5 reasons your meal plan is hurting you
Posted March 3
Sure, it’s easier to be told what to eat. We’ve been conditioned to expect to be told what to do, or what to not do.
As children, we’re given rules, as students, we’re taught formulas to be successful, as adults we’re told what to do at work and by our doctors. So obviously, when you want to get control of your weight or eat better, you search to be told what to do.
As a registered dietitian who works with a wide variety of people, I’ve experienced this firsthand, on a daily basis. But I stand against meal plans.
Unlike medicine and many other instances in our lives, there’s such a strong psychological or emotional component to eating that it really can’t be formulaic. One way of eating may help one person improve their health, weight and energy levels while that same way of eating may do just the opposite for someone else, and can even be completely miserable for yet another person.
Eating is individualized, as therapy needs to be. That’s one of the big components missing from specific meal plans. Here are a few other reasons why getting a meal plan from someone may actually hurt you.
- Meal plans can be restrictive and affect your intake of certain necessary vitamins and minerals. As easy as it is to eat the same thing day after day, the reality is that a diet of a variety of foods is essential to getting the vitamins, minerals and nutrients our bodies live off of. Dieting actually isn't all it's cracked up to be.
- They don’t necessarily take your preferences into account. Because of this you probably won’t be able to stick to a meal plan that includes asparagus in half of your meals … and you hate asparagus. No, it’s not your fault you can’t stick to a meal plan that forces you to eat that asparagus that you hate day after day after day. Good thing asparagus isn’t the only vegetable out there!
- They can get boring. This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about meal plans. They restrict a number of foods to only leave a few, or it’s only a week or two weeks worth of meals, which will only lead you to revert to your old ways or hate those foods.
- They can easily lead to viewing foods as good or bad. Lots of meal plans out there specify approved and unapproved foods. I've seen a lot of these lists, many categorize good, healthful foods as "bad" or not allowed on a meal plan. Regardless of whether you agree or not, this sends the subtle message that some vegetables are inherently better and others are no good. When, in all reality, each food, especially fruits and vegetables, have a different makeup of beneficial nutrients. And eating a variety of these foods is crucial to getting the necessary vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function.
- They don’t address the reasons why you eat what you eat, or the amount you eat. A meal plan can easily act as a Band-Aid to heal a deeper problem. Our eating habits are shaped by our past experiences, whether they be positive or negative. Making changes to your eating habits without addressing or even recognizing the reasons why you eat what you eat or how much you eat doesn’t set you up for keeping to a plan long-term. That issue will come up again, and you’ll be back where you started.
- Follow MyPlate. MyPlate is a great resource to teach proportions of food groups and allow variation for your specific food preferences. I recommend that all my clients follow MyPlate instead of a specific meal plan (unless they come up with it)
- Come up with your own meal plan. It can act as your guide through the week, arming you with healthy and delicious choices to keep you on track to achieve your health goals. Planning out your meals for the week or longer is a great way to stick to your health goals, but subscribing to someone else’s meal plan could set you up for failure and frustration.
- Start by incorporating more vegetables/nutrient dense foods into your diet. Start with one meal or one food and add as you’re able to.