A little while ago, Emma from Broccoli and Blueberries wrote this fantastic article on why she won’t prescribe a generic meal plan.
It’s a fantastic article, you really should go check it out.
In it, Emma talks about just some of the things that go through a Dietitian’s mind when we think about meal plans (hint: its complicated!) and she touches on how meal plans can just lead to stress if what’s on the plan isn’t what you feel like eating.
I completely agree.
I thought I would also add my thoughts on meal plans here today.
So here goes.
I don’t like meal plans.
I don’t like prescribing them and I don’t like talking about them.
I can here all my colleagues shouting at me right now.
I think meal plans are tired and are frankly insulting to our profession and to our clients. Dietitians can help with so much more than putting together a meal plan and you deserve better.
My biggest issue, however, is that it reduces the eating experience to a two dimensional plane when we know eating is so much more than that.
Meal plans address the what, but not the how or why of eating*.
Prescribing a meal plan fails to take into account your life situation. If you have a family, meal plans rarely take this into account and they often demand that you cook different meals to your family. Double the work for you, assuming that you are the main cooker.
As Emma puts it:
“Some days you just really don’t feel like going to the supermarket, buying the food for dinner and then going home to put it all together.”
Meal plans just don’t allow for, well, chaotic life to happen.
If I prescribe you a meal plan, I’m going to be concerned that:
- The amount of food I’ve prescribed is truly enough to satisfy you
- If you are still hungry, you will not honor those signals or that you will feel guilty for doing so
- There will be a lack of flexibility in the plan for last minute dinner dates or coffee catch ups
- That going out for dinner will make you choose something that closely matches what you *should* have eaten, rather than what you actually want
- You will be spending more time thinking about and preparing food and this might not be a good thing
- You will use food to manipulate your body shape rather than using it to give you enough energy to go about your day
- There will be a general lack of flexibility to your eating habits which can lead to anxiety and stress
- I am just feeding (heh) into the idea that you don’t know how to eat or that you can’t be trusted to eat in a way that is right for you
Meal plans force you to take the focus off your internal signals of hunger, fullness and satiety and make you rely on external rules to tell you what (and often when) to eat.
This is a problem because it further entrenches the idea that our hunger and fullness are not to be trusted. And this is straying into diet land which we know will result in short term success (i.e. weight loss) but for the vast majority of people will result in weight regain and psychological harm in the long term.
This is not to say that I don’t help guide people with what to eat, however. For people with very chaotic and sporadic eating patterns, a scaffold (note: not a meal plan) can be useful in helping to regulate eating, as regular meals are an important self care aspect. These really focus on the when and how of eating and a little bit of the what but not so much how much**. But I certainly can help people come up with ideas on what to eat, if the situation calls for it.
But for a lot of people, they have had meal plans before. Maybe they got one off the internet, maybe they got one from their Dietitian. And for a variety of reasons, the meal plans haven’t worked out. So if you are one of these people, I have many reservations about writing up a meal plan for you. In summary, I guess I’m really asking: is it time you tried something different?
*Look, I’m really talking about those meal plans given out by those not qualified to do so, the ones you find on the internet but I would like to see away with meal plans all together.
**If you are in the acute phase of recovery from an eating disorder, this will be different for you.