Meal plans are like that weird friend you have from high school – fun and interesting for a few days, but you get sick of them really quickly.
I’m sure you’ve flipped through a magazine once or a million times and seen a “5 day Victoria’s Secret bikini cleanse” or other such nonsense, and the meal plan insisted that you have 85 grams of smoked salmon and 3 and a half egg whites (not four for heaven’s sake! Three and a half!) for breakfast, with exactly four ounces of unsweetened black coffee without milk and if you want to treat yourself then fine, you can have half a grapefruit as well.
By the time you’ve managed to put this together and eat it, it’s lunchtime, but don’t worry, it’s only 14 almonds and half an apple. Sigh. Meal plans seem like a good idea at the time, but they always, always fail, and for reasons that become obvious the moment you stare into the bag and discover you have 15 almonds left. Meal plans are restrictive.
They waste food (a real Victoria’s Secret model would just toss the extras out, you know). They’re boring. They’re antisocial (nobody wants to see you weighing your dry chicken breast).
They’re hard to follow. They make shopping, cooking and eating out difficult. Ugh, why have a meal plan? Instead, today, figure out a smart and comprehensive meal guide.
Something that will allow you to stay comfortably within your new caloric range without going insane and having all your friends slowly back away from you when lunchtime rolls around.
To do this, it’s far easier to focus on your macronutrients. It gets tricky here, because different schools of thought will have very different ideas about the ideal ratios.
For the purposes of this book, I’d like to suggest a meal plan that gives you adequate protein (which you should never scrimp on anyway), moderate fat (good fats, that is) and to tailor your carbohydrate intake to your activity level.
A good rule of thumb is to eat around 1 or 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of your lean body weight, per day. Your fat doesn’t need protein, but your muscles sure do. Start with your protein requirement and then see how many calories remain. Then, add on about half of those calories from good fat sources.
What remains can be devoted to carbohydrates. Of course, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, as we’ve seen already, how you play around with these ratios. Some societies on earth live well off high fat and high protein, others eat lots of carbohydrates.
Does it make you feel good and happy and does it let you stick to your plan for the long term? Is it working, more importantly? Then do that. Once you’ve roughly sketched out how many calories you need and what portion of those calories you’ll devote to each of the three macronutrients, you can draw up a loose meal plan. Here are some “rules” to help you do it right:
- Include protein with every meal. Of course this doesn’t have to be meat or fish. Eggs, nuts, tofu, beans, leafy greens and dairy all contain some protein. A good guideline is to go with a portion of meat roughly the size and thickness of the palm of your hand.
- Next, add carbohydrates. Spend them on veggies of all kinds if you decided to eat low carb, not anything stodgy, refined and full of sugar.
- Finally, the fats. This could be butter or oil used for cooking, coconut oil or milk, fat from meat, eggs and dairy, avocado, nuts, oily fish or cheese. Go “low fat” if you’re thinking of harmful oils like canola or refined sunflower oil, but in general, healthy oils like butter and olive oil are perfect.
- Have a good idea of what an ideal meal looks like. An adequate serving of protein with plenty of fresh veggies, healthy fats and some carbohydrates can take many forms – a coconut soup with sweet potato, a chicken quinoa salad, meatballs with roast veggies and whole-wheat pasta… get your head around portion sizes and macronutrients and you can be flexible.
- Decide on the frequency of your meals. You’ll find diet gurus and next door neighbors who’ll swear otherwise, but the time and and/or frequency of your meals means next to nothing. Graze, fast or anything in between – if it feels comfortable, do it. Don’t eat without an appetite and don’t push yourself through hunger pangs. Generally, keeping snack foods around is a bad idea and you usually don’t need to go for seconds. You might choose to have a few days where you allow yourself to splurge and a few where you hang back and skip a meal or two if you’re not feeling it. The key is flexibility.
With a meal guide built on the above principles, you can easily go to a restaurant and find something that matches your criteria. You can build a shopping list without stressing about each and every tiny ingredient and you can have some wiggle room for when birthdays or special celebrations swing round.