It is an attractive option to have an eating plan designed just for you that takes the guesswork out of eating. To have your week’s worth of meals and snacks planned out to the ‘T’. There’s just one problem; life isn’t a straight road, and neither is eating.
Meal plans are different from forming healthy eating patterns and habits.
Let’s tease this out a bit; the meal plans I’m talking about are different to pre-prepared meal planning, when you might make meals on the weekend to prepare for the week ahead.
This type of meal planning can be useful in almost every situation and also encourages more home cooking!
It is also different from learning about portions and coming up with a bank of recipe and snack ideas to inspire you and avoid frequent takeaway foods.
The meal plans I’m talking about are strict daily or weekly plans that decide what your meals and snacks will be. They are sometimes based on a set amount of calories for each day or a set meal size.
These types of meal plans can be great for short term use and a good kick start for rapidly trying new recipes. They can also save time by not having to think about what to eat.
The downside is that they often don’t help if our goal is to make sustainable changes.
Meal plans don’t suit everyone
There are so many environmental, social and emotional aspects that affect our food and eating.
Hunger, birthdays, stress, time, allergies, catching up with old friends, access to food, our work environment, advertising. These are just a handful of factors that can affect our eating and food choices.
The everyday things listed above make it difficult to map out an individual’s diet in one meal plan.
Here is a few reasons why you may want to think twice before following a meal plan:
They reduce the flexibility and spontaneous joy of eating
They can make you lose touch with your hunger fullness signals
They are difficult to follow long term
They can cause a feeling of guilt if you were to eat outside the meal plan, which can cause a cycle of restriction and bingeing
It can encourage disordered eating patterns in some people
Your situation may change over time and perhaps so will your nutrition needs
Creating meal plans can be great but it shouldn’t be a default option and should carefully consider the benefit for your situation.
It is important to work with your dietitian to decide whether a meal plan is right for you, your life and your needs.