bulk (e.g. casseroles, soups, stews, chilli)
- Prepare the dry ingredients for things like super shakes or healthy muffin mix
- Soak the grains / beans beforehand so that they are ready for cooking later
- Sort food into smaller containers or baggies
- Freeze and chill food for later
- Plan healthy meals that someone else cooks (e.g., through a food delivery service, decide in advance what to order in a restaurant, etc.)
- Looking ahead to healthy eating strategies in the next few days, especially in difficult times (e.g. during a busy week, traveling, coping with a family crisis, etc.)
Combine them to find out what works for you.
Experiment with systems, skills, and strategies that work for YOU and YOUR life.
The real goal of a meal plan is to stop using a meal plan.
Fit, healthy people who have a good relationship with food don't need other people to tell them exactly what to eat at all times.
Living a fit and healthy life does not require perfection either.
If you use a menu:
Some people like recipes, especially when they are working towards a specific short-term goal, e.g. B. Reduce weight to keep up with wrestling, make sure they get enough nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy, or increase their triathlon performance.
Keep it short-lived.
The meal plans should be temporary and work towards a short-term goal.
Keep it real.
Try as much as possible to adapt the menu to your real life, not the other way around.
If you are a parent, worker, student, or anyone else who lives in the real world, most of your meals will fall somewhere in levels 1 through 3. This is perfectly fine. Just experiment with being a little better wherever you can.
Remember that all goals require compromises.
If you want to achieve a high level of performance or an exceptional body composition, understand what you prioritize and sacrifice.
For example, getting very slim is costly.
Make sure it works for you.
If you feel like this due to your meal plan:
- fearful and annoying
- overly rigid and / or busy with food …
or any other negative, unproductive emotion …
… And if you find that menus lead to you:
- "Fall off the car", hard
- become obsessive and compulsive about eating
- Restriction of food and food groups or
- Do "all or nothing", usually ending with "nothing"
… Then think of a different approach.
What do you do next?
1. Think about where you are in the spectrum of the “food phases”.
Where's your food game
At what level do you play?
At what level would you like to play?
What is realistic given your goals and current situation?
For example, if you are currently eating at Level 1, your goal may be to eat at Level 2 for most meals.
If you eat at Level 3 most of the time, but immerse yourself in Level 1 or 2 meals more often than you want, try staying a little more consistently at Level 3.
(Note for coaches: you can guide people through these questions and help them find their own answers.)
2. Start small. One step at a time.
Pick a meal to transform and focus on.
For example, you can leave all other meals at level 1 and focus on getting lunch at level 2.
Focus on improving that one meal every day.
Using the examples above, you could think about things like:
- Add protein
- Add vegetables or fruit
- eat less processed foods
- Eat more nutritious whole foods
- drink less alcohol or less sweet drinks
- drink more water
- Eat in a quieter, more relaxed environment and / or
- Eat slower and more attentively
Of course, don't try to do all of this at once.
Just try playing with one or two and find out which ones are best for you.
3. Add things slowly.
If you've improved one meal a day, try another.
If you think lunch is a solid level 2 or 3, play with moving breakfast, dinner, or snacks across the spectrum.
If you've improved one factor in one meal (e.g. added more protein), try another.
For example, if you get more protein, try swapping your sugary soda for some soda water. Or add a little more vegetables.
Be patient; small steps add up.
4. Prepare yourself for success.
Notice what makes it easier and easier for you to eat better.
Then find out how to make or get more of it.
- Does the planning help you? How could you do more of it?
- Does a delivery service for healthy meals make it easy? Could you put a little more money aside to get two meals a day instead of one?
- Is it a good idea to take time off on Sunday afternoon to cook some protein? Great, keep going. Book it on your calendar.
There is no "right" way to do this. Do what works for YOU.
5. Enjoy your meals.
The meal plans do not usually state how you eat.
Before you change what you eat, you can also try changing your eating habits. For example, you could:
- breathe between the bites
- enjoy your food
- sit down at a table if you can and / or
- Use real dishes if you can.
Give yourself time and space to appreciate the delicious preparations you have put together.
Meal time is YOUR time.
6. Work on being your own boss.
Sometimes you might just want someone to tell you what to do.
This is fine and helpful, especially if you juggle a lot. But only for a while.
Over time, look for ways to help yourself intuitively and wisely to make better decisions, rather than just following the rules.
(Trainer, serving a lot more than just recipes, it's your job too: to help the people you work with get to a place where they feel comfortable when making decisions for themselves.)
Think long term. What do you want to do in the next few months? Year? ten years? Would you like to have a menu for the next decades?
If you took a small step towards the "better" end of the food spectrum today, what could it look like?
How can you start the "Essen Transformation Game" today?
Do you want help to become the healthiest, fittest and strongest version of you?
Most people know that regular exercise, good food, sleep, and coping with stress are important to looking better and feeling better. However, they need help applying this knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.
That is why we work closely together Precision nutrition coaching Customers to help them Lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health… No matter what challenges you are dealing with.
This is also the reason why we work with health, fitness and wellness professionals (through ours Level 1 and Level 2 Certification programs) to teach them how to do it coach their own customers through the same challenges.
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