You’ve heard it a million times, “Abs are made in the kitchen”, or “It’s 80% nutrition, 20% exercise.”
Yes, these adages are over-used and, frankly, pretty annoying, but there is truth to it; you won’t see body composition changes just from adding exercise into your routine. Does it help? ABSOLUTELY. Beyond just weight loss, the advantages of moving your body for an hour a day are exponential. But I digress. Let’s talk about food.
One of the biggest things the fitness industry loves to sell is the idea of a “meal plan” or as I like to call it, “Prescribed Exact Eating.” In this meal plan you would be given a specific diet that, in an ideal world, you follow religiously for a short period of time in order to drop a specific amount of weight or reach a desired body composition. For example, I could give you something that looks like this:
You eat only what is written on this plan, and you’ll get to the weight you want. Sounds great, right? Someone else tells you EXACTLY what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to eat and POOF! Washboard abs and delts for days! It’s the dream!
You might be thinking, “That sounds amazing! Why wouldn’t I want to do that?”
Well, maybe you would, I don’t know your life. Short term commitment to achieve a goal sounds great in theory, but the truth is, short term commitment almost always inevitably leads to short term results.
What I mean is, the meal plan isn’t the problem. It is, but it isn’t. The real problem is two-fold:
First, the mindset of a quick and easy solution to a problem that probably wasn’t a quick and easy path is not a mindset that sustains long-term results. Weight gain and changes in body composition happen gradually over time, which means the ideal solution would also warrant a gradual change. Makes sense, right?
The other main issue with Meal Plans is what happens after the meal plan ends. What happens after you frolic into the horizon with your new chiseled body?
The problem is, you don’t learn how to eat from that beautiful, potentially laminated, perfectly balanced meal plan; you just learned how to follow instructions. But you are not an Ikea couch. Your body doesn’t come with an exact instruction manual. Learning how to eat isn’t something you learn from blindly following a written checklist. It’s a skill you should take time to develop, and while meal plans can be a coach, you eventually have to be able to work the skill on your own.
So what do I suggest instead? Well, as you can probably tell since I already said it (Spoiler Alert), but you need to learn how to eat.
And by that I mean, put into action what you already know. You don’t need me to tell you that eating whole foods that don't come from a package in proper portions is what leads to an increase in health and a decrease in body fat. You’re smart! You know these things! But you also know that you’re a human and food is delicious and the chances of you eating only chicken breast and broccoli forever is unattainable and frankly insulting. Pizza exists!
So what do I suggest?
We don’t need to have perfectly balanced macros to have a healthy (and sexy) body composition. We just need to have some balance in our lives. Eat the pizza. But don’t eat the pizza every day. Fill your plate with the veggies you know are good for you because you’ve been hearing about since you were 4 years old.
And when in doubt, try reaching for the “Next Best Thing”. Knowing what junk foods you’re eating and deciding to eat something that’s just slightly better is literally just as valuable as a meal plan. So if you usually reach for a Snickers bar at 4pm when your boss puts a new crisis on your desk and you realize you're starving, try grabbing an apple instead. Or, better yet, take inventory of what your body is actually asking for and give it to it. Do you want that chocolatey, peanut goodness, or are you low on fats that day and maybe popping a couple of almonds might do the trick?
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be progress. Making small but measurable changes in what you’re doing daily will go a long way, and eventually the next best thing will be perfect.
Then, and only then, do you need to start thinking about the perfectly balanced macros.
But don’t go on a meal plan. They really do usually suck.