I’m sure we have all attempted to follow a diet at one point or another in our lives? And at the moment you are currently on a diet or not, but that’s obvious. You either diet or you don’t. You hedge healthy eating against unhealthy eating. You hedge good foods against bad foods. You hedge foods that you are allowed vs foods that you are not allowed, and it’s either all or nothing. You either eat well or don’t at certain periods throughout the year.
Now set diets do have their place when it comes to non-communicable diseases and illnesses. But for the average person working towards achieving their ideal physique and/or performance goals, set meal plans are simply a recipe for failure and ill physical and mental health. Yes, you may argue and say that you got into the best shape of your life after following a strict meal plan! But are you still in that shape 2 weeks after attaining it? Adherence is important, but sustainability is more important.
The reason why set diets are so popular is because they take zero effort to put together and they offer insurance for the person prescribing or advocating it. If you don’t see results or reach your goal, it’s your fault, you must have slipped up or given up right? You are accountable to adhere to the plan, not the person prescribing it. You failed, when things got tough there were no alternatives, you obviously did not have what it takes. The reputation of the person who prescribed the diet is intact, because their plans work right? But only if you stick to it 100%, 100% of the time. The blame is always on you!
Now let’s say that you followed everything to the tee, and here you are having achieved your goals, well done! But what now? The only “good” foods out there are chicken, fish, broccoli, sweet potatoes and rice. Everything else is off limits. Oh but wait, you were perfect for 12 weeks, so it’s cool to binge now, you hedged against it when you decided to diet 12 weeks ago, so you deserve it. Even though you reached your goal, again, the only person benefiting is the person who prescribed the diet. You put in all of the hard work to reach your goal, you looked great, took pics, told all your friends, but now 2 weeks later you are back to square one. Yet the person who prescribed the diet gets all the credit and more victims because they advertised your transformation all over social media. Sounds fair right?
The reality is, that set meal plans, although they may lead you to achieving your goal, lack variety, sustainability and longevity for the person following it. It is impossible to stick to a set meal plan for your entire life, I don’t care how dedicated you are or how much will power you have! Besides the fact that it is also unhealthy. Below are some of my main reasons as to why following set meal plans are a recipe for disaster;
- Adherence difficulty
Set diets and meal plans lack variety and flexibility making them extremely difficult to adhere too. They force your life to revolve around your eating, when your eating should revolve around your life. To me the word DIET stands for “Damn Impractical Eating Techniques”.
With a high adherence difficulty, it is unlikely that set meal plans and diets will be adhered to for extended periods of time. Goals will either never be achieved, and if they are, they will most definitely be short lived!
- Lifestyle implications
This one is simple. If your life revolves around what you eat, you are headed down a slippery path. Walking around with a Tupperware filled with fish and greens 24/7 and becoming anti-social because you can’t miss a meal is no way to live. You will not lose all of your progress if you don’t eat for 5 hours. Diets add extra stress to your life, shouldn’t getting in shape reduce stress?
Set meal plans and diets are severely lacking in food variety. You are confined to the foods within the plan. This leads to food segregation and tunnel vision when it comes to making healthy food choices. Often, set meal plans and diets exclude highly important food groups such as carbohydrates, dairy and fruits, which may lead to ill health and nutrient deficiencies.
Set meal plans and diets either promote binge eating or develop binge eating. In the fitness industry almost all diets allow for 1 to 2 “cheat meals” per week. Heavily binging on “bad” foods in one day or sitting is not healthy and formulates eating disorders. Does it not make more sense to have a little bit of chocolate each day or when you feel like it, rather than trying to scuffle down 10 bars because you going to have to wait another week until your next fix? Popular fad diets don’t promote binging but they do inherently develop it. Eliminating foods just makes us want them more, it is a ticking time bomb until you break the diet in a 2 day food coma before you get “back on track” for the next couple of weeks.
- Food relationships
Set meal plans and diets promote extremely unhealthy relationships with food. They give you complete tunnel vision. Anything that is not included in your diet is seen as “bad”. Your diet includes sweet potatoes but excludes quinoa, how can quinoa be excluded and seen as a “bad” food that is not allowed? It just makes no sense.
At the end of it all, education is what will ultimately set yourself up for long term success, and set meal plans and diets fall terribly short in the education department. Anyone can follow a meal plan, it is easy to understand and takes no effort on your behalf when it comes to food choices and meal structuring. They teach you to see foods as carbs, fats and proteins, when in reality, no one food will purely contain a single macronutrient. You will never learn what foods are really made up of, and that different foods supply an abundance of different nutrients. Most people see brown rice as a carb, yes the majority of its energy is made up of carbs, but it also contains protein and fat, which will contribute to those daily intakes too.
And lastly, a big issue with diets in the fitness industry especially, is that most people prescribing them also advise a high usage of supplementation along with the diet in order to “maximize” results. More often than not, these supplements are unnecessary. All they do is cost you money. Placing more importance on supplementation rather than the foods you consume is downright idiotic. Next time someone recommends that you use a specific product, ask them how it fits into your plan and how the energy and nutrient breakdown will affect your progression. Chances are good they will have no clue.