If you’re like most people, you probably wonder what the best weight loss meal plan is. After all, there are so many diets, eating plans, and schedules out there, that finding something useful feels impossible.
For example, intermittent fasting has become incredibly popular in the last decade or so. Countless people swear by it as the best way to lose weight, get fit, and improve health.
But, as with most things, the devil is in the details, and things aren’t always as they seem.
Let’s take a look at intermittent fasting, skipping dinner, and what truly makes for a good weight loss plan.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet but an eating pattern. Instead of telling you what to eat, it dictates when to eat and when not to. A popular approach is the 16:8 plan — 16 hours of fasting and eight hours of eating each day. A simple way to apply this would be to skip eating in the morning, break your fast around 12 pm, and eat your last meal of the day at 8 pm.
But is it any good? Well, intermittent fasting can work, and many people have used with some success.
But here is the thing:
There is nothing special in fasting. Many people today love to sensationalize different training and eating approaches, and intermittent fasting is no different. Spend some time on Google, and you’re bound to come across countless articles with dozens of ‘amazing’ fasting benefits.
But research doesn’t find anything particularly effective in this way of eating. Compared to a regular eating pattern where calories are controlled, both groups of people lose the same amount of weight in a study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019. So, the idea that intermittent fasting somehow turns you into a fat-burning machine holds no water.
Sure, intermittent fasting can work for weight loss, but this is thanks to the caloric restriction, not because of anything else. The number of calories you consume still is the primary determinant of weight change.
Skipping Dinner to Lose Weight: Is This a Viable Strategy?
Skipping dinner is the first cousin of intermittent fasting, but people spin it differently. This tactic ties to the dogmatic idea that eating more food at dinner will prevent you from losing weight.
Years ago, the main argument was that eating carbs after 6 pm led to fat gain. The idea was that metabolic activity slows down toward the end of the day, and the carbs we consume automatically get stored as fat because we don’t need much energy anymore.
We now know better. The amount of calories we consume is the primary factor that determines how well we can lose weight over time.
Plus, who wants to skip dinner, anyway? I can get behind skipping breakfast, especially if you don’t have much of an appetite in the morning. But dinner? Getting back home after a stressful and exhausting day only to face reality: you can’t eat anything.
This would be a difficult and unsustainable way for most people to go about their nutrition. Not to mention that folks who skip dinner may find themselves hungry before bed, which can lead to snacking, often on unhealthy foods. And even if you can resist temptation, guess what? You’re going to bed hungry.
What Is the Best Weight Loss Meal Plan?
There isn’t a single weight loss meal plan that works best because we are all different. While one solution might work great for someone, it might be terrible for you. Instead, a good weight loss plan follows some overarching principles and is then tailored to the individual.
The primary criteria of a good weight loss plan are:
- Helps you maintain steady blood sugar levels
- Keeps you satiated
- Feels sustainable
- Doesn’t require a strict meal schedule
Let’s take a look at some fundamentals a weight loss plan needs to cover:
1. A moderate calorie deficit
What trips most people up is the severe caloric restriction. Many people jump into a weight loss plan enthusiastically, slash their food intake in half, and look for rapid weight loss.
The primary issue here is that you can’t sustain a severe restriction for long. Sure, you can do it for a few weeks, but your motivation will go away at some point, and hunger will take its place. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you give up and go back to your old eating habits.
A much better approach is to aim for slower weight loss — around 1 to 2 pounds per week suggest the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is much better because you don’t have to starve yourself to achieve it, but the progress will still be quick enough to keep you engaged. You’ll also be more likely to keep the weight off long term.
Plus, slower weight loss will help you preserve more of your lean muscle mass, allowing you to lose mostly fat in the process.
2. An adequate amount of protein
Consuming more protein is also vital for effective weight loss for three reasons:
- It allows you to better preserve the muscle mass you have
- It allows you to burn slightly more calories, thanks to its high thermic effect
- It helps keep you more satiated throughout the day
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015 recommends a daily protein intake of 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. You don’t have to be so precise; as long as you make it a point to have protein with each meal and snack, you will do great. Fantastic examples include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts and beans.
3. Whole and minimally processed foods
You can, theoretically, eat mainly processed foods and lose weight, so long as you control your caloric intake. But eating mostly whole and nutritious foods is vital for good health, providing your body with all of the nutrients it needs, and staying satiated. Whole foods pack a bigger nutrition punch per calorie than processed foods. They also pack more fiber and lean protein to keep you feeling full for longer after a meal.
So, aim to have 90 percent of your calories from whole foods and leave the remaining 10 percent for treats. This will help you stay healthy and still enjoy a degree of dietary freedom while working toward your weight loss goals.
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