Do you ever feel like you could eat better if someone would just tell you what to eat? Several times a week people tell me they’ll eat well if I just tell them what to do.
They insist that they just need a plan to follow or a list of what to have and what to avoid. But therein lies the problem. People who eat well do not have rigid rules about eating.
They see foods on a spectrum rather than good or bad, right or wrong, yes or no. They balance the foods they love with foods that are nutritious and they choose what to eat based on their preferences, their schedule, and the cost of food. They take a flexible approach to eating instead of dieting.
I’m not going to give you a meal plan because it doesn’t consider your preferences. What foods do you like? Do you like the same breakfast every day or do you prefer to switch it up?
Do you like leftovers for lunch or is that the last thing you want? If we are going to eat well then we need to be eating what we love and loving what we eat.
As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff says, we must live the healthiest life we can enjoy, not the healthiest life we can tolerate. We may be able to follow a plan for a couple of weeks, or even a couple of months, but, if we’re merely tolerating the rules instead of loving what we eat, the plan is not sustainable.
I’m not going to give you a meal plan because I don’t know your schedule. What if Tuesday’s supper takes 60 minutes to prepare but you’ve only got 30 minutes because your children have soccer practice?
Many people who think they just need a meal plan are rigid in their thinking and would see this deviation from the plan as a failure and go back to eating the way they were before. This perpetuates the cycle of yo-yo dieting and sliding back and forth between restrictive eating and overeating.
A meal plan also doesn’t consider food costs. If I give you a meal plan in January that directs you to eat fresh asparagus and peaches, then your groceries are going to cost a small fortune.
A meal plan does not consider what produce is in season, what the sales are this week, or what your family’s food budget is.
Finally, I’m not going to give you a meal plan because ultimately a meal plan is a diet. It’s a short-term solution to a long term problem. Do you really intend to eat those same seven days of meals for the rest of your life?
Knowing what I know about the lack of long-term success with dieting, I cannot set you up like that. A meal plan is a rigid set of rules that tells you when to eat, how much to eat, and classifies foods as good or bad, allowed or not allowed.
As I said in the beginning, this is not the approach that people who eat well take to eating.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan our meals. In fact, I highly suggest it. I am more than happy to teach menu planning and share my tips and tricks. The key is that your menu needs to be made by you for you so that it considers your preferences, your schedule and the cost of food. It should be flexible and will change from week to week.
Ultimately, I encourage people to eat instinctively and intuitively. This means eating for energy when you are hungry, choosing a variety of foods you enjoy to make balanced meals, paying attention to your body’s signals, and stopping when you are full.
Admittedly, it has sometimes been so long since we’ve eaten that way that we don’t even remember how to do that anymore. This is where a registered dietitian can help. Ask me how!
Ashley Hurley is a registered dietitian in Greater Sudbury.