Why "Meal Plans" Don't Work

Why "Meal Plans" Don't Work

By Stephen Brenna, Pn1

Why "Meal Plans" Don't Work

So you've decided it's time to seek professional guidance and support when it comes to your personal nutrition. The exercise part is obvious, and you're working on that! But deep down, you know that without changes to your diet, those personal training sessions you paid for will only take you so far.

You come across a coach on social media that catches your eye. This guy is SHREDDED, has a bunch of followers (so he must be on to something, right?), and has posted some pretty impressive transformation photos of satisfied clients. You're finally ready to put your money where your stomach is and buy a 30-day program. Time to get busy!

You fill out an intake form with some personal info, download an app or two, and engage with some type of online platform. You make brief contact with your coach via direct messages, and after doing some top secret calculations based on your intake form, he sends over your assigned calories, macros, and a "personalized" meal plan. 

Ready, Set, Go!

Day 1, “Let's see what's on the menu.” You notice each meal is planned out down to the ounce, featuring delicious options like plain egg whites, oatmeal, chicken breast, and brown rice. You've never measured your food before and aren't exactly well-acquainted with steamed cauliflower.

In fact, many of the foods on the plan aren't things you regularly eat, but that's the point right? Your current diet got you where you are, now it's time to make some wholesale changes, starting immediately!

A week goes by, and you're doing...alright. Yes, this new diet is a big adjustment from what you're used to and some of the food definitely lacks some pizzazz. But this is what healthy eating looks like, right?

Another week goes by and you feel yourself starting to slip. Trying to wedge yourself into this totally foreign way of eating is starting to feel like a burden. You're hungry often and find yourself frequently daydreaming about that La Victoria burrito you've told yourself was off-limits.

By week 3, you've more or less abandoned the meal plan. You send a message to your coach about your struggles, and he replies with "It takes discipline to reach your goals, so how much do you really want it?" Welp, now you feel like an unmotivated, undisciplined loser. Thankfully there's only a week left in the program, because you clearly don't have what it takes to achieve your dream body. 

Sound like a familiar scenario? Unfortunately, this is many people's experience when it comes to nutrition or diet counseling.

Meal plans/diet prescriptions simply don't work for the majority of people because most of us aren’t eating in a vacuum. Meaning, most people aren’t eating in a controlled hospital environment, and aren’t bodybuilders or high performance athletes with carefully regimented lifestyles.

Trying to suddenly 180 the diet of a working mother of two with a restrictive meal prescription is a fool's errand that typically leaves the individual feeling like a failure.

Unlike a personal trainer, who is standing by a client's side coaching them through exercises in real time, a nutrition coach is not sitting at your kitchen table with you. And we eat every single day (hopefully), versus showing up to the gym for a few hours per week. These factors alone create a vastly larger likelihood of user error and degree of complexity.

In addition, there are numerous external factors that influence our food choices. Culture, family dynamics, social groups, occupation, stress levels, health history, emotional health, preferences, allergies, and a whole host of other elements ALL affect what ends up on our plates (and in our mouth) on a daily basis.

So it goes without saying that no matter how "personalized" someone claims a meal plan is, it's virtually impossible to truly customize one on an individual basis. That’s why you should be wary of those who claim they’ve done it for you.  

What then is the alternative? A well-trained nutrition coach will get to know you, your lifestyle, preferences, obstacles, and current eating patterns before they even begin to make food choice suggestions. Big emphasis on that last word, *suggestions.* Assigning people meals or foods that are unlike anything they're accustomed to eating is a great recipe for creating resistance and poor compliance.

Again, food is PERSONAL for many people, and swooping in to take away things they enjoy or dictate what they eat (and therefore dictate their lives) is an ineffective approach.

Instead, the well-trained coach works within the bounds of an individual, and seeks to make small upgrades or tweaks where appropriate, at the client's pace and with their consent. They allow space for the client to problem solve for themselves, building their self-efficacy and confidence, which are crucial for sustainability.

In essence, an effective nutrition coach teaches someone HOW to eat, versus simply telling them WHAT to eat. By the end of a successful coaching relationship, the client has learned a set of general guidelines and principles to follow that will allow for sustained progress long-term, while still eating the foods they enjoy and maintaining their preferred lifestyle (within reason). 

If you're tired of lazy, cookie cutter "meal plans" spit out by supposed gurus who are only concerned with turning and burning as many clients as possible, visit www.rdftrainonline.com to learn more about Red Dot Fitness nutrition coaching services.

Put the steamed broccoli down, and follow us to freedom.