Making an eating plan is everything when it comes to weight loss mindset and coaching. But as I often hear from my clients, having to think ahead about your eating decisions and to measure, weigh, and calculate is not fun or comfortable. I get it.
The other day I made a list of objections to planning that I’ve heard from my clients, and I could have kept going for a whole day.
It got me riled up because I started thinking about all the lies and the B.S. I hear my clients’ brains offering them that is keeping them from living the life they want in the body they want.
Planning your food ahead of time
Planning your food ahead of time with your adult brain and with love for your future self, and learning how to honor that plan no matter what, is everything.
It is you choosing what you want most over what you want at the moment, and that skill is the one thing that will change your results.
I know you may have your own thoughts and objections about planning ahead of time. You may have been scarred by your past experiences of food journaling everything that went into your mouth.
You may feel rage and resistance to the idea of measuring, weighing, and calculating. I get it. It’s not comfortable.
But, the power is in the principle here. In the moment of choosing what to eat, when there is an intense desire and no rationality, it is not the time to make eating decisions.
The problem with in-the-moment thinking
In-the-moment is where your “toddler brain” is in charge. It’s about quick fixes and escape hatches. There’s no foresight in the moment. There’s no rational thinking and careful consideration of the consequences. It’s all impulse and habit.
If you haven’t used your adult brain to make a plan in advance, you are up a creek without a paddle in the moment of desire. Just floating along with whatever your “toddler brain” wants to do.
And if you have listened to me at all, you know your “toddler brain” wants immediate gratification, period.
There’s no “What about my goal?” with the toddler brain in charge. There’s no “How will I feel an hour from now if I eat this or tomorrow?” with the toddler brain in charge.
You’ve been around a toddler, right? There’s no “pause and think” happening. There is no “Remember the commitment you made to yourself” with a toddler.
It’s all now, mine. I’ll do it myself, don’t tell me what to do. Who cares. I want it now.
Using your adult brain
So making eating decisions ahead of time with your adult brain is critical.
Your adult brain can think about what it is you want.
Your adult brain can see far into the future, anticipate consequences, and dream and imagine.
Your adult brain knows what makes your body feel good and cares more about that than taste experiences.
Your adult brain has envisioned your future self and knows that she is born out of the hard choices now.
That is the part of your brain that you want in charge of making these critical decisions. This is the part of your brain that you want to task with taking care of yourself.
The problem with the “perfect” plan
I think where planning ahead gets a bad rap is that often, we make that plan ahead of time, based not on where we are but where we want to be.
We make a “perfect” plan containing all of the things we think we should be eating to “maximize” weight loss.
A plan like that does not consider where we are, what we currently are capable of, what our schedule is, or what we like. And then, when it comes time to execute the plan, we don’t.
We don’t follow the plan because it’s not a plan for us.
It’s not a plan born out of love for our future self that has to carry it out. It’s a plan that looks good and sounds right, but it has no relevance to us and, therefore, very little chance of being followed.
Realistic food planning
The most important part of a plan, next to it being done ahead of time, is to make it realistic.
We want to push our comfort zone, we want to change our eating habits and our relationship to food, but we don’t and can’t change that in a day. We want to create a plan with tons of love for our tomorrow self.
What does she have going on?
What is she like?
What will she want?
How much food does she need?
What will feel good to her?
How can we set her up for success?
What are some small changes that we can make that will push her into the growth zone but not have her giving up?
Think about if you were making a plan for someone you loved to help them successfully make changes. What would you do differently than the usual kale salad with no dressing punishment that you dole out to yourself?
The key to staying on plan: start where you are
If you doubt me right now, I want you to think back to the last time you tried perfection planning.
How long did it last? How long did you honor it? How long before you went off and ate all the things?
My clients often doubt me when I tell them to plan realistically. They say, “Excuse me, how will I lose weight if I am still planning to eat a cookie?”
And to that, I say, “How many days of staying on your perfect plan will you have before you eat a cookie anyway?”
And when you do, what is the likelihood that you eat only one cookie? And then how many days will it take for you to plan and eat your kale salad again?
How many days will you spend eating off plan because you are starting over tomorrow or Monday, or after the holidays, or whatever we tell ourselves?
Think about the number of cookies you eat in a month if you plan on one a day or one every other day, compared to the number of cookies and other things you eat in that period when you give up and quit on yourself because your plan was unrealistic.
My clients start where they are, and they work their way to that future vision of themselves, who fuels and nourishes with food and doesn’t have cookie drama.
But you are not her yet, and that’s okay—honor where you are. Challenge yourself to spend time in the growth zone, and your success is inevitable.
Objections to planning
So many of my clients struggle with planning, as I’m sure some of you do. Their brains offer all kinds of objections.
I want to spend some time going through them and offering you my rebuttal and some questions for you to consider if you hear these objections coming up.
1- Planning is hard.
What is hard about it? It requires a paper and pen or your phone, the ability to write or type, and general knowledge of what’s happening tomorrow and what food is available to you.
Hard is not a fact. It’s your perception. Planning can be as easy or hard as you make it. If it feels hard, how can you make it feel easier?
2 – Planning takes too long.
What is too long for you? How long do you think it should take? Make it that long. There’s no rule about how long it’s supposed to take.
I don’t think planning your meals for tomorrow, which is all I require my clients to do, should take more than five minutes. You have three meals and maybe a snack to plan at most. It doesn’t have to take all day.
3 – I don’t know what is happening tomorrow, so I can’t possibly plan.
I hear this lie a lot. We want to delegate all of our control outside of us so that we don’t have to take responsibility for what we do.
If you insist that this is absolutely true for you and you think I just don’t know your life, then hear this: you don’t have to know precisely what is happening at every moment in life to take care of you.
No matter what is happening, where you are in the world, or what your life looks like, you can decide in advance what your general plan is.
You can choose what you are willing to commit to no matter what comes up. Make a specific plan when you can, but a general plan can work from time to time.
Maybe your general plan is that you’re going to choose a vegetable with two out of three meals, that you’re going to eat fruit instead of dessert, and you’re going to drink 64 ounces of water. You can stick to that anywhere.
What can you commit to no matter what?
4 – I planned something and I didn’t want it. I wanted something else. Or, I didn’t plan enough, and I was hungry.
This is natural. Your in-the-moment toddler brain loves to complain about what has been decided. It doesn’t matter.
If the plan was made with love in advance with your adult brain, your toddler brain will just have to deal. It can pout and tantrum all it wants.
That’s the thing I like about planning a day at a time. You can always plan the thing your brain wants and have it tomorrow.
Today is decided, but tomorrow’s wide open, and you can plan in anything you want. Just love your reasons for putting it in the plan.
The same goes for not planning enough. If you are, in fact, still hungry after eating what you planned, don’t feel sorry for yourself and wish you could keep eating. Instead, plan for more tomorrow.
Hunger isn’t an emergency. Just plan more for tomorrow.
5 – Plans are restrictive and remove flexibility and spontaneity.
This can feel true, but they also reduce the chance of you eating like a jerk and having to lay down and unbutton your pants.
Restrictions are always happening. We’re restricting in lots of different ways. If you have said no to a burnt piece of toast instead of eating it or to tomatoes because you don’t like them, you have restricted a particular food and survived it.
Restriction is happening all the time by your own free will and choice, so restricting the food you eat to what you’ve planned in advance is just another iteration of that. It’s only a problem if you make it one.
6 – Planning is boring.
It doesn’t have to be. You are making the plan, so you can plan in whatever variety of food you want. You can eat a different thing every meal and different meals every day.
The plan is only boring if you make it so.
7 – I don’t need to plan because I know what to eat.
I hear this a lot. Most of my clients have done pretty much every plan, program, pill, shake, bar, everything that’s out there.
But if you don’t have a plan, you have nothing in the moment telling you what to say no and yes to. And I don’t care if you have a Ph.D. in nutrition; you are also a human with a toddler brain.
Knowing what to eat does not guarantee you will eat what you should. Put that knowledge on paper ahead of time and give yourself the gift of not having to argue with a toddler all day tomorrow.
8 – I always forget to plan.
Sometimes forgetting happens, but typically we don’t forget what is important to us. We set alarms. We create calendar events and reminders so that we don’t.
Make taking care of yourself one of those important things. Choose not to forget about you.
9 – I’m too tired or busy to plan.
Choose a time of day that works best. If the end of the day is out because your brain is wiped, get up five minutes earlier and do it in the morning. If the morning is full, then take five minutes in the evening when everything is settled and plan. Or do it at 3 P.M. or 10 A.M.
Don’t let an imaginary rule about what it’s supposed to look like make it so you don’t get it done. Make up your own rules.
10 – I don’t want to plan forever.
You don’t have to! I don’t. I used to plan. I figured out what worked for me and what didn’t and how to care for my body, and now I have a general plan that guides my life.
But I learned how to take care of myself by planning.
Now it’s my default setting, and it can be yours too, but we have to start somewhere.
The truth about planning
All of the objections, and I mean ALL, are excuses. They are not facts or truths that you have no control over. Excuses are just thoughts. Thoughts are optional.
The truth about making a plan is that nothing is stopping you but you. There’s no reason or excuse that isn’t within your control.
And believe it or not, there’s already always a plan in place, whether it is an intentional one created by your adult brain with love for your future self or the default, in-the-moment toddler brain plan.
A plan is always happening. It’s always possible for you to make a plan with intention. It’s always possible for you to take care of yourself, and anything else your brain tells you is a lie.
Making a loving, realistic plan is freedom. It frees you from decisions in the moment. It frees you from the guilt of a day of eating without regard to how you feel or what you want.
It creates the freedom to take care of yourself on default, so you don’t have to write down a specific plan every day for the rest of time.
Without order, there is chaos. A loving, realistic plan ahead of time will bring that order.
As with everything I teach, I recommend you start where you are and you start small. Something is better than nothing. So start by planning one meal tomorrow. Think about it, write it down, commit to sticking to it.
I want you to experience the dream future life you envision for yourself and it starts today with a loving plan for tomorrow that will get you one step closer to the future.