As a fitness professional I am often asked for nutrition and exercise advice. I am probably most often asked for meal plans. For many years, I did come up with meal plans for either paying clients or for friends who asked for help. For many years I have also ‘followed’ meal plans. I say ‘followed’ loosely, because as we all know, no one follows meal plans exactly, hence why I think they don’t work. I no longer follow them myself nor will I write them for clients or friends anymore. Yes, even if they pay me. I don’t want to do it because I do not believe in them. Let me give a little history on my own my meal plan following before explaining why I do not like them anymore.
I have tried and sometimes succeeded in following tons of meal plans throughout the years. Often it was when I was trying to lose weight (which honestly was most of my adult life until I had children.) Not lots of weight, but I was always trying to lose just a few more pounds. So I was constantly writing myself meal plans or finding one to follow in hopes it would help me loose those few pounds. One year when I was bored with my regular athletic endeavors of triathlons and road races I decided to try a figure competition. This was going to the be the ULTIMATE meal plan. One of my best friends who was coaching figure competitors at the time was going to coach me and give me my meal plans that changed every 3-6 weeks. I knew the exercise piece of the training for the competition would not be nearly as challenging as the nutrition. I love to workout. Always have and I hope I always will. It has rarely been a struggle for me to stick to an exercise routine as I honestly find joy in exercising. However, I also love to eat. I love to cook. I love to come up with interesting and healthy recipes.
I decided to do this competition because I wanted something to challenge me. I wanted something to put me FAR out of my comfort zone. Boy…it did. I do not even like teaching group exercise classes in shorts and now I was going to get up on stage in a very small bikini? YIKES! I signed up and committed. And once I decide on something, I will commit to it and finish it. So fast forward 12 weeks. I did it. I dieted, I trained. I lost close to 20lbs in 12 weeks (NOT RECOMMENDED). I placed 6th out of 12 girls (just one shy of getting an awesome bronze statue of a girl in a bikini ☺). It was hard. The diet SUCKED. The diet was very clean but it was not healthy for the long term as it was very high in meat with little carbs. It was a mental battle. I had maybe one piece a fruit a week for weeks. I was hungry, I was consumed by it. It was incredibly expensive. But I did not want to embarrass myself on stage so I kept at it and did it. It was terrifying to think about getting on stage. And after all that hard work I got on stage 2 x for maybe 30 seconds. That was it. All that exercise and dieting for maybe 60 seconds. Do I regret it? Hell no. Will I ever do another one? Hell no. I am very glad I did it. I put my mind to something and did it. I got very far out of my comfort zone. It honestly, was just not that fun. I never got that ‘high’ I get from other competitions. It was extremely narcissistic. It just was not that fun but I learned a lot and still do not regret it.
The morning of the competition I weighed in what I weighed in 7th grade! Not good in my opinion. I KNEW that I would not maintain that weight. I had not been that weight in 15 years. I even had a client tell me that I was too skinny. Did I like the way I looked? Sort of? I liked my super flat stomach, defined arms and legs but honestly…it did not look like me. It wasn’t me. The following months were a little challenging to slowly add weight back on. Though I knew it was not realistic to stay at that weight it was still a mind f*#^ to gain all that weight back. And battle with the idea that fruit can make you fat and all these food rules and restrictions!! This is where I think these type of fitness competitions can be very mentally challenging for many. Now if your goal is to do a fitness competition, great! I am not telling you to not do one, I just have no desire to do another one. It wasn’t fun. I want to spend my time and energy in other places.
Picture of me the morning of my competition.
So did that meal plan work for that goal? In a sense, yes. I reached my goal of leaning out and competing but in general I do not feel that meal plans work. Why? Because people think they want to be told what to eat but they really don’t. Let’s say I tell you in your meal plan to eat 2 eggs and toast for breakfast. Followed by some nuts and fruit for a snack. Umm, what if you do not really like eggs? Even if I tailor the meal plan to your exact preferences, what if you are out of toast when you are supposed to have toast? What if one morning you didn’t feel like eggs? You REALLY wanted oatmeal. But you can’t have oatmeal, it’s not on your meal plan. So you either eat the eggs wishing it was oatmeal or you eat the oatmeal and feel bad and don’t want to tell your trainer/coach that you didn’t eat eggs. Then what? You have messed up? You have failed? Now, you are disappointed in yourself because you didn’t have any toast in your house or you would rather have oatmeal, WTF?
I have spent a lot of time making meal plans for myself and others that are not followed and the majority of time they lead to feelings of failure and disappointment. The last thing I want for myself or for anyone I am working with is to feel disappointed in themselves when they are trying to makes changes in their lives for the better.
This is why popular diet books/websites and other social media platforms that promote meal plans don’t work. THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL DIET but society will keep buying the next and supposedly best diet book in hopes it will help them lose weight. Okay, maybe they do work for some in the short term but I still believe whole heartedly that they do not teach people how to eat mindfully or how to properly fuel their bodies in a way that makes them feel best. How can they? They are written for thousands of people.
Here is a picture of everything I ate in one day. Some meals are vegan, some are Paleo, some are gluten-free but overall it works for me.
So what should you do? How do you lose weight or body fat if that is your goal? You should do you. I love that phrase “do you.” You have to find what works for you in terms of exercise, foods, sleep habits and stress management. Finding what works for me has been my struggle and journey the last 3 years since I stopped logging my food, trying to count calories and follow meal plans. I am still learning to ‘do me.’ What makes me feel good? What makes me perform at my best? What makes me see results I want? I enjoy a bit of carbs with my breakfast as it gives me energy throughout the day yet I know some people who prefer mostly protein. I tend to eat some type of fat with every meal and it helps keep my full and satisfied. I also like sweets. I like to have a small amount of something sweet pretty much every day because it is enjoyable and pleasurable to me and then I do not feel deprived and feel like I need an XL Blizzard once a week. PLEASURE. Your eating and exercise should bring your PLEASURE. I am not saying that I am in love with every meal or workout that I do. Some workouts suck. Some meals suck but in general, I like the way I exercise and I like the way I eat. Sometimes a huge salad is pleasurable and satisfying. Sometimes a huge steak is pleasurable and satisfying. Sometimes I want to run as hard as I possibly can. Sometimes I want to walk slowly and do yoga. But overall these things bring me pleasure. If you love Zumba, DO IT! If you enjoy eating vegan, DO IT! There is no ONE way to exercise and eat. Finding what works for you takes time. It takes trial and error. It will still take effort if your goal is to lose weight or body fat but ideally you will find an exercise and nutrition plan that keeps you satisfied, does not make you miserable and gives you the results that you want. DO YOU!
Did you used to or do you still follow meal plans? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? As always, I would love to hear from you.
Stay tuned: Part 2 will focus on why calorie counting does not work even though you will still hear and read that all you have to do to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume.