Conquer Your Diet by Planning in Advance!

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So over this past winter I went on a bit of a bulk.  Honestly, in retrospect, I could have managed my food intake a bit better, and I definitely put on a little more weight than I’d like, topping out at 215 lbs.  At 5’9″ that puts me in the “overweight” range on the BMI chart.  Of course, BMI isn’t everything, and it’s honestly not a great way of evaluating an individual’s body fat percentage (it works much better on statistically-significant groups of people.)  Regardless, I definitely had more body fat than I cared to possess, and so, around the middle of February I began a “cut.”  Since then, I’ve dumped 10 pounds, bringing me down to 205, despite having some serious real life challenges and injuries that left me unable to work out at all for the past month.

Now that I’m training again, I’m comfortable cutting back my calories a bit more (I was concerned about too much muscle atrophy if I cut back really significantly while I wasn’t lifting,) and I plan to lose another sixteen pounds over the next two months.

My big secret to success?  Planning my days in advance.

We know from our discussion on self discipline that decreasing our food intake uses up the fuel (glucose) our brain uses to fuel our “self control muscles.”  As such, the time you need your self control most (when you’re trying to keep yourself from eating that extra donut,) is also when your brain has the hardest time with it.  You can help remove this barrier by setting up your food plan for the day the night beforehand.

There are, however, some tricks to this.

First, I use an app called MyFitnessPal on my phone.  It’s great, you can scan food in by its barcode if it’s pre-packaged, input recipes if you’re making stuff from scratch, and search their EXTENSIVE food database to find basically anything you’re eating.  At the start of my day (or the night before,) I’ll plug in literally everything I’ll eat in the next 24 hours.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks are accounted for.

This become easier when you work in the second trick: preparing meals in advance.  Usually one day a week I will go shopping, come home, and whip into a cooking frenzy.  I’ll spend 1-2 hours cooking two or three utilitarian meals, packing them away in microwave-safe containers, and storing them in my refrigerator and freezer.  I’ll plug the recipes into MyFitnessPal, and I’ll have quick, cheap, on-the-go meal options that I can reheat in a microwave any time.  This way I can also tailor my meals to my macro needs, and I don’t have to think about food at all in the coming week unless I choose to.

By following these two steps, I take away basically any need to make choices in the moment throughout the day, at least in regards to food.  If I know that every single bite is already accounted for, and that all I need to do is follow my meal plan for the day to accomplish my weight loss goal, it becomes a lot easier to shrug off the invitation to eat that extra pastry, or order a coffee instead of dessert when I’m out to lunch with friends.

Research shows us that every time we make a choice (even a pleasant one,) we’re using up some of our willpower reserves, and those reserves don’t get completely replenished until after you’ve had a full night’s rest!  That’s why a lot of powerful and successful people try to eliminate what choices they can from their life (like Steve Jobs always wearing that signature turtleneck-and-jeans combo) so they can preserve their valuable brainpower for other things.

You’re already making it hard on your brain by trying to do something that requires mental focus (losing weight) while also depriving it of the amount of fuel it’s usually used to getting (glucose.)  Make it easier by eliminating the number of choices your brain has to make during the day.  That’s why it’s even better to plan the next day before bed, because then even the willpower reserves you expend setting up your meal plan get replenished before you need to actually implement it.

A further way to use this strategy, if you don’t have time to set up a food plan one day for some reason, or an unexpected lunch outing comes up at work, is to offer your brain an if-then condition.  “If I go out for lunch, then I will order a salad with chicken instead of the cheeseburger.”  “If my friends order dessert, then I will order a coffee.” “If everyone’s ordering full meals, then I will pack away half of my appetizer and entree to eat at home.”

The important thing is to set up these if-then conditionals in your head in advance.  Remember, your brain is constantly craving glucose.  If you leave it up to your brain to make a decision in the moment, it’s going to choose the most carbohydrate-laden, highest-calorie food it can.  Make the decision before the temptation is there, and save your brainpower for more valuable things.

Just by sticking with these simple strategies, I’ve made it so much easier to lose the weight I have, and to stick to my macros as I laid them out for myself.  Planning my days in advance is literally the single biggest tool I have in my weight loss arsenal.  If you’re trying to get in shape for beach season like I am, you should try it, too.  Stop in over at the forum and let me know how it goes!

Live boldly, change the world, and continue to be awesome!

Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace

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