How to choose a meal plan that is right for you.
Keto. Whole 30. 21 Day Fix. Paleo. Mediterranean Diet. DASH. Vegetarian. Flexitarian. Vegan. Plant-based.
With so many different ways of eating out there it’s hard to know what to believe. It is no wonder that sometimes we just say “oh heck, just pass the oreos…this is too complicated”.
I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong - trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing. Searching for the "right" way… I would pay close attention to how people who I considered to be fit, would eat. “Melissa eats bacon? So I guess bacon is okay? Pass the bacon!” But I later learned that I needed to dive deeper into information to figure it out, for real.
After years of research and personal experimentation, the conclusion that I have come to is that there isn’t one and only right way of eating. It’s up to each of us to figure out what works best for us, individually. It does not have to be perfectly defined. It often has more to do with understanding and developing a healthy relationship with food and your body.
"Enjoying the food you eat is important. You should never eat something that you hate just because it is supposed to be healthy. "
When I am working with someone who is trying to develop a new way of eating, one of the first questions I ask is “what are some of your favorite foods?”. I need to know what you like because if you don’t like it, it won’t last. Enjoying the food you eat is important. You should never eat something that you hate just because it is supposed to be healthy.
Food is supposed to be enjoyed. It is a primal need. Think about a baby that cries when they’re hungry - baby is hungry, baby cries, baby gets food, baby feels better… It is a primal response. In Train Your Brain I explain the chemical reaction your brain has to food.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t TRY to acquire a taste for certain foods. Listen to me - you need to eat your veggies! There is no way around this. It is okay if you don’t like broccoli but let’s talk about what you DO like that would fall under the fibrous carbohydrates category.
You may need to step outside your comfort zone to experiment. Options also may vary depending on where you live, what is available, and what is affordable. However, I guarantee it is possible to find a vegetable that you like.
The bottom line is you must find the foods that you can enjoy on a daily basis - your staples - that are also good fuel for your body. It’s possible. I promise.
Another important aspect to consider when helping someone choose a meal plan is lifestyle. All of the above, and more, questions need to be answered. Your chosen way of eating has to be realistic.
How much time do you have to cook?
How much time do you have to grocery shop?
Do you go out a lot?
Do you travel for work?
Are you feeding yourself or an entire family?
Do you have any cultural restrictions?
If you travel a lot for work and therefore are required to eat out a lot, it makes more sense to be on a more balanced/flexible meal plan. We come up with strategies to modify meals and make good choices in restaurants. We also sometimes need to evaluate, and possibly adjust, your mindset around eating in a restaurant.
If your culture or religion restricts meat, it makes sense to have you eating plant based or vegetarian.
If you eat differently from the rest of your family, we have to come up with recipes and strategies to make it easy to cook meals to accommodate everyone.
If you have a demanding job or other responsibilities, we have to make meal prep quick and easy. We come up with strategies to make shopping, prepping, and cooking food simple and time-efficient.
How we handle each challenge or roadblock is contingent on specific circumstances. But there is always a solution!
Consider online grocery shopping. You can order, pick up, and save time.
Consider delivery services. Costco same day delivery has changed my life!
Consider meal delivery services. You still need to take the time to choose your meals BUT the service will deliver ingredients with recipes. Meal kits!
I know what some of you may be thinking - “I can’t afford that!”. I know - not everyone has the resources for meal kits or delivery services. But again, there is always a solution!
Find another person that is in the same boat. Partner up! Do a trade! Pull your resources together! Ask for help!
Yes, this too matters when choosing a meal plan. Surprised? Well, consider the person who stress eats. Or restricts food. Or binges. Or is a chronic dieter. Or sleep eats.
Behaviors around food almost always have nothing to do with food. They are simply a symptom of a different problem. Under these circumstances, it doesn’t matter what meal plan I put that person on. If the deeper underlying issue is not being addressed, it isn’t going to work. The meal plan has to be realistic.
I do a number of things, in regards to a “meal plan” when I’m working with a client that may be dealing with something like this. However, in general, we keep it simple and flexible. I don’t take out indulgences. Instead we focus on boundaries and mindfulness around indulgences, while you work on that deeper issue through mindset coaching or with a caring counselor.
Besides stress eating, I also look out for other types of stress associated with food.
Do you shame yourself when you get off track?
Do you pressure yourself to be a “perfect” eater?
Are you constantly questioning your chosen way of eating?
Are you impatient about weight loss?
Sometimes it is less about the meal plan and more about the relationship with food. If this is the issue, food needs to be a no guilt zone. You need a way of eating that is in line with your core values and you feel good about. Sometimes you aren’t even really sure what that is because you are so busy absorbing all the “right” information that’s being thrown at you. But take a step back and give it some thought. What sits well with you? What do you think is reasonable? Give yourself permission to decide for yourself what may work for you. Try it. And then give yourself permission to try something else if needed. Do that until you settle on a way of eating that suits you. Do this without pressure. Above all else, relax! Remember, stress will just slow you down. Even stress caused by trying to eat “right”.
This is one we don’t realize we need to consider until it shows up as a problem or we take a closer look.
As a fitness coach, if I am helping someone with food, I need to know if there are any food allergies or sensitivities. What has been interesting to me is that, a lot of times, people don’t even know they have them until they begin trying to lose weight or clean up their eating habits. My theory is that a person who is primarily fueling their body with food they get out of a window, already feels bad most of the time. If you have been overweight or eating foods low in nutritional value for a long period of time, chances are you've gotten used to the way it feels - low energy, poor sleep quality, inconsistent stools, etc. This makes it hard to identify or discover allergies/sensitivities. Once you start cleaning up your food, you become more aware of how your body reacts to it.
Current medications should also be taken into consideration, as some can affect how you process food. Some medications can cause constipation while others loose stools (sorry - had to go there). The meal plan should accommodate this, even if temporary.
Take everything into consideration and choose a way of eating that is right for you. Focus on nutrition over deprivation and” made from the earth” over “made in a factory”. If you need more specific help, start with a consultation and consider getting a coach.