Let’s face it: Modern demands often mean there’s too much hustle and bustle for your own good. One area that suffers is diet. Between demands of work, family, and other commitments, what you eat is often an afterthought. This leads to eating high-calorie foods that aren’t good for you out of desperation.
The issues that processed foods and refined sugars can cause are common knowledge.1 But what you may not realize, is that it’s not only the quick-and-easy foods that can cause issues.
More and more science is showing that taking the time to plan meals is well worth it.2 How often you eat directly influences how you feel throughout the day. But there are also some indirect benefits, as well. And if you’re interested in weight loss, read on …
What Goes Into Healthy Meal Planning?
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of meal planning, there’s no one uniform practice. After all, different lifestyles have different needs. An athlete, for example, needs a higher calorie intake than someone with a more sedentary lifestyle.
With this in mind, the easiest way to get a handle on meal planning is to break it into three steps. These are choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients, and prepping for meals.3
Planning meals a week in advance has certain advantages. You’ll have more control over your carbs and calorie intake, for one. And FYI: You don’t have to give up those quick-and-easy foods cold turkey. But proper meal planning means you can have them because you want to, not because you feel you have to in a rush.
Setting Things Up
Choosing recipes is going to be a matter of personal choice. Are you trying to cut down on carbs? Are you looking to get within a certain range of calories? This is where you can plan the ingredients and portions that will let you hit those goals. Shopping for an entire week’s worth of meals gives you the chance to improve your food choices. Take the time to read food labels for calorie content and nutrition.
Also, not shopping in a rush may allow you to diversify your options a bit. For example, vegans may be able to expand beyond tofu for their protein needs. Options like tempeh or legumes aren’t packed with calories, either. Beans, in particular, are great for pumping up the nutrient value of any dish.4
When it comes to meal prep, there may only be so much you can do. At an extreme, some will create and freeze meals for an entire week. If you can’t manage that, no problem! Do whatever you can to cut down on cooking time.5
Is Meal Planning Worth The Trouble?
If meal planning sounds like extra work, it is. But, science supports the idea that it’s a worthy use of your time. As mentioned before, when you shop ahead, you have more opportunity to pick and choose your ingredients. Studies have shown that this leads to more diet diversity.6 Having a diet with variety, in particular, one with lots of leafy green vegetables and fruits, can lead to better health. In fact, one study showed that meal planning and timing had the potential to support heart health.7
Timing is Everything
Timing is an interesting concept to bring to the table. Some theorize that the body’s internal clock may determine how it metabolizes nutrients. In fact, a hot topic is whether our typical meal frequency of “three squares a day” isn’t ideal. The study that set off this discussion dealt with breakfast. Participants who skipped breakfast actually burned more calories throughout the day. They were, however, at greater risk for certain health issues.8
Several diets are coming out now around the idea of “intermittent fasting.” This involves eating normally for five days each week, then drastically cutting calories for the remaining two days. There may be potential in this area. But when it comes to any diets, the most important thing is sticking to them, as you will see.9
The Elephant In The Room: Weight Loss
When it comes to anything food related, there’s always going to be the question of, “Can this help me lose weight?” For meal planning, the answer is … maybe – it depends on what you make.10
Meal planning allows you to incorporate your body’s needs into how you shop. For example, estimate the calories you need before going to the grocery store. As you put your meals together, make sure that your calories are within those limits. Always having a meal on hand will keep you from the foods that could wreak havoc on your calorie intake as well.
Science is on your side in this regard. Adding planning and structure to how you eat may lead to improved weight loss.11,12 What is less clear is how this happens. Meal planning leads to more diet diversity and home-cooked meals. Both lead to better quality of meals. And meal planning lets you frame your own calorie-counting meal plan for weight loss. Timing when you eat may also play a role, but this isn’t as clear.
What you can say with confidence is that meal planning gives you more control over what you eat. With that control, you can eat a more balanced and healthier diet.
Meal Planning In Review
From counting calories to meal prep, meal frequency, and timing, meal planning has a lot of different elements. Indeed, if you try to take it on all at once, it can seem like too much. Take it slow. Don’t switch over to planning a whole week’s worth of meals all at once. Shoot for three days. Then, as you become more comfortable, build up to a week.
You may not see instant weight loss, like some promise. However, what you are doing is something more permanent. By creating a healthy and balanced foundation for your diet, you will ensure your body gets all the fuel it needs. Planning how you eat makes sure your body makes the most of it as well.
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