I truly can’t say thank you enough, for the amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from so many of you in regards to my weight loss journey and now my blog. I hope that I’ve been able to inspire even just one person, to see that you’re important enough, and that you’re worth making whatever changes are necessary to feel great. I know it can seem like an uphill climb and a lot of trouble, but I hope I’ve been able to show you that it’s possible to do this in a way that’s sustainable, and effective. It’s possible to see this all the way through, and to feel the confidence and sense of accomplishment that comes from crushing this huge goal. Deciding you want to change is a great first step. The next step, is to start experimenting, and finding a style of eating that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle, long-term.
So let’s say you’ve been following me for a bit, and you’ve decided you want to give flexible dieting a whirl. Awesome! I truly don’t feel like flexible dieting is actually a “diet”, it’s more a style of eating that teaches you about portion control and how to eat a more balanced diet. Planning my meals ahead, has been a huge part of my success with this style of eating. However, I know from experience and from numerous other women that have come to me with questions, that meal planning can be overwhelming in the beginning.
When you’re first starting out, think of meal planning as a labor of love that will set you up for success for the week. The point of flexible dieting, isn’t to meticulously obsess over every gram of food that goes into your mouth. For me, this is a way of teaching myself what appropriate portions should look like, with the goal being to eventually move into eating more intuitively. I have had a life time of bad eating habits. Flexible dieting to me, is taking the time that’s necessary to learn balance and better habits.
This week I thought it might be helpful to someone starting out, if I kind of go through my process each week, when I’m planning out my meals. I’ll try to reverse engineer my thought process so it makes as much sense as possible! Just know that as time goes on and you find meals you like, as you start to learn portions, and what makes up each food..it starts to become second nature and the hardest part about it will be figuring out what you’re craving each week.
I have always prided myself on being a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of gal. I’m not much on planning ahead, and I tend to be a procrastinator. So one of the hardest new habits I had to form, was looking ahead at my week. When I start planning out my meals, I look at which days I work first. Because I work 12 hour shifts, I know I’m not cooking, or going to the gym on those days. Next I see what nights we have baseball practice or games. Do we have doctor’s appointments, hair cuts, or anything else out of the norm? My next priority after all of those other things, is when can I go to the grocery store, and when can I cook my food? Even if my week is so jam-packed that there’s no way I’m making it to the gym (which normally doesn’t happen, as I’m not that exciting), I know that at the bare minimum, if I can get my food prepared for the week, I’ll still make progress.
Start With The Staples
Next, I start plugging foods into My Fitness Pal. There are several food tracking apps out there, but I have always used My Fitness Pal, so I’ll use it to explain. This is going to sound ridiculous coming from me, but I actually don’t like tracking my food.
I’m not good at entering in my foods everyday. So instead of just saying screw it, I enter in one full day of eating, once a week. I meal prep the food I need for that plan, and eat those meals until it’s time for my next “cheat meal”, or until it’s time to make a new meal plan. Doing it this way just helps me to not have to really think about it the rest of the week, or track my food everyday. If you like more variety, or have more time to cook food fresh each day, then you can do that as well. It’s truly about finding a schedule that works best for you. The first things I always enter in, are my “staple foods”. These are foods that I know I’m going to eat every day. No matter what my other meals are, I know I’m always going to drink a protein shake, and I always eat some sort of bar for one of my snacks. Once I have those in, I just start working around them to complete my day of eating. I typically work in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks in between meals. I love me some snacks!
Down to The Nitty-Gritty
On to breakfast. I’ve been eating this way for quite a while now, and I’ve been able to find a few different breakfasts that I rotate through, that are easy to make, taste good reheated, and that I know I’ll actually want to eat when I’m tired and hungry. For me, my breakfasts are usually some sort of egg scramble, or Kodiak Cakes pancakes. If you haven’t tried Kodiak Cakes yet, I definitely recommend you jump on it!
Now I just have to figure out lunch, dinner, and one more snack. Lunch and dinner are usually interchangeable, and I have the same criteria as breakfast. I want something that tastes good reheated or is easy to make fresh, and it has to be something that I’ll actually want to eat for a few days in a row until my scheduled MSM. I try to also think of things that I can easily pack for lunch on the days I work.
Over time, I have made a list in my phone of “go to” meals, that are meals that have worked well for me, so that I can refer back to them if ever I’m drawing a blank when trying to figure out what to make. Whenever I figure out what type of meal I want to make, I usually start by entering in the protein. Chicken, lean ground turkey, pork tenderloin, fish, or any lean meats are great options. So for example, this week for dinner, I had buffalo chicken flatbread. So when entering in my meal, I start with the chicken. For women, a good starting amount is 4 ounces. Next, I can either scan the bar code on the greek yogurt ranch I used for the base, or search for the brand manually. I do the same thing for the Flat Out flatbread. I typically don’t enter in things like spinach, green onions, or the Frank’s Red Hot buffalo sauce I used. I don’t fret too much about foods with very low caloric values. I’m not trying to be in a bikini show, and they aren’t going to make that much of a difference for me. Keep in mind, starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, or carrots, do have more calories and carbs and would need to be accounted for. Also fruits like bananas, or oranges that can be higher in carbs would need to be added in.
Now I just need one more snack. Snacks can be whatever you like that fit your numbers. However, one thing that helps me, is to pick one sweet snack, and one more salty snack like crackers and a baby bell cheese wedge. That way, no matter what I’m craving throughout the day, I have something to satisfy me.
Crunching The Numbers
So we’ve got all of our food for the day plugged in, now it’s time to see where we’re at with the numbers. If you don’t know what your macros should be starting out, it can be kind of confusing because different websites can give you different numbers. When I started, I used a calculator online that I’ll link here. Then you can go into the goals section under settings in My Fitness Pal, and change your macronutrient goals to those numbers.
When you get all of your food entered in for the day, you can scroll down to the very bottom of your daily food diary, and click on the black nutrition button. Under nutrition, you’ll find sections for calories, nutrients, and macros. For me, the most helpful section is the nutrients section. Here I can see not only my daily goals, but how many grams per macronutrient I still have to work with. I’m using my numbers as an example, just keep in mind that my macros are calculated based on my height, current weight, age, and activity level…and your numbers will be different and specific to you.
I’m not a major stickler for the numbers, I just try to get them in the ball park. Protein, carbs, and fats, are my main concern. However, I do try to not go crazy with sodium or sugar, and I try to get the daily recommended amount of fiber. Word to the wise, fiber may be something that seems insignificant, but when you’re eating a higher amount of protein and not as many carbs as you normally would, fiber becomes very important. I won’t get graphic…just make sure you’re paying attention to your fiber. Your intestines will thank you!
The easiest way I can think to teach you how to make adjustments if you’re over or under on a macronutrients, is to just give examples. So let’s say you’ve entered all of your food. For breakfast you’ve decided on a protein shake,
and an egg scramble with turkey bacon and cheese. For lunch you’re having pork tenderloin, potatoes, and green beans. For dinner: a chicken burrito bowl with 1 cup of rice, sour cream, cheese, pico, and salsa. For one snack you want a protein bar, and for the other one, some fruit and a string cheese.
So you get everything in, but now see that you’re over on your amount of carbs for the day. Breakfast didn’t have that many carbs, but we can take carbs from lunch with the potatoes, or we can decrease the amount of rice in our burrito bowl. Or if we’re low on carbs, we can add more.
If we’re over or under on protein, the easiest thing to adjust is the meat, so adding or taking away pork tenderloin with lunch, or chicken with dinner. It’s the same with fat, we can take away one of the egg yolks with breakfast and add in more egg whites, or adjust the cheese or sour cream. It’s just like working a little puzzle to get the numbers in the ball park. Once you get them close, you can check the pie chart under the macros section if you wish. Just like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Eventually you’ll start to compile a list of “go to” meals, and planning out your meals will get a lot faster.
Pulling It Together
Now all you have to do is get the groceries, make the food, and eat the food! If groceries shopping isn’t your favorite thing, Kroger and many other grocery stores now offer online ordering, and it will rock your world. Most of the time, I’ll still go into the store to shop, but if I’m ever really busy or short on time, it’s amazing.
As far as meal prep, I try to keep it as simple as possible. Lately I’ve been wearing out my InstantPot, but typically I’ll make one crock pot meal, and one meal that I have to make on the stove top or in the oven so that I can multitask. Meal prepping can seem like a chore at first, but it truly saves me so much time and money throughout the week…and also helps me stay on track with my eating. When I know I already have food prepared at home, that fits my macros and will get me closer to my goals, I’m much less likely to make poor impulse decisions about what to eat.
I hope that gives you kind of a broad overview of how I make my meal plans each week. I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but just know that taking the time to learn proper portions and what is actually making up your food can be life-changing. I just tried to remind myself of how much time I had spent learning bad habits and gaining weight, and to remember that it’s going to take some time to learn better habits and lose the weight. However, it truly is amazing how simply adjusting your macronutrient intake can drastically transform your body over time.
I truly enjoy eating this way, which is how I’ve been able to keep doing it for so long. It’s like a little game or puzzle that I figure out each week, to keep working towards my goals and see what I’m capable of achieving. They don’t call it flexible dieting for nothin’! It really can cater to your personal preferences and eating habits. If you’re a person who prefers eating a larger volume of food, eating more whole foods can allow you to eat bigger portions. If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, there is also room to fit those things in as well. Personally, I prefer a balance of both. I feel my best physically, when the majority of my foods are whole, clean foods. But I also know, that mentally I’ll eventually feel deprived if I don’t fit a few processed sweets like protein bars or chocolate pancakes into my day!
Figuring out your preferences, what works best with your body, and the strategies that are going to make this something sustainable for you long-term are key! I hope this has answered some questions about meal planning and crunching the numbers, but always feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions that I may have forgotten to cover! Just take comfort in knowing, that even if it takes some experimenting and practice to figure this out, just the fact that you’re paying attention to what you’re putting in your body, means you’re already making huge strides in the right direction!