We get asked about this a lot of times:
"Do you recommend meal plans, or diets?".
The straight answer is "No, We don't!".
Because eating is meant to be a simple, heartfelt, sometimes emotional, and always uncomplicated act!
And most meal plans / diets do not (and cannot) consider this aspect about the 'emotion called eating'.
Are we saying that diets/meal plans are a waste of money, and efforts?
They have their value- especially during modern times in which most of us have forgotten the right way to eat.
For instance, meal plans serve as reminders of sorts in helping us understand when to stop the act of mindless eating (through portion sizes although these are only guidelines); they serve as caution boards whenever we try to consume processed or harmfully packaged meals;
they are also sometimes useful in getting us back to our roots (since we are living in times of 'easy to cook' , 'processed' meals)- helping us adopt a healthier lifestyle of eating home cooked, fresh meals over packaged, & preserved variants.
However, these template plans, /diets don't teach us how to listen to our bodies; they don't teach us how to eat mindfully.
Meal plans also do not tackle the emotional aspect of eating- when you have a craving, they don't teach you that it's ok to eat those 'cheat' foods that you enjoy eating in order to help you feel better (although we think samosas & all those yummy snacks are really not cheat foods! Trust us- it's ok to eat what you truly enjoy in moderation)...
Instead, most of these template meal plans & diets focus so much on the calories, and the nutritional percentages that they inadvertently add to developing a rigid outlook towards the very act of eating.
Thanks to the popularity of these plans, we are tilting towards counting calories and shedding off those extra calories that we consume through tons of cardio, or through other rigorous workouts in the gym instead of focussing on making our eating patterns enjoyable, and more importantly, sustainable.
While meal plans are not unnecessary, when put across in a strict manner through shoulds and have tos, they tend to develop an inflexible mindset towards eating. For instance, the obsessive need to burn off calories after cheat days!
Let's put this straight.
If you consume a lot of calories (how you measure the calories correctly is another topic of discussion; we will try to cover this in another blog post), there is no scientific evidence to prove that doing extra cardio will balance this so called extra calorific intake (especially given the variables involved in our lifestyle). Also, how do you measure the balance between intake, and output? The calorie burn indicators on treadmills are but mere guidelines, and not an exact indication of calories burnt. Our caloric intake calculation is not straightforward too -especially in an Indian meal.
So, how then can we balance this 'extra' consumption? Is it even rational to look at it in this manner?
While there is no direct way to measure, and balance this, the obsession over 'following a meal plan' leads to guilt; and, 'guilt' is not the way to view your relationship with food and exercise!
Let's now look at why some people choose to go for diets/meal plans.
》I need to lose weight- I need to "control"my food intake for a caloric deficit; I therefore need a meal plan to help me with this.
The fact is that you really don't have to control your eating patterns drastically, but, should instead focus on taking smaller steps towards eating a little lesser (in a manner that won't make you tired) in order to achieve weight loss in a sustainable manner. If the meal plan is chartered on these lines, it's probably a good one.
However, taking drastic steps , or controlling your food intake through a meal plan that diagresses greatly from your current eating patterns will not help you sustain the gains on a long run.
Also, anything that's forced- such as avoiding something that you love to eat on account of following a diet- leads to an increase in cravings, and ultimately overeating at some point.
》I need to build muscle mass- I need to look like that model, I need to build a certain kind of physique. Therefore, I need a diet plan that'll help me achieve this quickly.
Or, I'm an athlete; I need some help in getting me up to the right performance levels.
Here, if you are working on a specific goal, it does help to understand your body composition, your energy needs, etc. and chart out your nutritional requirements. Getting help from a professional dietician can actually help you attain your specific goals in such cases.
So, meal plans/diets have their advantages. However, for most of us, sticking to basics in terms of our habits, and in terms of our relationship with food and fitness will suffice. Here are some simple ways to eat well:
Eating foods that have always been a part of our tradition;
Eating mindfully and in moderation-feeling the food with our senses, listening to our body's hunger cries;
Eating fresh, home cooked meals;
Eating with love- not out of guilt.
Until the next post....