If someone asks me: What’s the best thing I can do to start losing weight?
… my answer is always the same, without hesitation: Go on a meal plan.
And I do mean a meal “plan” in the literal sense, in that:
- what foods you eat
- how much of those foods you eat
- when you eat those foods
… is *explicitly* planned and specified ahead of time. This means, generally:
- you’ll eat the same foods repeatedly, on a weekly or perhaps daily basis.
- you’ll get the same exact foods on grocery store runs, every time.
- you’ll likely log/track those foods (and the calorie/macros thereof) in a food diary app, or a spreadsheet, or a notebook, etc.
Is the meal plan diet rigid? Boring and repetitive? Somewhat at odds with social convention?
Yes, honestly. But it’s nonetheless the most effective weight loss strategy.
If you want your diet to be lenient, to taste best, to be novel or exciting, to be fully congruent to social norms, or to be as fun as possible, then no, don’t go on a meal plan.
… But you are here after all, as opposed to an exotic or fun eating foodie blog, so I’m presuming your main goal, above all else, is weight/fat loss. And if you are at least OK with tolerating some dietary rigidness, repetitiveness, and tediousness (within reason of course), then in my opinion, said again, going on a meal plan is the best weight loss strategy that will maximize your chances of success.
My Case For Why The Regimented Pre-Set Meal Plan is The Best Weight Loss Strategy
The ultimate cause of weight loss (or weight gain) is caloric restriction (or excess). Extensive science has made this decidedly clear.
(TLDR: Ward based RCTs that restrict calories, regardless of food type, result in weight loss; whereas similar ward based RCTs that keep calories the same, regardless of food type, consistently fail to produce weight loss)
A meal plan is by far the best way to systematically induce calorie restriction and subsequent weight loss. I think you’ll best understand why this is true if I simply outline the process:
- Initially plan out the right amount of food intake – try to at least get in the ballpark, with a calorie calculator or otherwise.
- Eat per that plan consistently – you establish a 100% clear baseline of behavior and know exactly what’s going on, zero ambiguity.
- See what happens – which indeed implies you’re tracking your progress.
- Are you losing 1-2 lbs/week on average? Are your progress pictures visually improving? Great, simply rinse and repeat – you can expect to continue to get the same results because you’ll continue to stick to the same exact plan.
- Or, Are you stalled? That’s completely fine, you just need to make a small adjustment – starting next week, you can slightly lower your calorie target, or cut out that daily handful of nuts, or do whatever else that will incrementally reduce your food/calorie intake.
- Alternatively, you could incrementally increase your calorie expenditure with more activity/exercise.
- Keep titrating down per step 5 (or up per step 6) until step 4 becomes true.
In summary, and per one of the main theses of this blog, you can logically see that explicit consistency and explicit incremental adjustments will inevitably result in weight loss.
Rebuttals to Common Objections to the Meal Plan Directive
“I don’t think I can eat the *same* foods over and over again.”
A few thoughts on this:
One, if most people actually audited their diet, they’d realize they already do eat mostly the same foods repeatedly. We tend to be habitual.
Two, you can factor in enough intermittent variety (or “cheat” meals if you will) to the plan to keep you sane. For example, maybe the plan includes two allowable restaurant meals per week, where instead of counting calories/macros you simply follow a few guidelines to keep things close enough.
Three, a full fledged meal plan is only temporary. You don’t have to do it forever, much like a financially destitute person who goes on a strict budget plan doesn’t have to be so meticulous forever. Getting a good handle on your dieting, finances, or anything else in life takes practice. Once you get initial weight loss results/success, and you get more experience with managing the “right” amount of food, you can take off the meal plan training wheels and “graduate” to a more lax style of eating. Also worth noting is that maintaining your end-goal weight is much easier to do ad libitum than losing weight is.
“Do I *have* to count calories/macros with a meal plan? I can’t do that.”
I understand that counting is not feasible in certain situations. And no, you don’t have to count things to effectively employ a meal plan for weight loss.
We’ve kind of touched on this already – if you deliberately eat the same foods/meals repeatedly, even if you’re not diligently accounting the actual calories/macros/fats/carbs/etc., then you can still make running adjustments and restrict calories in a precise manner, little by little, until you start losing weight.
Someone who’s counting calories might decide to lower their intake by 5-10%. Someone who’s not counting calories, alternatively, might decide to eat two eggs at breakfast instead of three. Key point being: both of these people, fundamentally speaking, are systematically doing the same exact process, such as it’s outlined above. Even if you’re not counting calories per say with a meal plan, you’re still indirectly counting them by “counting” your portions. By eliminating a serving here or there from a consistent repeating meal plan, you also create that 5-10% calorie reduction just the same.
Calorie counting can be a great tool that can establish certainty, remove the guesswork, and give you peace of mind, among other things. Many people find that these benefits are worth the extra work it takes. In fact, you might realize that calorie counting in conjunction with a pre-set meal plan is actually rather quick and easy to do. But no, counting calories/macros is not *absolutely* necessary to effectively do a meal plan or start losing weight.
* Further Reading:
- The Significantly Underrated Benefits Of Counting Calories As A Fat Loss Strategy
- The Legitimate Downsides Of Counting Calories As A Fat Loss Strategy
“What if I just don’t have time for all this?”
I wrote a step by step guide on the process – following that, it takes about one hour of initial effort to create the plan, then it takes about 5-10 minutes per day to log it to a food diary app, if you’re even using one. I also wrote a similar guide on how to create a meal plan without calorie/macro counting, if you really don’t want to do that.
Most people simply cannot say that they don’t have a one-time hour and 5-10 minutes/day. Maybe, for whatever reason, you can’t bring yourself to invest that time, but that’s a separate issue, and the first step to solving any problem is to be honest with yourself about what the problem actually is. I suppose those are two divergent conversations for different blog posts.
Being explicitly consistent and making explicit incremental adjustments as they’re needed – being methodical, essentially – is the single most important concept I espouse on this blog, and I think a meal plan is the best way to practically implement that concept for weight loss.