If you’ve been looking for a diet to help you lose weight, you might have considered one that offers a weight loss meal plan.
After all, it’s often what the fitness and weight loss industry like to sell you.
Unfortunately, weight loss meal plans don’t work. Just like diets don’t work.
Before we get into why they don’t work, let’s look at what a meal plan actually is.
What are meal plans
Firstly, let’s be clear — planning your meals each week is different to following a meal plan.
Taking time to plan your weekly meals, go grocery shopping and doing weekly food prep is an important and useful strategy to help you lose weight. In fact, it’s so important that we wrote a blog about it. Be sure to read Family-friendly meal prep secrets.
However, following a meal plan designed by someone else is a totally different matter.
That’s because these are usually ‘diet prescriptions’ — eat this, in this amount, at this time.
Why they don’t work
Because there is so much noise and confusion about what to eat to lose weight, many people embrace the idea of being told what to do.
They often feel that working it out themselves is too hard, so the easiest option is to do what someone else tells them to do — and that’s to follow a meal plan
This might work for a few days, or a few weeks at best. But it’s not a long-term solution to long-term weight loss.
One size doesn’t fit all
Weight loss meal plans take a one-size-fits all approach to weight loss, but this just doesn’t work. For example, meal plans don’t take into consideration an individual’s busy lifestyle, energy requirements, dietary requirements, health issues, nutritional needs, or personal preferences. What might suit one person will definitely not suit everyone.
There is no flexibility
Life is not a linear journey that you can plan everything around. Kids get sick, we get busy, someone has a birthday, someone gets married. All these things can ‘get in the way’ of following a meal plan to the letter. This doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you for not being able to stick to the plan. It means that there is something wrong with the plan, if it doesn’t factor in the normal ups and downs that life brings.
You don’t learn to eat for everyday situations
This lack of flexibility means you don’t learn to eat for everyday situations. For example, following a meal plan doesn’t teach you how to eat when you go on holiday, when you’re sick, when you go out for dinner, or even account for days when you’re hungrier than others. Instead, you’ll only end up feeling guilty for not following the prescribed plan that you’ve been sold — which brings us to our next point…
You’re encouraged to be ‘perfect’
Those who sell you weight loss meal plans usually encourage you to follow it perfectly for ‘best results’. However, trying to be perfect actually contributes to weight gain. This is because perfection is impossible and only leads to stress, one of the biggest metabolic blockers that prevent you from losing weight. Stress has an enormous impact on your weight so if you don’t fully understand its impact, be sure to read our blog, How stress and weight gain are linked.
You’re basically following a diet
Following a meal plan is the same as being on a diet, regardless of how the plan has been marketed. But diets are only guaranteed to make you miserable and waste your time and money. Research shows that food restriction, and food rules don’t work to help you lose weight. In fact, they only increase the likelihood of binge-eating and emotional eating.
Increased binge eating and emotional eating
The truth is that meal plans cause you to restrict food or deprive yourself of your favourite foods. This only increases the chances of binge eating or emotional eating. When you restrict food, your appetite actually increases, along with cravings of certain foods — usually the ones that you’ve been depriving yourself of. This often leads to episodes of binge eating. Then, the guilt you feel for falling off the plan, causes you to restrict food even more, which leads to more bingeing, along with emotional eating in an attempt to ease your guilt.
Focuses on food as the only weight loss solution
Meal plans make food the focus of your weight loss solution. But this really shortchanges you, as food is just a very small part of the weight loss equation. When it comes to your metabolism, food only accounts for 12% of your metabolic rate. That means that by following a meal plan you ignore the other 88% of factors that influence your metabolism — including the role of exercise and the impact muscle mass has on your metabolism. To fully understand your metabolism and how you can maximise it, read our blog What is metabolism and how can you increase it?
You don’t address the habits that have led to weight gain
Perhaps the biggest problem with meal plans is that they fail to address the reasons why you’ve become overweight in the first place. Of course, what you eat does play a part in what you weigh. However, it’s why you eat what you eat that’s most important here. And that comes down to your habits. Some of the most common habits that lead to weight gain include:
- Lack of self-worth
- Lack of confidence
- Shame and embarrassment
- Comparing yourself to others
- Living in fear
- Having a diet mindset
Simply following a meal plan won’t help you overcome your low self-worth, or help you change your habit of people-pleasing. Nor will it help you overcome your fear of food, or help you learn to enjoy all foods — not just ‘diet-friendly’ ones (whatever they are!)
So what should you do instead?
Build new habits for long-term weight loss
Following prescriptive weight loss meal plans won’t help you lose weight, because rules and diet plans just don’t work. A better approach is to eat food that will nourish you — body and soul — and learn how to make nutritious choices most of the time, so you can enjoy your favourite foods every now and then. Our blog How to improve your nutrition to lose weight quickly will explain how you can do this. It even includes a handy chart with examples to show you how to improve the nutrition of your meals.
However, even with the most nutritious eating plan, you’ll always struggle to turn this into a lifestyle. That’s because meal plans don’t provide you with the systems, tools and skills for you to deal with any situation thrown at you.
For example, if you have a bad day at work all good intentions of having that healthy meal go out the window at the thought of sitting on the couch with a takeaway pizza, bottle of wine, and tub of ice-cream. But when you change your habits and your mindset, you’ll be able to deal with your bad day, and still stay on track with your goals.
We know that changing a lifetime of habits can be hard. That’s why we take a personalised approach, where we sit down and talk to you about what you want to achieve, what you struggle with, and what you’re good at. When we know your individual circumstances, we can prescribe the right program that will suit you.
Through our Diet Antidote Transformation System (DATS™️) — the Not-diet diet for people who are sick of diets and want more than a good body, we show you that you don’t need a meal plan to lose weight successfully. You also don’t have to follow diets or count calories.
Through our program we will give you specific, personalised action steps and provide you with the right amount of structure and accountability, to help you overcome your fear of food. DATSTM will give you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills so you can learn how to eat for any occasion, on any day, under any circumstances.
Our online and face-to-face Diet Antidote Transformation System is for those people who are ready to change. However, if you’re not ready to commit to our DATS program, get a head start with our entry-level myPersonalised eCoaching program, our state-of-the-art 6-week program designed to help you bridge the gap between diets, exercise and long-term results. Customised for you to reach your personal goals, build healthy habits around mindset, discipline, nutrition and exercise that stick, and transform your life. You get 12-months’ worth of content compressed into 6 weeks, complete with worksheets, personalised action steps and resources. You also have lifetime access so you can learn at your own pace, and revisit any lessons you need to.
How many meal plans have you tried? Please tell us in the comments below.