The meal plan isn’t the end goal- it’s a starting point.

The meal plan isn’t the end goal- it’s a starting point.

Do you need a meal plan? The first question many people ask is ‘can you write me a meal plan?’. But this is putting the cart before the horse in many cases. Meal plans can be useful for some, and yet, without context and guidance, they disastrous for others. Let’s start by focussing on what a meal plan actually is.

In the world of nutrition, there is a lot of information. Information is great! Except, it is critical to understand that not all information is useful to YOU! As a trained nutrition professional, it is a dietitians job to understand this information and know when to use it, and when it’s not going to be useful. Like much of the information out. There are like tools in the toolbox- you need the right tool for the right job. Using this analogy, a meal plan is a tool.

First of all, you need to know that a meal plan shouldn’t be something you stay with forever, nor does it mean that anything not on the plan is not good for you. This mindset is how some people come unstuck with them. They go into it, thinking they need to follow it ‘perfectly’ and believe that one change will ‘stuff it’ and go on a subsequent food frenzy- not healthy or constructive.

When appropriately used, a meal plan is a step in a larger process. A meal plan offers the opportunity for you to recalibrate, to ensure you are eating ENOUGH, that your portion sizes are in check and can help build some routine and consistency- which are key to nutrition success! For some people it will be about eating more, for some, it might be about eating less.

Looking specifically at portion sizes- it is well known that portion sizes we are served up these days are bigger than in the past, and the amount of food we are served up actually gives us ‘cues’ on what is normal. So if you have consistently been served up bigger serves than you need to satisfy your energy requirements, there is a likelihood that next time you serve yourself, you will continue with what you have seen to be ‘normal’ in the past.

A 2019 study looking at snack serve sizes found that the day after the groups were served either a large snack or a small snack, the group that got the small serve size served themselves less in the subsequent session. It is thought that once they had seen a ‘normal’ serve, they were more likely to repeat that serve size in future meals. It’s important to note that less isn’t always better! However, very commonly, we don’t give much thought to how much we serve up and end up eating beyond comfort because we feel the need to eat what’s on the plate. So, using a meal plan is a great way to recalibrate your serve sizes and to get your body used to feeling satisfied, without feeling too full. This might only take a few weeks for some to get the gist of, while for others, where nutrition knowledge is limited, it can take some time before a meal plan is even a tool that could be considered.

In short, a meal plan can provide a well-educated guess on how much you should be eating and then your job is to tune into your own cues as you go, while recalibrating and finding what is ‘normal’ for you. Working with a nutrition coach can help you make sense of what you are feeling and how you manage your nutrition across the week while using a meal plan. So, if you are interested in finding out more, check out the Athletic Eating coaching nutrition services.