What we eat, how much we eat and when we eat are the 3 basics to creating a sustainable meal plan. They are the building blocks to learning exactly how to successfully eat for your goals. So many people are completely overwhelmed when it comes to nutrition, so I want to make it a little easier on you. We can break it down to 3 simple equations that you can work on one at a time, to start building the habits necessary for a sustainable meal plan.
To me, nutrition should be at the top of the list if you are looking to live healthier lifestyle. This is because nutrition is much more of an equation than exercise. Nutrition has to be balanced between eating enough, but not too much. It needs to include all macronutrients, and micronutrients. You have to have your head in the game for every hour you are awake and not busy, trying to figure out when you are hungry and when you are bored. Exercise is movement. It doesn’t matter what kind, or how much. Just moving your body is going to help you live healthier and happier. Both are necessary for overall health, but if you are a beginner looking to start somewhere, I would choose taking a loot into your diet first.
Step 1: What to eat
This is where you should start when it comes to changing habits, but also the hardest. If you are like me, you grew up like the average American eating Mac n Cheese, pizza rolls, lunchables and tv dinners. Anything that came from a box was the best option, especially when feeding a larger family. Growing up these way, and this being all you know is a very hard habit to break as you get older. It’s like how you typically drive similar cars and have similar beliefs as your family because that is all you were exposed to. But now, it is time to broaden your horizons and start focusing on foods that are going to fuel your body instead of being convenient.
Start with small changes, maybe getting rid of some packaged snacks that don’t have any nutritional value (like cheez-its, little debbie cakes and soda). If you take out all of your favorite foods, or make too many changes overnight, you are going to end up getting overwhelmed and going back to your old ways real quick. The biggest thing you can do is keep an open mind. So many people don’t eat, or try, certain foods because they think it is gross or is going to taste bad. But food isn’t meant to be blue raspberry flavored and addictive. It is meant to be a source of nourishment so that you can make it through your daily activities. Americans are sick and tired. And the main culprit of this is our food industry. If you are really looking to start making healthy choices and live your best life, you have to start to focus on how foods make you feel and not about how they taste. I know it is hard, and you are going to start to question “what’s the point”. The point is feeling good, looking good, having energy, living longer, being fulfilled. You give up processed foods that taste amazing, but you gain so much more!
So step number 1, start making small changes and eliminate foods that do not serve your body. Start to spend more time in the produce section of the store and less time walking down the inner isles.
Step 2: How much to eat
Onto the next aspect, how much to eat. Once you get the hang of foods that make you feel good and are fueling your body, a diet comprised of all macronutrients and micronutrients, you can work on how much to eat. This is obviously going to be individualized to each person. Maybe your goal is weight loss, maybe you want to get your hormones in check, maybe you just want to feel better, or maybe you are already “skinny” but don’t feel fit…all are going to be different ways to eat.
The biggest aspect of how much to eat, is thinking about how you feel. You eat when your hungry, stop when your full, and try not to just aimlessly grave on snacks and things when at the office. You want to have 3 solid meals that all include carbohydrates, fat, and protein and then fill in with snacks if you find yourself needing more. Most people tend to eat too little protein and much “empty” carbohydrates like bread and crackers. Focus on filling half your plate with vegetables, 1/4 protein, 1/6 fat and 1/6 carbohydrates. This is the best way to start out, keeping it simple and focusing on size. If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit (meaning you burn more than you eat ing a day), if you are looking to get your hormones in check you want to increase your healthy fats and maybe decrease your carbohydrates a bit, if you are looking to feel more “fit” I suggest more protein!
The best place to start with this is just to track your food (weighing, measuring etc) for a few days so you can see how much you are consuming in a normal day. It is also helpful so you can really SEE what a serving size is of certain foods like nut butter and rice, so you know you can eyeball what is the right amount. From there, I would suggest taking pictures or measurements and doing that every 3-4 weeks. This will allow you to see any progress you may or may not be seeing and can make adjustments from there. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this, feel free to reach out to me and I would love to work with you!
Step 3: When to eat
Let me start out by saying…”don’t eat past 8pm or you will get fat” is a myth through and through. I don’t know who came up with that phrase, but it is not backed by science and it certainly is not true. You can eat whenever you want, you just want to make sure it is the right foods. People who eat late at night typically aren’t eating a salad or some scrambled eggs, they are typically have high sugar/carbohydrate foods like ice cream/cookies/cereal etc. This spike in blood sugar right before bed can cause the body to become overly stressed and store the extra sugar as fat while sleeping…but people aren’t typically eating THAT much 20 minutes before bed so it isn’t very likely.
Meal timing comes down to pre/post workout nutrition, and finding what works for you.
As far as pre and post workout nutrition, it is important to get in protein and carbohydrates to help recover from your workout, or fuel your workout. I have a full blog post all about pre and post workout nutrition you can check out for more details!
There are 2 different ways, I think, to time your meals and be successful! If you are someone who likes to snack and eat often, I would suggest eating 4-5 small meals and spacing them out about 3 hours. This is great for speeding up metabolism and keeping you busy if you are a boredom eater. One thing to be careful of is making sure your meals are well rounded and are going to keep you blood sugar stable. This means meals including all macronutrients! The other option is spacing out 3 meals and 2 snacks to get you through the day. This option is great for those who may have actually been under-eating or have a hard time eating enough food. This is also great for those who may also suffer from digestive issues – spacing meals out gives your digestive system time to relax and not constantly be working.
A great practice to also add in (when you’re ready) is having a decent fasting window. Research has shown that there are great benefits for our bodies when we fast for 12 hours overnight. This can help with digestion, hormone health, relaxation, detoxification etc. I typically will eat later at night and fast into the morning because it is easier with my work schedule and workout schedule. But whatever works for you is best. You definitely don’t want to feel like you are constantly eating, but you also want to make sure you are eating ENOUGH!
Meal prep ideas
The biggest tip for starting out new with a meal plan is preparing! If you set yourself up week after week for success, you will ultimately learn the habits you need and see the changes you want to see. A few simple tips for starting out and being successful from week to week include:
• Make a menu every week for your meals (especially dinner)
• Try to keep things simple when starting out, don’t try to make huge elaborate recipes. Keeping it basic with a protein, carb and fat is the best option.
• Keep 1-2 options for breakfast and lunch each week so there isn’t a lot of groceries or prepping that need to be done.
• Prep foods when you have time (on the weekends). I typically just cook up a bunch of protein and potatoes/rice and keep it in containers so it is easy to grab and go.
• Frequently change up the type of foods you are eating so you don’t get bored.
Healthy meal plan
Following a specific meal plan can cause people to feel “stuck”, which is not necessary. You should have the freedom to eat the foods you want and not feel like you are going to go off the rails. Having a meal plan written out for you can be helpful for some people if they want to take out ALL GUESSING, and I would recommend talking to a registered dietitian because they are the only ones who can legally write you a meal plan.
The best advice I can give, and always will, is to start small. Start by taking out 1 food each month that does not serve you. Set small goals of adding in healthy foods, or drinking more water. Those small goals are going to add up to big results, it just takes some time and dedication!