A 21-day meal plan can give you enough time to lose weight and help you develop healthy habits that you can apply to your next phase of dieting. Plan on losing 1 to 3 lbs. per week if weight loss is your goal. Losing weight faster may not be healthy and can cause more weight gain in the future. Planning your diet effectively is the best way to stick to it and ensure its effectiveness. Actual calorie requirements will vary from person to person, so before beginning any strict dietary program, always consult a physician or licensed dietitian.
Setting goals should be your priority for any effective meal plan. When you set goals you have a better vision as to how you’ll be able to reach them. Start by setting a few small goals for yourself that you’ll be able to reach within 21 days. One effective technique is to split your goals up by weeks and add to them. An example would be for week 1 you will eat a breakfast every morning; for week 2 you’ll eat breakfast every morning and have three pieces of fruit; for week 3 you’ll add two pieces of vegetables per day. This sets the foundation for later programs and helps you see results without being overwhelmed by drastic changes.
Plan out exactly what foods you’ll be eating, when you’ll eat them and which days you’ll do shopping to re-stock. Preparing meals ahead of time can save you time and make it less likely you’ll skip meals simply because you don’t feel like cooking or going through the hassle. An easy trick to make your meal plan effective is to write down four to five meals you know you’ll enjoy and schedule them at different times during the 21-day cycle. This way you won’t constantly have to come up with new ideas. The American College of Sports Medicine advises trying to eat four to six meals per day. This helps keep your metabolism running higher through digestion and can prevent overeating later in the day.
For your meal plan to be effective, include foods that are rich in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Excellent sources of protein you should include in your meals are fish, chicken, legumes, eggs and protein shakes. Complex carbohydrates should come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and oatmeal. Healthy fats for your meal plan can be from olive oil, nut butters, fish and avocados. These and similar foods should form the basis of your 21-day plan and you can mix and match them to fit your taste. Avoid foods that are canned or highly processed. These foods contain high amounts of sugar and sodium, which can negatively affect your health.
For breakfast you can have an egg white omelet filled with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes; a small bowl of oatmeal; and an apple. For lunch you can do a grilled chicken breast with lemon and herbs; a small salad with mixed vegetables and olive oil; and some brown rice. For dinner have some fish with broccoli and grilled mushrooms. Fresh vegetable or bean soups are also healthy choices. In between meals try 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese and some almonds. Eat fruits and vegetables as snacks or have nut butter sandwiches on whole-grain bread or a protein shake.
- “Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual”; American Council on Exercise; 2008
- "ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer”; American College of Sports Medicine; 2010