Many people don’t realize that meal planning and food tracking are not the same thing. In many ways, meal planning is far superior, especially when you have a meal planning template. In this post, you will learn the difference between meal planning and food tracking (or macro tracking), plus you’ll get a free meal plan template for weight loss!
Many people track their food intake with apps, software or old-fashioned paper and pen, and that’s a good thing because tracking portions, calories, and macros has many benefits. But many people fail because they don’t know the difference between the meal planning and food tracking. It’s a simple and logical insight, and it’s the difference between being proactive and reactive.
If you don’t understand this distinction, it could sink your diet efforts…
I could fill an entire book with details on meal planning. In fact, I have! (Click here for my meal planning book). Meal planning is an art and a science deserving that much attention.
But today, I’d like to briefly introduce you to the topic by sharing the 2 top strategies for effective meal planning and tracking, explaining the benefits of them both and the difference between the two…
Method 1: The spreadsheet meal plan
This is a method I’ve used for years. I create a meal planning template on a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel or now, using the online software equivalent.
The grid has spaces (cells) for food, quantity, protein, carbs, fat and calories. It also has rows divided out into the number of meals I want to eat.
I then use the spreadsheet software to plug in the “Atwater factors” (the multipliers for the energy content of the macronutrients:
Protein = 4 calories per gram.
Carbs = 4 calories per gram.
Fat = 9 calories per gram).
I also use the sheet’s built-in math functions to add up meal subtotals and daily totals. Along with the daily totals, the macronutrient ratios for the entire day are also tabulated.
Why would you bother to do meal plans by the numbers like this?
Well, it’s a proven fact that people who guess at their calorie intake are not only almost always wrong – they miss by a country mile! One study showed that even registered dieticians couldn’t estimate their calorie intake with more than 85% accuracy when they only guessed and didn’t have a tool or method to track their numbers.
The odds are overwhelmingly against you getting your nutrition right if you don’t have a plan, by the numbers, in writing – on paper (or electronically).
Success is not just about having goals. Success is about having a goal and having a PLAN to achieve it… and then beginning at once to take action on your plan.
If your goal is improving fitness or body composition – half of the plan is the workout – the other part is the MEAL PLAN.
Millions of people stumble into each day with no plan for what they’re going to eat… THEY “WING IT!”
Maybe it’s “in their head” what they intend to eat, but vague ideas give no real direction, and good intentions… well you know what they say about where that road leads.
The fact is, people without a plan usually eat whatever is convenient, available and accessible.
Method 2: The Food Journal / Diary Method
The second method is the food journal or diet diary method. This is where you eat something, and then write it down.
People were doing this long before the internet or software – they just used a notebook – and some people still do. Today more people use mobile apps, software and online tools.
Most people don’t understand that this is a totally different method than creating a meal plan in advance. I’m a big supporter of food tracking (call it a macro tracking or keeping a food diary if you like), but I also believe it doesn’t take the place of having a meal plan in hand before you start your day.
Tracking food intake in a nutrition journal or diet diary has many benefits.
For example, the moment you start tracking and writing down food intake, you have created self-accountability. The simple act of writing down what you eat – by itself – can change your behavior. What is measured and tracked is improved.
Writing down what you eat is also another way to be sure you’re eating the correct amount of calories and macronutrients for each day. As long as you have a calorie and macronutrient goal for the day, if you’re journaling food in real time, you can adjust your food intake in real time based on how many calories you have left for the day.
That’s how many people use nutrition apps today – as an electronic food journal. They may not have a pre-made meal plan, but they do know their calorie and macro goal for the day. After each meal, they log in the food from their smartphone and they can see how close they are to their targets as the day goes on.
A food journal or tracking app can provide a great learning experience. Nothing will teach you about nutrition like tracking food, calories and macronutrients for an extended period of time. It’s like taking a nutrition class – except you come away with street-level learning, not just book learning.
Just like you go through school for a period of time at least once in your life, I consider tracking food intake a mandatory experience to go through at least once in your life for at least 4-12 weeks. Otherwise, you go through life uneducated.
Some people make it a habit and it becomes a part of their lifestyle. Others find it a chore to track food forever, so they only do it in the beginning, the first time they pursue a body transformation. Anyone can come back to it in the future if they find they’ve started to slip or if they have a big new goal they want to pursue with more precision.
The Difference Between Planning and Tracking
Now, let me finish this lesson by pointing out a vital difference between these two strategies…
Meal planning, where you create a whole day of meals on paper in advance, is a PROACTIVE strategy: You decide beforehand what you’re going to eat, and then you eat it.
Food tracking is a REACTIVE strategy: You eat something and then you write it down.
Tracking food intake with a food journal is not the same thing as meal planning and in many cases, tracking alone is not sufficient.
Eating completely at random and then writing down your haphazard day of random eating is tracking, but it’s not a very good strategy is it? The better strategy is to have a well-thought-out plan created in advance, before you take action.
That’s why I believe that whether you journal food every day or not, having at least one good meal plan on paper is a great strategy.
“Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you’ll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don’t have a plan. That’s why it’s easy to beat most folks.” – Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, football coach, University of Alabama
In upcoming newsletters and articles, I’ll write more about some of the best methods for creating individual meals and how to put those meals together into daily meal plans. I’ll even share some of my favorite recipes with you, to spice up your meal variety.
If you’d like to learn a lot more about how to succeed with meal planning, then you’ll want to read the new ebook, “The Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Guide to Flexible Meal Planning. It’s available for download now at www.BurnTheFat.com
Also, before signing off, I would also like to show you how the latest online technology can make making meal plans in minutes a snap:
It’s called Burn the Fat Meal Planner, and if you’re a Burn the Fat inner circle member, it comes with your membership and you can log in right now and start making custom meal plans.
CLICK HERE For The Burn the Fat Meal Planner online software (members only)
Here are some of the cool things you can do with Burn the Fat Meal Planner:
1. Create and save your own customized meals.
2. Create and save your own customized daily meal plans.
3. Create and save customized recipes.
4. Mark foods as favorites.
5. Mark meals as favorites.
6. Mark recipes as favorites.
7. Add your own “custom” foods into the data base.
8. Mix and match all your custom meals and recipes to to create unlimited personalized daily meal plans.
9. Get food ideas from Burn the Fat approved foods and download them into your own personal meals.
10. Get meal ideas from Burn the Fat approved meals and download them into your own daily meal plans.
11. Get recipe ideas from Burn the Fat approved recipes and download them into your own daily meal plans.
12. Modify Burn the Fat approved recipes (change, remove, or add ingredients), and save them as your own custom recipes.
13. Import complete pre-made Burn the Fat approved meal plans into your own day’s spreadsheet
Plus a LOT more.
This is an amazing tool, designed specifically for proactive meal planning. In this case, the meal planning template is online and completely electronic. But don’t forget, you can always create meal plans with a good, old-fashioned spreadsheet. You can download our pre-formatted meal planning template spreadsheets here:
CLICK HERE For The Burn the Fat Meal Planner Spreadsheet – Excel version (Free)
CLICK HERE For The Burn the Fat Meal Planner Spreadsheet – PDF printable version (Free)
CLICK HERE For The Burn the Fat Meal Planner online software (members only)
Until next time,
Train hard and expect success!
Founder & CEO, Burn the Fat Inner Circle
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Author of The BFFM Guide to Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss