Examining meal plans:
Could this one make you fat?


What if I told you that 1/2 cup oats, 4 egg whites, 5 ounces of chicken, and 1/2 cup broccoli was a recipe for getting fat?

You might think I’m crazy. But, for most people, restrictive meal plans are the last stop on the expressway to overeating.

Check out this meal plan:

Meal 1: 1/2 cup oats, 4 egg whites

Meal 2: 5 ounces of chicken, 1/2 cup broccoli

Meal 3: 1 piece of fruit, 10 walnuts

Meal 4: Large salad with 1/2 cup pinto beans and 1/8 cup hemp seeds

Believe it or not, this type of meal plan could actually make you fat.

So could this one below.


But how could this happen? I mean, in both plans the calories are controlled.  And it’s all on paper!

Well, let me elaborate.

The meal plans above look great when plugged into a spreadsheet. Gosh, they even makes dietitians like me fall asleep each night with a big smile on my face. I bet I could even add some color coding!

But beyond the spreadsheet tallies and pleasant dreams, it can get ugly.

A strict, detailed and regimented meal plan like those above often don’t translate to real life for most people (this excludes people stepping on the physique stage each year – which is about 0.0005% of the population).

Here’s how the meal plans REALLY play out for most people:

Meal 1

1/2 cup oats, 4 egg whites

Meal 1B, aka “I feel restricted and deprived.”

This is when the day begins to feel daunting and the meal plan feels very restrictive. Translation: Time to retaliate. Next stop – coffee shop for a jumbo coffee with extras and a scone.

Meal 2

5 ounces of chicken, 1/2 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup mustard or salsa, 1/4 cup of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray (because gosh, those are “free” foods).

Meal 2B, aka “I’m bored at work”

Lunch wasn’t very satisfying because you didn’t eat what you wanted. Plus, work is kind of slow and you’re bored. Nothing like some processed food to alleviate monotony! 3 handfuls from the candy dish at work and a granola bar from the vending machine do the trick.

Meal 3

1 piece of fruit, 10 walnuts

Meal 4

Large salad with 1/2 cup pinto beans and 1/8 cup hemp seeds

Meal 4B, aka “I’m lacking stimulation right now”

This is about the time when lack of stimulus kicks in. TV is dull, but the advertisements did remind you about all of the processed food you’re missing out on. It’s dark, your guard is down, and you can always start the meal plan again tomorrow.

So how about getting all of those cravings out of your system? I mean, you might as well. Those foods will be off limits starting at 6:00am again tomorrow. And besides, the only junk food you keep on hand is “healthy.”

Next stop – the freezer and pantry. I’m talking a ½ tub of “light” ice cream, 3 handfuls of multi-grain crackers, a bowl of “all natural” trail mix, a slice of bread with margarine and some veggie chips. That bounty will be consumed within about 30 minutes.

Yup. I said it. And it needed to be said.


New movie! Starring…you

Imagine this. Someone films a documentary of your life for one month, 24/7.

When you review this documentary, what do you think would stand out as something holding you back from your health and body composition goals?

Many clients tell me their biggest barrier is a “flawed” meal plan.

Survey says? Errrrr! Guess again.

It’s the big stuff that we tend to conveniently overlook.

It’s finishing the kid’s leftovers (even though you just ate)

  • It’s snacking on crackers while hovering over the sink
  • It’s downing the granola bar while standing in front of the pantry
  • It’s the extra spoonfuls of “light” ice cream in front of the freezer
  • It’s the candy at work
  • It’s the coffee shop fare

This is all the non-meal plan stuff we block out. Then another month goes by and we don’t make any progress towards our goals.

What do we blame? The meal plan.

That darn meal plan had an extra tablespoon of quinoa and piece of fruit! I’m sure that’s making me fat.

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Your money and your waistline

This reminds me of budgets. Many people feel like if they just set up the right budget each month, all of their spending woes would be alleviated.

Breaking news: 43% of American families spend more than they earn each year and the average household carries $8,000 in credit card debt.

We follow strict, line-item budgets about as well as we follow strict, colour-coded meal plans.

The people that attain monetary success seem to have a general awareness for budgeting and basic guidelines to follow.

What they don’t do is create unrealistic budgets and then retaliate with over-spending. They are reasonable.

Gosh – this really does mirror nutrition.


What the heck should I do?

First, think about how YOU’VE responded to rigid meal plans. How does your mindset shift? Is it for the better? If not, consider the following.

Set up some reasonable eating limits

Think about how you treat your kids. You don’t put your kids on a strict meal plan (at least I hope you don’t). But you probably won’t let them have dessert every night or stand over the sink eating handful after handful of granola.

Avoid self-imposed eating restrictions, meal plan rules, and cheat foods

Eat like you know you should. Eat rationally. Eat foods you enjoy. Figure out what feedback your body is providing. If you feel a bit bloated, you probably ate too much.

If you feel really deprived, maybe you’re eliminating too many foods you enjoy.

If you are obsessed with your next meal, you are probably under-eating nutritious food.

Eat a reasonable amount of quality food each day

Rather than enforcing the idea that control of body weight is best managed by “man made” interventions (e.g., diets, rules, and meal plans around food or external regulation), how about we develop a healthy relationship with food and our body? If we do this, we’ll have the body we were meant to.

A rigid meal plan might be the final ingredient in the recipe of disordered/compulsive eating.

You compete or you don’t

Finally, if you are getting ready for the state championship physique contest, then a detailed meal plan will be your best friend (at least in the short term). You’ll dedicate your life to it for 12 weeks, then peak for photos before going back to real life.

Many people say they want to “look like” they are going to step on a physique stage. Sorry, that doesn’t work. You compete or you don’t compete. Don’t try to live and look like a competitive physique athlete if you aren’t one.

Besides, a competitive physique athlete doesn’t walk around looking like they do in their pics. Trust me, I was one. We look picture-worthy for about 12 hours. Once we drink some water and eat some real food, photo shoot time is over.

Further, guess what is on the mind of most physique athletes the minute the photos have been taken? Eating something not on the meal plan.

Why live like this?

Make moderate, rational choices every day. Purposefully choose foods that nourish and sustain you, savor them as you consume them, and toss the restrictive diet plans in the trash along with the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray (believe me, you don’t want to know what’s in there).

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