HomeArticlesMatt Weik

Diet Meal Plans: What Should You Follow?

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

There are so many diet meal plans out there today that it can be hard to keep up with them all. You have things such as low-carb diet meal plans, low-fat diet meal plans, intermittent fasting diet meal plans, ketogenic diet meal plans, Mediterranean diet meal plans — the list goes on and on. I could write an entire book on the various diet meal plans you could try. But, in this article, I want to lay down a foundation for you to consider when you are looking at the various options available so you can make the decision that makes the most sense for you from a lifestyle perspective.

There is no one-size-fits-all plan

If I were to tell you that a certain meal plan would work for you because it’s worked for everyone else, that would be a complete lie. There is no set meal plan that accommodates everyone. But wouldn’t that be nice?

You need to be a researcher of sorts when it comes to diet meal plans and how you do with each that you try. I’m not saying that they are all good or bad, but instead, they are all different and have their positives and negatives. The downside to many diet meal plans is that they are nearly impossible to maintain long-term. For instance, if you follow a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic-style meal plan, are you able to give up carbs? Can you stay away from things like pizza, pasta, donuts, or other desserts/pastries? If so, maybe a low-carb meal plan is for you. But, for many, it’s simply not sustainable.

Diet meal plans can be hard to follow. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by temptations that could have you fall off the wagon. Yet, one meal plan that I really enjoy based on the research behind it and the results is intermittent fasting. While it might not work for everyone, I think this is one of the best lifestyle diet meal plans out there. The premise is that you have an 8-hour feeding window followed by a 16-hour fast[1]. What many enjoy with this style of meal plan is that they can be more productive throughout the day due to not needing to take a break for meals depending on how you work the plan.

With intermittent fasting, you really don’t need to follow a “set” meal plan in terms of cutting out an entire macronutrient source. You can follow your normal diet (assuming you’re calorically restricted) and still get great results — again, it’s not fool-proof in that it will work for everyone, but many find they can maintain such a plan, and it fits their lifestyle. We tend to support things that are convenient, right?

How many set this meal plan up is that they will push their “break-fast” as far into the day as possible. Some have their first meal between 1-3pm. This allows them to utilize the entire morning into the afternoon to get work done. They then have an eating window of either 1pm-9pm, 2pm-10pm, or 3pm-11pm. If you can push it back further and go 4pm-12am, even better. That will give you the most time to get things done without interruption (but you need to ensure you can stay up that and still get in a minimum of seven hours of quality sleep).

The fasting portion of this plan allows you to eat up a bunch of the fasting window with your sleep schedule. If you sleep for 7-8 hours each night, that’s 7-8 hours of your fast that you’ve used up, and you won’t need to worry about not consuming any food. Pretty clever, right? But again, diet meal plans such as intermittent fasting might not be for you. That’s the game you need to play to determine what you can maintain and be consistent with — ultimately turning it into your new lifestyle.

What do all diets have in common?

Regardless of the meal plan or diet you decide to follow, they all have one thing in common — calorie restriction. When it comes down to it, in order to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. You need to have your daily calories below your maintenance in order to lose weight effectively.

How do you find your maintenance calories? You could Google it and find many various online calculators, but if you have an actual calculator or smartphone near you (open the calculator app), you can easily do the calculations yourself. Now, this calculation is an estimate and will not be 100% spot on, but it should be reasonably close. Take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 14. This should give you a rough estimate of your maintenance. Personally, what I would recommend is to use that caloric number for one week and see how your body responds. In the second week, you can make some adjustments, such as lowering the daily intake anywhere from 250-500 calories.

Here’s what the formula would look like if you are calculating your maintenance calories on your own:

Body Weight (lbs) x 14 = Daily Maintenance Calories

 Example: 175lb x 14 = 2,450 calories per day for maintenance

This all sounds so simple, yet our bodies react differently to various foods and macro ratios. The battle when trying to lose weight is attempting to put the puzzle pieces together and figure out how your individual body reacts and what it needs in order to make changes and help you towards your health and fitness goals. Seeing steady weight loss is the ultimate goal.

If figuring all of this out were easy and straightforward to follow, we wouldn’t be in the obesity crisis we are in as a nation today. But, if you enjoy a challenge, the reward of seeing progress from your hard work and dedication is 100% worth it.

References:

  1. University of Chicago. (2018). Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: a pilot study. Nutrition and Healthy Aging. 4(4), 345.

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