5 Meal Planning Tips For Easier Fat Loss
Meal planning for fat loss has got to be one of the most misunderstood topics in nutrition.
There are countless meal planning myths, and I debunk the 8 biggest ones on the flexible meal planning webpage.
A lot of the confusion simply comes from failing to define what a meal plan or “meal planning” really is.
For example, when I say “meal planning” or “meal plan” I’m not talking about “meal prepping.” Meal prep is where you cook food in advance in big batches, pop it in the fridge or freezer and then you have meals ready for later.
Meal prepping can be helpful, but meal prepping is not meal planning.
I’m also not referring to daily macro tracking. That can be helpful too, but tracking is not planning.
And I’m not talking about ordering pre-made food online from a meal prep company. When you order a bunch of meals, sometimes their websites will even call it a “meal plan,” but nope. That’s not what I’m talking about either.
When I say you should meal plan (verb), here’s what I mean:
First, you calculate your calories.
Second, you calculate your macronutrients (aka “macros” – protein, carbs, and fat).
Those four numbers are the framework for a meal plan. These numbers also tell you how much to eat to lose fat, maintain your weight, or build muscle.
Third, to make it fully customized, you choose your meal frequency and schedule. Will you eat three times a day – just the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Or will you include snacks in between meals? Or if you have bodybuilding goals, will you have four to six meals a day?
Fourth, you use a mobile app, online software or a spreadsheet to sketch out a full day of eating, food by food, meal by meal. You insert individual foods into each meal slot and adjust your serving size according to your calorie target.
With an electronic tool like an app or software, your daily meal plan displays the food, the portion size, the calories and the macros. That’s macro-based meal planning.
Now that I’ve defined what meal planning is, I’d like to share some of my best tips to make this type of meal planning work better for you so you can lose fat faster and easier than ever.
1. Know the difference between macro tracking and meal planning
Most people think that meal planning is macro tracking, but they’re two different things.
Macro tracking is setting targets for your daily intake of calories and grams of protein, carbs and fat. Then you record what you eat by entering it into a food journal, which today is usually a mobile app or online software.
But if you didn’t know what you were going to eat in advance, then you didn’t have a meal plan, you simply recorded your food intake on the fly. That’s macro tracking, and it’s reactive.
If you plan out your day of eating in advance, that’s proactive. That’s meal planning. You start each day already knowing what you’re going to eat.
This doesn’t mean you’re locked into the meal plan, because the best kind of meal plan is flexible so you can change foods if you need to. But your meal plan is based on a template, so it always has structure even if you sometimes exchange meals.
Macro tracking by itself has value – it’s a great awareness and accountability tool. I’m not knocking it at all. (And some folks do both meal planning and macro tracking).
But meal planning, where you go into each day already knowing what you’re going to eat, or at least having a template for what you’ll eat, is superior on many levels.
One advantage is that a meal plan with macros gives you a specific eating goal for the day. You can print it out and tape it to your fridge and to your goal / vision board. This keeps you focused and directed. People with goals succeed more. People without goals succeed less. It’s a simple as that.
Creating a meal plan in advance is also a tpe of pre-commitment. What you’re doing is making a decision about what you’re going to eat ahead of time. This helps you resist temptation and avoid impulsiveness. It also reduces something known as decision fatigue, which is a major reason your willpower fails you.
And of course, let’s not forget that setting your calories and macros optimally and then planning your meals around those numbers is the best way to guarantee you burn fat and build muscle.
2. Customize every variable in your nutrition plan
I’m not sure if you’re the same way, but most people don’t really want to make their own meal plans. They usually look for diet books that include meal plans, or if they have the money, they buy expensive templates from the guru diet coaches.
But here’s the problem with following a meal plan from a diet book or a meal plan template, even if it’s from a reputable coach: Any meal plan that has already been made, by definition, was not made for you. It’s a cookie cutter plan.
If you could find a good one, a dietician could help you create a truly customized plan. But that can get expensive.
A lot of scam artists know these facts are true. That’s why the industry today is filled with coaches, and especially social media “influencers” who flash their abs on instagram to get your attention, then try to sell you generic meal plans. It’s very easy to fall for that.
It’s tempting for you to look at someone else who had tremendous success with burning fat (or buildling muscle) and want to copy their plan. Seem logical on the surface. But again, you have to remember, the plan they used to achieve that was their plan, not yours.
People are more different when it comes to food preferences and needs that almost any individual variable.
Trying to follow a generic meal plan is one of the biggest reasons so many people fail at fat loss, and often give up on it completely.
Here’s the answer: Personalize your meal plan. Customize every single variable including your calorie intake, macros (protein, carb and fat grams), and the foods you eat.
Another really important variable is your daily meal plan schedule, including the meal frequency. It must fit your lifestyle, your personal preferences and your goals.
Are you a professional bodybuilder? If not, then does it make sense to follow a bodybuilding diet with six meals a day? Not unless that’s how you love to eat. Definitely not if all that eating and meal prep time is a huge inconvenience. You won’t stick with it.
Same thing in the other direction: You know that trendy new time-restricted feeding diet (aka “intermittent fasting”)? Some of those diets have you eat only two or three times a day and scrunch it into a short time period. Should you do that? Heck no, not if it doesn’t match your goals, your schedule and your preferences. You won’t stick with it.
Whether we’re talking about the macro ratios, the choice of food, the frequency of meals or any other diet variable, never use generic meal plans or someone else’s meal plan. Always customize your plan!
3. Say no to food restriction
Here’s how the diet industry has worked for years: A nutrition guru gives you a list of good foods to eat and a list of bad foods to avoid.
The way the good food list is presented is that if you simply eat those foods, the fat will magically melt off. (As if certain specific foods have some kind of fat-burning magic). Sometimes, it’s advertised as just a handful of foods: “Eat these 3 foods every day to banish belly fat.” Sound familiar?
The way the bad food list is ususally treated is, “Never eat this 1 food!” Or, “These are forbidden.” Therefore, if you eat them, (even in a small amount), you automatically feel like you’ve broken your diet. You also feel guilty.
If we’re being honest, most of us have bought into this. In fact, even many of us on the coaching side have given out food lists like these in the past. But those were the old days. Nutrition guidelines have evolved to match not only what the food research has found but what human psychology research has discovered.
Psychology experts, as well as obesity researchers, have studied what happens when you adopt a food restriction mentality. They discovered something very ironic. Restricting foods completely (or even worse, an entire macronutrient or food group), is directly associated with diet failure.
The thing that’s supposed to make diets work – putting your attention on what foods you have to avoid – is the exact thing that makes them fail.
If you’re goal is fat loss, the thing you need to put your attention on is a achieving and sustaining a calorie deficit. (Or we could state that differently as putting your attention on eating proper sized-portions).
This is hard for many people to wrap their heads around, but you can eat anything you want, and if you also stay in a calorie deficit, you’ll still keep losing body fat.
Remember the Kansas State professor who ate nothing but Twinkies, stayed in a deficit and lost weight? How about the guys who ate nothing but Mcdonalds who also stayed in a deficit and lost weight? There are countless examples like these.
Do NOT misinterpret this. I am not saying it’s a good idea to eat a junk food diet in a calorie deficit to lose weight. Obviously that’s not healthy. (Fat loss and health are two different goals). I am saying that specific foods don’t make you fat, a surplus of calories is what makes you fat.
Understanding this truth, it’s clear that you should eat healthy foods most of the time, but that outside of allergy or intolerance, no foods need to be forbidden.
4. Choose any amount of food variety you want.
One of the big myths of meal planning is that if you follow a meal plan, that means you’re being rigid, inflexible and you’ll get bored because you’re locked into eating the same thing every day.
Except you’re not locked in. Who’s locking you in?
Not only can you create more than one meal plan but also, you can look at a meal plan as a template from which you can exchange or rotate foods. It’s not a prescription that must be followed the same every day.
If you create and save a bunch of your favorite meals in your app or meal planning software, and if you make them all approximately the same calories and macros, you can rotate them and you don’t even need to log / track it – the calories and macros are already the same the way you saved them.
You can swap individual foods too. Once you learn about food exchange groups and you have some kind of portioning or plating system, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.
Our classic system is to visualize your plate and put on it a lean protein portion, a fibrous carb (veggie) portion, and a starchy carb portion, with maybe a thumb size part of it fat.
If you prefer, you can eat mostly the same thing every day. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, a consistent meal plan makes it much easier to lose fat. That’s because when you eat mostly the same, tracking macro intake is easier. When you constantly change the foods you eat, it’s harder to track, and studies show that you tend to eat more.
5. Forget about perfectionism
You might think that chasing dietary perfection will give you the best results possible. Ironically, it increases your risk of failure. This is true for both food choices and for macro tracking.
Not only that, a perfectionist mentality toward meal planning can easily lead to overwhelm and a psychologically unhealthy preoccupation with food.
Here’s the problem: When you do macro-based meal planning, you typically have specific targets for the grams of protein, carbs and fats (as opposed to a range). The mistake is that since a macro goal has been set for a specific number, it’s easy to think that you must hit that number on the bullseye.
For fat loss it’s important to be close on calories (you must have a deficit). But if you’re a hundred under or a hundred over, it won’t make that much difference. If you’re plus or minus 5% on your macros, that won’t make much difference either. When it comes to fat and carbs, it matters even less.
Protein is the most important macro nutrient to be sure you hit close to your target each day. When it comes to carbs and fat, there is a large range of intakes that will work. Think about it. People have successfully achieved fat loss on low carbs, medium carbs and high carbs. Others have gotten lean on low fat, medium fat and high fat.
If you set your calories in a deficit and hold your protein steady, then experiment with higher and lower amounts of carbs and fat, you invariably find there isn’t any difference in fat loss. (Which is exactly what research has found when those variables were tested).
Once you realize how much room you have to adjust carbs and fat, a light bulb goes off in your head and then it makes sense why you don’t have to nail those macro targets on the button every day.
A calorie deficit is mandatory for fat loss and you should do your best to get close to your daily protein goal. But you don’t have to be a macro nutrient micromanager. Close enough is close enough.
If you’re interested in learning about both macro-based meal planning, as well as how you can still stay lean, even you’re not doing any strict counting, then don’t forget to check out the new ebook:
Check it out and click here: ==> Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle Meal Planning Guide
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