Meal Plans Aren’t Magic

When I started competing in jiujitsu, I found very few resources to help myself cut body weight without using extreme measures like severe calorie-restriction and sweating out pounds of water. It seemed that I was always 3-4 pounds away from my target and scrambling to get the weight off any way I could.

Shifting over to a whole-foods based diet with tons of vegetables and cataloging that journey on Instagram over the past few years is tons of fun and highly effective for maintaining my fighting weight all year. Many people messaged me on Instagram with a general interest in a meal plan before I wrote my guidebook. So I listened and created the Yasi Fit Meal Plan. It was exciting to launch, but guess what? It’s nothing new! My meal plan is similar to other whole foods-based meal plans, but in the guidebook I add a few extra psychological tips to get anyone started. Yes, it’s all there in the book but will this actually jumpstart a person towards healthier eating? Um, the answer is no. Let me explain why.

Most people I talk to tell me that they know they should eat healthier. I then ask them, “what should you be eating exactly?” and they respond in kind – less sugar and processed foods and more vegetables and water. My next question addresses the WHY. Why haven’t most people wanting to change follow through with it?

What stops a successful meal plan?

Poorly Planning. Picking the start date of a new meal plan is easy, but what is often overlooked is how much time will be needed to prep for the day or week. Think about this. If you decide to try a different way of eating, you will need to look through your existing food stash, go grocery shopping, then prepare the food. Add extra time if you come across any hick-ups like not finding an ingredient in your usual supermarket, having to learn about a new cooking method (i.e., blanching, poaching) and execute it properly. Give yourself adequate time, weeks even, to increase your familiarity with the new plan.

Hopeless Mindset. Starting off with thoughts of failure and hopelessness before you start eating indicates that you already doubt that you will be successful. If this isn’t your first meal plan rodeo, then there may have been roadblocks in the past. Review what didn’t work in the past and plan around that. Think of your meal plan as a lifestyle change, not as a punishment. Trying a new meal plan is already a positive move on your part! Give it a shot.

Expecting the weight scale to move fast. Unless you are already enacting successful change with your nutrition, it takes approximately 6 to 12 months to see stable results. Day-to-day weight fluctuations are more a reflection of water and food processes than of overall body weight reduction. Do not get hung up on daily weigh-ins unless you are in the final phase of competition prep. The 2-4 pounds variance will drive you crazy! If you like weighing frequently, be sure to set your expectation that the scale will tick up and down slightly.

Self-criticism. Eating according to the meal plan is the goal, but life happens and moods fluctuate which can negatively impact sticking to the plan. The stress from a missed meal or a cheat meal can be overwhelming. Just know that at the end of the day, food is food. And all bodies need food. Criticizing yourself over a meal after it was eaten is an unnecessary use of mental energy. Give yourself some wiggle room for “noncompliance” – that donut is not going to ruin you in the long run! Monitor your thoughts for these sneaky criticisms and challenge their validity.

Seasonal (or cyclical) eating. Typically, competitors eat according to a meal plan until they fight and then they eat whatever they want for days or weeks afterward. We call this offseason eating. For me, it’s donut season. It’s normal to cycle on and off of a meal plan. I don’t see this as a  failure, but rather a food break. In many societies, people are inundated with advertisements of unhealthy, delicious foods like . . . donuts. Then there’s events and holidays that are structured around fun foods – think Easter candy (USA) or pumpkin spice lattes in the winter (Also USA). Allow for times when you might go rogue but also plan for your return to the meal plan.

The meal plan is just a tool to help change eating patterns. It doesn’t magically do the work by itself. What is required, however, is careful planning, setting the right expectations, keeping a positive mindset, and planning for times when you have to practice some flexibility.

Until next post, train smart and eat well.- Dr. Yasi