Preparation and planning are two skills that can make all the difference with weight management. • Just about every diet regimen out there offers shopping lists and menus. Following them, of course, requires you to think ahead. • But not all the advice you'll get about planning is helpful. Some of these suggestions might actually set you up for failure. • So the first step is to consider what kind of preparation and planning you need.
As any Boy Scout can tell you, being prepared is the most necessary skill to reach a goal. If a healthy weight is your aim, being prepared means keeping your kitchen consistently stocked with nutritious and satisfying foods. When you have good alternatives at hand whenever you're hungry or have a craving, you're more likely to reach for those instead of the usual junk foods. Make it easier to turn away from empty calories, and you make it easier to stay with your goals.
Like any other skill, being prepared requires good habits. The main one here is to shop for food on a regular basis. If you wait until the kitchen is bare or assume you'll somehow find time to go to the store, you're not building a habit that will be the foundation of your healthy lifestyle.
How you schedule your shopping is up to you. You may decide to shop every Tuesday night on the way home from work because there's less traffic in the store. You may choose to split food-shopping duties with your spouse who enjoys the task more than you do.
The point is to make preparation a priority and figure out how to get it done within the constraints of your lifestyle and preferences. I've found that you need to shop at least weekly so you'll have fresh foods on hand. It's also a good idea to keep less perishable alternatives like frozen fruits and vegetables on hand in case your Plan A goes awry.
Preparing your kitchen in this way makes it easier to plan healthy meals. You don't need to formally plan your menus every day to succeed with your weight goals, although for some that is a good strategy.
For most people, short-term meal planning tends to work better. The reason for this is simple: It's much harder to predict what you'll want to eat next week than it is to decide what you'd like for dinner tonight.
It's important that what you're eating is not only healthy, but also appealing to you. Some people happily eat the same thing all the time. Others can't operate that way. You know your own preferences and should take them into consideration when you think about meal planning.
Planning meals ahead can be as simple as:
1. Considering what appetizing and healthy foods are available in the kitchen.
2. Imagining several options you might prepare for that meal.
3. Sensing which option appeals most to your body and mind.
4. Deciding on the most appetizing option.
But beware: Perfectionism can and probably will backfire. Allow yourself to make changes in a preplanned meal if something doesn't appeal to you when mealtime arrives. Skip the frozen broccoli if fresh asparagus is available and you love it. Ditch the boring grilled chicken cutlets if a friend makes a smoked turkey on the grill. It's good to plan on a healthy meal, but every aspect of it doesn't have to be set in stone.
Maybe you planned on a veggie burger tonight but you discover that your son ate the last one. If you've done a good job of being prepared and flexible, you'll find other nutritious alternatives to enjoy instead of getting frustrated and giving up on a healthy meal altogether. If the plan doesn't go as, well, planned, just go to Plan B.
Perfectionism is the enemy of effective planning, but flexibility and creativity can make planning not only successful, but even enjoyable.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]