Greetings Everyday Spy,
It’s the holiday season – and that means people are eating!
For every one person enjoying guilt-free eating, there are twice as many people feeling guilty about food.
So for anyone out there thinking about what to eat, what not to eat, and whether or not a diet is coming in the new year…
I had to invite my friend and favorite exercise scientist Alex back to talk about food.
You might be surprised what he has to say…
Let me tell you my favorite answer to my least favorite question:
The question (I don’t like): “Coach Al, how much do you charge to write a meal plan”
My answer (which I really like!): “I don’t… “
“Write meal plans, that is.”
Unfortunately, the questions never stop there… Why not? How come? Will you start?
I understand that health fads are peddling meal plans on every digital street-corner out there. I know the profit margins are high. But I also know that the ‘utilization rate’ (aka: stick-to-it rate) is very, very low.
Because meal plans don’t work the way they are sold to you.
Meal plans are supposed to save you time, effort, and of course – body fat!
You give someone your money, and in exchange they give you the secret sauce to never having to worry about what to eat, when to eat it, or what to put on your grocery list.
They look good on paper, but things break down in reality.
I submit a personalized 8 week meal plan to your email inbox. Everything looks pristine, intelligent, and exactly like what you know you should be eating.
2 weeks later, I follow up. You say the meal plan is working great! The food tastes good and you’re already seeing results without feeling hungry!
Alright! Virtual high-fives all around!
4 weeks later – I check back in. Not so much energy this time. You’re getting tired of eating the same things. Your body gains aren’t coming as quickly and it’s getting hard to stick to the plan.
We dig deep, find our grit, and push through!
6 weeks later. You feel like your meal plan is your enemy – stealing fun, freedom, and happiness. Your fitness gains look like they’ve stagnated, so what’s the point of this stupid plan!? And oh by the way…
There are still two weeks left!
Meal plans try to prescribe a strict solution, but you live a dynamic life.
There isn’t anything wrong with being strict. But when you vary from a strict meal plan even a little bit, it becomes nearly impossible to measure the impact of the meal plan – for good or for bad.
And in the end, meal plans make more than 95% of people feel like they failed another attempt to get their diet on track.
Is the problem the meal plan? The food choices?
Maybe. Anything is possible.
What’s more likely, though, is that we don’t understand what a meal plan actually does.
When you don’t understand how something works, it’s hard to trust it… to believe in it… to recreate it.
Let me clear the marketing smoke for a bit and get us focused on some facts.
FACT 1: Meal plans CAN give you an ideal to shoot for…
But they can not change your long term habits.
Referencing and working to follow a written ideal can be very positive. It inspires motivation, helps visualize goals, and gives you a tangible tool.
But it’s only one tool. Learning to cook, chopping veggies (for hours!), and even going to the grocery store is still on you. It’s hard to learn about peeling ginger root and cleaning leeks! I have no shame in admitting that!
Even with a highly effective meal plan, there are many obstacles that drain your mental and physical resources along the way. And without repetition, habits can’t be formed.
FACT 2: Meal plans CAN help you break out of your ordinary eating routine…
But they can not counter acts of self-sabotage.
While meal plans are good at increasing variety and identifying healthy snacking/eating options, they are terrible at enforcing limits.
Even the best laid plans of bodybuilders and Olympians can be destroyed with self-sabotage.
FACT 3: Meal plans CAN aid in planning your week…
But they can not get your family, friends, or coworkers on board.
And a house divided cannot stand.
It’s common that others won’t be thrilled, supportive, or even attentive to your meal planning efforts. Just like you have to manage your own temptation for self-sabotage, you’ll be working alone to counter outside influences as well.
And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how often life throws some knuckles our way.
While meal plans have the best intentions at heart (sometimes…), I use more sustainable, resilient options to keep myself eating healthy. And I encourage my family and friends to use them, too.
(It’s my own bit of fitness-espionage to get them to change their habits for the better before they change mine for the worse!)
Here are a few of the options I use to keep myself eating healthy year-round.
OPTION I: Keep quick, healthy, enjoyable snacks on hand.
Life comes in a hurry. And it can bring hunger with it. I like to keep my favorite healthy snacks with me to help combat the panic and anger that comes with hunger.
Keep something quick and healthy on hand for the times you’re in a rush. Fruit, protein bars, even whole-wheat crackers can help prevent a bad food decision if they are within easy reach.
Your preparation in advance will give you the wiggle-room you need when things get hectic and difficult!
OPTION II: Lean on activities to help you “de-stress” rather than food.
For some people that looks like running. For others, reading. For me, it’s a mix of meditation and quiet time. These activities help me overcome the urge to stress-eat by kicking the stress before I stick a fat, cream filled something in my face.
If I can stop myself from eating the wrong stuff, the effect is a lot like only eating the right stuff! Even more important, it can become a lifelong habit.
OPTION III: Eat with pride instead of shame!
There is no mystery to what foods are healthy and which are not. That’s why we eat apples and almond butter proudly in our office but smuggle those buckets of KFC extra spicy recipe into our apartments quietly at night.
An easy trick I use to eat healthy is to always eat in public. That encourages me to eat food that I want to be seen eating. It helps me challenge myself to cook something new or experimental at home. Even if it’s fried chicken, when it’s home-made it is healthier AND a point of pride!
I think of meal plans more like a list of menu choices than a strict meal assignment.
And if all I’m getting from a meal plan is a list of healthy meal choices, I would rather write the list myself and save some money!
And if you are like me…
You can always choose to buy a meal plan.
And if you use them well and understand their limitations, then they can serve you well!
But after nearly two decades in the professional fitness field, I still don’t buy, sell, or use meal plans.
My goal is to give you options that put you in control and keep your money in your pocket.
Meal plans end up hanging on refrigerators collecting dust.
And my house, only memories and kid-art are worthy of fridge space.
Until next time,
Kick Butt. Take Names
I love it when someone else preaches the power of fruit like I do!
This is important!
Alex and I know that health and fitness is important to a lot of people. And just like I taught you in FIRST STRIKE, fitness can get people emotional.
If you are reflecting on your fitness right now, that’s a GOOD THING – but DO NOT GET EMOTIONAL!
Don’t go out and buy a fitness product right now – not from Amazon, a local gym, or even from DefiningDadBod.com
Alex and I have a plan to bring you FREE fitness resources here, at EverydaySpy.com. Join the newsletter and follow me on social media to make sure you get the newest updates.
Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.