(Article originally seen on Nerd Fitness)
Think about walking into a gym and randomly doing a few sets here, a few sets there… a wandering sheep without a shepherd. We’ve all been there. Do we REALLY expect to make huge progress without knowing what we’re doing?
No, of course not! It’s why we love having a plan to follow: it eliminates 99% of the decisions that can derail us on our progress: “Should I do 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 5? Gah!”
Now, we know we need a workout plan to follow to make progress (That is why you have me!), but why don’t we think of food the same way?
Today I want to try to convince you that you should.
A few decisions early in the week can eliminate hours of work (or dozens of bad decisions) later on in the week, and be the difference between success and failure (whether you are trying to gain weight or lose weight!).
How is this possible? I say it so often, and I won’t let up because it’s so darn true: 80-90% of your success or failure, no matter your goals, will come from your diet!
We have a tendency to think we “know” about food and thus planning is unnecessary. “Oh, I don’t know about deadlifts, but I’ve been eating food since I was born! I know, sugar is bad, eat less processed food and more real stuff. I don’t have time to plan, so I’ll just make healthy choices as I go.”
As Morpheus tells Neo, “there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” Whether you’re trying to become the One or trying to get yourself to stop eating like bad, I think most of us know how difficult “just doing it” can be.
Making choices based on emotion and convenience are just too easy. We have that part of our brain – the lizard brain – that only thinks in short term: gimme gimme gimme, now now now!
How many times have you gotten out of work after a ruthlessly long and miserable day, skipped lunch, had to pick the kids up from daycare (or insert some errand), and THEN you still need to think about what to make for dinner? Brutal.
Our days can sap our willpower, decision fatigue sets in, and instead of going home to make a healthy decision… you jump on Team Lizard Brain and do the thing to make your stomach happy temporarily:
- speed dialing your favorite pizza place
- picking up fast food on the way home
- eating junk food in your pantry
- calling that one Chinese food place that gives you extra dumplings
- eating a healthy dinner but eating too much of it (or grabbing dessert too frequently)
You meant well, you had every intention of eating healthy, you even had the ingredients in your fridge. But oh well, hit up Domino’s and fire up Daredevil on Netflix. You had a hard day. You “earned it,” right?
Remember, life isn’t a superhero fantasy. It’s more like Deadpool: things get messy. Stuff happens. And we KNOW this, which means if we can set ourselves up for success with a good meal prep system amidst this messy reality, it’s a near guaranteed way to level up.
Why Meal Prep?
Exhausted-with-life situations aside, there are enormous perks to having your meals planned and prepped.
Even just having a single meal each day partially planned (say, lunch), can set you up for effortless progress for months and months. Why?
- It’s easier to not overeat (or undereat!) if you have pre-portioned your meals ahead of time – Making the decision ahead of time removes the emotion out of ‘how much food should I eat’ or ‘should I go back for seconds’. You know you eat what is in that container… no more, or no less.
- It has built in accountability (punishment) – If you pre-cook your meals, what happens if you don’t eat them? You throw them away – which is basically like throwing away the money you spent on the food. This is similar version of the strategy that helped one of my clients lose weight for his wedding. He bet a friend $500 that he would get in shape by his wedding day; not wanting to lose his money, he was pressured into actually making healthy changes!
- Save some money! I’ll let you do the math about your specific situation, but when you do your own meal prep it is nearly always a strategy which saves you a ton of money compared to eating out. You can then spend that extra money on the important stuff (“Treat yourself!”). And this doesn’t even factor in the costs we refuse to think about for some reason: the money we’ll spend on medication, hospital visits, surgery, and a shortened life span: you know, the REAL cost of living an unhealthy life.
- It also saves you precious time! It seems like a large time investment up front, but you can make a week’s worth of meals in nearly the same time as it takes you to make a single meal. For the same reason the assembly line revolutionized mass production, the strategy of cooking everything at once will pay you dividends in extra hours in your week. Still complaining that you don’t have time to work out? Get a few extra hours back by meal prepping! Bazinga!
- Avoid willpower demands – spend it elsewhere. If you know that you need to be eating what is in your pre-planned and pre-cooked meals, you just need enough willpower to cook once. Think about how many times you’ve gone into the week with good intentions, but by Tuesday or Wednesday you’ve already switched back to something… erm, other than the healthy option? It’s FAR easier to stay on track if your meals are ready to go. Not only that, but you can use this extra willpower on other habits you are forming… like getting to the gym or to that new martial arts class.
Note: Meal planning DOES NOT consist of making 21 different recipes for 21 different meals each week. Even those of us who have been doing this for years aren’t that crazy… that just sounds exhausting!
Instead, you’ll be picking ONE meal per day (lunch? dinner?), perhaps the one you struggle the most with. You’ll prepare those 5 meals for your workweek.
Contributed by our trainer, Matt Montague.