I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” but so many of us do this with our meals. Too often do I hear people leaving the gym after an evening class say, “I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner.” Most of us plan each and every day, everything from what time you’re going to wake up, when you need to be at work, what time you’re going to workout, etc, but then why do we let the crucial part of planning nourishment slip through the cracks?
Before going any further, you should check out the ebook, “Eat What You Want,” by Rebekah Tilson from Mash Elite Performance, as it will give you an even further insight into nutrition.
If you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, check out Eat to Perform (Undisputed is a partner gym) and let our team of coaches help you!
How To Create a Healthy Meal Plan
For most people, the food you decide to eat will be your number 1 obstacle when it comes to your health and fitness. You heard that right, for most people getting to the gym (or making time for your workout) is the hardest part. If you’re still making the “I don’t have time,” excuse, then click here, because this blog post is for you.
However, where most people fail with their nutrition plan is planning, or developing a plan that’s overall too complicated or too restricting to stick to long term. This is why we prefer flexible nutrition like “Eat What You Want,” or “Eat to Perform.” Additionally, this is why I don’t like the phrase “cheat meal,” or “cheat day,” because the word “cheat” implies you’re doing something wrong. Too often do I here people say, “I’m gonna give up [insert food name here] for 12 weeks,” or, “I’m gonna stop drinking [insert favorite adult beverage here],” and I always ask them the follow up question of, “Are you going to give those things up the rest of your lift or should we find a better and healthier way for you to still enjoy those things?” I know, weird concept right [insert sarcastic voice].
Diets that are overly complicated with too many rules have a very, very low rate of compliance. After all, when we had beginners doing a “Paleo-Challenge,” why do you think we had the challenge for only a month long. Moreover, why do you think we allowed them to start sneaking in things in like rice after 2 weeks? Just in case you don’t know, it’s because paleo is too restrictive and hard for people to follow long term. Additionally, lots of these “complete” diet plans aren’t really complete and are just restricting calories, so the long term benefits are limited.
It’s true, if you make the better food and nutritional choice 100% of the time, it will help you uncover those results you’re looking for much, much faster – but the odds of you sticking to it and seeing long term and lasting results is also slim. That’s why I’m creating this guide and giving it to you for free. If you can stick to this, you can expect to be healthier; increase your metabolism so you can enjoy the things you like to enjoy guilt free (and within reason); reduce your body fat, increase your feel good hormones… but most importantly, improve your relationship with food! I firmly believe, you should not have a negative view on food because it’s essential for life.
Let’s start with some honest reflection and I truly mean be honest with yourself…
- What was the last time you tried a fad diet? (Paleo, Atkins, etc) and how long were you able to stick to it? Why did you revert back to what you were doing?
- When was the last time you made a poor food choice and did you earn it first? Earn it meaning, you worked out that day and 85-90% of your other food choices were the right ones (we’ll get to formulating the “right” plan in a little bit).
- What are your biggest hurdles with nutrition?
- What have you tried to correct in the past and why didn’t it work?
These problems come up frequently and are typically the reasons why your nutrition gets derailed. However, it comes down to behavior and if you don’t correct the behavior you can’t correct the problem. You’re not the only one resorting to prepackaged meals, fast food, and other take out, but you might be surprised at how many people fail there with step one. If you’re not failing there then it’s likely meal prep or physically eating what you’ve made. So let’s start with grocery shopping.
Now I know you might not have a “Fresh Thyme Famers Market” grocery store by you, but you probably have something similar. At worst case, you have a place that sells groceries and before you can have food on your table at home you have to get it somewhere.
Helpful hint number one – Go Grocery Shopping. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to one of our members because he chronically doesn’t have food in his house – every time I say, “You should go to the grocery store right after class is done.” Why do I make this recommendation? Because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, you worked out and now you’re refueling like you’re supposed to. Some of my clients to this day pick up what they’re going to cook for dinner immediately following their workout and they sip on their post workout protein shake in the mean time.
Helpful hint number two – don’t go when you’re feeling hungry. I’ve done this multiple times and lots of people struggle with this. You know that stuff that’s not healthy for you (general found in a box or some sort of other package) such as Doritos, well those bags and packages were designed to prey on people just like you. Moreover, you’re more likely to give into your urges and triggers if you shop on an empty stomach.
Helpful hint number three – compile recipes you want to cook & make a list before you go! I typically compile a list of recipes that I want to cook for the week, then from there I make my list. After my list is made, I check off anything that I already have so I don’t buy it again at the grocery store. Most everything you buy as long as you carefully select, won’t go bad in under a week with the proper storage.
Now you’re in the grocery store with the list in hand, MAKE SURE YOU STICK TO THE LIST, as this will prevent you from buying stuff you don’t need – “Out of sight, out of mind.” If you’re shopping for yourself, MOST LIKELY YOU CAN FIT EVERYTHING YOU NEED IN A BASKET. If you’re shopping for a family, use one of those smaller carts! There’s no reason to use the moving truck sized cart, it will most likely lead to other stuff “magically falling in there.” Lastly, don’t make your decisions on buzzwords and learn how to read a nutrition label (don’t worry, I’ll make a posting about this tomorrow). But gluten free, fat free, sugar free, diet, all-natural, whole grain, etc. are all buzzwords. A good example of this is with popcorn…
Here’s one that’s probably safe… Skinny Pop Popcorn (just air popped):
But here’s one from the very same brand that’s not a very good option… “Ultra Lite White Cheddar Flavor,” take notice of how they change the words on the bag. Also, only 43 calories per cup… until you realize how small a cup of popcorn is!
Now you’ve got all this food, what’s next? Meal-Prep. If you’ve got a stressful job and you hate the idea of having to cook a meal after a long day at work, then I suggest you invest in a crockpot, lots of large containers, and compile a list of crockpot recipes. Why? There are times I’m working 10-15 hours in a day, so I bring a crockpot; a tupperware with protein, veggies and a starch (like potatoes) with me; and some healthy snacks. Then I just count in reverse of when that stuff needs to go into the crockpot. Luckily, I live close to home from work and there are times I set a second crock pot for dinner. You will have to make a little investment, but I’ve got a fully programmable slow cooker at home so I can set it to start at a specific time.
Helpful hint number 1 – make enough for leftovers. If you don’t mind eating the same thing the next day or storing it in the fridge and having it with a day in between then cook enough for leftovers. If you’re cooking for a family, do this for everyone. Yesterday’s dinner is often time the next day’s lunch and yesterday’s lunch is often times tomorrows dinner for me!
Helpful hint number 2 – measure out serving sizes and portion when you store leftovers. Even if I’m making something like beef stew, I assume I’m scooping equal proportions each time (I also use a scale for some assistance) and this helps me estimate how much I’m eating. However, when I’m storing leftovers, I usually use meal sized containers. If there isn’t enough for a meal, then I use a smaller container and consume it as a snack.
Helpful hint number 3 – eating healthy also means making it taste good. One of the best things I invested time into doing was looking up healthy alternatives to meals I like to eat, such as Beef Stroganoff. I tried many variations until I found the one I liked best. Most importantly, planning and cooking food I liked to eat made it feel like I wasn’t on a diet.
Helpful hint number 4 – don’t eat cardboard, but don’t make healthy into unhealthy. Some of the healthiest meals don’t need to be improved, especially if you took the time to learn how to prepare it correctly. But you can ruin a healthy meal with crap such as loading it up with dressing (I’ll compose a list of great dressings you can make that are also healthy) or drowning it in other crap. My dad used to always use steak sauce until I cooked him a perfectly seared mid-rare steak. However, if you’re one of those people who just like condiments, take the time to find healthier alternatives, because those do exist!
So you’ve gone to the grocery store, you’ve meal prepped… Now what? It’s time to eat. There’s no purpose to spending all this time if you’re not going to eat the food you’ve prepared. And guess what – when I worked in corporate America, I was that guy that had to make friend in the break room rather than going out to eat. I was that guy that brought my food into Wendy’s while my friends were eating crap – no one ever said anything to me either.
Helpful hint number 1 – Have a glass of ice water first. The region of your brain that tells you that you’re thirsty is right next to that region that tells you that you’re hungry. Additionally, around your normal meal times, you might overeat just because you’re thirsty.
Helpful hint number 2 – eat with your opposite hand. This might be one of the few things Dr. Oz has said that I agree with. Eating with your opposite hand slows you down so you can’t eat as fast and your stomach can send your brain that full signal before it’s overly stuffed.
Helpful hint number 3 – it’s not a race, so enjoy your food. Sometimes your stomach won’t send your brain that full signal for a little while and the 15-30 minutes of extra consumption might mean you’re taking in calories you don’t need.
Helpful hint number 4 – get everyone involved. This is why community based things are so popular. Everyone you surround yourself with is working and striving towards the same goal so you can celebrate together and you have others to talk to when you need to be picked up. In your household, you shouldn’t be the only one committing to this and the entire family should. If you’re rolling single, then get some friends to join in!
Helpful hint number 5 – you don’t have to eat it until it’s gone. For most people, if it goes on the plate, then you’re more likely to eat it all because you feel wasteful if you don’t. So either take smaller portions or leave 10-15% on your plate. Wait 10-15 minutes, drink some water, and use that time to determine if you’re full or if you’re still hungry.
Helpful hint number 6 – healthier snacking. If you’re constantly going into the kid’s candy drawer at home or candy dish at work then have alternatives. After all, we live in a society where researchers say sugar is as addictive as heroin or we have researchers say there’s no addiction at all. However, most studies I’ve read simply state is behavioral, that you prefer that Snickers bar over a handful of fruit because you’ve always resorted to candy when you’re stressed, angry, etc. You’ve always resorted to binge eating when you’re worried about something. If this is you and you’re having a hard time modifying the behavior, don’t be afraid to seek out a behavioral specialist.