11. Food Planning ... Where to Start?

May 01, 2023

You could be forgiven for not getting overly excited about food planning, but when I tell you just how much this can transform a person’s life and weight loss journey, you’ll be rushing to the nearest notepad and pen.

There are lots of things that people want to change, from body image to body weight, but often they keep finding themselves in the same place. Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey, or you've plateaued somewhere and are going through the next sprint, you will need to figure out what you need to change. Ultimately, we have to keep changing what we're doing otherwise our body gets used to it (the joys of metabolic adaptation…).

But change can feel exhausting. Everything becomes a conscious decision you need to make and you’re no longer working on autopilot. Today I want to share how just a little bit of food planning can be a powerful tool to help you get a different outcome. I also want to share some tips to help us effectively rewire our brains to support our goals.

Breaking Habit Loops

In our “habit brain”, as I like to call it, everything runs on autopilot in the way it’s been programmed, just like a computer.

So if we want to break that pattern, we need to put a little bit of intentionality into it. Making a plan ahead of time and setting the intention of how you want things to go is a great place to start. This way, you are able to intentionally form new habits and unlearn old habits. Otherwise, the past keeps repeating itself. 

If we're not living an intentional life, if we're not planning things, and if we're not putting a little bit of thought into what we're doing, we will continue to be stuck in the place we don’t want to be.

Intentionality will also help you to decrease urge driven eating. Even though you might still have the desire to eat certain foods, you will be more likely to eat what you plan because you know it will help your blood sugar be more balanced, or it will support your mental health more after a few days. You have decided on how to best support yourself and that will help to decrease the old habits.  

You are also not making decisions when you’re feeling panicked. Remember that when you are in the middle of panic, the reasoning brain is very low. So if you're very emotional, you are not going to be reasoning and thinking in a great way. Therefore it’s best to decide on food before you enter those scenarios.

It's a gift to decide ahead of time. Our prefrontal cortex is where we make decisions. We get to stay in charge of things instead of letting things happen to us. What people often really struggle with when it comes to food is that feeling of being out of control. So in the initial stage, we need to take conscious control of it with the prefrontal cortex, which involves planning. Eventually, things will start to run on autopilot but if you can do some planning ahead of time, you can break some of those habit loops and automatic thinking and program new things.

Let go of perfection

When it comes to food planning we do not want perfection.

Your planning will look very different depending on your place in life right now. One person’s planning might involve planning the foods you bring into the house, but for others it might be  planning to get a veggie and a protein with every single meal. It’s a decision that you get to make.

Whatever planning looks like for you, it won’t always go perfectly. What you need to remember is that when it doesn’t, it’s a perfect opportunity for learning. When you overeat or eat off plan, you can sit down and ask yourself why it happened, what you were thinking, what the cues or triggers were, and what you could do differently next time. You’ll find it's usually the same thing all the time. 

Perfection is definitely not required for you to plan and to take care of yourself and be more intentional in this area. Letting go of it actually makes life a lot easier.

Planning gives you data

Planning is a great opportunity to get the data which enables you to be the scientist of your own body.

Being the scientist for your own body allows you to analyze how you feel after eating certain foods and also allows you to look at the numbers and see if your weight might be plateauing. Then you can meet with your team, whether it’s your doctor or dietitian, and discuss the next steps forward.

Letting go of perfection is crucial for this as well because if you're being a perfectionist about it, you'll never have all the data you need. At some point you'll overeat something or eat off plan, and not write it down because of the shame you feel. So we have to let go of all of that and write it down so that we have it. It allows for data when you do planning.

Keep planning simple

In my clinic, we have a planner that you can use, but I'm not dogmatic about saying that people need to use it. It's a resource which has some suggestions, but some people may find it easier to jot down notes on their phone or just use pen and paper. 

Planning does not need to become a massive process which takes over your life. People often worry whether they’ll have to do it forever, but with a lot of these habits, the longer we do it, the longer we can stick with it, and the longer it's actually an integrity with how we want to live. 

I have found personally that when I stop tracking, I notice the weight go up, and so I've come to a place where I know that if it takes a minute or two daily for me to roughly think of the proteins I'm going to eat and how I'm going to do it, that's worth it for me to keep the weight off and to keep going. 

Questions to reflect on

If food planning is something that you either are doing or want to start doing, I want you to reflect on some of these questions this week.

  • What would a loving plan look like? Remember we're leaving perfection at the door!
  • What can you get excited about? If you’re not eating foods you like, you won’t stick with it long term.
  • Do I need help with this? Sometimes there is simply a skill gap, meaning you don't know how to make planning easy. You might be so indoctrinated in diet culture that you don't know how to think creatively and ask yourself some different questions, like knowing what true hunger is. Seek help from your doctor or a registered dietician to help you with the planning process. 

Despite being Obesity Medicine board certified and helping patients with this issue all day long, I still can't see it clearly for myself and recently met with a dietitian for support about planning protein intake. We often cannot see our own brain and things in our own life clearly.