By Samantha Pollack
It’s not calorie-counting or meal tracking. It’s not willpower. It’s not The Paleo Diet, The DASH Diet, or The Mediterranean Diet. Each of those diets have value – but the main reason people succeed at healthy eating has less to do with the specific foods involved, and more to do with this simple little word:
Think of all the energy you spend deciding what to eat. Or feeling guilty about what you ate. Or flogging yourself with the willpower stick every time you want a cookie.
When you know what to eat and when to eat it, Blam! Your day/week/life becomes smooth, calm, simple. You have a plan, and when you have a plan you can freakin’ relax.
There’s a simple tool for this. It’s totally customizable to your life. And it’s free. It’s called…..
That’s it – plan your meals weekly, and you eliminate most of the obstacles around eating healthier. There’s a misconception going around that meal planning is something only large families need to do. But when you’re flying solo, it’s actually even more important. Shopping and cooking for one (or two) is a confusing tangle of math (cutting recipes in half), boredom (eating the same soup for two weeks), and wasted food (throwing away the slimy spinach ‘cause you couldn’t eat it fast enough).
A good meal plan contains properly sized recipes and shopping lists. It saves you money. It saves you time. And it saves you stress.
The biggest challenges my clients face when trying to [kick sugar, lose weight, reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar or cholesterol, clear up skin rashes, stop having diarrhea all the time, go gluten/dairy free, cut caffeine, get more energy, sleep better] come down to three things:
- Lack of time (for cooking, planning, shopping, etc.)
- Lack of preparation (often stated as “I don’t know what to eat!”)
- Lack of support (office birthday cakes, chip-eating friends & spouses, etc.)
A properly structured meal plan basically eliminates the first two. When you spend a little time upfront planning out some meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you earn it back tenfold:
- You’ll spend less time wandering around the grocery store, because your list contains the exact items (in the exact quantities) that you need for your plan.
- You save time during the week because you never hem and haw, wondering what the lesser evil is when you’re starving and have no food. (Subway, or Wendy’s? They’re all bad.)
- You save even more time during the week, because you’ve prepped some items in advance, and can throw dinner together in ten minutes.
Being prepared eliminates a whole bucketful of stress. Would you give a speech without preparing? Run a 10k? Maybe you’re crazy like that. But you get my drift – preparation rules. It’s the difference between, “I’m going try to eat more vegetables next week” and “I’m going to eat Minestrone soup, mushroom stir fry, and a spinach frittata.”
The plan can also help with that last issue – support. Your friends, partner, and coworkers might still eat chips and birthday cake. But the simple fact that you have a plan can override the temptation those situations present. And hey – if you’re lucky, some of them might be inspired to follow suit.
Also, your plan can (and should) include snacks that you love AND feel good about eating. It can account for big events, like birthdays or work lunches, that you know about in advance. It can allow for your weaknesses – my meal plans always include chocolate.
One last little bonus to meal planning – it encourages you to expand your culinary horizons, get out of cooking ruts, and try new things.
So, how do you create a meal plan that works for YOUR life?
I’m going to teach you exactly that in my next installment. Stay tuned!
Samantha Pollack is a childfree certified holistic health coach and certified personal trainer in Asheville, NC. where she owns a meal-planning service for families of one or two.