"He who fails to plan is planning to fail" - Winston Churchill
This old maxim is true in many areas of life. But it's especially true when we seek to make drastic changes to our lifestyle. The paleo diet is an abrupt departure from the Standard American Diet (SAD). No need to worry, with just a bit of planning you'll be able to easily make the transition.
People decide to try the paleo diet for different reasons. Some people want to improve overall health. Some people want to manage a disease or autoimmune disorder. A majority of people want to lose some body fat. No matter which goal you're pursuing meal planning will improve your odds of success.
If losing body fat is your goal then meal planning is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Success with the paleo diet, or any nutrition framework, comes down to planning. If you want to succeed at losing fat then you have to plan.
Three Ways Meal Planning Helps You Lose Fat
1. Meal planning will help you keep strict(ish) track of your calories.
I’m not the biggest fan of math, so I’ll get this one out of the way immediately. Having an idea of what you'll be eating ahead of time gives you an easy way to gauge caloric intake. Having a plan also makes grocery shopping a lot easier and less time consuming.
Fat loss is a numbers game. If you use more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Maintaining muscle and cutting body fat involves putting yourself in a small calorie deficit and consuming the proper amounts of each macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat). To get your calories and macros in order you'll need to plan.
The easiest way to get started is figure out how many calories you need to consume daily and then plan your food accordingly. Here's a simple calculator to help you get a ballpark figure of the daily calories you need. Every week or two you should weigh-in or look in the mirror to see if you're making progress. If you're not losing body fat then you might need to increase your exercise or cut a few more calories.
2. Meal planning is your safety net
Sometimes life gets in the way of a perfect lifestyle. And that’s okay, as long as you are resilient and don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. There will be days where you eat foods that aren’t paleo. But meal planning can reduce the number of meals where you feel forced to eat non-paleo options due to hunger and lack of time. With a plan in place you'll be more likely to stick to foods that will help you reach your goals.
A great way to get started is to buy a cheap notebook and start keeping track of your meals. No judgement, just track everything you eat for a week. Even if you only track for a few days you'll have a good idea of how many calories you consume on average. Then you build your plan.
If you find that you get off plan for whatever reason, simply start right back up where you left off. Did you blow it on Tuesday by eating a carton of ice cream before bed? No problem. Just get back on plan on Wednesday. Having a plan will keep you from throwing caution to the wind and turning a mistake into total failure.
3. Meal planning makes paleo a positive lifestyle
Often times weight loss is portrayed as a negative process. It's all about deprivation and being perfect. Meal planning can be a way for you to take control of the process and make your lifestyle change a positive experience. You can use your plan as a way to incorporate new foods into your diet. You can even plan a cheat day if that's what you want to do. As long as you're sticking to your plan and making tweaks as you go, you'll succeed.
One of my favorite things about planning meals is the culinary versatility and seasonality I can work into my diet. With a couple hours of prep and planning on the weekends I'm set for the rest of the week. I can rest easy knowing I'll have something on hand for all my meals. Plus I don't have to eat the same foods over and over again. Boredom can throw you off. Meal planning can keep boredom at bay.
As for the seasonality, Spring and Summer are perfect times to learn to craft beautiful salads. In the fall and winter I tend to lean towards heavier stews, soups, roasted meats, and root vegetables. Of course, meal planning will allow you to make the transition between seasons of the year without skipping a beat. And if you do miss a beat--don’t stress. Get on the next one.