The failure behind meal plans

Sohee Lee is the author of ‘How To Count Macros’ and the inspiration behind Sohee Fit. When recently speaking with a client who asked for a meal plan, this excerpt from her book came to mind. I went back and read it again and she really hit the nail on the head as to why giving our clients meal plans is not helping them reach their long term goals. We want to set our clients up with the necessary tools and the confidence to use them by showing you how to track properly and that even when life gets hectic, the flexibility of tracking macros allows you to stay on course. Read Sohee’s explanation below to understand why not giving our clients specific meal plans is actually helping them!

We’ve got your back and best interest at heart!

With love,

Mallory

“There seems to be this ongoing debate over the virtues of prescribing meal plans versus assigning macronutrient numbers to follow. My first prep coach had me on a meal plan, after all, and I lost a good number of inches. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Not quite.

Meal plans are a means to an end. I’ll admit that once upon a time, I also handed out meal plans to my online clients—customized meal plans suited to their individual preferences and lifestyles, but meal plans nonetheless. They liked them, and really, I don’t blame them. All you have to do as a client is to procure the foods listed on your meal plan, cook everything up, and follow everything meal by meal. It’s easy because you don’t have to think about anything or understand how many calories or macros are in what amount of food. There’s zero knowing; merely doing. Receive a plan and execute for two weeks. Send in a check-in, receive an update, and then execute yet again.

And therein lies the problem.

There’s nothing sustainable about following a meal plan. What if you run out of eggs one morning? What if the thought of chugging down another protein shake makes you sick to your stomach? What if you have to go out for dinner with some friends? What are you going to do?

Most people don’t know any other way except to doggedly stick to the program. Which is great from an adherence standpoint (here’s a gold sticker for your superb effort!), but it fails miserably when it comes to being able to still enjoy your quality of life. I’ve squandered too many nights in the past turning down dinners and social outings with friends because I was afraid to eat anything besides chicken, broccoli, and almonds as my last meal of the day. I was too scared to let anything get in the way of my reaching my fitness goals and ultimately being happy—because oooobviously True Happiness lies waiting patiently in a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow of Lean Bodies (that’s totally not true, by the way). Family vacation? No thanks—I’d rather sit at home by myself and prepare my own meals everyday. Best friend’s wedding? I’m so tempted to back out because I don’t know how to manage myself with all the wedding food around me.

Additionally, following a meal plan keeps you dependent on your coach. Why? Because you have to continue going back to her for a different meal plan each time you have a different goal. An irresponsible coach—or an incredibly money-hungry, business-savvy coach, depending on how you look at it— will push this on her clients because it means continued business. Knowledge is power, and she wants you to have none of it. So there’s you, with no understanding of food or macronutrients or calories after months and months of being on this fitness program, and there’s apparently no foreseeable end to your working relationship with your coach. She likes keeping you in the dark because it’s easier for her. After all, going out and recruiting clients is hard work, and why would she want to do that?

Then comes the art of macro counting. (It’s totally a skill, by the way.) The greatest benefit from learning how to count your macros is that it teaches you how to think for yourself. I know, I know—we all want the results without having to do any of the thinking, right? But your eating should not be a crutch. By learning what foods can substitute for what, how to fit your beloved treats into your day, how to navigate your way around an evening meal out with your coworkers without messing up your entire day—by learning how to do all of this, the probability of your attaining your fitness goals and having them last becomes exponentially higher.

Fat loss in and of itself is not a complicated process, but it sure as hell isn’t easy, either. So why should you make it harder than it needs to be by restricting yourself to a meal plan? Say, for example, you were preparing dinner and a handful of grapes jumped into your mouth. But meal 4 of the day calls for 150g brown rice and 5oz chicken. So, uhh… oops. You obviously didn’t follow the rules. Might as well just call it a wash for the day and dip into that Haagen Daz for dinner, right?

You don’t have to admit that you’ve done something similar; I know I certainly have. When you fall off the wagon, it’s hard to get back on. I get that. And there’s certainly appeal in the idea of starting over tomorrow— or next Monday, or next week, or next month, or even next year (what’s up, New Year’s Resolutioners! Yeah, I know you’re hiding). You want to start fresh with a clean slate and take perfect steps along the way.  But guess what? A little 200-Calorie oopsie is hardly going to put a dent into your progress; a 3,000-calorie eating bender, however, will surely set you back. All that hard work you put in over the past week? Yeah, that’s gone now. One step forward, five steps back. Well done.

What I’m trying to say here is this: just because you slipped up a little bit doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. And if you’re counting your macros, you’ve hardly messed up; all you need to do, then, is adjust your food choices for the remainder of the day and you can still come in on target by day’s end.

Would a meal plan allow you to do that? Nope.

Counting macros takes your needs into account. How often are clients prescribed white fish and broccoli to eat day in and day out? After a (short) while, it’s not uncommon to grow to hate said foods. You used to love seared halibut? Now the mere thought of it makes you gag (sort of like tequila, hmmm…) and you dread your meals. And what about that incredible fit recipe you saw on a blog the other day? Protein flapjacks, physique-friendly grilled cheese, hamburger salad…. Does it really make sense to say no to these foods because “it’s not on your meal plan”?

Look. There’s nothing inherently magical about chicken and green beans. So if you want to try out a new food or a new recipe—go ahead. You’re not going to wake up with an extra tire around your waist tomorrow. Have at it. Fit it into your macros. And don’t you dare let yourself feel any guilt over it.”