by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.
Dieting is rough. There’s the planning, the shopping, the eternal feeling of missing out. You do all this work and you see a pound go here, a pound go there… but then you have one weekend where you aren’t “super strict” and you get on the scale to find you’re right back where you started! Frustrating! What’s the catch? There are so many meal plans out there, but how do you know when you find the one that will really work for YOU?
Dieting is like Dating
Let’s get a few things straight from the get-go. I know we don’t like using the word dieting, and for good reason. When you are choosing a meal plan that’s right for you, it’s like looking for a long-term relationship. Dieting is like a first date who’s fun and buys you food but isn’t going to stick around when it isn’t novel anymore. A meal plan, is like looking for that person who is going to do life with you, forever.
You want something that is going to work in for you in this stage of your life, but will also move with you through many more stages to come. Also like a life partner you have to consider how you measure the success of the relationship. Most start a meal plan with the goal of weight loss, but the truth is, stepping on the scale can be the worst way to measure your progress. Here are some other things to consider when you are looking for success:
--Do you FEEL better? More energy, clearer thinking, sleeping better
--Do you FEEL different? Clothing fitting better, able to push harder during a work out, less stress (especially around food)
Finding Your Best Fit
Once of the most important things to look at when starting a meal plan is to find something that is a push, but still completely do-able for you to start immediately. You may be the most motivated person out there while searching, but anything that takes too much research, too much prep time, or too much time to maintain isn’t something that is going to work long term.
The goal is to find something that you can follow for a period of time. Intellectually learn the things you need to know such as food choices, nutrient composition, and meal timing. While also teaching your body to reset its hunger and fullness cues with the healthy foods you are consistently eating. You want to look for meals that are easy to prep and are not overly restrictive.
Like many other experiences in life, you may have to try a few meal plans to find the one that fits YOU. Through this process you may find you are carb sensitive, or that eating 6 times a day just doesn’t work for you. Maybe you thought you’d never enjoy cooking but now find yourself pinning (and actually making) those healthy recipes. Don’t feel discouraged if you try something that worked for “everyone else” but you struggle with it. Let it go and move on to the next plan.
Once You’ve Met Your Match
I know you just read “move on”… there is a caveat to that… you need to give a meal plan at least 10-14 days to measure any sign of success. It takes the body some time to adjust to new caloric and nutrient levels before you start seeing the benefits. Follow the plan for a few weeks then measure its success. There are several ways to know you are eating correctly for your body and have found the right plan.
---It fits your lifestyle. This is something that may take some time in the beginning, but a few weeks in you find that you have made incremental changes and hardly notice the big differences you are seeing.
---You feel full. Most individuals I work with will tell me they feel like they are eating “so much” and are rarely full. The main reason is because their fiber intake and overall nutrient composition is more balanced and helping their body regulate its hunger. Having a plan also takes the guess work out of your day so there’s less waiting-too-long-to-eat-because-you-haven’t-planned-dinner.
---You feel less stressed about food. Food is a touchy topic, and many times individuals don’t struggle with their weight simply because they don’t know what to eat. There are other triggers such as work stress, busy schedules, and failure to plan. When you are feeding your body the nutrients it needs you aren’t taking away the external stressors, but your body (and brain!) may be better equipped to manage those things and allow you to avoid coping with unhealthy choices. Maybe the stress isn’t a thing for you… that’s ok, with a good meal plan you may also notice you’re just in a better mood!
---Your energy is way up! As mentioned above, when you feed your body the foods it needs to succeed you will be amazed at what it does for you. Wholesome, minimally processed foods are easier on the body to digest and provide a great source of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, when you strip the diet of caffeine and other stimulating foods your nervous or GI system is less likely to keep you up at night.
---You don’t need it forever…: The best meal plans don’t just tell you what to eat but tell you WHY you should eat the foods. It is not realistic to follow a meal plan forever. The goal is to take large parts of the meal plan and its habits and incorporate them into your life. Your meal plan should be guiding you directly in the short-term, but also preparing you to continue the healthful habits long after you’ve stopped following it daily.
--- …you can always come back to it: Maybe after the holidays or a time where you just need to touch base with yourself and your eating habits, you pull out the meal plan and use it to refocus on your eating habits.
Use these articles written by our R.D. to help you navigate what is best for you. Intermittent Fasting is a win-win for you and your body!