Learn how to design a meal plan customized to your personal quirks, tastes and lifestyle
I’m going to show you how to setup the ultimate meal plan.
I’m talking a meal plan that helps you reach your goals nutritionally, and in its very setup (which is your custom design), it makes it easy to stick to your plan even when life gets wonky. It balances flexibility and adaptability with clear-cut boundaries.
As you’ll see, I’m not really talking about a meal “plan,” so much as a personal system that keeps you on track.
Why Should Anyone Listen to Me?
For the simple reason that when I first got into fitness and losing weight I screwed up in pretty much every way imaginable.
This means I've spent a lot of time coming up with systems that keep my dumb self on track.
A meal plan is one of those systems. But there's more to it than just following some random set-in-stone meal plan you found on the Internet, or some list of foods sent by a trainer. Following a plan because you feel you “have” to can lead to disordered eating.
Please remember: it's not that you follow the plan or else you are “bad.” That's just… do not think that way, okay? Please? (If you have a trainer who's treating you that way, fire them.)
Instead, having your own plan is about a personal sense of autonomy and agency, self-efficacy, and an internal locus of control.
This post is an attempt to provide a foundation for what a meal plan can do for you, and how it can be used as a tool or strategy to balance fitness with the rest of your life. You can almost ignore the nutritional stuff in this guide; the real oomph is going to be in the psychology of what we're doing, and how your meal plan's underlying design and setup will affect your motivation, your willpower, your hunger and satiety, your thoughts towards food, and so on.
(Note that I say you can “almost” ignore the nutritional stuff. Don't actually ignore it. This is because the nutritional stuff and the psychological stuff are inseparable. You will begin to understand why as you read this post.
As a small side note, I also want to acknowledge the work of others. For example, if you look at the sample meal plan I provide in the downloadable package of files at the end, you might see hints of Scott Abel's work (e.g. his Cycle Diet), and there are also of course ideas here from other names in fitness (Alan Aragon springs to mind), as well as folks outside of the health and fitness space, such as Kelly McGonigal, Carol Dweck, Charles Duhigg, and more.
Why Should You Setup a Meal Plan? Simplicity.
Proper meal plans are designed to keep things simple for you. They alleviate the mental cost of decision-making. This is a minor cost, but it is one that adds up over time.
We need to do some calorie counting at first, but after that, the goal is to avoid having to think about calories as much as possible. This is about having a personal system you can “lean on” with confidence, without actually having to think about the system very much.
You do the work up front, then just rely on the system, and let the system do its work.
You setup your own, personal meal plan with custom options. You set up emergency alternate meals and/or backup meals. You calculate alternate this and alternate that. Blah blah.
And when you’re done, you just… don’t think about food. That’s the key. You don’t spend time at your computer or on your phone calculating this, that, or the other thing. You don’t negotiate with yourself about whether this or that will fit into your calories for today.
“Can I fit this in? What if I cut the portion of…?”
No. Stop. You don’t do any of that. You follow the plan.
Whatever happens, you just… follow the plan.
The plan allows choices, but only simple choices where you know any option you pick is a “win” that you can feel good about. This is very motivating.
As long as you follow the plan, it’s a win. Got that? As long as you follow the plan, it’s a win. It’s a weight off your shoulders.
Note that I’m not talking about being the diet police, and then taking pride in that. That is just… don’t do that. (Seriously, just don’t.) Adaptability and change and iteration needs to be built in.
As you go, you can change the meal plan based on things like food preferences or cravings, but for the most part, you set things up so you’re not required to think about these things unless you want to.
So, no: you don’t change the plan on a day-to-day basis. You modify the plan when you have some spare time on the weekend and you’re thinking about the plan as a whole. This way, you’re doing it rationally and when you can think about the larger picture.
You don’t modify the plan when you’re at the office and someone offers you a cookie. You don’t modify the plan “on the fly” as you pass by a Cinnabon. You do it when you’ll actually be thinking rationally.
Before We Begin:
I’m going to show you how to set up a healthy meal plan that’s intelligent, smart, and strategic.
I will even include a calculator later on, plus other resources (tools, examples, spreadsheets, etc.), just to make this as easy as possible for you.
However, I'll be honest: setting this up for the first time is kind of… well, a pain.
Is it a lot of words to read through this guide? Yes.
Is it a pain in the butt to setup something like this? You betcha.
Again: that’s the point. Once you set it up, the work is done.
There is a great deal of peace of mind knowing that you don’t need to second guess yourself. Is your brain playing tricks on you? Probably. But it doesn’t matter, because you just trust the plan. That’s always your answer.
“What about abo—“
No. Trust the plan.
“I know you said that, bu—“
No. Stop. Trust the plan.
Steps 1 to 5 are pretty basic. You’ve seen them before. But as we go through them, and especially when we got to Steps 6-10, you’ll start seeing a theme emerge about creating a system that works for you. You end up being a craftsman. You craft options and rules that will serve you and your values and principles. This requires intelligence, creativity, self-awareness.
We can break down the meal plan design process into three parts: calculations, personalizations, and iterations.
Part 1. Meal Plan Calculations
Step 1. Decide on a Total Calorie Range
Make this up if you have some experience, or just use a simple formula that’ll give you a reasonable target range of daily calories. By simple, I mean simple. For weight loss, I would choose this:
[ bodyweight in pounds ] X 10 = Lower Range
[ bodyweight in pounds ] X 13 = Upper Range
So for a 200 lb. person, we get 2,000 to 2,600 as our total daily range.
I chose 10-13 instead of the usual 10-12 just to round up a bit and play it safe.
You can cut calories later on to “tighten things up.” But I like having a larger range because it lets you make a few decisions based on hunger, without actually overeating. You can always stick to the lower range if you want! (Or, again, if you need to tighten things up.)
Also, forget Harris Benedict or Katch-McCardle or Mifflin (Dunder Mifflin?) or blah blah bleebidy bloo. They all suck, but offer the illusion of not sucking. That way madness lies.
A simple bodyweight X 10-13 has this single advantage: it is not making ANY pretensions about being super accurate.
It is what it claims to be: an estimate to get you started.
Step 2. Figure Out a Protein Target (in grams)
Protein is even simpler than calories. You don’t even need a formula. Your bodyweight in pounds is now what you eat in grams of protein. So our 200 lb. dieter eats 200g protein per day. Boom.
But isn’t the accepted formula for “protein needs” really 0.82g/lb of bodyweight?
Yes. Fine. But going up to 1g/lb has several advantages:
(1) It’s not even a formula. You don’t have to “multiply” your bodyweight by “1”. You just… take your bodyweight. Then you’re done. It’s that simple. Screw maths.
(2) Protein is more thermogenic than carbs or fats. That is, digesting protein burns more calories. A bit more protein can therefore help with dieting.
(3) Protein is more satiating than carbs or fats. Most satiating of all is a combination of protein with a carb or a fat. As you’ll see, that’s exactly what I suggest below.
(4) If you go with my formula and go “over” the minimum, you give yourself some wiggle room, just in case you mess up, or one of your back up meals means you’re actually just under your target. In this system, that’s fine. No worries at all. More is certainly not always better, and you can absolutely take this too far, but going up to 1g/lb from 0.82g/lb is not “too far.”
(5) It’s hard to find unhealthy proteins.
(6) And if you want to use 0.82g / lb of BW… just do that.
Step 3. Decide on How Many Meals Will Be In Your Plan
So then we decide how many meals you will be eating on your meal plan: two meals, three, four, five, six, seven?
This is up to you. However, once you pick, you should stay consistent, day to day. The goal is simplicity, and in this case, the hormonal entrainment of ghrelin (your hunger hormone).
Eating at roughly the same times each day, without snacking just “whenever,” will control hunger, and it will create psychological bright lines. I.e. is it on the plan? No? Then don’t eat it. No psychological negotiating. No spending all day on MyFitnessPal trying to figure out what you can “fit in.”
(Don’t panic. The meal plan will have options.)
Aside from personal preference, as a good rule of thumb, the fewer calories you eat, the fewer meals you should have. If your upper range of calories is 2,000 or below, I recommend not going above five meals. This is just so you can actually feel each meal hit your stomach.
As you will see in the next step, we want to make our meals evenly spaced out in terms of calories, because this will make meal substitutions easy peezy. This is optional, but I recommend it.
Step 4. Use Steps 1-3 to Calculate Your Per Meal Calorie Range(s)
So still using our 200 lb. friend as an example, let’s say he picked 3 as the number of meals per day he will eat.
All we do is divide the upper calories and the lower calories each by 3, and round off to whatever:
2,600 / 3 = ~870
2,000 / 3 = ~670
Calories per meal = 670 – 870
What the above means is that each meal should be above 670 calories (or thereabouts), and below 870 calories (or thereabouts).
What matters is iterating, adjusting, and tweaking based on not just how you progress, but how you experience hunger, or even how hard it is to make your meal plan work in your personal life circumstances. In other words: making it work while living in the real world.
I’ll get to that.
Step 5. Use Steps 1-3 (again) to Calculate Your Per Meal Protein Target
Same as step four, but this time for protein.
You can do two things here. Option 1 is just dividing total protein by total number of meals. Again, with our 200 lb. friend:
200 / 3 = 67g protein per meal.
That’s a general target. If we miss it, no biggie (no, really, it doesn't matter), especially because we gave ourselves wiggle room earlier. The other thing you can do is give yourself a “minimum.” If you want to do this, just use the same formula, but subtract about 10%.
Step 1. (200 / 3) = 67g
Step 2. 67g – 10% = 61g
…or heck even round down to 60g! (Because seriously, it makes no difference.)
Let’s go over what we’ve done at this point:
- We decided on a total calorie range per day, based loosely on bodyweight.
- We decided on the number of meals we would have.
- Using this, we figured out what the range for each meal should be.
- We repeated the above two steps for protein.
What we have in front of us:
We now have a basic set of “rules” we can use to create a meal plan with options that can be swapped in or out. No matter how we swap in or swap out our meals, we will fall within the right range.
Here is an image of a meal plan that should get across what we have at this point:
Part 2. Personalizations
Step 6. Pick Your Foods and Figure Out Portion Sizes
You now have a few sets of numbers to keep in mind for each meal.Using these, here is how to set up a meal plan that doesn’t suck:
Each meal should include simple whole foods your grandmother would recognize. My grandmother would recognize “potatoes.” She would not know what an “Xtreme Thinsation” is. She would not know what “low carb sugar alcohols” are. Exceptions for me are protein powder and rice cakes. This is mostly convenience, combined with the fact that they’re both pretty good, regarding your overall satiety.
If you’re just starting out, then yes, brand-name foods, or pre-made dinners are fine… for some meals, but NOT all of them.
If you’re just starting a diet or trying to lose weight, I would focus more on getting this system right before I did anything else. In other words, yes, sacrifice other habit- or diet-related priorities to get this right, up front. Move on to those other things when you’re comfortable with this new setup. Yes, this even includes exercise. “Getting the meal plan right” would be my main focus. In general, don’t try to change multiple habits at once, but do aim for big wins. A solid diet strategy and meal plan is a big win. So put in the work now to get it right.
Each meal in the plan should be comprised of a protein, plus a carb, a fat, or something that’s a little of both. Examples: Chicken and potatoes, cottage cheese mixed with protein powder and almonds, eggs or egg whites and oatmeal mixed with a tablespoon of peanut butter. You get the idea. You should also include portion sizes for all of these, so it’s not just “chicken and potatoes,” but actually “150g chicken and 180g potatoes” or whatever. The portion sizes are up to you, and you’ll have to play with them to make ‘em fit your general ranges.
Each meal in the plan should have alternate meal options. In addition to these (where the alternate options are tied to an individual meal), you *can* also set up a few vague “alternate meals” that can be swapped in for any of your meals from time to time. Or, really: if all your options fall within your calorie ranges above, your meals can be totally 100% interchangeable. You have to play with this a bit. There is not a hard and fast rule on it, except the plan has to make sure as long as you’re following it, you’re not screwing up too much.
Use calorie counters like MyFitnessPal or Excel or something to figure out portion sizes and set up your plan and decide on what foods and in what amounts. But after the plan is set up, copy and paste the plan into a text file, and when you do this: don’t include the calorie counts. Yes, do save the calorie counts elsewhere for future reference, when you want to come back to the plan and modify it. But for the plan you print out, don’t include them.
You can iterate the plan as you go. Do not change up your plan every day. Instead, keep it to once a week (at most) or something. More on this below.
Carbs after 6 p.m. are allowed and encouraged, especially if they help you sleep!
Do not count Pam cooking spray or ketchup or things like that. Doing this is going down the calorie-counting rabbit hole. Don’t do it.
In most meal plans, Step 6 would be the very last step. (This is why most meal plans aren’t very good.)
The goal at this point is to have some basic options and variety, but your decision-making is never more complicated than “A or B.” That’s it, that’s all. A or B. “Hmm, maybe I’ll go online to calculate if I can fit in—“
NO! Your options are A… or B. That’s it. Spend your time thinking about something else. Make your decision, then move on with your day and stop thinking about food.
If you’re still craving whatever it is, have it for a cheat meal later that week (deferred gratification is cool and good), or if what you’re craving is basically a healthy whole food, you can consider setting it up an alternate meal option this weekend, and iterate the plan as a whole.
Step 7. Add In Your Own Personal Weirdo Rules
Personal weirdo rules are important because they are yours.
First, they give you a sense of autonomy and an internal locus of control. (This is also why the plan as a whole should be setup by you.)
Secondly, the other reason for these weirdo rules is to include ones that force you to bring out your best self… however you may define that. This can be about being smarter, more humble, more driven, more passionate, more motivated, whatever.
The purpose is not to include rules because we're the diet police and we want to keep ourselves in line.
At the same time, the purpose is also not to include rules because, “Well, I really like Skittles.”
The purpose is to ensure you’re thinking about food in a positive and healthy manner, to help you get in touch with the sweet spot of hunger, and things like that.
The rules keep you locked onto your values and principles. This is where it gets down to a person-by-person thing, and you have to really dig into your motivations.
So, for example, “It’s important to me that I be able to eat out with friends on a regular basis,” could be a very good reason, depending on those underlying motivations. If it's about maintaining your mental flexibility and wanting to “be there” for your friends, well, that's a good principle and a good underlying motivation. No matter what, you should not miss social engagements over food; the question is how you approach them. Do you order nothing? Just a Diet Coke? Do you, perhaps, have a rule that when you do go out, you order the salmon with baked potato? Again, you need to be real and honest with what will serve your goals, avoid any mental turmoil, and — as I said — bring out your best self.
In the case of eating out, there are several ways to accommodate that into a diet in a reasonable and healthy manner, by getting used to ordering off the regular menu so that you effectively get a meal that’s pretty close to what’s on your plan anyway (e.g., “I’ll have grilled chicken and a baked potato. Could you hold off on the [whatever] sauce you usually put on the chicken?”). For these, planning ahead makes it much easier. You might have an “order of operations” for what to order: start with the grilled chicken and baked potato. Oh, they don't have that? That means you move on to the steak and grilled veggies. None of that either? Then it's the salmon and a salad, please.
Moderation is possible; the only thing I want to acknowledge, is that moderation isn’t always easy to “just do.” Everyone says “use moderation” but half the time that's the more difficult option!
“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”
For example, it can be very motivating to be “perfect” and to “only” eat what’s “exactly” on the plan.
The problem is that you can easily go too far with this.
Too much calorie counting can lead to obsessive calorie counting. Being “perfect” for some people makes them feel good in one sense, but it means they never go out to social engagements where food will be present, and they feel tormented over it.
That is not healthy.
The rules are here to give us a framework for navigating these tensions according to our own values. (No, not my values, and not your personal trainer's values — your values.) The system I’m proposing here is that you try to incorporate personal rules (and principles) that allow you to get the best of both worlds, especially when it comes to moderation.
You know you are using some mental flexibility, and you know you are not turning into a social shut in because of your diet, and you know you aren’t getting obsessed about calories… but you feel very good about your meal-to-meal decisions, because they all “fit the plan,” given its structure and the personal weirdo rules you set up beforehand.
In order to do this well, you need to be honest with yourself about your principles, your values, and your actual, real-life circumstances. (What are the potential hiccups for your diet? What responsibilities do you have? etc.)
What rules you make to accommodate these sorts of thing are all up to you, but just ask yourself: is this rule bringing out my best self (however you define that)?
It depends on your priorities, but generally, always come back to the idea that the point of these is to bring out your best self.
“Well, I want to fit this in because its tasty” isn’t necessarily your best self. It’s just a craving. I mean… that’s fine. Cravings are absolutely part of life. It is normal that you have them. Please don’t feel guilty about that at all. They’re a part of you; they’re just not the part of you that makes you an awesome amazing human being.
Good weirdo rules can keep you in a mindset of “I am making decisions that serve me and my goals” while at the same time preventing you from becoming overly obsessed with calories, macros, and being afraid to go out with friends because of the mental turmoil and temptation.
The example rules I have here generally accomplish one of a few things:
What Weirdo Rules Accomplish:
(1) They allow for some mental and real-world flexibility (in the sense of preventing obsession).
(2) They keep you from reifying calorie counts or thinking there is something magic about being overly precise with them.
(3) They help you get in touch with your own hunger and the “sweet spot” of hunger without letting you truly over eat (or binge).
(4) They provide backups for real-life circumstances that allow you to be flexible while feeling good about your decisions.
Examples of Weirdo Rules
Here are ideas that I have used or seen other people use:
- Drink as many zero calorie soft drinks as you want, provided that for every glass of calorie-free [whatever] you drink, you drink a glass of water.
- Create an alternate meal option that includes eating at a fast food joint like Subway or McDonald’s. Make this option fit into your calorie guidelines above *mostly*. It’s okay to be off by 50-100 calories. Do this once a week for the sole purpose of reminding yourself that no meal plan is perfect, there is no magic calorie level, and a few preservatives won’t kill you. Whether or not this is a good rule for you depends on your mindset. This isn’t about “well, I like McDonald’s.” It’s about confronting the fact that no plan is perfect, and you can’t maths your way thin.
- For example, let’s say our 200 lb. friend is trying to keep his meals between 525-575 calories (or between 500 and 600, because he’s a cool dude who is willing to round things up or down, for simplicity). So he orders the 6-inch Chicken Teriyaki with X, Y, and Z because the website said that option is 550 calories, and that’s perfect, given his plan. Our 200-lb. friend knows the website’s calories are often off base (even up to 200%!) but he includes this meal anyway, because it’s a reminder to him that no diet is perfect, and consistency matters more than being super obsessed with calorie tracking.
- Same as the above, but go to a non-fast food restaurant, and order off the menu. I.e. ask for grilled chicken and a baked potato, and could they hold the butter? Don’t be afraid of this. Own it. This is a good rule if you need confidence doing something like this.
- Create a set of “go-to” options for restaurants that fit your plan. Grilled chicken and baked potato. Salmon and grilled veggies. Grilled chicken or tuna salad. Acknowledge that these may not match up perfectly with your calories, but you’ll be in the ball park and that’s good enough.
- Go out for a cheat meal once a week. This is to keep things real. A good addendum to this rule might be: go out for a cheat meal once a week, but it has to be with friends, and it has to be at a restaurant. This way, you don’t need to keep tempting foods in the house, and you won’t sit at home alone and binge. You’ll have a real meal, maybe with nice dessert. You won’t have 20,000 calories of ice cream and be a social shut-in.
- Create an alternate “emergency kit” option that can be subbed for any meal. I like protein powder in a Tupperware, plus rice cakes. (I prefer the barbecue flavor.) It’s not my favourite meal, exactly, but it serves me in a pinch. Other good options for this include almonds, beef jerky, and protein powder mixed with cottage cheese. Bad options include the “snack packs” they give for kids’ lunches or whatever.
- For one of your carb sources, forget calories and make the carb source “as much fresh fruit as you want.” This means that on some days you have two apples. On others, you have an apple, a banana, and some bits of watermelon. On other days, have two grapefruits, or just one. Never count calories for these, but always go by hunger. This will teach you to get in touch with your hunger, and it will do so in a way that you won’t overeat. Seriously, try to over eat on pineapple. I double dog dare you. This rule has the added advantage that it will also (again) prevent you going down the “calorie counting” rabbit hole of thinking you can maths your way thin. If/when you’re setting up the meal plan and you want to use this rule, just try to estimate what the average amount of fruit is, and use that as your calorie count. Is that 100% accurate? No. Neither are food labels. Get over it. It's good enough. Move on.
- Add in a meal that is entirely optional, and is based on hunger. Usually, this would be pre-bed, because other forms of snacking kind of mess things up (in terms of hunger hormones and ghrelin), and if you really feel hungry before bed, it can mess with your sleep to go to bed on an empty, grumbly stomach. Again: just make sure that no matter what options you pick on the plan, you fall *generally* within your preferred range. To use the calories above: say your total range is 2,000 – 2,600. You might set up a basic four meals-per-day plan that kept you within 2,000 – 2,300 calories… but on top of that plan, you had an extra, optional fifth meal of 300 calories. This way, whether you eat that fifth meal or not, you are within the right range. Starting to get the idea? Be creative. Be smart. Be mindful of your own habits, preferences, and patterns.
- Figure out a “worst case” backup scenario. Maybe it’s going into a gas station, finding something that vageuly fits your calorie level, and eating it. You don't try to get exact protein grams, but you do try to eat something that common sense tells you has some protein. So: a bag of Skittles might give you the right calorie amount, but it won’t have any protein. A tuna sandwich will likely get you pretty much where you need to be. If it’s from a gas station, a tuna sandwich also might make you a genius, just like that “Parasites Lost” episode of Futurama where Fry gets stomach parasites and learns to play the holophonor. No, I did not have to look up that episode title. Yes, I’m that much of a nerd.
Part 3. Iterations
Step 8. Ongoing Personalization and Optimization of Your Meal Plan
You won’t get things “just right” first thing out of the gate. Also, your tastes and such will change over time. Your lifestyle will change over time.
A plan is always a work in progress. You iterate it. You optimize it. You just keep going.
You iterate it based on cravings, on your day-to-day life and lifestyle circumstances (school, work, job, family, etc.), your hunches, your hunger, your desires, or whatever. But you do it when you’re thinking calmly and rationally.
Here are some reasons to iterate or change the plan:
Reasons to Iterate or Change the Plan:
A meal tastes terrible and you hate it, no matter how many times you try to prep it slightly differently.
It turns out you have a meal that doesn’t travel well, and recently you have needed a viable alternate option for it, much more often than you originally thought you would.
Your third meal, the one you have each day at work, tastes terrible when you eat it out of your Tupperware. It’d be way better to just eat that meal home. Swap it with meal five, which travels much better.
You think _____ might be more satiating than _____.
You are terrible at cooking, but things are going pretty well, and you figure it’s time you tried cooking _____. Throw the new food in the plan and give it a go. (It will suck at first, but if you’re eating it every day or every other day, you’ll get better fast.)
It turns out ______ is very expensive. Or the grocery store you go to just hiked the price on it for some reason. Or the grocery store stopped carrying the brand you like, and the alternate brand just… *sigh* well, it just isn’t the same.
If you want to try something, you try it. Have I mentioned that this is not rocket science?
Step 8 is why you saved or kept some version of the meal plan with the calorie counts, by the way. You want to not think about those calories on a day-to-day basis, but for swapping in foods, yeah, they’re useful to come back to. Again: just don’t do this every day. Do it once a week or so.
The only reason to “go back” to calories is to swap in foods here and there. For example, if you want to swap in __g of oatmeal for __g of oat bran, you don’t need to check the calories—they’re pretty much the same. But if you’re swapping __g of oatmeal for __g of white potatoes, you might need to look that up. That’s fine. Do it. Just don’t do it every day. Do it when you modify the plan as a whole.
Step 9. Make Progress-Related Tweaks to Your Plan
If you hit a plateau for, oh… let’s say three weeks, then sure, modify the plan.
You don’t need to check the calories for this, and you should try to avoid doing it, but you can if you want or really need to.
For example, as an initial step, you can adjust just your upper calorie range. For example, if the range is 2,000 to 2,600, you might make it 2,000 to 2,400. Then you just play with the portion sizes so the plan keeps you between 2,000 and 2,400.
That would be an initial tweak. A later tweak might just shift both the lower and the upper limits down a bit.
However, I want you to TRY avoiding relying too much on calories for this step, if you come to it.
Instead, try to think in terms of your specific plan and your specific options.
If you think about it calmly and rationally, you might know what’s holding you back or causing the plateau. If you stop and address things rationally, you won’t need “calories” or a spreadsheet to tell you what's going on.
Maybe you know that Meal 3 is just plain too big, because it fills you up way more than any of the other meals. No problem — that’s where you likely need to adjust the portion sizes.
Maybe you know that your weekly cheat meal is a bit too big, or that your brilliant idea to include two cheat meals each week is, as it turns out, getting in the way of progress.
Maybe you feel deep down that going to restaurants every single day is adding up to something that actually will get in the way of progress. Once or twice a week won’t hurt, ever, if you use the suggestions above. If you eat out every day, you might very well need to tighten up what you order in some way. (“How” would depend on your life, the restaurant, what you’re ordering. Use common sense.)
Maybe you know that your plan initially gave you a range of 2,000 to 2,600 calories, but with the way you’ve set up your options, and with the way you personally make use of those options on a day-to-day basis, you’re always, always eating foods towards the very upper end of your allowed range. In this case, you just think about what you’re actually doing and eating on a day to day basis, and adjust the portions and options on your plan to account for this.
When you do things in this way, you are adjusting the plan directly.
Calories are an exchange value. They are certainly a useful one, but they are not 100% accurate, for just a whole plethora of reasons.
By contrast, the food on your plan is what you’re actually putting into your body. Try to adjust that directly, over and above an abstracted exchange value for those things. Trust me. It works way better, if you can do it without second-guessing this, that, and whatever, then freaking out and quitting.
The idea is you stop and re-evaluate things every once in awhile, when you’re calm and rational and have had a chance to think things over. Also, the fact that you only modify the plan every once in awhile (how often could be a weirdo rule for you, hint hint!) means that you are kind of forced to be patient, instead of just trying something new every day before you’ve had a chance to give what you’re doing an honest test.
As a final note: you can also, of course, raise your portion sizes or re-evaluate the plan if hunger is too high, or you’re losing weight too fast, or if you’re actually trying to put on weight but you’ve plateaued in some way.
Step 10. Use the Plan. Move Forward.
Use the plan. Enjoy life. Make simple decisions based on the plan, then stop thinking about food.