Planning Your Meals

Your diet plays an integral role in your health and your weight loss goals. As part of the Getting Healthy Series, you’ve learned about the role that Calories play in weight loss, and have calculated how many calories you should eat each day. You’ve reviewed the importance of eating balanced meals. You’ve set your SMART goals and have a deadline for your tight, manageable goals for getting healthy.

SMARTgoalsIn this example, the goal is to eat less than 1400 Calories each day.

Now it’s time to do RESEARCH! The first concern is the diet. Take into consideration any health concerns such as food allergies, IBS, high cholesterol, and still find a diet you can live with. First for 10 weeks, then another 5, then the rest of your life.

Choosing a Diet Plan

Before you decide to begin a fad diet, research the details of the diet. For more information, see Investigating Diet Fads. Think about your own situation and build upon what you know so that you can move forward.

Author’s Note: I love simple carbohydrates and processed sugars. Belly fat – check. Sugar addiction – check. Afternoon carb crashes – check. To begin with, I need to minimize my sugar intake. But removing fruits and natural sugars from my diet is not feasible, even in the short term.

  1. No processed sugars. My sugar must come from fruits and natural sources such as honey. No artificial sweeteners.
  2. I’m looking to improve my overall health. For that, I want to get a healthy mix of protein/carbs/fat/fiber in every meal. I want to do it right. Lean meats that include fish, real veggies, real fruit, the occasional whole wheat bread, and yummy fats like nuts and olive oil.
  3. I like a SYSTEM. I want charts or tables or something. I want to understand when I’m doing something well or poorly. I need to enter my foods to keep me on track and to act as deterrent to poor choices.
  4. Most importantly, I need something that I can really do the rest of my life. When I start gaining weight, I buckle down, track my food, and do a little better. By the time I’m maintaining, I want to understand the system so well that I can estimate in my head or look information up quickly.

It’s important to understand yourself. If you know your problem areas and what comes easily to you, you can decide on a diet plan that works for you. After you’ve made your decision, you need to take action and develop a system. Keep a journal of the things that you eat. Consider the following options for recording your meals.

  • On Paper – It’s simple. This is the recommended method for the Wall Street Diet. However, calculating calories is nearly impossible, never mind checking grams of protein. For this you would have to look up foods then record them on paper and do calculations. Using paper is not a long-term solution. However, if you don’t have any idea what your eating habits are, this is a good way to get in the habit of writing a food journal until you are ready to add the additional technological complication.
  • Spreadsheet – You might be an Excel Master, able to write complicated formulas and macros. But for this type of thing it would be fairly complicated. If you wanted to do it daily you would need create to a nutritional database.
  • Weight Watchers– There’s a nice app for my phone and the online interface is easy to use. Much like Sparkpeople, you can access the large database of foods and recipes, and you can enter your own as needed. I find that the database is better in Sparkpeople, though. I’ve had to enter more foods in Weight Watchers. Like Onion Powder. There is no Onion Powder.
    • Pro: Weight Watchers has recently revamped their Points system. It’s now called Points Plus. Points used to be calculated on calories and fat, I believe. Now Points Plus are based on Carbs, Fats, Fiber, and Proteins. I like that theory. My only concern is that you can’t see your calorie count for the day. However, the amount of Points Plus you are allotted is associated with your caloric needs. What is important is that even when the calories are the same for different food items, protein- and fiber-rich foods get fewer Points Plus to encourage dieters to eat more filling food for their allotted Points Plus. Calorie-dense foods that have more fat and simple carbs are assigned more points.
    • Pro: You get unlimited quantities of fresh fruits and non-starchy vegetables. (However, these calories aren’t taken into account, which is a concern.)
    • Pro: Weight Watchers does work well for people in the long term. And as far as their diet is concerned, it is simple, easy to use and you don’t have to keep using the Food Tracker once you get used to the Points system.
    • Pro: Building meals and favorites lists are easy and they are easy to access.
    • Pro: Great mobile app that includes the ability to do a barcode scan to enter an item
    • Pro: Doing exercise means that you’ve been burning calories. That means you can eat a little more. Weight Watchers takes that into account.
    • Con: It’s expensive. If you start it for free you can do it by hand later, but you will have to pay to use the tools. Cost:
      • Local meetings and no online tools – $9.99 per weekly meeting. Initial joining fee of around $29.99, I think.
      • Local meetings and online tools – $39.99 a month.
      • Online only – $18.95 a month with an initial joining fee of around $29.99, I think.
      • Online only 3 months paid – $57 (roughly). If you pay for 3 months in advance they waive the joining fee. Of course if you stop after 3 months and then start back the fee is active again.
    • Con: You can’t see Calories, Fiber, Cholesterol, Protein, Carbs, Fats, etc
    • Con: The database is much weaker than the other systems
    • Con: The recipe section isn’t nearly as nice as Sparkpeople
    • Con: There is a curve for new users (as with other online systems). You will have to take time to add new products to your favorites, add recipes and create meals.
    • Con: Does not work with Fitbit
      NOTE: The Weight Watchers information included here is based on a 2012 evaluation, and will be updated when I complete my current 3-month trial.
  • My Fitness Pal– This website at is newer to the scene but obscenely popular. They have the largest database of foods out there. They also integrate with the Fitbit.
    • Pro: FREE!
    • Pro: Your calorie goals are determined automatically based on your height, weight, age, sex, and what you want to do. Lose 1 pound a week? Lose 1.5 pounds a week?
      • Example:
        Calories Burned
        From Normal Daily Activity 1,850 calories/day
        Net Calories Consumed*
        Your Daily Goal 1,200 calories/ day
        Daily Calorie Deficit 650 calories
        Projected Weight Loss 1.3 lbs/ week
        * Net Calories Consumed = Total Calories Consumed - Exercise Calories Burned
    • Pro: Great Database with easy entry of your own foods and exercises. The database is entirely user-entered but you can see how many people have “verified” an item before you use it. There are just a lot of different names for the same item.
    • Pro: Great mobile app that includes the ability to do a barcode scan to enter an item. Very handy.
    • Pro: Ability to see Calories, Fiber, Cholesterol, Protein, Carbs, Fats, and more
    • Pro: You can build meals and copy foods to other days/meals easily
    • Pro: Works with Fitbit
    • Con: Fitbit integration is disappointing. You can only see total Fitbit steps for the day and total sleep time for the day.
    • Con: Exercise Tracking is basic. You can’t even create workouts that have exercises in them. You have to enter all of them at once or copy them from a different day.
    • Con: Goal-setting and reports aren’t as nice as the others
    • Con: Recipe entry doesn’t have a place for recipe instructions. You’re just entering the ingredients to create a caloric and nutritional value for your journal.
    • Con: There is a curve for new users (as with other online systems). You will have to take time to add new products to your favorites, add recipes and create meals.
  • Fitbit Website – This is a free website and is designed for use with the Fitbit device. (See my Using the Fitbit article for more information on this device.)
    • Pro: Great graphical interface that displays the activity recorded by the Fitbit.
    • Pro: Great graphical interface that displays your sleeping habits recorded by the Fitbit.
    • Pro: Logging activities is easy. You can enter the time of the activity so that you don’t double up on calorie consumption. Fitbit figures out that if you worked out at 10am for 30 minutes, that’s why there was an activity spike in your data.
    • Pro: You can use MyFitnessPal for food logging and the data is imported into Fitbit, though without details.
    • Con: Food logging is not optimal. The database isn’t very good and there’s no barcode reader. Most Fitbit users use the Fitbit website for all activities and exercises and use MyFitnessPal for food logging.


Execute the Diet Plan

Using the research above or after doing research of your own, decide on a system that works for you.

My Personal Plan

I decided to try out Weight Watchers for 3 months and paid it in advance. But, since I am concerned to keep my calories under 1500, I am tracking my food intake on both and For my food, I am:

  • avoiding processed foods
  • making sure I have reasonable amounts of protein/fat/carbs/fiber in every meal.
  • eating lots of olive oil as my fat and eating only lowfat cheese.
  • eating no processed sugar for the first 2 weeks.
  • eating a very minimal amount of grains and starches for the first 2 weeks. (100% Whole Grain bread once a week, Sweet potatoes a few times…) I am eating plenty of fiber in veggies and fruits.
  • adding more grains and the occasional treat of sugar after 2 weeks.
  • eating at least every 4 hours excluding sleep. And I eat within 2 hours of going to bed or waking up in order to keep a steadier blood sugar level.
  • tracking the food to check calorie totals, Points Plus, and protein/fat/carbs/fiber mix.

UPDATE 5/28/12

I used Weight Watchers for the 3 planned months and an additional 2 months. Although the plan is great, I just can’t justify continuing to spend $19 a month on the service. I did notice that I did better by tracking my foods on Weight Watchers than by tracking them on Spark People. The trick was that if I was under calories but had eaten junk, my WW points went high and I gained weight. If my calories were high but my WW points were on track I lost weight. So my deduction is that the WW Points System works, but the continued cost is just too high.

I’m sticking with Spark People because it’s free and it has some great features that even Weight Watchers doesn’t offer. I did try MyFitnessPro and wasn’t terribly impressed. It definitely wasn’t worth re-entering all my foods and recipes to the new system. Weight Watchers would be worth the time to switch if not for the monthly cost.


Author: Steph

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