"I wish I could be a fly on your pantry wall and see what you eat all week."
My friend Lisa said that to me on Friday and it made me smile for two reasons:
1. You don't actually want to be a fly on my pantry wall. I'm a Ninja fly-killer and I will kill you; and
2. My pantry is 80% dog and cat food and treats, and 10% half-empty bags of gluten-free baking ingredients, and 10% cans of protein powder and jars of nut butter. If you need a Beef Jerky stick or some buckwheat flour, I got you.
But seriously, people say things like this to me all the time because I think there's a misconception about us "fitness people." You think we drink green smoothies and wheat grass shots for breakfast and eat perfectly balanced, Instagram-perfect meals every day.
#HealthyChoices #Lifestyle #Paleo #Don'tYouWishYouWerePerfectLikeMe
What Women THINK THEY Want
Recently I took a survey of Fat Loss Foodie readers, asking for input on 2017 programs and the #1 request was for meal plans.
"If someone could just tell me exactly what to eat...like, give me a meal plan. Then I could figure this whole food thing out."
I am a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and Metabolic Effect nutrition coach, so I could write you the most bitchingly perfect meal plan ON THE PLANET. I could, right now, with very little effort, write the world's most perfect meal plan that would get women RIPPED, and I could sell it for $24.99, or $50, or $297 and people would freaking buy it because that's how the internet works now.
"Then why don't you, Leslie Ann? You're such a jerk!"
No, I'm not a jerk. But I am a sarcastic ass sometimes (that's just my sense of humor) and at the end of the day, I'm always going to keep it real with you: That just ain't how it happens.
If I asked you to write me a meal plan, I bet you could do it, and I bet if you followed it, you would lose weight. You already know what to eat, or you at least have a very good base knowledge of what you should eat. The problem isn't a lack of information or knowledge. The problem is your inability to implement a real, lasting solution. For sustainable fat loss, you need hormonal balance and a slight caloric deficit consistently over a long period of time. Think: months and years, not days.
You know what meal plans do? They give you structure, they take out the "thinking" and someone else tells you what to eat. If you follow it, you will lose weight, but by virtue of the fact that someone else wrote it for you and it doesn't work in your real life, it won't work in the long run.
I promise you a Beef Jerky stick from my pantry: outside of bodybuilders and competitors prepping for fitness competitions or professional athletes and models preparing for specific events (like magazine covers and photo shoots), most lean, fit people don't live on meal plans 365 days a year - and you don't need one either.
The Answer Is Not A Meal Plan
You don't need a meal plan. You don't need me or anyone else to tell you exactly what to eat.
What you need is to figure out why you don't eat the things you know you're supposed to eat.
Just sit with that for a minute. Ask yourself what happened the last time you "messed up" and didn't eat what you were supposed to. Why didn't you do it? Why did you do X instead? (X = your "nutrition indiscretion.")
Why did you eat half a bag of stale chips in your pantry? Why did you order a burger and fries instead of a salad with grilled salmon? Why did you order a margarita when you swore you were getting unsweetened tea? Why did you eat 5 cookies instead of 1.
I'm not asking so I can punish you or call you names or make you feel bad about yourself. I bet you already did that. I'm asking because these are the questions you should be asking.
ME: As An Example
I'll use myself as an example. When I've been training for specific events in the past, I thought it was easier to just pay someone to write me a meal plan. And it was easy. Click! Click! Purchase! Oooooh LOOK! A MEAL PLAN! Shiny new meal plan in hand, I would go spend $100+ at the grocery store, cook everything and weigh it and put it in containers. And you know what happened?
After 3-4 days I was like, "Eff this. If I open one more container, I'm going to throw up." Then I would throw my hands up and say, "I guess I'm just not meant to have a six pack. I just don't have the discipline to follow a meal plan."
After doing this a few times and realizing that my bank account was losing more than I was, I took a deeper look at what was really going on. Here's what I've learned through my repeated cycles of meal plans and failure:
The problem isn't the meal plan. The problem is someone else telling me what to do. Apparently I have major issues with authority and strict rules. I love structure and discipline and authority in some areas of my life, but when it comes to food and workouts and a few other things, DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME WHAT TO DO or I will not do it so fast it'll make your head spin.
Once I realized this and accepted it, I started working on a solution. I needed a flexible blueprint, a template for how to eat that I could modify from day to day that still allowed me to get and stay lean year round. I'm comfortable around 15-16% body fat and can stay there pretty easily, but every one is different. Do you.
This template is high in protein and high in fiber. It's made up of all real food and does not exclude or restrict certain macronutrients (like carbs), or cut out certain food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. Now, I minimize dairy and grains and legumes because I feel and look better without them, but they are still in bounds if one day, I decide I want them and it's worth it.
Here's the funny thing: I actually don't care for legumes (beans), but once again, I now know that it's all about outsmarting my authority problems with food. If someone tells me that I can't have beans, suddenly beans are all I want.
Give me a nutrition plan that says, "No legumes," and in two shakes, I'm sitting in my car in the Chipotle parking lot, a desperate woman who's about to throw it all away for a scoop of black beans on her burrito bowl.
Being restrictive around food makes you do crazy shit, doesn't it?
And that's my point. Restricting food and limiting your choices with a strict meal plan is not a long term solution for weight loss or - the term I prefer to use - fat loss. (Fat loss ensures only fat is lost and lean muscle is maintained/gained.)
Wouldn't it be better if you could learn to live around food - ALL food, everywhere, every day - and still eat the things that you know your body needs, wants, and likes? Meal plans don't teach that.
As a trainer and coach, I do not work with women who want to compete in figure competitions or get to single digit body fat for a photo shoot. In fact, most of my clients specifically tell me they just want to fit back into their size 6 jeans, get rid of the dreaded "muffin top" or "bra fat," have a tight, feminine body with some visible muscle definition, or to feel strong and confident in their own skin.
It's that place where you look in the mirror like, "Girl, you look good!" It's your best body, when you feel hot and confident and unstoppable in life. When you can crush your workouts in the gym, fit into the clothes you want, and not be obsessed with every stupid bite of food that goes in your mouth because you have a LIFE to run.
That. AM I RIGHT? That is what I want. Is that what you want? Because you don't need a meal plan to get that.
What I Do and What I Teach
Through years of practice, I've finally learned and accepted that this is what works best for me. I do SOME food prep, and do SOME cooking ahead of time - but not all. I have good foods on hand, but I don't eat the same thing every day. I eat fruits and vegetables that are in season; I grill meat in the Summer, and I braise or roast it in the Winter.
This is also *exactly* what I teach in my 4-week online program Fat Loss Cooking School. It's also a one-day workshop. (Keep your eyes on this space for 2017 registration news soon.)
Here's the breakdown of how I operate each week:
1. PLAN MEALS
I sketch out a rough outline of 5-6 meals (meal = an animal protein, a non-starchy veggie, and a clean carb) and check my breakfast staples to be sure I have ingredients for a few days. Breakfast is always protein pancakes, protein oats, or some kind of eggs and veggies (frittatas, scrambles, omelets, etc.) I mix breakfast up with so many different flavors that I never get sick of it. The only thing I really "plan" is our dinners, and I make enough food to eat it for lunch the next day.
2. MAKE A LIST AND SHOP
I make my shopping list and hit Trader Joe's! When I get home, I'm usually inspired right then and there to attack it all and start cooking. I figure, the ingredients are already out, so instead of putting them away and dragging them back out to cook later, I might as well get it done and save a step.
3. COOK AND STORE
I cook for about an hour or so. That's it. None of this 4 hour meal prep BS. That's like half a day - GONE. I love cooking but that's crazy to me. After things are cooked, I put them in glass Pyrex dishes so I can SEE what's in them when I open the fridge. (No mystery containers hiding and rotting in the back of the fridge.) When I package up dinner leftovers, I put them right in the front of the fridge so my husband and I can grab them the next morning when we're headed out.
Last Friday, I made things like:
• Brussels Sprouts w Bacon
• Stuffed Peppers (recipe coming soon)
• Chicken salad (made it up; light mayo, chopped apple, sliced toasted almonds, salt and pepper)
• Lemon Roasted Chicken (I use Nigella Lawson's recipe. Google it:)
I do best when I have good, nourishing, ready-made foods on hand. I have no excuse or reason to NOT eat it! At meal time, I decide what I want, reheat and eat. Some days this week, I ate a scoop of chicken salad and a bowl of pumpkin soup. Other days - like today - I had a stuffed pepper with mashed cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Some things on my weekly dinner plan didn't need to be cooked early, like the cod I baked yesterday (done in 15 mins) or the NY Strip steaks I made for dinner last night. The steaks take about 12 minutes to cook, and I roasted some fennel and asparagus in the oven while they cooked.
It's Tuesday as I write this, and that hour-ish of cooking on Friday fed us all weekend, yesterday, and today. So now I'm already jotting down ideas for the next 3-4 days, because here's what I've learned through practice and persistence:
• If there is junk food or baked goods (even healthy ones) in the house, I will eat it instead of eating real, whole foods like protein and vegetables.
• If there is no food in the house, I will go into the pantry 5,000 times, eat a few scoops of almond butter, a handful of chocolate chips, still be hungry, and then kick myself for not going food shopping.
• If I fail to have good, satisfying food on hand, I will waste money eating out and not feel my absolute best.
• I can't meal prep every meal for a whole week, but I love to have a flexible game plan for 3-4 days at a time.
This doesn't feel restrictive or overwhelming. It doesn't feel like a meal plan because like I said, "PUT ME ON A PLAN. GO 'HEAD. TRY ME."
I'm afraid, if I had to boil it all down, my food prep/meal planning motto is borrowed from none other than Eric Cartman from "South Park":
"IT'S MY HOT BODY! I DO WHATTA WANT!"
And this is what it looks like. Just keeping it real. Here are some photos from my week as described above, living sans meal plan:
Happy cooking, FLF Girls,