4 egg whites, 10 almonds, 150g of chicken breast, 1/2 cup of broccoli... could this be the recipe for getting fat?
We've all seen it before;
Meal 1: 1/2 cup of oats, 4 egg whites
Meal 2: 10 almonds
Meal 3: 100g of chicken breast, 1/2 cup of broccoli
Meal 4: Large salad with can of tuna
Or, even better;
How could these meal plans make me fat? They are all calorie controlled, and my personal trainer gave them to me!
Stay with me.
The meal plans above look great when they are written down on paper, with your name nicely placed on the top, colour-coded and fridge-ready.
But beyond the promises, spreadsheet tallies and "personalisation", it can get ugly.
A strict, regimented and detailed meal plan like these often don't translate to real life for most people. Most people don't enjoy eating the same meal, at the same time, in the same quantities, every day for the rest of their life.
Here's how we have found meal plans to REALLY play out for most people
1/2 cup of oats, 4 egg whites
MEAL 1B: (I'm feeling deprived and restricted)
This is when the day starts. Work has piled on the desk. You just received some stressful news.
Coffee is needed. And maybe some sugar. The cafe downstairs does yummy banana bread.
Shit! I can't! The meal plan! Boy it's restrictive... Nope, I need a coffee. I don't have time to worry about the meal plan... Besides, I had my perfect breakfast this morning. I deserve one coffee. And banana bread. I'll think about it later.
Translation: Cappuccino and a piece of banana bread, toasted with butter.
150g of chicken breast, with salt and pepper, 1/2 cup of broccoli, and 1/2 cup of greens.
MEAL 2B: (I'm bored at work)
Lunch wasn't very satisfying because you didn't eat what you wanted. Plus, work is kinda slow and you're bored. Nothing like some processed food to relieve the boredom! Someone has baked some yummy choccy biscuits and left them in the kitchen. One will do the trick.
Oh man, these are good! I better try one more, while I'm waiting for the coffee machine to finish my second cappuccino. A little extra choccy sprinkles on top, it's been a long day.
Large salad and a can of tuna
MEAL 4B: (I'm lacking stimulation right now)
This is about the time when lack of stimulus kicks in. TV is boring, it's dark, your guards are down, and you can always start the meal plan again tomorrow.
So how about getting those cravings out of your system? I mean, you might as well. Those foods will be off limits again at 6am tomorrow, I promise.
And besides, the only food I have in the house is "healthy".
3 handfuls of wholegrain crackers, a handful of natural trail mix, and a slice of bread with butter and some popcorn... now I'm good.
Boy, I did well today! I stuck to the meal plan! My trainer is a genius!
Translation: I white-knuckled through food I don't enjoy - but made it enjoyable by adding:
1 piece of banana bread
2 chocolate biscuits
3 handfuls of crackers
a handful of trail mix
a slice of bread with butter
... into the meal plan.
Someone films a documentary of you, 24 hours a day, for one month.
When you watch the documentary back, what do you think will be the big things that stand out that are holding you back from your goals?
Many people will say anything and everything, except for the big stuff we conveniently overlook.
It’s finishing the kid’s leftovers (even though you just ate)
It’s snacking on crackers while hovering over the sink
It’s downing the granola bar while standing in front of the pantry
It’s the extra spoonfuls of “light” ice cream in front of the freezer
It’s the chocolates at work
It’s the coffee shop fare
It's all the stuff we block out. And another month goes by, yet we are still not any closer to you achieving your goals.
It's not the meal plan (that you were never able to stick to anyway).
Besides, the meal plan in certainly something we can put the blame on for being "flawed".
It's the fact that we are looking for a band-aid fix in a meal plan, without actually learning what, why and how we are eating. You know, the stuff that actually matters.
Perfect, regimented meal plans have their place for elite figure athletes.
But for the other 99.9% of us, they teach us nothing, they result in yo-yo behaviours, and they lead us to the exact position we are in now.
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Drew is a personal trainer and nutritionist and is the co-founder of Evexia Wellbeing. Drew specialises in long-term habit change, body composition training, and mindset.