Macros Over Meal Plans

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Macros Over Meal Plans

July 18, 2013

There seems to be this ongoing debate over the virtues of prescribing meal plans versus assigning macronutrient numbers to follow. My first prep coach had me on a meal plan, after all, and I lost a good number of inches. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Not quite.

Many of you have been asking me if I make meal plans – and my answer is always no. Besides the fact that it’s outside my scope of practice and therefore beyond what I am legally allowed to do, I have a particular distaste for them.

Read on to find out why.

Banana bread protein pancakes – recipe by my best friend Melissa. Yep.

(Recipe for above photo can be found here.)

Meal plans are a means to an end.

I’ll admit that once upon a time, I also handed out meal plans to my online clients – customized meal plans suited to their individual preferences and lifestyles, but meal plans nonetheless. They liked them, and really, I don’t blame them. All you have to do as a client is to procure the foods listed on your meal plan, cook everything up, and follow everything meal by meal. It’s easy because you don’t have to think about anything or understand how many calories or macros are in what amount of food. There’s zero knowing; merely doing. Receive a plan and execute for two weeks. Send in a check-in, receive an update, and then execute yet again.

And therein lies the problem.

There’s nothing sustainable about following a meal plan.

What if you run out of eggs one morning? What if the thought of chugging down another protein shake makes you sick to your stomach?  What if you have to go out for dinner with some friends? What are you going to do?

Most people don’t know any other way except to doggedly stick to the program. Which is great from an adherence standpoint (here’s a gold sticker for your superb effort!), but it fails miserably when it comes to being able to still enjoy your life. I’ve squandered too many nights in the past turning down dinners and social outings with friends because I was afraid to eat anything besides my chicken, broccoli, and almonds as my last meal of the day. I was too scared to let anything get in the way of my reaching my fitness goals and ultimately being happy – because oooobviously True Happiness lies waiting patiently in a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow of Lean Bodies (that’s totally not true, by the way). Family vacation? No thanks – I’d rather sit at home by myself and prepare my own meals everyday. Best friend’s wedding? I’m so tempted to back out because I don’t know how to manage myself with all the wedding food around me.

Additionally, following a meal plan keeps you dependent on your coach. Why? Because you have to continue going back to her for a different meal plan each time you have a different goal. An irresponsible coach – or an incredibly money-hungry, business-savvy coach, depending on how you look at it – will push this on her clients because it means continued business. Knowledge is power, and she wants you to have none of it. So there’s you, with no understanding of food or macronutrients or calories after months and months of being on this fitness program, and there’s apparently no foreseeable end to your working relationship with your coach. She likes keeping you in the dark because it’s easier for her. After all, going out and recruiting clients is hard work, and why would she want to do that?

Then comes the art of macro counting. (It’s totally a skill, by the way.) [Tweet “The greatest benefit from learning how to count macros is it teaches you how to think for yourself. “] I know, I know – we all want the results without having to do any of the thinking, right? But your eating should not be a crutch. By learning what foods can substitute for what, how to fit your beloved treats into your day, how to navigate your way around an evening meal out with your coworkers without messing up your entire day – by learning how to do all of this, the probability of your attaining your fitness goals and having them last becomes exponentially higher.

Fat loss in itself is not a complicated process, but it sure as hell isn’t easy. So why should you make it harder than it needs to be by restricting yourself to a meal plan? Say, for example, you were preparing dinner and a handful of grapes jumped into your mouth. But meal 4 of the day calls for 150g brown rice and 5oz chicken. So, uhh… oops. You obviously didn’t follow the rules. Might as well just call it a wash for the day and dip into that Haagen Daz for dinner, right?

You don’t have to admit that you’ve done something similar; I know I certainly have. When you fall off the wagon, it’s hard to get back on. I get that. And there’s certainly appeal in the idea of starting over tomorrow – or next Monday, or next week, or next month, or even next year (what’s up New Year’s Resolutioners! Yeah, I know you’re hiding). You want to start fresh with a clean slate and take perfect steps along the way.

But guess what? A little 200-Calorie oopsie is hardly going to put a dent into your progress; a 3,000-Calorie eating bender, however, will surely set you back. All that hard work you put in over the past week? Yeah, that’s gone now. One step forward, five steps back. Well done.

What I’m trying to say here is this: just because you slipped up a little bit doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. And if you’re counting your macros, you’ve hardly messed up; all you need to do, then, is adjust your food choices for the remainder of the day and you can still come in on target by day’s end.

Would a meal plan allow you to do that? Nope.

Would a meal plan allow you to eat cookie dough protein dip? Not necessarily.

(Recipe for above photo can be found here.)

Counting macros takes your needs into account.

How often are clients prescribed white fish and broccoli to eat day in and day out? After a (short) while, it’s not uncommon to grow to hate said foods. You used to love seared halibut? Now the mere thought of it makes you gag (sort of like tequila, hmmm…) and you dread your meals.

And what about that incredible fit recipe you saw on a blog the other day? Protein flapjacks, physique-friendly grilled cheese, hamburger salad…. Does it really make sense to say no to these foods because “it’s not on your meal plan”?

Look. There’s nothing inherently magical about chicken and green beans. So if you want to try out a new food or a new recipe – go ahead. You’re not going to wake up with an extra tire around your waist tomorrow. Have at it. Fit it into your macros. And don’t you dare let yourself feel any guilt over it.

Fitness, remember, is not a temporary fix. Indeed, if you want lasting results – that is, leanness 365 days out of the year (yes, it’s possible) and a body that will turn heads – you need to fully grasp the fact that fitness is for life.

If you think that meal plans are fine because you’re not looking for a long-term solution, I regret to inform you that you’re misunderstanding the point of fitness. Dieting down for a bikini show and letting your prep consume your life – that is not living. That’s not worth whatever trophy or ripped abs you may or may not win.

 

 

 

 

Sohee Lee, NSCA-CSCS is a personal trainer, online coach and writer. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in human biology from Stanford University, she interned at Cressey Performance before her current position at Peak Performance as a performance coach. She specializes in women’s fat loss and the fitness mindset.

 

Sohee Lee, NSCA-CSCS is a personal trainer, online coach and writer. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in human biology from Stanford University, she interned at Cressey Performance before her current position at Peak Performance as a performance coach. She specializes in women’s fat loss and the fitness mindset.

19 Comments
  1. wannabe 6 years ago

    funny how sometimes you read the right article at the right time.. this came across my FB feed.
    well its exactly as you said, followed a meal plan for contest prep day in and day out same foods.. long story short, prep over didn’t even get to compete bc my body wasn’t ready. no coach no diet…complete free for all throw it all in the toilet 2.5 months of hard work.
    I learned nothing and now I have no diet, don’t know if I am coming or going or what. hoping to meet a new coach and get a better plan for what to do next

    • Sohee 6 years ago

      You’ll find someone, Jacquelyn. Plenty of good coaches out there who DO have your best interests at heart.

      • Kristin 6 years ago

        Sohee
        Absolutely loved this article. I have been dieting and following “meal plans” for the past few years and I lose and look great and then always gain because I lose control and allow myself to veer off my meal plan. I’ve developed a very unhealthy realationship with food and a negative self image. Only about the past two months I have been reading alot about following macronutrients and possibly not killing myself doing cardio. I’m still so new to it all but I finally want to learn how to sustain a manageable lifestyle but finally accomplish my goals. I was so close to competing in my first competition but I ruined it all because my cookie cutter diet was too difficult for me after 4 months. Is there any advice you could give me for finding a good coach who can help me meet these goals and also find more information on macronutrients and how to get started. I’m lost but so eager ! Anything will help :))

        Kristin

  2. Mike 6 years ago

    Sohee,

    This is probably the best argument I have seen for providing clients with macros over meal plans — really well done.

    In my opinion, those who desire a detailed meal plan do so because they are either 1) lazy/want a short cut or 2) intimidated by the macro tracking process/learning curve.

    I will be sharing this piece with the people I know who fit in those two buckets.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Sohee 6 years ago

      Exactly – more the latter, in my opinion. I think people sometimes forget sometimes that they’re not robots – and that if they want lasting results, a meal plan isn’t going to get them there.

  3. Tracey 6 years ago

    Can I have your recipe for the cookie dough protein dip, that pic looks awesome:)

  4. Julie 6 years ago

    LOVE the balanced lifestyle you preach about! Always enjoy reading you thoughts 🙂

  5. Jacqui 6 years ago

    You are so very wise! It took me years of trying (and failing) to follow various diet plans and programs before I realized I AM AN INDIVIDUAL. I have my own likes and dislikes – and they may change moment to moment, I might add. I do best when I loosely keep an eye on macros, but always make sure to choose the foods that will nourish AND satisfy me. No piles of naked veggies, thank you very much! I wish I had learned this lesson years ago. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

    Oh, and the cookie dough protein deep looks delish! I hope you’ll share the recipe 🙂

  6. Carrie 6 years ago

    Your way with words is incredible. I have been there before- running out of chicken and throwing me into a panic that’s just embarrassing to those around me. It’s no way to live to have to worry about what you will do if you go out for the day and don’t bring enough food on your plan. With macros, you can just find something when you’re out. It’s so refreshing, so freeing.

    • Sohee 6 years ago

      Thanks, Carrie! It really is freeing. Why? Because I love bagels, and tonight I get to have a bagelwich for dinner – full fat, all the fixings 🙂

  7. Sarah Gaines 5 years ago

    I love this post! I’ve been slowly transitioning from a fixed meal plan to counting macros. Right now, I’ll switch out a sweet potato for a different carb, or olive oil for a different fat, etc. I’m getting there one step at a time.

    My vision of fitness has changed quite a bit over the past few years and this idea of counting macros has definitely played a role. Thanks for always hitting us with the reality of life!

    -Sarah
    gofitu.com

  8. Rachel 4 years ago

    Exactly!!!! It just makes sense to have some flexibility in our diets. The other thing that really irks me is the 21 Day Fix stuff. I get so aggravated that people with out any nutrition and/or personal training credentials can give advice about healthy eating from their living rooms. It angers me to think of all the people who are desperate to lose weight buying into these scams and to eliminate food groups. What happens after you lose the weight and want to incorporate foods back in? My guess is rebound weight!

    I don’t mean to offend anyone who has used this type of plan because I’m sure it does teach people portion control but I am just concerned about the aaftermath. I wish more people would look into flexible eating.

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