The Problem with Strict Meal Plans & Counting Calories

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The principles of energy balance work

  1. Take in more calories/energy than you expend, you gain weight.
  2. Take in fewer calories/energy than you expend, you lose weight.

But…...

From the minute your food is prepared and cooked to the minute your food is digested and comes out the other end (poo) can change the amount of calories you absorb. 

  • Calories counts are imprecise

  • We don’t absorb all of the calories we consume

  • How you prepare your food changes its calorie load from cooking, chopping and blending 

  • You as a unique individual absorb calories differently to the person standing next to you

  • Calorie counting is not sustainable long term 

The are a number of unexpected factors that can change the amount of calories your absorbing. 

 

Following Strict Meal Plans and Calorie Counting - Is It Worth It? 

Unless your an Elite or Professional Athlete training for your next Olympic Games, calorie counting and following strict meal plans is not necessary for the general population that want to improve their health, fitness and lifestyle habits. 

The first problem is actually having to go through the hassle and the math of figuring out your "calorie needs” and then of course assuming that the database or the website your using estimates correctly. Often or not they can be incorrect by 25% around nutrition labelling, lab measurement error and the quality of the food. 

The second problem is you have to calculate the amount of calories you burn on the daily also often or not can have around 25% of measurement error because of the equipment your using. (Fist pump your way to work tomorrow morning wearing your Fit Bit and I guarantee you will clock up some extra calories 😉 

The third problem is having to weigh and measure out your food to the decimal every single time you make a god dam meal!! (I've been here before!) Your not going to pull out the measuring cups or dust off the scales in front of your friends and family members at your next social get together. Your not going to go out for dinner with your scales in your hand bag to pull out and weigh your food at the restaurant table so you don’t go over your daily calorie intake goal. 

The forth problem is no matter how enthusiastic you are, meal plans can be tough to follow. We get busy. Life gets in the way. We’re not always prepared. Kids get sick. You get stuck at work until late. It’s always someones birthday or social event. Sometimes you just don’t feel like having eggs for breakfast or chicken for lunch. 

The fifth problem is you follow the meal plan perfectly! Most meals plan are meant to be temporary. There designed for a quick fix like dropping a few extra kilo before a wedding, learning to manage blood sugar or cutting weight for a specific event or competition. Our bodies will adapt to a rigid way of eating for a short period of time no matter what you throw at it. But if you’re too strict for too long following eating an extremely low calorie intake, you could wind up with unhealthy eating habits and lasting health consequences including mental, metabolic and hormonal issues. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is a great way to get an idea on how much food were eating each day. That way we can adjust our calories based on our goals. But the hassle of counting your calories and following strict meal plans can be a freeeeaking nightmare after a while! I’ve tried it before. I became obsessed with what I put in my mouth. I became obsessed with weighing my food literally to the decimal! I felt guilty when I would have something “bad” resulting in binging and over-eating on the weekends. I would feel guilty when I would eat something off the “meal plan” and skipping my next meal to pay the consequences and deal with my guilt. I was constantly thinking about food every hour of the day which made me even hungrier between meals. I would turn down social gatherings because “it was't on my meal plan”. Although I did get to an ideal body weight, i was still never happy and I had created a terrible relationship with food. 

No wonder so many people give up there strict diet plan and go back to eating the way they were before!

 

The Good News!

Calorie counting and a strict meal plan is rarely necessary!

No weight scales. No measuring cups. No strict meal plans. No strict food guidelines. 

All you need is the ability to count to two! And your hand! It’s portable and you can take it everywhere with you 🙂 

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Planning Your Meals Flexibly! 

Based on the guidelines above assuming you’ll be eating 3 or 4 meals per day, you now have a simple and flexing guide to use when planning your meals. 

Women - Start with 1 x portion of each protein, vegetables, carbs and healthy fats per meal

Men - Start with 2 x portions of each protein, vegetables, carbs and healthy fats per meal

Note: This only serves as a starting point. You won’t know exactly how your body will respond to this from the start so stay flexible and adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness and personal goals. 

*Eat when your physically hungry. Stop when your satisfied, not stuffed!* 

Example - if you’re trying to lose weight but have come to a plateau/stalling point, you might look at eliminating a cupped size of carbohydrates at a particular meal. 

 

Start Small. One Step at a Time! 

Concentrate on improving one meal each week. 

Using the examples above, you might think about things like:

  • adding protein

  • adding veggies or fruits

  • adding healthy fats 

  • adding more nutrient dense carbohydrates 

  • drinking more water

  • eating more slowly and mindfully

Try just fiddling with one or two, and see which ones work best for you! Your goal is to find what works for you in the long term around your lifestyle to create sustainable healthy habits.