Meal plans. If there's one thing you need to know about them, it's that they don't work.
Well...ok, they do work if you follow them, but no one follows a meal plan forever. They only work short-term. And that's why they don't work.
When a client comes to me with a goal in mind (be it weight loss or sports performance or reducing high blood pressure), I don't just focus on what they eat. That's not the whole picture. Their knowledge, habits, and behaviors around food are often just as important as what they are eating, and without understanding and helping them resolve those issues, there's no hope for long-term, sustainable change.
With enough willpower, anyone can follow a meal plan for 10-12 weeks. But what happens after that? Usually this: pre-meal plan eating habits return, behaviors that caused problems in the first place never get resolved, misconceptions don't get cleared up, and at some point, pre-meal plan body returns - sometimes with added weight (or worsening blood pressure or lipid levels, etc).
Maybe your meal plan wasn't good enough. The client was lazy. The client wasn't motivated enough. Blah, blah, blah - no.
By giving a client a meal plan, you ignore all the issues that may lie beyond the what in their diet, and one or all of these things happen (none of them are good news):
1. Anxiety over "good/bad" or "right/wrong" foods. If your client is highly motivated and ready to make changes, they may be afraid to deviate from your meal plan for fear of not reaching goals in the set time frame or setting back progress, creating unnecessary anxiety and stress. This can often lead to having unreasonable black and white feelings about foods, eg "good food" and "bad food." Foods are neither good nor bad - they all have an appropriate time and place. Helping your client determine when those are is part of your job.
Don't fall into the trap of choosing "right" or "wrong" foods.
2. Dependency resulting in unsustainability. Handing someone a meal plan and guaranteeing results means they probably never learn how to navigate and manage their own nutrition. They become dependent on the meal plan for guidance. When faced with an issue, the client may not know how to adjust the plan and often times will completely forgo it once a "mistake" is made. Furthermore, when the client stops the meal plan, he/she still won't know how to manage their own nutrition and therefore will return to what they know - which is what got them in trouble in the first place.
3. Social isolation. When you put a client on a meal plan and they don't understand the goal of it or how to customize it, they stop hanging out with people. It's true. They avoid social situations because the "right" food won't be available OR they don't want to go through the hassle (and potential awkwardness) of prepping and bringing their own food. What fun is that?
Social isolation isn't fun. Even when you're at a beach.
4. Boredom. Who really wants to eat the same meals and snacks over and over and over again? Enough said.
5. Too much change. If you provide a meal plan and never consult your client about their diet preferences (favorite foods, dislikes, habits), they're in a for whirlwind of change - and probably aren't going to reach their goal. Studies show that too much change without input from the person making the changes is bad news 100% of the time.
Too much change = not a lot of change
I can't stress how important it is to strive for client education and a big 'ol shift in lifestyle. By giving a client a meal plan, you diminish the importance of lifestyle change and instead force upon them yet another "quick fix." No one wins here.
Education should be first and foremost. Clients should always be learning...and taught enough to understand why they're making the changes they're making and able to make sound decisions on their own. If you want to SIT DOWN with a client and craft a meal plan together, I'm fine with that - as long as they understand what's going on and know that it isn't a meal plan that they HAVE TO stick to, lest they never achieve their goals.
Education should be first and foremost
Meal plans are GREAT for providing examples and helping people understand what a day of eating might look like for their goal, how macronutrients are broken down, what it looks like to consume adequate micronutrients, etc. But to use it as a plan, call yourself a "nutritionist," and claim that you're helping people? Please don't.
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