In your journey to gain control of your health and shed a few pounds you must plan your calorie intake. Here we are going to look at why we plan our meals in advance, how we plan them, and a few ways to make the process a little easier.
Why Plan Meals?
Just a quick list of a few reasons planning your meals makes sense:
- You will know how many calories you are taking in. If you know your average expenditure of calories for a day, simple subtraction will let you see how long it will take to lose a pound (one pound = roughly 3000 calories for most people.)
- It takes the guesswork out of what you are going eat. One less decision.
- When you are on a plan, it is easier to say no to friends/coworkers when it comes to eating out or junk food.
- It can prevent binge eating. In the past I was notorious for eating until I could barely move because I was unsure of when I was going to eat again. Now, I know exactly when my next meal will be.
How to Plan Your Meals
As with most items we discuss there are many ways to get your plan started. The first thing you will need to do is find out your normal daily calorie burn. You can find this by using any of the tools we have mentioned in other post here, or look at sparkpeople.com, myfitnesspal.com, or nutrition.gov. You will have to answer the normal height/weight questions as well as questions about your activity level.
Once you have that number down, then it is time to start tracking.
Pen and Paper
This is the most difficult way, but will work if it is your only option. Just write the date at the top of the page with your calorie allowance in the right hand column. On the left side, list your meals in order (we will cover this in just a minute) and your total calories for each meal. In the middle of the page you will write down what you actually eat and the amount of calories. Then it is just a matter of subtraction throughout the day.
Using a Spreadsheet
This works the same as pen and paper, but with the advantage that all of your addition/subtraction is completed for you.
Weight Loss Apps/Websites
This is our favorite way to keep track of everything. We use the MyFitnessPal app and love it. It has a huge searchable database of most foods, or you can use the built in barcode scanner to enter your items. Other tools that we have mentioned or that you may find will work, but we have found the MyFitnessPal apps and website to be the most consistent and user friendly.
One thing to keep in mind though, not all calories are created equal. Eating 1800 calories a day of junk food is not the same as eating quality veggies and protein. Be sure to watch your micro counts (calories, fats, cholesterol, sodium, etc.) and follow the guidelines recommended for you.
A Sample Day
This is what a day normally looks like for me:
- Breakfast: 4–6 egg whites, 1 serving of whole oats, green tea
- Snack 1: Protein (in the form of nuts or yogurt) and a banana
- Lunch: 4–6 oz of either fish, chicken, or lean red meat and 1 cup of veggies with 3/4 cup of brown rice.
- Snack 2: Usually 1oz of almonds and an apple or orange.
- Dinner: Same choices as lunch, except without the rice.
- Bedtime: Either 2 egg whites or 1 scoop Casein protein powder in water. (The slow digesting protein in each will keep your metabolism up and your body burning calories while you sleep.)
Importance of Your Schedule
By eating every 2.5–3 hours you will raise your metabolism rate. This allows you to burn more calories doing everyday normal activities. It also prevents your body from trying to store fat since you are getting meals on a regular basis. You will be less likely to binge eat if you are on a plan and know that your next meal is only a couple hours away.
Now, a caveat. Allow yourself to cheat. I usually end up cheating around twice a week and still hit my goal of 1–2 pounds a week. The important thing is that if you cheat or mess up, get back on track the next meal. Not tomorrow, not Monday, the very next meal.
You can do all this planning yourself, you can look at free ready made meal plans from sites like bodybuilding.com, or you can hire personal trainer to create one for you. I will say that I never saw lasting success until I was on a solid meal plan.
What is your preferred method to track calories? Successes and Failures? We are always looking to learn, so please let us know in the comments below. Have a great day!