If you’ve been struggling to lose weight or have hit a plateau in your bodybuilding or figure goals, your diet probably has a lot to do with it. Take stock of how you approach meals. Do you know beforehand what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, or do you grab whatever is convenient? Eating off-the-cuff will work against you because you’re more likely to make poor nutritional choices. More than that, food that is handy tends to be packed with empty calories.
Some people need to make a plan to make a plan, while some personality types are averse to planning anything. Others fall in the middle of the road and don’t have a problem with making a plan if they can see the value in it. When it comes to planning meals, scientific studies have proven that it’s an effective strategy. Research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that the more time people spent on pre-planning meals, the higher the quality of the diets tended to be, and a high-quality diet is essential for any weight loss or fitness goal.
A “higher quality diet” can mean many things, depending on who is doing the meal planning and what the goals are. Someone who is trying to lose weight will plan for low-fat, nutrition-dense meals that will leave them feeling satisfied, so they won’t have the desire to snack. People who are trying to build muscle for a fitness competition will design their meals to provide energy and protein. Meal planning makes it easier for anyone to control their portions, too. Whatever the goal, most people will (or they at least should) aim to include healthy, nutritional foods that will help them meet their objective.
Meal planning has other benefits, though. The Mayo Clinic points out that you’ll save money two ways because you’ll be eating at home more often and when you go to the market, you will have a list of the items you’ll need for the next few weeks. If you stick to the list and avoid impulse buys of pre-packaged snacks, you should be able to reduce your grocery bill along with your waistline.
Write Out a Menu
The first step to meal planning is writing out a menu. You can try to build it around things you already have in your freezer and pantry, you can peruse the ads in the newspaper first and write a list based on items that are on sale, or you can create your menu to include dishes you want to eat over the next few weeks to a month. Don’t have the time to make huge, five-course meals every night? Who does? You don’t have to be overly ambitious, and Prevention even advises against it. Only plan one or two larger meals per week, whatever your schedule will allow, and then plan easy-to-make meals using the leftovers.
As you plan, include snacks in the mix, too. That way you can put baby carrots, apples, or whole wheat crackers and mascarpone on the shopping list to keep you from bingeing on chips or cookies when the munchies strike. Also include the ingredients to home-make the easy to grab-and-go breakfast items that cost more when you buy them from the bakery or the grocery store. Not only will making muffins and scones at home on the weekend save money and provide something quick to eat on the way to work (with the coffee you brewed at home, naturally), but you’ll get a healthier product, too.
Pre-made, pre-packaged baked goods are filled with sugar or unhealthy sugar substitutes, and loads of not-so-appetizing ingredients to preserve them. According to the Huffington Post, you shouldn’t even opt for pre-made doughs or mixes because they contain a variety of artificial ingredients and preservatives such as vanillin (which is made from petroleum or wood) and saturated fats like cottonseed or palm kernel oil. You could always spend time reading ingredient lists looking for healthy pre-made mixes, but it would be quicker to make your own baked goods from scratch. You’ll know all the ingredients you use are healthy plus you can control the amount of fats and sugars you use to make them even healthier.
The Necessity of Tweaking
Bodybuilders usually have their meal planning down to a science because they need to be in control of caloric intake at all times as well as controlling the amounts of protein, fats, and carbs they eat. Even so, hitting a plateau during the process of building or cutting could be an indication that you need to tweak your diet. Reassess, looking at the number of calories you’re eating each day and what percentage is going toward protein, fats, carbohydrates, fruits, and veggies, then make adjustments where necessary. Your food diary or the menus from the past month will be useful for reviewing what you have been eating, and it’s likely that the things that need tweaking will be obvious.
Even if you aren’t in the fitness or bodybuilding circuit, periodically adjusting your meal planning is beneficial. We tend to go through phases, eating more meat for a month or so, then gravitating toward breads and pastas. In general, there’s nothing wrong with that provided you don’t get stuck in a rut of pizza for dinner every night. If you make a conscious decision to re-evaluate your meal planning regularly, like once a month, then you can mindfully control those phases and ensure that during your pasta period, for example, you’re including some sort of protein even if it’s not meat.