LifestyleNutrition Meal Plans and Weight-Loss Challenges: Positives and Negatives

meal plans

Meal plans are a more restrictive and unrealistic option for many people when considered in a long-term daily eating scenario!


As indicated in my last blog post, weight loss is probably the most common goal of the general population. What is alarming, however, is the number of clients who you come in contact with as a trainer, that have been through weight loss phases in the past. And have gained it back almost instantly. This trend is all too common and is extremely avoidable as well among most clients.

You will often see opportunities to jump into 6-8-Week Weight Loss Challenges while using social media, no matter the time of year. These challenges often involve group-based training that do an excellent job in increasing the total energy expenditure of clients through social and motivational factors. This goes a long way each week for weight loss.

Energy Expenditure

Energy expenditure and requirements, in fact, should be the very first thing any trainer looks into in order to manage or reduce body weight, whether they are doing so via Training and/or Nutritional strategies. This provides a constant, positive physically demanding environment for clients to regularly attend. Then, this results in a stable decreases in body weight through increased bodily energy expenditure.

In order to guarantee results, challenges will often include a generic meal plan, providing a number of meals to consume day by day. This is extremely accurate in determining total calories per day. Therefore, is a simple way to get clients to adhere to a preset number of calories that will result in weight loss. Simply, weight loss happens when calories are low enough that your body cannot sustain its daily activity on purely your average food intake.

Activities like breathing, walking, going down stairs, cooking, and work, all expend large amounts of energy in a cumulative effect. In order to continue powering the use of your body, your energy will instead begin to come from your natural fat storage deposits. In more extreme cases, the body will become catabolic, utilizing protein, often in the form of muscle. Thus, it will reduce the overall lean body mass levels over long periods of time.

Meal Plans

Meal plans are however a more restrictive and unrealistic option for many people when considered in a long-term daily eating scenario. I have witnessed some shocking practices. For example, grown 90+KG men being put on canned hams as the main meal, with caloric levels almost a third of what their maintenance calories SHOULD be. The worst part about it was, they did lose weight, often they lost a lot! But I also saw them wither away, lose all their muscle, walk around starving and hungry, not even consuming a meal in social settings in order to restrict themselves. Eventually, inevitably, they all put the weight back on, without gaining any of their quality muscle mass back.

Common Cookie Cutter Meal Plan Designs & Problems

Male and Female Calorie Splits

Although meal plans provide an exact plan that will very likely cause weight-loss, you will notice that they can also be abused, just as the example above. When used in the wrong hands, a meal plan can have devastating consequences in the long run. One common example of this is when a trainer splits the challenges meal plans into two types: Male and Female.

This is a horrible way to set your clients up! They usually will stick the client to one of two calorie goals depending on if they are male or female. With this, there is no individualisation in meals or plans, and the calories you are set with, will be what you stick to. No questions asked. This results in people being far too low in caloric intake, or not low enough. Either way, they are generally the same bland meals, just with more or less rice.

Limited/Set Meal Options

Another common design flaw in meal plans is the lack of options available to the client. Imagine going out for a birthday dinner and being unable to enjoy it, instead, you sit there watching everyone scoff back their delicious dinner and cake because you ate your handful of veggies and meat earlier. I have seen this before, and faaar too often.

One could make the argument that you are in a challenge anyway, so why cheat or vere from the plan? But in a challenge that is largely the general population, this is simply unnecessary, and is a product of poor planning, knowledge and time spent learning about the client.

If you were doing a bodybuilding challenge, where everything has to be perfect in order to step on stage at a malnourished level of body-fat, while retaining as much muscle as possible, then sure, options in meals will NEED be severely reduced, and compliance HAS to be perfect.

But for most people, 8-Weeks is only enough to create short term change, and sticking to 100% meal compliance will boost this short term change, and max out the weight loss, but what will you do when the challenge finishes? Will you continue to eat this exact plan for the rest of your life?


Your job as a trainer should be to teach, not dictate month to month. I aim to have my clients able to perform the large amount of their own nutritional work by the 6-Month mark, so they are able to be flexible in their meal planning, and focus on the long-term habits- which are ABSOLUTELY crucial in weight management. This means they can have their cake, and eat it too, with no worries, or angry messages from their trainer!

How would you feel only being able to consume tuna, chicken or beef throughout the week, for months on end, only being able to enjoy other foods on ‘cheat days’?

And how would you feel knowing there was in fact a way to enjoy all foods, and still achieve those same goals, yet keep them for life?

Keep an eye out for my next post, which will detail what a good weight-loss plan involves, as well as how to spot a good challenge!

Unlimited Potential PT

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