Meal planning is one of the best strategies for taking emotions out of your weight loss journey. It enables you to make eating decisions from a rational point of view as opposed to having to do it in a heightened emotional state.
Once you’re in the moment and feeling strong cravings or hunger and you have nothing prepared, you rarely make good choices. You tend to reach for convenience foods that take you further from your goals.
The solution? Plan your meals for the week, but do it the right way.
The Daily Structure
The way I coach clients is to have them eat 3 core meals and use snacks as tools to get them to their next meal, if necessary.
So let’s take a look at what I might eat in an average day:
- Meal 1 (breakfast) – 2 eggs w/ cheese, guacamole, and 2 slices of Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread
- Meal 2 (lunch) – salad with spinach, chicken breast, cucumber, tomato, cheese, croutons, and greek yogurt ranch dressing
- Snack 1 (only if hungry) – Larabar
- Meal 3 (dinner) – Sushi
- Snack 2 (only if hungry) – 1/2 cup ice cream or a popsicle
What you see here is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that get eaten every day, and two snacks that are used on an as-needed basis to tide me over until my next core meal. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat one or both snacks.
Meal Plan Variety
From my experience, most people do well on 1-2 different breakfasts each week, 1-2 different lunches, and 2-5 different dinners.
My advice is to get by with the least amount of variety that still enables you to reach your satisfaction goals. Some people can eat the same thing every day. Others need a lot more variety to be happy.
There is no right answer. There is only what you need.
I personally eat the same breakfast, lunch, and snacks each day – usually for months at a time. But my dinner changes each night simply because I have kids. When I was single it wasn’t unusual for me to rotate between a few different dinners over the week.
We all know eating whole foods is better than eating junk food. But “better” only works on paper. What’s better in real life is what helps you adhere to your plan, be consistent, and moves you closer to your goals.
For most people that doesn’t mean a diet that’s 100% whole foods. It’s better on paper, but it also adds risk to adherence and consistency when you attempt to eat so perfectly.
While I have had some clients who consistently eat 100% whole foods, I’d say that 90% of them do not eat that way, and instead include a little fun food on a daily basis. This adds to satisfaction and keeps you on plan.
That’s what you see going on in my example meal plan above. You’ll see a nightly snack in there that isn’t the stereotypical health food.
But that’s OK. Because when you eat 80-90% of your food from whole food sources, and you maintain an energy deficit, it doesn’t matter what the other 10-20% is made up of.
You still get in all your nutrients. You get in sufficient fat, carbs, and protein. And being a little more relaxed actually leads to you staying consistent with eating whole foods the vast majority of the time.
How Much You Eat
You could always count calories. But as you might already know, I try to get people off being reliant on calorie counting to validate how much to eat.
But if you want to use calorie counting as a short-term tool to get started or to troubleshoot issues during your journey, you can either use 10-12x bodyweight as a starting point, or you can use a calorie counter.
Whichever you use you will still have to make adjustments based on your body’s feedback.
If you prefer not to count calories then you would plan a majority whole foods diet and you’d eat your meals slowly, mindfully, and you’d stop at 80% full.
This intuitive eating style will help you reap more satisfaction from your meals while also making sure you eat the right amount of food for a healthy body composition.
So start planning next week’s meals right now. Find yourself a few breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks that look/sound good to you and lay out your week.
It gets easier and easier the more times you do this, so don’t get discouraged at the beginning. Having a solid structure in place, combined with weekly planning and intuitive eating, will take you to your goals and beyond.