Plan your meals and exercise in advance

by Ali on July 7, 2008

This is the fourteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to using a food diary. Some people prefer to write down their meals and snacks after eating them, others will plan out a whole week in advance – making detailed notes on what they’ll be eating when.

If you want to record your exercise and meals in advance, how should you go about doing it?

How to plan ahead with your diet

I’ve known people who would write down everything they’d be eating, recording weights and calories, either for the whole week or at the start of each day. That works for some, but your plan doesn’t have to be this precise.

At one end of the spectrum, you could write a very loose plan which runs something like this:

Monday
Meals: Breakfast – cereal, lunch – ham sandwich and fruit, dinner – chicken curry and rice.
Exercise: Cycling to work and back

Tuesday
Meals: Breakfast – baked beans on toast, lunch – salad sandwich and cereal bar, dinner – prawn and vegetable stirfry
Exercise: Gym session in lunch-hour

When you come to fill in your food diary retrospectively, at the end of the day or after meals, you can record the exact amounts (and calories) which you ate, along with how long you exercised for and how many calories you burned.

The advantage of this method is that you don’t have to invest so much time up-front in filling in your diary; the exact details of meals can be figured out on the day, but you have a rough map of how you expect your week to go. You can also leave out extras such as snacks and add these in after you’ve eaten them.

Alternatively, if you prefer to work out exactly what you’ll be eating, you can make a much more detailed plan. This would suit anyone who’s used to following a specified diet (the sort found in magazines and books) which tells you exactly what meals you should be eating when. For example:

Monday
Meals:
Breakfast – 40g branflakes, 160mls skimmed milk, 15g raisins. One peach (135g) Total: 270 cals
Lunch – Ham sandwich with 2 slices granary bread (75g), one teaspoon light cream cheese (15g), wafer-thin ham (25g), fruit chutney (10g). Large apple (160g) and Satsuma (70g). Total: 330 cals
Dinner – Chicken curry and rice (low-fat ready meal, 400g ), low fat chocolate mousse for dessert. Total: 490 cals
Snacks – Banana (100g), Cereal bar (28g). Total: 210 cals

Exercise: 45 mins cycling at 7.5mph (burns 150 cals)

This method is great if you like to be very organised with things, or if you know that you need to plan carefully in order to stay on track. (Perhaps you work long hours and want to organise your meals in advance.) It does mean spending more time planning, but this will save you time recording food and exercise later on…

Why should you plan ahead with your diet?

You might feel that you understand perfectly well how to plan out your meals and exercise, but you’re unconvinced that it’s worth the effort. Surely it’s easier to write everything down as you eat it – your day can be unpredictable, and you might end up nabbing the free sandwiches left over from a work meeting, rather than going to Subway like you’d planned.

There are a number of great advantages to thinking about what you’ll be eating, and what exercise you’ll be doing, in advance:

You’re more likely to stick to your good intentions

If the “dinner” section of your diary is already filled in with a healthy meal, you’ll find it harder to convince yourself that you want to stop for pizza on the way home from work.

You won’t waste food

Planning out your meals before doing the weekly shop means you’ll know exactly what you’ll need. Rather than over-filling your basket with things you might get round to eating (but probably won’t), you’ll save money by only getting the products on your list.

You can still have some flexibility

There’s no need to make a rigid and unalterable plan. If you follow the first example from above, you can leave gaps for snacks and treats – just be sensible about how many you eat. If you hate the thought of having no spontaneity in your diet, this will get round that.

You’ll actually do some exercise

Seeing the word “gym” written down on three different days in your diary is a subtle, but powerful, motivator. Once you’ve promised yourself that you’ll be doing some exercise, chances are that you’ll find it harder to wriggle out of. When it’s on your plan, “forgetting” to take your gym kit to work is no longer an excuse.

If you’ve never tried planning your diet in advance before, why not give it a go for a week? See if it makes things easier or harder for you (and don’t be afraid to tweak your method if necessary – try adding more detail, or being more brief.)

The next part in this series will explain how your friends can support you during your diet, and why you’ll want to get them involved. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Seb Payne)

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