Why you should ditch meal plans and what to do instead.

So you want to make a lifestyle change. You want to get healthy and maybe lose weight or get stronger or lower your blood pressure or run a marathon. Yeah! Goals AF! So you’re gonna join the gym and get a trainer and change your eating. Maybe you need some meal plans? Yeah, I want someone to tell me what to eat!

Changing your life can be so exciting but I want to stop you right there, friend. Let’s have a short chat about those meal plans.

It sounds pretty convenient eh? You’re confused about how to change your eating but you know you’re having a few too many sodas and maybe those extra slices of pizza aren’t helping a ton? If I get a meal plan, then I just have to follow that and it’ll be easy.

I have bad news for you. I’m sorry (but not really and you’ll see why).

The first thing I need to tell you is that most personal trainers are not qualified to give out meal plans. And yet a lot of them do. Why? Because their clients want it. And the customer is always right, right? (If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know that’s not really true ha!)

The truth is that eating changes usually go hand in hand with lifestyle changes. And especially if you’re trying to lose weight, because that is more dependent on how and what you’re eating than the amount of exercise you’re doing (and actually too much exercise can make your hunger worse which can inadvertently cause more overeating, omg so confusing right?).

So trainers give them out to make things easier on their clients, but if you’re in the US, most states have laws prohibiting this practice. Some are a little less restrictive, but the best practice is to get meal plans from a Registered Dietitian because they are really the only ones who are supposed to prescribe meal plans and foods. Your run of the mill personal trainer is not going to have enough education on nutrition in order to put together an evidence-based healthy diet. And truly, most of them push fad diets and some even push MLM products (you should definitely dump your trainer if they do that). But hey, if your personal trainer is also an RD (not a nutritionist either) then you are good to go!

BUT AMANDA. If my trainer doesn’t tell me what to eat, how will I lose weight, I’m so lost!

The alternative to this practice is nutrition coaching. The difference between the two is that meal plans just tell you what to eat. That is extrinsic change, change from the outside. It is not as effective as nutrition coaching, which is intrinsic. You change from the inside and learn how and why to eat differently. What this means is that your change will last longer. You can always come back to habits you’ve learned, even if you haven’t been doing them for a while. You already know how to do it, you can re-implement it. You don’t even really need a nutrition coach to make this change. Just pick a habit (eating more veggies at most meals) and practice it until it becomes a natural part of your day.

When you follow a meal plan or even a fad diet with random rules, you’re not retraining your brain. You’re just following someone else’s rules without really understanding why. Why does this matter to you? How does this make sense to your lifestyle? Why is this diet or meal plan or method of eating the one I am following?

Now, someone will come along and tell me that it’s no problem for them to follow meal plans to the letter and they are fine adopting huge changes all at once, it’s been the key to their success, yada yada. Hey, more power to you. I am happy for you and proud of you. For most people though, that is not the case and you are just special 😉Go conquer more goals! I believe in you.

For everyone else, please don’t put all your trust in a personal trainer with minimal nutrition knowledge to dictate your diet. If you want a meal plan, hire an RD. There are private ones out there who work with people like you.

I want to end with a short anecdote that may cause you to rethink trainers with meal plans. I once had an internship at a local gym. The workout part was great, but you were only allowed to workout with a trainer there, it wasn’t a gym you just came to and did your own thing. When you signed up, you also signed up for their meal plan system. This was not optional. It was always included. And the owner was always ‘we don’t sell meal plans and training, we sell results’. I hate that phrase with a passion because what it really meant was that in your contract, if you weren’t following their meal plan, then your money-back guarantee was voided. This is a poor business practice and considering some of their plans were starvation diets (1200 calories is not enough energy for a grown woman, I don’t care who you are), it is dangerous and unfair. So if you do sign up with a trainer with meal plans, do so with extreme caution. They may be using the same unfair (and in my opinion, fraudulent) business practice.

Or you could just avoid trainers who push meal plans and work on changing your habits internally, on your own, or with a nutrition coach. This is what is more likely to bring you lasting success and confidence.

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