How to Plan Your Diet for Weight Loss
By Rebecca Walton, wlr team
Planning your own diet is always going to be better than trying to fit someone else’s plan to your tastes and into your lifestyle. Especially when it comes to losing weight over a period of weeks or months, and then keeping it off.
Dietitian Lyndel Costain sums it up:
"People who lose weight effectively don't rely on a quick fix or magic formula. They plan ahead. They get reliable and accurate information that suits their needs, tastes and lifestyle". See Lyndel's Why Diet Plans Help Weight Loss for more on this, having a plan works in more ways than just controlling calories.
In fact, planning meals and snacks ahead is a tactic used by many (if not most) successful slimmers. Research shows that meal planning has a positive effect on diet quality, food variety and body weight.1
So here’s our guide for putting together a healthy, weight loss diet plan that works for you.
Start with Something to Scribble On
As you’re thinking about, and looking for ideas, for your plan – keep a pad and pencil in front of you. Or use our printable diet planning sheet. Jot down any ideas that come to you:
- Times of day that you eat, and whether you eat meals or snacks at these times
- Times, during the course of the week, when you tend to end up eating fatty/sugary/high calorie meals and snacks because of circumstances at the time. (These are your ‘low hanging fruit’ – small changes here can make a big difference!)
- Meals that you like
- Recipes you want to try
- Foods you could pack up for lunch
- Low calorie, nutritious snack ideas
- Ways to get more fruit and veg into your diet
- Good eating out or takeaway choices
There are lots of resources that will help you to do this, from recipe books to online resources like WLR. The point is that the more ideas you can get together, the easier it will be to make your plan.
Take a look at our wide choice of diet plans to get ideas for calorie counted breakfast, lunches, dinners and snacks.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Think about previous experiences you have had of dieting/trying to lose weight.
- What has worked well with previous diets?
- What didn’t you like about previous diets?
- How did you feel on particular diets?
- What caused you to give up on a day, week or even whole plan?
All of your thoughts and answers will help in building your new plan, but this next question is possibly the most important:
What’s Likely to Trip You Up?
If you can remember the causes of why it all went wrong when you tried to lose weight before, use your hard-won knowledge to plan ahead for those possible diet saboteurs.
Here’s some ideas for some common problem areas, but it’s important to think about your own Achilles heel(s) and plan for them.
The first thing is to ask yourself is are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on weight. Make it part of your plan to get at least 7 hours a night.
Keep a stock of healthy, low calorie snacks in the fridge. Slice up peppers, celery, carrots, cucumber, spring onions etc, and keep them in a bag in the fridge. Grab a few when you need to munch on something.
Avoid sugary snacks, these will give you a quick high, leading to a quick low which will very likely have you raiding the cupboard again.
If you know you’re going to crave something sweet, stock some low fat yoghurt, 80% cocoa chocolate (a single square (10g) should be enough to take the edge off), a piece of fruit, or a low cal hot chocolate drink.
If you know that snacking in the evenings is your downfall, make it part of your plan to clear the high calorie/high sugar snacks from your kitchen – and don’t include them on your shopping list.
If you normally just grab whatever’s quick and convenient during the working day, a bit of planning will pay real dividends.
It’s not just the calories, fat and sugar in lunchtime convenience and fast foods that will hurt your diet – the ‘eat fast, digest fast’ nature of many of these foods is not helpful when you’re trying to lose weight.
Packing your own lunch is ideal. You have complete control over how you spend your calories (does a cheese sandwich really need mayo?), and can make sure that your lunch contains a slow-burn mix of ingredients like fibre, complex carbs and protein.
Evening meals that suit themselves to packing up for lunch, can add a bit of a luxury feel to what you’re eating at your desk – just take note of the jealous looks from around the office!
If you’re really not that keen on the idea of a pack-up, do your homework on the local places you can get something to eat at lunchtime. What have they got that’s within the number of calories you want to allow, that will keep you going till dinner?
The point is to plan what you're going to eat with where you'll be and what you'll be doing.
Dining Out Dangers
Eating out, especially if you do it frequently, can be a minefield when you’re trying to lose weight.
Not only are you surrounded by delicious cooking smells, but portions tend to be large and dishes richer than you would cook at home. You might also find that a glass of wine or two washes away your motivation for staying on track.
Planning can really help here. Many restaurants provide their menus online now, giving you the chance to have a proper look and make good choices in advance. The trick is to stick to what you have decided when you get to the restaurant!
Here’s some tips
- Grilled or griddled lean meat and fish are great choices. If they come with a rich sauce (think creamy) either ask for the sauce separately so you can have just a little, or ask for the meal without sauce.
- Pasta can be a good choice if it’s served with a tomato based sauce rather than creamy or cheesy options.
- If portions are large, eat as slowly as you can and stop as soon as you start to feel full – don’t worry about leaving food on your plate. It’s better in the bin than adding to your internal storage.
- Ask for salad without dressing, then use a little balsamic to liven it up.
- Avoid anything deep fried – deep frying adds loads of extra calories to any food, and breaded foods are the worst since they soak up so much oil.
Calorie Count Your Plan
Once you’ve got some ideas you need to start thinking about how many calories you need each day to lose weight and how you want to apportion those calories throughout the day. You can find out the amount of calories you need to lose weight at your chosen rate in WLR, take a free trial.
Then it’s a question of calorie counting your ideas and matching them, or adjusting them, to suit the eating slots you have on your plan.
You should allow an ‘eating slot’ for every time you normally eat in a day.
For example, if you eat:
- Afternoon snack
- Evening snack
And your chosen calorie allowance is 1400 per day, your plan may look like this:
- Breakfast (250 calories)
- Lunch (350 calories)
- Afternoon Snack (100 calories)
- Dinner (450 calories)
- Evening Snack, or maybe a small glass of wine (120 calories)
That comes to 1270 calories, leaving you 130 calories for drinks throughout the day. (Water’s great – no calories, black coffee or tea are also almost zero calories if you don’t add sugar.)
If you don’t snack between meals, then you could eat more at meal times, for example:
- Breakfast (300 calories)
- Lunch (400 calories)
- Dinner (600 calories)
Giving you 1300 calories with 100 left for drinks.
Think about times when you prefer to eat the most, and allow for larger amounts of your planned calorie intake for them.
Here’s a couple of well-balanced sample plans to give you an idea of what different calorie allowances look like:
1100 Calorie Plan for one day
Bran flakes (40g) with half a teaspoon of sugar, 150ml of semi-skimmed milk, plus a handful of fresh berries.
Cheddar cheese sandwich made with wholemeal bread and a small tomato, plus an apple.
Chicken Piccata with Pasta (recipe available in WLR) and green beans finished off with a low fat chocolate mousse.
- A sweet or savoury jumbo rice cake
- A Satsuma
1400 Calorie Plan for one day
Boiled egg with a piece of wholemeal toast and brown sauce, pus a low fat fruit youghurt.
Mozarella, pesto and cherry tomato on slices of baguette with a mixed green salad, plus a pear.
Balsamic & Thyme Steak with Dijon Mash and Cabbage, followed by strawberries with 2 tablespoons of single cream.
- Low calorie chocolate chip cereal bar
- 20g of fruit, nut and seed mix.
Use Healthy Eating Guidelines
Using healthy eating principles will help to ensure that your diet is big on good nutrition as well as low in calories.
Doing this will help enormously in helping you to transition from a ‘diet’ that helps you lose weight, to a sustainable way of eating that will keep you slimmer and healthier for life.
This doesn’t mean you have to be puritanical and never eat chocolate, cake or crisps again – but it will help you to put these foods into their right balance with other foods that you eat, and help you create healthier and leaner eating habits for yourself.
How to Make Your Diet Plan Healthy
Here’s a brief list of things to think about whilst you are planning:
Build in at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
This is really basic for any good diet plan, and vital for sustainable weight loss.
Not only do fruit and veg contain vast amounts of nutrients, they are low in calories and full of fibre that keeps you fuller for longer.
Fruits are an ideal choice if you fancy something sweet but are trying to cut down on the chocolate. And the natural sugars in fruit, when eaten in their whole, natural, state are not bad for you like the added sugars in processed foods, or even table sugar.
Vegetables add different colours, flavours, textures, tastes and health-promoting nutrients to a meal – all for very few calories. They’ll help fill you up, and can make a low calorie plate look like a banquet.
If you’re not usually that keen on veg, have a look at different ways of preparing and eating them.
Here’s some ideas to get you started
Crunchy – raw peppers, celery, cucumber or carrots, with a little yoghurt dip
Comforting – cooked carrot and swede mashed together with a little black pepper
Tasty – Shredded cabbage and finely sliced leek, gently sweated in a little butter
Zingy – Broccoli stir fried with thinly sliced garlic and a little oyster sauce
Sweet – Fresh or frozen garden peas, simmered with some shredded lettuce
Spicy – Cauliflower and potatoes, or carrots and sultanas cooked with Indian spices
For more tips and idea for fruit and veg see our dietitian's advice: Fruit and Vegetables in a Weight Loss Diet
Around a Third of Your Diet Should be Starchy Foods
Go for high-fibre varieties where available, such as wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice.
These foods provide carbs, fibre, B vitamins and small amounts of calcium and iron. They should fill roughly a third of your plate at mealtimes.
Get Enough Good Quality Protein
This food group includes meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses. WLR recommends aiming at about 20% of calories from protein when you're trying to lose weight. It helps you feel fuller for longer and may help to protect against muscle loss when you're on a reduced calorie diet, especially if you get some exercise.
Aim for two servings of fish each week, one of which should be oily fish like slamon. mackerel, sardines or tuna.
- Try to avoid processed meats such as sausages
- Chicken and turkey are great for a meaty but low calorie meal
- Remove visible fat from red meat
- Experiment with vegetable proteins, soya and other beans can be flavoured up just like meat
Include Dairy, or Dairy Alternatives
Dairy foods, whether full fat or low fat have been shown to be an important part of a healthy diet. Low fat options like skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low fat youghurts ae useful when you're losing weight since they tend to have fewer calories. But ...
Be careful about the amount of sugar in yoghurts and some dairy alternatives, some really healthy-looking options are loaded with sugar.
Overall your focus should be on getting enough of the above good things into your diet, along with small amounts of, mainly unsaturated, fat.
It's OK to make room for the odd sugary or salty snack - just focus on getting the good stuff first, eat less calories than you need to maintain your current weight, and your diet will be healthy and you will lose weight.
If your mind works better with pictures, the new UK health dept Eatwell Guide sums it up nicely.
Tips to Make Your Plan Easier to Follow
Cook in Batches
The beauty of batch cooking is that you can cook meals for a week, or even a month, in a few hours that are convenient for you.
That means you get to sit down to a proper home cooked meal after a hard day, that you’ll actually enjoy, with low time and effort required.
What more could you ask for? Well here’s a few side benefits of this strategy:
- You get to control the ingredients, and therefore the calorie content and nutritional value of your meals
- Your home-made ready-meals will be much better for you than the processed type you buy at a supermarket
- Cooking your own meals is cheaper than buying ready meals, and much cheaper than having diet food delivered
- You can store your cooked food in the portion sizes that suit you – individual or family-sized
Once you have your plan, shop for it online, you will be much more organised and methodical. If you make your plan in WLR, it will produce a shopping list for you.
Getting your shopping list online means you’re less likely to forget stuff, and less likely to get pulled in to buying things that are not on your list.
If you do prefer to shop at a supermarket, or other shops, print off your list and cross it off as you go – and don’t buy anything edible that’s not on your list. Also, don’t shop for food when you’re hungry!
Adjust as You Go
The best laid plans . . . etc! Don't let a day that doesn't go to plan put you off. Life really does get in the way sometimes - the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it and give up.
Get back on plan next day, and make some adjustments if you feel you need to.
In WLR we encourage members to look at calorie intake over the course of a week - there are bound to be days when eating (or drinking) is more of a feature.
The diet planning tools in WLR enable you to look at calories in the context of a week, quickly find alternatives, and get ideas from thousands of recipes and meal ideas. You can even take one of our recipes, adapt it to suit yourself, and save it in your own recipe stash. Best of all you can give it a go free.
Healthy and filling meals, calorie counted and colour coded to make it easy to build a plan that suits you. Get ideas for delish dinners, scrummy breakfasts and luscious lunches in Build Your Own Delish Diet Plan
WLR's diet planning tools make finding and adding foods to your plan easy, and do all of the calculations for you, try them free
Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7