Even if I had some hints on the efficiency of meal planning, and its ability to make you lose weight, I never tried it. But, a month ago, the situation became unbearable. Finishing a master thesis while working was not easy and left me with almost no time for pleasure, food included. Hence, in the middle of a nervous crisis, I decided to enjoy my free time again, starting by eating.
I was rushing every lunch and dinner, developing a habit of eating fast, not feeling satiated, and therefore eating irregularly. That caused me to gain a lot of weight in a short amount of time, which made me realize I had to do something.
Besides restarting my running routine, I thought about building a healthy diet to maintain my weight without any sacrifice. But, to achieve that, I had to plan my meals with a considerable advantage since I did not have the time, nor the mood, to go shopping every time I needed it.
So I remembered my previous work experience and how it helped me plan my meals in the morning. Back then, I had to cook lunch and think about dinner too, since when I came home, it was quite late to prepare anything.
Still, I didn’t want to live the same experience since I remember wasting a lot of time in the morning deciding what to eat. Besides that, I had to check what I had in the fridge and, in some cases, I couldn’t cook something I wished because I didn’t have the ingredients.
For this reason, my new meal planning technique needed a weekly plan which I could refine before any shopping activity.
Once I started planning, I didn’t notice any fast improvements for at least two weeks. But later, two weeks ago, I dropped almost 1kg and everything without any dramatic sacrifices.
Here’s how I did it.
What is Meal Planning?
Before diving into the technique itself, it is essential to know what you are working on and why.
In 2017, a cross-sectional study highlighted how meal planning increases home meal preparation. This practice, which we underestimate, is associated with improved diet quality, higher food variety, and better weight parameters results.
In particular, the study underlines the benefits of avoiding obesity, or even overweight conditions, for both men and women who include a meal preparation habit in their daily activities.
Eating out is the main reason, and enemy, of this benefit. Usually, people that do not prepare their meals end up eating out. But this practice is unhealthy since it has been proven that outside lunches contain a significantly higher amount of fats and calories, lower fibers, and almost no vitamins.
Despite the drawbacks, Todd Mancino estimated that 42% of the total food budget was still allocated to eating out (in the US, in 2011).
The studies all reveal how meal planning is a big part of a most general weight problem, which mainly comes from:
- the culture of eating out.
- the incapacity to balance fibers and vitamins with fats and calories.
However, you can solve both problems by working on the second and building a mindset that helps you choose balanced diets even when eating out.
A Simple Meal Planning Technique
If you are worried I will force you to eat vegetables, let me tell you I am a terrible vegetables-eater. I never liked anything green, with some exceptions, and I had to train myself in finding something that I could introduce to my diet without suffering.
Therefore, I searched and tried many vegetables until I discovered salads were not terrible, especially if seasoned with some proteins. In particular, I loved kale salad with some black pepper and balsamic vinegar. It was an exceptional side dish for my meat-based diet.
Here is a three-step process that made me lose weight without a sweat (or almost).
1 — Meal Planning
The choice of planning my meals comes from simple pattern analysis.
First, I do not have time to cook lunch because I have a one-hour break. Second, I cannot cook my favorite dishes because there is always something I missed while shopping. And third, deciding what to eat each day does not allow me to balance healthy and unhealthy food, which makes me feel horrible.
For these three reasons, I plan my meals to buy anything I need and keep track of everything I consume. Also, I can analyze if there are enough vegetables and not too many carbs.
In the beginning, planning was challenging because I soon ran out of ideas. So I discovered how undiversified my diet was since I was eating the same things every two or three days.
This made me indifferent to food and taste, which became only a surviving necessity instead of an enjoyable activity. Furthermore, I developed a habit of rushing any meal, thinking I was too busy to enjoy eating.
Besides helping with the shopping list, meal planning made me rediscover how enjoyable eating should be. Moreover, since I was eating healthier, I could plan some weekly prizes, from pizza to sushi to hamburgers. I split those meals into two categories:
- Ordered, which are considered as eating out, and I could afford only once a week.
- Cooked, which are healthier because I could cook them myself, so I could enjoy them twice a week.
And since I plan every week, I can cook any tasty food I see on Instagram and Pinterest.
2 — Previous Knowledge of Meal Interactions
Meal planning is incredible, agreed, but what about subdividing meals?
My experience helped even here since I already used meal subdivision when I was dieting to lose 15kg in 2 months.
The Rina diet I was following back then taught me a valuable lesson: you must split meals by category, avoiding mixing more than two per day. In particular, you should classify any food into four groups: proteins, starchy food, carbs, and fruits or vegetables. I split my diet into approximately 30% starchy food, 50% proteins, and 20% carbs. Also, every time I have starchy food or proteins, I integrate them with salads, for a total of 80% vegetables.
3 — Fasting
Something I do once in a while is fasting.
I started this journey full of vitality and ambition, so I thought about implementing fasting to enhance weight loss. My 16–8 program allowed me to have 2 meals a day and skip breakfast. But since I love morning milk with cereals, I implemented some of my lunches as breakfasts, which allowed me to eat everything I wanted, even with fasting.
Still, this step is not necessary, and you will achieve improvements even without it. For example, even if I was fasting since day one, I didn’t notice any weight loss since week three. But I only fasted for two weeks, and I still lost weight (1.5Kg).
Does meal planning make you lose weight?
I am not interested in selling you lies: a meal planning activity will not result in weight loss if you do not have a weight problem. Also, the losses you will experience may seem insignificant compared to diets.
Well, I am not dieting, and neither will you. We are planning our meals, which makes us mindful of our nutrition and allows us to lose weight.
Besides that, meal planning brings you other advantages.
If you stop losing time on choosing what to eat, you can cook healthier and tastier meals.
If you stop rushing your eating experience, you will learn to appreciate food and feel satiated before overeating.
Planning meals does not forbid you to eat junk food. On the contrary, you can plan prize meals without feeling terrible for breaking your diet.
Allow me a cliché, but you have nothing to lose (besides some weight).
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Article first published on Medium.
Cover photo by Terje Sollie from Pexels.