Meal planning is the most important factor when it comes to successfully reducing body fat. You can exercise all you want but what you eat still is—and will always be—the number one factor in managing a healthy weight.
Having a meal plan to follow works because, well, it keeps you on plan. It allows you to create the calorie deficit you need to lower the number on the scale—or body composition scanner. It takes the guesswork out of eating so you don’t go off plan out of desperation when hunger hits. It saves you money—and we mean a considerable amount of money, especially if you’re used to eating out. It also saves you time prepping meals throughout the week and solves the annoying and age-old question “What should we eat?”. And, it means that you’ll eat a much more balanced and nutritious diet overall. That’s a lot of wins.
Here’s how to meal plan for weight loss, including a few go-to recipes and other super helpful tips and tricks for making it easy and enjoyable.
From websites, apps, magazines, social media and calorie calculators, there are endless ways to go about finding—and following—the perfect meal plan for weight loss and any of these avenues can work well so long as three things are for certain:
- You’re creating a calorie deficit.
- It’s easy enough to follow that it’s sustainable over weeks, months and maybe even a year.
- You actually enjoy the food you’re eating.
Referrals from friends are often a great place to start since your social circle knows and understands your tastes and lifestyle. If someone highly recommends a meal plan service— whether you’re cooking the food yourself or it’s delivered pre-prepared—it’s probably a good place to start.
Without a referral from a friend, the meal-planning world can be a little daunting with so much out there, so it’s important to ask yourself some key questions ahead of time to help narrow your search. What diet style are you looking for? Low-carb, low-fat, keto, Paleo, gluten-free or plant-based? What is your goal weight and when would you like to reach it by? You’ll need that info for your search.
The next thing is to have an understanding of how many calories you need a day to create a deficit in order to hit your goal on time. There are plenty of calculators online that help you do just that, and, in many cases, online meal plan services and apps have them built in as well. Here’s a great free online calculator to try.
What to Look For:
No matter what plan you settle on, there are a few guidelines that everyone should follow when it comes to meal planning for weight loss:
Eat real food.
Make sure that the vast majority of your meals are free from processed, fake junk food. Focus on real food, such as lean proteins, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs, healthy fats, and as many superfoods as you can squeeze in. Read nutrition labels and if there’s something that sounds like it was made in a lab, it probably was, and is best to skip.
Focus on progress not perfection.
You don’t have to eat perfectly all week long to lose weight, but aim to stay on your plan 80 to 90% of the time and then allow yourself a meal out or one treat a week to take some of the pressure off and create some balance. Those who are most successful on their weight-loss journey take a realistic, no-deprivation approach but also bounce right back after a treat meal or day and maintain consistency overall.
Load up on plant foods.
One of the easiest ways to succeed in leaning out is to constantly ensure your plate is piled high with low-starch vegetables. Aim for one third to a half of your plate at every meal. Veggies are fibrous and naturally low-cal, which means you can eat a ton of them without going overboard—and they will keep you full for hours—a really great thing for losing those pounds.
Track Your Macros
Another way to fine-tune your plan and get results faster is by tracking not just calories in and out but also your macronutrients (macros). Macros are the nutrients your body requires in large amounts: your protein, carbohydrates and fats. When it comes to leaning out, finding the right macro mix is what will move the fat-loss needle.
Depending on your goal, timeline and your starting weight, your macro breakdown will look different from someone else’s. Macro mixes vary greatly depending on body type and BMR, but most experts agree they should fall in the range of 45–65% carbs, 20–35% fats and 10–35% protein.
There are a ton of apps to help you figure out your macro range but that same calorie calculator we shared earlier does it too. The trick though is getting the hang of eating within the suggested ranges and knowing what macros you’re getting from which foods.
This is where a tracking app comes in handy, at least for the first couple of weeks while you get a feel for it. After that, you’ll fall into a rhythm. Search “macro tracker” in the app store to find one you like and that’s easy to use. Again, “ease” is the key here.
Bottom Line: When you eat within your predetermined calorie deficit, you stay on plan at least 80% of the time, you enjoy the food you eat and you adhere to your recommended macronutrient mix, you’re destined for weight-loss success. Have fun with it, never deprive yourself, and if one meal plan doesn’t work for you, move on and find one that does. At the end of the day, the plan you like is the plan that will get you to your goal on time. Good luck!*The links used in this article are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Iovate Health Sciences International Inc. or any of its affiliates (“Iovate”) of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual. Iovate bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.