"I just ate a handful of jelly beans. Is that a problem?”
That was an actual text I sent to a bodybuilder friend years ago. I was completely serious.
I was cutting for the first time and the handful of jelly beans weren’t on my meal plan. I knew very little about how dieting actually works and so I worried that I had somehow set myself back.
Silly, of course, but it illustrates a point:
The sheer amount of bad information out there on weight loss and meal planning can turn even “smart” people into superstitious paranoids.
Well, I’ve learned a lot since then. And I’ve used what I’ve learned to write books and articles that have helped hundreds of thousands of people, and many are getting into the best shape of their lives.
I can do the same for you, starting right here, right now, with this article.
In the next ten minutes, you’re going to learn my 7 best tips for making weight loss meal plans that not only work but are, dare I say, enjoyable.
These recommendations aren’t speculation or theory, either.
They’re practical, time-proven techniques that I’ve learned through personal experience with my own body, through working one-on-one with thousands of people, and through the 4,000+ custom meal plans my team has made for men and women all over the world.
So, if you’re ready to learn once and for all how to create the best possible meal plans for losing weight, keep reading.
Don’t Severely Restrict Your Calories
If you could lose weight slowly or quickly, which would you prefer?
And that’s why many people starve themselves. It’s the easiest way to see lower numbers on the scale. It’s also the easiest way to misery, muscle loss, and yo-yo dieting.
You see, many starvation diets have you eating anywhere from 25 to 50% of your total daily energy expenditure. Do this and you’re going to lose weight, of course. But there’s more to consider…
Much of the weight you lose initially is water and glycogen.
When you hear of someone losing 4, 5, 8+ pounds in one week, it’s safe to assume that 20 to 30% is water loss and a fair chunk is a reduction in glycogen levels.
This isn’t a problem per se, but that that water and glycogen weight will return once food–and carbohydrate in particular–intake returns to normal.
You can lose muscle easily.
The more you restrict your calories, the more like you are to lose muscle.
This is especially true if you’re not doing any resistance training, or doing too much, and if you’re doing too much cardio as well.
The big problem with this is more you lose muscle, the closer you get to a dreaded “skinny fat” physique.
Now, there are forms of very-low-calorie dieting designed to maximize fat loss while preserving muscle, but they have several requirements:
You think you know hunger, cravings, and mood swings? Try eating (and training on) a diet of 150 to 200 grams of protein per day… and nothing else.
Which brings me to my next point…
You feel progressively worse and worse.
If you’re like most people, you’re going to find very-low-calorie dieting to be miserable.
Common side effects are low energy levels, intense food cravings, mental fog, and depression, and the longer you go, the worse it gets.
How to Calculate Your Calorie Deficit
Now that you know the pitfalls of starvation dieting, you’re probably wondering how to do it correctly.
Well, there’s a lot of debate among “gurus” about how large of a calorie deficit is too large.
It gets especially heated when discussing what’s optimal for athletic types following a high-protein diet, as opposed to untrained, obese individuals eating too little protein.
My go-to research on this matter is a study conducted by scientists at the University of Jyväskylä.
Their subjects were 20 to 35 year-old national and international level track and field jumpers and sprinters with low levels of body fat (at or under 10%), and they split them into two groups.
These findings jive with my experiences both with my body and the thousands of people I’ve worked with.
Mild deficits can work if you’re very overweight, or very patient, but as you get leaner, larger deficits become necessary to maintain appreciable fat loss and don’t automatically cause muscle loss.
This is why I recommend a calorie deficit of 20 to 25% when dieting for fat loss.