It’s something I started doing pretty early.
Probably age 18 or 19 or something.
I hired a coach online who hung around a fitness forum I was hanging out in daily. I sent some birthday money, then got the starting materials, my workout and my calorie numbers.
Oh, and some homework.
“Make yourself a meal plan so I can see your tracking”.
I’ve had plenty failures along the way, but this little step-by-step process was one thing that definitely helped me get more control.
Today I’m gonna take you through a step-by-step process that’ll teach you how to make a meal plan for losing weight. Something that’ll help you find what works for you.
If you’ve ever wanted a meal plan from someone else, this is a better idea. Promise.
If you’ve ever used a meal plan someone else made for you and you got bored of it, try this instead.
We’re gonna go over your calorie and protein numbers and how to actually make a plan that makes it straightforward to actually do it. It’s going to be your plan, so you get to eat foods and meals you like.
I have a feeling that’ll help you keep the weight off, too.
What’s The Best Diet?
There. Isn’t. One.
No best foods. No best meals. No best diet.
Not even the ketogenic diet.
There’s no best diet, just one that helps you lose the weight, while allowing you to live your life.
There are some rules to follow though.
Please, as you go through this, remember the diet you are making here could be the one you keep the weight off with, too; just with more calories. So make a diet you actually look forward to. Play around with combinations and possibilities.
Consider Flexible Dieting
Two of the biggest barriers, in my opinion, that can hurt your chances for successfully losing weight are very restrictive dieting and a tendency to see foods as good or bad–or fattening/not-fattening.
I’ve seen this talking to clients and those who message me elsewhere. It’s also suggested in the research(1).
There are no inherently fattening foods, but there are foods designed to make you crave more (they tend to be high in calories per bite).
In terms of weight loss, at the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie, no matter where you get it. A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy and excess energy is stored as body fat.
So it is important you understand a donut can replace an apple and a banana without having any negative impact to your weight loss goals. You might feel bloated and lethargic after the donut more than the apple/banana combo, but don’t mistake that for a difference when it comes your weight.
You’re also missing out on nutrients if you constantly choose lower quality foods; but, just so you know, you can be unhealthy and have a defined stomach (not suggesting it, just saying)
Find the level of flexibility you need when it comes to the quality of your food choices.
Expect life to happen; it was gonna happen anyway but you’ll notice it more while you’re trying to change your lifestyle.
And be flexible when it comes to new and different environments. If you end up at a chinese buffet randomly on a Friday work meeting you might have accept 1900 calories; not 1500, isn’t a big deal instead of stressing, getting discouraged and turning it into a 3000+ calorie binge.
What To Eat?
Foods that have been here forever. Ones that came from the living Earth. Foods that can rot if you don’t eat them in time.
Lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, fibrous starches, and whole grains for the most part.
But here’s a list because you were hoping for one, I’m sure. It isn’t a complete list; use your common sense.
If you can aim for around 80% of your food choices from this list, I’d be happy with that.
What Meals Should You Make?
So you’ve got what foods you should (mostly) be eating, now maybe you want some meal ideas:
- Stir Frys
- Steak (this should be here even if it isn’t a “meal”)
- Salmon (and this, same deal)
- Sushi (this starts with an “S” and it’s here mostly because it’s delicious)
My point isn’t that you can never have pasta — you could have it every day if you want — but this list gives you meals easy to base around a protein, get some vegetables, and will fill you up without sending calories through the roof.
And I really like sushi, so you can fit anything in, I’m just giving you some ideas.
Tools For Meal Planning and Cooking
Aside from the kitchen basics in terms of pots and pans, there are certain thing that can help you out. I put the ones you won’t want to skip in bold. And if there’s something you think could help you, go ahead and use it.
- Slow cooker/Crockpot (soup, chili made in a batch or just prepping protein ahead)
- A tracking app (like myfitnesspal). An app makes finding foods and their calorie and nutrient counts easy (I personally don’t use MFP for anything else and I ignore it’s alerts, too)
- Measuring cups and spoons (the second best way to know your calories)
- A digital food scale (the best way to know your calories)
- Meal prep containers (I don’t use these, but they could be useful for you)
- Shaker cups (if you’re using protein shakes or smoothies)
Step 1: How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight
Although I teach a more sophisticated method for coming up with your calories and teaching metabolism in my FREE 7-Lesson Nutrition Course, I’ll go over a simple method here.
Take your goal bodyweight (in pounds!). If you don’t have one, think of where you’ve felt your best in the past or just check a BMI chart to find somewhere considered healthy for your height.
Multiply that by 12 (multiply by 24 if you use kg)
For me, I’m currently dropping down to about 180 (probably). So…
180 x 12 = 2160
This actually happens to be roughly the amount I’m aiming for on my plan currently and I didn’t even use a calculation like this. I know my body well enough and don’t really use a calculator for myself.
The the other thing is to understand calorie calculators aren’t perfect. So you may need to tweak it a little for it to feel right. Don’t worry nothing bad can happen if you’re just making little changes.
Step 2: Set How Much Protein You Need For Weight Loss
So, calories are set, now set your protein.
Before that, lets go over the deal with protein? As much focus as it gets, and for good reason, it isn’t the fat loss miracle you might hope it is.
Probably not, at least.
It falls well behind calories (and strength training) in terms of helping you lose weight as effectively as possible–but it is something that helps a ton more than a lot of the other things people worry about (meal timing, fasting, fasted cardio).
So please know this: you can lose as much weight as you want without ever hitting a protein number. The number I go over below will help optimize fat loss and keep you more full while eating less.
Protein is good for:
- Keeping muscle or (maybe) stimulating muscle growth while in a calorie deficit (you’ll probably only add muscle while losing weight if you’re a beginner or coming off a layoff)
- Staying full on a diet (3)
- Extra calorie burn (not significant but it can’t hurt)
So how much protein should you get a day?
The research uses all kinds of numbers and different ways to come up with the number, but the easiest and most practical way is to take your goal bodyweight from above and aim 1 gram per pound.
So if your goal weight is 150, aim for 150 whether you’re 160 pounds or you’re 260.
And by all means, go higher if you want. They’ve studied up to 4.2 calories per kilogram of bodyweight (almost 2 grams per pound of bodyweight) and found no ill-effects; just increased fat loss (4).
The increased fat loss probably has to do with the increased calorie burn from digestion.
Speaking more practically, you’ll be prone to getting too little rather than too much anyways. If you do find yourself thinking getting 250+ grams of protein is gonna help, I’d just avoid taking calorie space away from carbs and fats you need for health and energy too.
If 1 gram per pound of goal bodyweight sounds unrealistic, just aim for it. It only gets really necessary if you’re lean or trying to lose the last 5-15 pounds.
A Meal Plan For Losing Weight
Class, grab your pen and paper. It’s time to plan.
Seriously, grab a pen and paper..
(fine, use a tracking app if you want)
Step 3: Plan Your Protein Foods (and how much of them you’ll need)
Reversing the order here a little. We set calories first a little earlier, but we’re gonna plan protein first.
The reason we start with protein is most good protein sources (check the food table above) are foods that need to be prepared and/or cooked. Leave protein to the end and you’ll never get enough.
Choose Your Protein Foods (3-4 of them)
So, go back to the table above and choose 3 or 4 protein foods. By prioritizing foods that are high protein/low in calories you can get your protein where it needs to be while leaving space for others. More on that later.
So here’s mine:
- Protein Powder (2-3 scoops)
- Greek Yogurt
For me, any given day I’ll usually have 3 of those. The option is often a choice between eggs and greek yogurt depending on time. (Hint: you might need to have some options depending on your life and schedule)
I do a shake with 2-3 scoops of protein, bananas, frozen fruits (varies), vegetables (usually spinach), and water.
Lastly, I get a meal in based around meat or fish; and often enough this is bought at a shop down the street in bowl or burrito form with extra chicken added.
How Much Of These Foods Do You Need To Hit Your Protein?
So for me, I’m aiming to get to 180 for now. I routinely get lower but I’m okay with that because 180 is more than enough in my case.
1. Greek Yogurt
One 500 gram container of greek yogurt is 460 calories and 46 grams of protein.
2. Protein Powder
3 scoops of my protein powder is 270 calories and 60 grams of protein.
3. Meat (lets go with chicken)
Doubling my chicken in my burrito or bowl from the shop down the road gets me 47-52 grams of protein (17 for the added chicken and 30 or 35 depending on the meal I grab)
Calories would be 670-780.
Or if you’re gonna have chicken at home.
200 grams of raw chicken breast has 46 grams of protein and 220 calories.
Step 4: Choose Your Meals
So, what meals sound interesting to you based on the protein foods you selected? Like what sounds good? What are you gonna look forward to? Keep it simple if you have to.
Refer back to the list of example meals if you need ideas.
Note: It doesn’t matter how many meals you eat. 2-4 makes sense for most people.
I’ll do mine:
Meal 1: Smoothie (with 3 scoops protein – my scoops are smaller otherwise I’d have 2)
Meal 2: Greek yogurt (this qualifies more as a snack I guess, but I’ll often have fruit with it or a protein bar)
Meal 3: Burrito or Bowl from a shop nearby (lets just call this a sandwich or salad given the list I showed above)
Is it always this way? No, absolutely not. It’s a template I work off, that I can change any time I want. And I can deviate from when things force me to; ya know, like socials, birthday parties, and even just screwing up here and there.
If you just get back to your plan, or tweak the plan if it’s not working for you, you’ll get there.
Step 5: Plan Ingredients To Make Meals That Fit Your Calories
Like, use this piece to make it taste better. You can choose anything. Use dressings, oils, noodles, pasta, starches, and sauces. That’s up to you, just choose foods mostly from the list above and make everything fit your calories and you can be very creative.
I would just keep the meals simple and avoid tons of ingredients unless you’re confident that way. Add some sauce and dressings for taste and track it.
Meal 1: Smoothie
Ingredient 1: 3 scoops protein – 270 calories, 60 protein
Ingredient 2: 1 cup frozen berries – 50 calories, no protein
Ingredient 3: 2 bananas – 240 calories, no protein
Ingredient 4: handful of baby spinach – I don’t count it
Total: 560 Calories and 60 grams of protein
Meal 2: Greek Yogurt w/ Protein Bar
Ingredient 1: 1 500 gram container – 240 calories, 46 protein
Ingredient 2: Protein Bar – 200 calories, 20 protein
Total: 640 calories and 66 grams of protein.
Meal 3: Burrito (I like this meal because it’s tracked and decided for me already. Planning is even easier. I pay a little more but it’s worth it)
Made for me: 670 calories, 52 grams protein (I add additional chicken)
Daily Total: 1870 calories, 178 grams of protein
What do to when your plan and calories don’t add up to the right calories?
How about make your meals taste better? Or add a snack?
Feel free to add foods from the table above, or see what kind of treats or snacks actually fit into your needs. If it makes sense, increase the amount of ingredients. Don’t confuse this, I often fill the rest with an additional purchase at the store, grabbing a cookie at a coffee shop.
Step 6: Consider When Your Weight Loss Plan Doesn’t Work
1. Having Options
You’re gonna want some back up plans that actually make sense. If you normally have a meal prep for lunch but sometimes it doesn’t work out, maybe there’s a place down the road you can grab something you can track easily.
You might find situations and times in your schedule you have trouble. Throw some options into your plan as you need them.
2. Planning Ahead
You’re not always gonna know what’s coming ahead, but you often do know when weddings, birthdays, big dinners and stuff like this is coming up. Check menus in advance and realize you can often adapt the rest of your day so you can enjoy a little more freely when it actually matters.
Seriously, this can go a long way.
3. Vacations/Long Weekends/Holidays
If you get better at handling yourself in the 90-95% of the time it isn’t holiday or vacation time, you don’t have to worry about this stuff. Just don’t like a total ass hole unless the time seriously calls for it.
I see clients go away on vacation to all-inclusives all the time. It’s not rare at all to see them come back weighing the same or less despite not tracking a thing.
4. When All Else Fails
I’ll repeat it. When all else fails with tracking, do your best to not eat like a jerk. Chances are if you’re doing that while trying to lose weight you got too stressed out.
When plans fall apart, you still need something to follow. If you just know eating like an 8 year on Halloween is what you have to avoid, nothing bad will happen.
5. Getting Back On Track
If you do eat like an ignoramus, no matter what the context, just get back to your plan tomorrow. And if you find yourself kicking yourself so you can’t get back on track, maybe you’re just being a dick to yourself too much.
Seriously, the biggest problem with your screw ups is it leads to more screw ups because you beat yourself up.
Putting The Plan To Action
So there you have it. If you followed those 6 steps, you’ve got a meal plan made by you to hit your goals. Use a flexible mindset, be consistent, and be willing to change things on the fly as you need to.
Meal planning can be an important stepping point towards better habits. Remember, there’s no reason this can’t look like the way you eat when it comes time to keep the weight off (you’ll just get to eat more of it, and add more taste). Knowing this is really important because you need to make the plan with that in mind.
Use this article as a guide you can refer back to as you practice this skill. Quit looking for someone to give you a meal plan.
Really hope this helps.
And don’t forget to get your strength training dialed in for best fat loss. Grab my free e-book Metabolic Afterburn. It comes with 52 free workouts and a 7-lesson nutrition course.