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Benefits of Structured Diet Plans for Weight Loss

By Dietitian, Lyndel Costain BSc RD

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 food-filled environment we live in, 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, understanding food labels, 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!

Do Diet Plans Help Weight Loss?

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, a US study* 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 do Diet 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
  • 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
  • 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 menu’s 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:

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

* Wing RR, Jeffery RW, Burton LR et al. Food provision vs. structured meal plans in the behavioral treatment of obesity. J Consult Clin Psychol 1996; 20:56–62. 

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WLR has tips and advice for good, healthy diet plans. With guidance from the UK's top Dietitians, we make losing weight easy. Try it free for 24 hours and choose a good diet plan to help you lose weight for good.

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