Have you ever used a GPS system to get some place? You diligently follow the prompts – the automated voice directing your every turn. Get off course? No problem. You keep going down the wrong road until you’re rescued by “recalculating!” and then obediently turn and merge only as you’re told. You arrive at your destination and have little idea how you got there or how to get back.

Meal plans can be like that navigation system – you put your head down and follow someone else’s directions.  Unfortunately, with meal plans, you don’t have the benefit of a voice shouting “recalculating!” to save you if you get off course. While meal plans can be a good starting point, be aware that they can just as easily become counter-productive and prevent you from developing the awareness of your body, your hormones and your needs that is ESSENTIAL if you want to lose weight and have long term success.

Give someone a meal plan and they will go out, spend $100 or more on groceries and various spices and appliances they didn’t have before. They’ll double the amount of time they spend cooking and prepping meals. They’ll eat foods they don’t love because “its on the meal plan”. They’ll wonder “Is this food ok? It’s not on my meal plan”. Going out to eat or to a social gathering can become a nightmare – what choice do you make when you can’t eat what’s on the plan?

Trust me, I get it. You want a plan. I LOVE plans. I’m a planner. I want to know what I’m eating and how much. When I’m exercising and for how long. But I’ve learned that the only plan that works for me is the plan that’s based on me. A meal plan gives you a route to follow but it doesn’t take into account your preferences, your hormone balance, your lifestyle, your flexibility, YOUR UNIQUENESS.

To be successful in achieving fat loss that you effortlessly maintain for life, you need to pay attention. YOU need to chart the course. As you get further and further into your journey, your plan needs to become increasingly customized to what works for you. You want to follow a course by compass, not by map. Your food choices should take into consideration things like:

  • What foods satisfy your cravings?
  • What foods send you into a downward bingeing spiral?
  • What foods keep you fullest, longest?
  • What foods give you the most energy?
  • What foods do you look forward to eating?
  • What are the most manageable foods to prep?
  • What are the most convenient and satisfying snacks?

If we polled 100 people who have lost 50 lbs or more, I bet they’d all have different answers to those questions and guess what – none of them are wrong!

Meal plans encourage panic. They encourage dependence and they stifle your ability to identify what works best for you.

Now, with that said – everyone needs to start somewhere. I’m an open book about what I eat now and what I ate when I first started losing weight. It’s OK to start where someone else found success but it most likely won’t work for you forever. Pay attention to your hunger, energy and cravings. Pay attention to your mood, your sleep and your stress levels. All of these things are significantly impacted by your food choices and are different for everyone!

Here are a few things I learned about my own food preferences and unique fat loss factors that I really could NOT have learned if I had been following someone else’s meal plan.

  • I am very sensitive to carbohydrates. Not only do they NOT give me energy, they do not fill me up and they make me retain a significant amount of water. They also increase my cravings for sweets. I have not completely eliminated them from my diet but when I eat them, I’ve found that’s its best to have them with dinner and avoid them throughout the earlier part of the day.
  • Volume is my friend. I eat a lot of green, fibrous veggies like brussels sprouts and cabbage. It’s not uncommon for me to have as much as 2-3 cups at each meal. It takes me longer to get through my meal and fills me up. This goes a long way towards managing my hunger, cravings and mood.
  • While protein fills some people up, it doesn’t have that effect on me. I have to be conscious of my protein portions. If I want to eat more, I get seconds on my non-starchy veggies, not protein.
  • Fat is my friend – within reason. I can subsist largely on green veggies and clean protein for weeks at a time but, when I skimp on the fat for a week or more, I’m setting myself up for compensatory binges later. I try to include healthy fats at least 2 of my 3 meals but I limit my intake of nuts and nut butters because I can easily lose portion control with those.
  • Bars are a trigger for me. It’s hard to have just one. I’m better off avoiding protein bars completely and if I do have one I won’t buy a box, I’ll just buy one.
  • Too much exercise is a recipe for disaster. I workout most days but when I start doing too much cardio I find that my cravings and hunger go through the room and my energy plummets. Terrible combination.

You might find some of these things to be true for you. Then again, maybe none of them apply to you. We are all different and in order to find long term success and maintain the physique we want for life, we have to identify and practice our own unique fat loss principles.

Meal plans are a quick fix. Sure, follow a plan and you might lose a few pounds. But meal plans will NOT set you up for a lifetime of success. They will NOT help you create the body you want and help you maintain it forever.