I have written two meal plans in my 5 years as a dietitian (excluding hospital menus, of course). I wrote the first one because I thought it was a good way to expand what I was able to offer, and help people in a different way. The second one was more of a diet template, written for a friend. Based on my experience with the first one, I decided this was not something I wanted to offer. Why?
For starters, it’s a lot of work if done right. There are numerous factors that determine the best diet for someone to follow, including:
- Past medical history
- Current lifestyle
- Client goals
- Diet history
- Fitness capabilities
- Dietary preferences
When creating a meal plan for 30 – 90 days (the length of time I usually see them offered), you need to make sure they are meeting their calorie goals, getting all the right micronutrients, eating foods they like at times convenient to their lifestyle, all while making sure there is flexibility because life happens. I wrote a draft of one month of programming for CrossFit Boston, and that was a walk in the park compared to writing a 30 day meal plan. I spent about 10 hours doing this, which makes it either expensive for the client or not that profitable for me. The best way to make money off of a meal plan is to create something completely generic at a couple of different calorie levels and sell it to as many buyers as possible.
Second, buying a meal plan is like paying the smart kid in class to do your homework for you. You might pass algebra that month, but what happens when you can’t rely on him anymore? If I write out everything you should eat for an entire month, you will see results if you follow it. But you won’t gain much else, like knowledge of how to read labels, find recipes, plan your own meals, adjust your diet based on goal and lifestyle changes, etc. Meal plans make you the client reliant on me the professional for guidance. I don’t want anyone relying on me. I don’t want to give you a fish, I want to teach you how to fish.
My point is, if someone wants to sell you a meal plan, think twice. Sometimes, meal plans can be useful (as discussed below), but all too often “gurus” out there sell you the nutrition and fitness tools that work for THEM. And while they may work for you in the short term, ultimately you want to find what works for you long term (and be knowledgable enough to make adjustments on your own with occasional guidance from a professional). Imagine what the gym would be like if coaches only programmed what worked for them, ignoring the needs and wants of our community. If I wrote the programming, we’d all do lots of hand stand push ups.
Sometimes, Meal Plans Can Help
I feel like I can’t conclude without pointing out a couple of the times meal plans are pretty useful. If someone is completely new to healthy diet and exercise, a generic hypocaloric diet (providing fewer calories from food than is burned by exercise and metabolism) can be a beneficial kick start. A one week sample plan can help someone starting a new specific diet – like gluten free, paleo, or vegan – to understand what a healthy version of that diet looks like. They can also be helpful for someone following a complex clinical diet, like the renal diet.
What do you guys think of meal plans?