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Why Diet Plans Help Weight Loss

It's not just types of foods or even simply calorie content. Lyndel Costain RD reveals the benefits meal plans contribute to successful weight loss

Why Diet Plans Help Weight Loss

By Dietitian Lyndel Costain BSc RD

We often say you don’t have to ‘go on a diet’ in order to lose weight

Eating fewer calories than you burn results in weight loss. But how do you make that happen starting from scratch?

It’s not just food types or even simply calorie content. Using a plan promotes successful weight loss in more subtle but very effective ways.

You probably know from your own experience that many things in life tend to go more smoothly when you take time to plan ahead.

This certainly seems to be the case for weight loss.  With busy lives and the high calorie food environment, planning ahead to have the right food choices to hand at the right times, can help us to stay on track and achieve our goals.

But successful diet planning also relies on skills such as nutrition knowledge, portion control and calorie awareness. 

No wonder losing weight can seem tough – and that’s before we factor in all the other relationships we have with food and weight!

Evidence for Structured Meal Plans

In the search for ways to help make it easier for people to make healthier, reduced calorie food choices, studies have looked at whether providing structured daily diet plans and shopping lists, and/or providing the actual food is more effective than less structured guidance. 

For example, this research found that although calorie targets (and other educational weight loss information) were similar for everyone in the study, people asked to follow structured weight loss meal plans or who had food provided, lost more weight over 6 months (an average of 11.8kg) than people using less structured guidance (8kg loss).

Eighteen months after the study started the benefit remained  – weight loss was  on average around 7kg versus 3kg – so double the weight loss for the structured groups.

Of particular note is that people who had just the structured diet plans and shopping lists to follow lost as much weight as those who also had their food provided for free!

How Plans Help

So why might structured meal plans be so helpful for weight loss?  Evidence suggests it’s because they:

  • encourage 3 regular meals a day, and reduce snacking
  • aid effective meal planning
  • improve the healthiness of foods kept in the house
  • help people cope better with barriers/difficult situations e.g. what to eat at work, suitable family meals, suitable snacks, time constraints
  • make diary keeping easier (and people who keep daily food diaries can lose twice as much weight as those who don’t)
  • aid portion control and understanding of the energy value of different portion portion sizes
  • help keeps meals healthily balanced but reduced in calories to promote weight loss
  • enable flexibility within the structure – you can build in some favourite foods and meals out to stay satisfied and in control.

Structured diet plans and menus aren’t for everyone, but if you are looking for more guidance then they are definitely worth a try, if only to get you started or to use as a framework to develop your own meal plans.  

Not only can they help with all important planning, but with other key skills and mindsets that are part and parcel of effective, realistic and sustainable weight loss, such as:

  • keeping a food/activity diary of some type
  • getting support
  • healthy cooking skills
  • understanding what’s in food
  • developing the skills to stay on top of unhelpful thoughts or triggers such as ‘all or nothing’ thinking or stress/comfort eating. 

All skills that WLR and its community can help you with, whichever approach suits you best.

Finding a Plan that Works for You

There are many different diet plans available, and finding one that works for your tastes and lifestyle is important. There's no point having a structured meal plan that requires you spend an hour each evening in the kitchen when you simply don't have the time.

That's why we like to encourage people to create a diet plan that will work for their own particular circumstances.

There's no reason why you shouldn't mix meals from several different plans and put them together in your own unique combination.

Adding a dinner for Saturday to your diet plan

In wlr you can do this easily - essentially cherry picking meals that you like the look of, that fit your schedule and your calorie target. Take a free trial to have a go

Doing it this way also makes it easier for you to make allowances and plan for eating out or other times that don't fit your normal routine.

In conclusion

So when we say you don't have to 'go on a diet' to lose weight, what we mean is you don't have to follow some highly restrictive plan that bans foods, or even whole food groups. However, following a structured plan that works for you, or that you have made, will certainly help you lose weight successfully and sustainably.

Start a Free Trial Today

There are a wide range of diet plans in WLR. You can add any plan to your food diary and mix, match, swap and change as much as you like. Try it free for 24 hours.

Take our FREE trial »


Food provision vs. structured meal plans in the behavioral treatment of obesity Pubmed

Food Provision as a Strategy to Promote Weight Loss Wiley Online Library

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