Ever try to get on some diet plan trying to drop a couple pounds and then end up gaining a few pounds instead?
You are NOT alone!
Just because there are hundreds of diets and meal plans available at your finger tips on the internet and in magazines does not mean that they will work for YOU. While these meal plans may be healthier than what you are currently eating, if you are eating too many calories for your daily needs, you will end up in a caloric excess… which is a fancy way of saying you will gain weight.
Your Body Has Specific Needs
The sample meal plans that you may run across are not the Holy Grail to weight loss, but instead they meant to be used as a tool to “guide you” along the right path. Those meal plans are a great way to learn about how you can incorporate great tasting food into your daily regimen. The sample meal plans are guides simply because the nutritionist or trainer who created it does not know YOU and your background or your specific needs.
When it comes to your daily caloric needs a few factors that come into play are:
Lean Muscle Mass
Basal Metabolic Rate
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
Previous or Current Medical Conditions
You would be hard pressed to find a meal plan that takes all of those factors into account as they pertain to you. So how can you figure out what your specific need are without spending hundreds of dollars on metabolic assessments and mysterious blood work? Hate to break it to you but the answer is good old fashioned trial and error.
In order to get a rough estimate of the amount of calories your body needs, you can use several basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculators that will give you an idea of the amount of calories you need to take in daily for weight maintenance. Your BMR is the amount of calories you would need to consume each day in order to maintain your current weight if you were to lay in bed all day. Some of the more sophisticated calculators will give you the option of plugging in your level of activity which will then compensate and add in an additional amount of calories based on your energy expenditure via physical activity/working out/lifestyle.
Below are a few links to BMR calculators that will give you a “ball park” estimate of your calorie needs to help you get started. Remember that these calculators are not the be-all-end-all but rather a great place to start if you are in the dark about how much food you really need (this becomes especially important when beginning any type of exercise program).
If you want to take you calorie tracking to the next level, try the calculator on the IIFYM site. I like this IIFYM calculator for when I am really trying to dial in my nutrition because you can plug in your specific details such as age, weight and activity level. From there you can choose your calorie intake based on your goal (fat loss, maintaining, bulking or your own customized number). Then the calculator will suggest a break down the amount of calories you need in grams per each macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrates). You also have the option to set the desired preferences as you see fit.
Setting Up Your Meal Plan
Now that you know your daily calorie needs- where do you go from there? This is where those delicious sounding pre written meal plans will come into great use. At the bottom of many sample meal plans you will usually find the total calories and the amount of carbohydrates, fats and protein in grams for the entire plan.
For example- I need 2,000 calories a day to maintain my current weight with my current activity level. If I find a delicious sounding meal plan that is is 2,500 calories for the entire day, I do not have to disqualify that meal plan because it is too many calories. In this case, all I need to do is modify. By modify I mean I will find a way to cut out 500 calories from the originally written meal plan in order to hit my 2,000 calorie daily goal. A good way to do this may be to remove an ounce of protein, an ounce of nuts or cut the servings of fruit in half. After that I can see where the total calories fall. This allows me to enjoy the yummy sounding meal plan while still working towards my goals.
Now it is your turn!
Let your food work for you and help you reach your fitness goals. Eating nutritious food can be as exciting or as boring as you make it. The more exciting you make it, the more likely you will be to stick to healthier option and revamp your lifestyle in the long run.
You can download and use this free food log or simply write down the amount of food you eat and keep track of that for a few days in order to make a good first assessment. After a few days you will realize you need more or less calories depending on how your body responds.
Do you already keep a food log or have a set amount of calories you try to reach each day? Please share your experiences in the comments section below to help others!
Please consult with your doctor before beginning any diet or workout routine.*