23 Mar Why diets and meal plans don’t work for people…
I recently sat that with a coaching member over lunch.
The conversation turned into a talk with about her coworker and how they were struggling to follow a strict meal plan/diet.
Essentially, the coworker has been white knuckling this diet for the past 6 months +. The coworker desperately wants to drop some weight and is convinced that they need to follow the meal plan perfectly in order to succeed. After all, coworker “Jane” lost 20 pounds following this plan, why not them?
It made me think.
Why doesn’t everybody succeed on a meal plan? Why do people struggle when they follow a diet?
I guess it’s because, for somebody new to “healthy eating”, following a meal plan is like throwing a 5-year-old kindergartener into a college-level writing class.
They just don’t have the skills, yet, to succeed.
Let me explain.
A meal plan, at its basic level, is trying to get someone to lose weight by creating a deficit in food (energy) intake.
However, depending on the meal plan, it implies that the person already has the skills to:
- track calories
- read recipes
- prepare food
- grocery shop
- identify certain foods
- plan ahead
- set a goal
- adjust when needed
- handle stress
- deal with life
Many people begin diets and meal plans on a whim. They noticed they’ve gained X pounds or the doctor told them they’re at risk for Y disease. So naturally, they go on Google and find the quickest way to lose weight.
Even though the number of people struggling with weight issues keeps going up, diets and meal plans are everywhere! I don’t know if it’s because they’re easy to write up or at some point, it was the most accepted method of helping people. Regardless, as the fitness industry gets better, I hope that fitness professionals will realize that nutrition is a lot more complicated than simply follow this diet or that meal plan.
So how can you help yourself, or someone, who wants to lose weight?
You have to make an assessment.
Identify a clear goal.
Then identify the habits needed to reach the goal.
Then you need to identify any skills necessary to complete the habit.
If the skills are lacking, then you need to work on building them up.
For example, if the goal is to lose weight. Then we need to identify habits that lead to that. Things like eating slowly, choosing healthy foods and exercising daily are habits. Each habit requires skills in order to be successful.
The habit of eating slowly requires skills like recognizing hunger, checking in during a meal and being mindful, and time management.
The habit of choosing healthy foods requires skills like knowledge of food, grocery shopping, cooking, meal building, and time management.
The habit of exercising daily requires skills like movement awareness, strength training, technique knowledge, exercise selection, and so on.
Working on all of this leads to the main goal, losing weight. You may need to hire a chef to help improve your cooking skills. You may need to invest in a nutrition coach to help you build hunger awareness. You may need to spend some time re-learning how to move after years of sitting down at the desk. All of this requires time, patience, and adjustment.
It’s the same for the kindergartener.
You start by teaching them the alphabet and about letters. Then you teach them to write their name. Then you teach them to write other words. Then to build phrases and so on.
It takes time and they don’t get to college overnight.
There is constant teaching and adjustment.
I’m not saying meal plans and diets are bad. I simply believe they are not the most appropriate ways of going about things. As a fitness professional, I think we can do a better job of helping people with long term success. This starts with helping people build the skills and habits that lead towards their goals.
If you would like to know more about how we help others, head on over to our nutrition coaching page.