Why Most Meal Plans Suck and How to Find the Right One for You

Goal-setting has been a hot topic around here lately?making, planning, and achieving goals for our clients, our businesses, and our own family this summer?#StrongFamilyWithHeidi to name just one!

No matter who you are or what?s important to you, everyone has goals. Maybe yours is as simple as eating more vegetables during the day or working out for 5 minutes a day. Maybe it?s eating more protein or getting more fiber into your diet. Or maybe you have a long-term goal like competing in a physique competition, finishing a marathon, or losing a certain number of pounds.

No matter what your goals are, it?s impossible to achieve them without having a plan in place. As Benjamin Franklin said (and as I often repeat), ?If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.?

When it comes to health goals, that plan HAS to include some type of eating plan: The TRANSFORM App (our personal fave), Intuitive Eating, Paleo, Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, DASH, Blood Type, Ornish?there are literally hundreds of ways to eat out there.

But let me throw you for a loop for a second. As much as I advocate meal plans (hello, The TRANSFORM App!), I also kinda think they suck.

“Hold up, Heidi. You create meal plans for a living, but you?re saying they suck?” Let me explain.

I read an article from Precision Nutrition titled ?Meal Plans Usually Suck.? I?ll be honest. When I first read the headline, I was confused. Here is a nutrition-based business (a company I’m currently getting a certification from) telling me, a trainer and coach whose business revolves around meal plans, that they suck. Those are some fighting words!

But after reading it, I couldn?t agree more with the article. Precision Nutrition’s message falls right in line with what Chris and I try to teach our clients.

Having a meal plan is essential, especially if you?re competing, getting paid to be an athlete, or trying to lose weight for a specific event or occasion. But sticking to a strict meal plan long-term is dang near impossible (and honestly, it?s not always the healthiest)! We’re humans, not robots, people! So much of what and how we eat revolves around our personal opinions of and experiences with food. Our cravings, emotions, and our cultural and social traditions are all part of our natural human behavior. On top of that, each of our bodies function differently and need certain things to perform at their best. There’s just no way to find a one-size-fits-all meal plan!

One of our favorite things to do as a family is go out to eat or get a big tub of buttered popcorn as we head for Powell-family date night at the movies. Constantly restricting yourself from those types of things would eventually become too much and may lead to behaviors such as binging, falling off the wagon, and thinking ?This healthy eating thing is too hard and NOT for me!?

It?s a fine line, because for some, it’s easy to become obsessed with clean eating to the point where it can create an unhealthy relationship with food. No matter who you are or what you?re working toward, it?s important to take a step back and really evaluate your personal goals to try and find the right balance for you.

In the Powell household, we follow the 80/20 rule. I eat healthy 80% of the time, then I indulge the remaining 20%, because I know if I tried to stick to it 100%, it would bring back too many unhealthy habits from my eating disorders of the past and spin me out of control. I?ve come too far to go back. I?ve also come too far not to allow myself the occasional treat. (Hellooooooo Marshmallow Dream Bars!)

So where am I going with all of this?

I told you that I create meal plans, but in the same breath, I told you they stink. Ha! Feeling a bit conflicted?

What I want you to realize is that finding a healthy lifestyle you can actually maintain is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for your family. I say this often: ?If your plan is not sustainable, your goal is not attainable!? Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all plan! We are all unique, and our bodies and innate behaviors respond better to different ways of eating.

I want to lay out and break down a few different approaches to a nutrition lifestyle. But before I do, I want you to keep in mind that you don?t have to go from 0 to 60 right away. Making big changes starts with baby steps, and you might be surprised to find that it doesn?t have to be difficult OR boring! You can still achieve optimal health while enjoying the things that bring a smile to your face. I’ll dig in to some specific ways to make those doable changes next week. For now, here are the four types of meal plans you’ll usually encounter:

Four Approaches to Healthy Eating

  1. The Super Strict Plan. This is the kind of plan that tells you the exact amounts of food that should be eaten at exact times, along with a specific list for every meal of the day. Every single thing you?ll eat during the day is laid out for you. It doesn?t take into account your preferences or allow cheat foods. It may even eliminate certain foods that are considered healthy. Some people like the ?no thinking required? part of this plan, and that can be nice for a while. But it WILL probably get tiresome. And although you might see results, you?ll eventually start to rebel against the rigidity of this plan and miss the foods that aren?t included in it. Most people will stop following this type of plan because of how uncompromising it is.


  1. The Kind-of-Strict Plan. This plan includes a list of items to choose from with specific amounts and suggested meal times. It may take into account your preferences, or it may not. Again, it might be fun to follow for a while, but this plan can also become rigid and boring. You?ll probably start to miss those ?forbidden? foods, and eventually, you?ll stray.


  1. The Not-so-Strict Plan.This plan offers suggested macros for the day, and you get to choose how you fill them. This type of plan gives you a lot of freedom, but for some, it takes too much time and effort to figure out what to eat and when to eat, and to pre-log and keep track of your macros. Most of the time, people won?t want to dedicate the time and they?ll bolt.


  1. The Eat What You Want, When You Want, However Much You Want Plan. Otherwise known as the newly-hyped intuitive eating approach. Yes, it can work, as long as you?re being honest with yourself about how much you?re really eating, AND if you?re making sure you?re actually choosing healthy foods 80% of the time.


So which one is right for you? Only time, trial, and error will tell. If you?ve tried Super Strict for a while, and time and time again you find yourself failing, drop the yo-yo and TRY SOMETHING THAT ACTUALLY WORKS! Find a feasible that makes more sense to you, your body, your lifestyle, and your goals.

What we love about our TRANSFORM App is that it makes nutrition so simple and customizable. It?s designed to be flexible, so you can go as strict as you feel comfortable with or as loosey goosey as you need to stick to your goals. Download it now and get a 7-day free trial on iTunes or Google Play.

Okay! So now I?m dying to know?what plan (if any) have you been following, and what have you found that?s working or not working? Leave a comment below, because I?d love to see what you?ve been doing!

Don?t forget to check back next week! I?m going to share my secrets on HOW to start making those small changes RIGHT NOW to get you closer to reaching your goals!



Related reading:

Meal Prep Tips and Tricks You Need to Know
Our 12 Month Transformation, Month Four: Prep & Plan!
Ask The Powells: How Can I Structure My Meals?
Six Tips for Diet Success
Eat More, Lose More: Settling The Fresh vs. Fast Food Debate

4 Responses

  1. I’ve tried lots of different plans. Macro counting, strict eating plan, super low carb, weight watchers, Atkins…Some of them have helped me to shed a few pounds, but I’ve never reached my goal bf%. I don’t need to lose tons of weight, but I am at my heaviest. I’d probably be happy losing about 20 lbs. I’m tired of trying different stuff. I’m ready to find a plan that works. I’ve been struggling with this yo yo for the last 18 years. Just started with Transform this week.

    1. Hi Amy: That can be common at first if you’ve been following a restrictive diet and/or yo-yo dieted in the past. And it often can take up to several weeks for our bodies to adjust to a new nutrition program depending on what we’ve done in the past. Did you take any adjustments when you were using the app?

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