What’s the difference between dieting and meal planning, or are they the same? Dieting and meal planning are both effective for weight loss, so some people get them confused. But they’re completely different; and in fact, you can even meal plan for a diet if you wanted to.
Diets are usually a short-term strategy to lose weight by restricting certain foods. But for the most part, diets work because by eliminating foods/food groups, people are restricting calories overall. The downside to dieting is that they generally aren’t sustainable (especially fad diets) due to the extreme restrictions. Most people have trouble with that and end up going in the opposite direction and give in to their cravings and binge/overeat. In addition, weight often bounces right back after ending a diet.
Some common reasons for doing a diet are: 1. They often promise faster results 2. They push the idea that we need to “cleanse” our bodies or have a “reset”, or 3. They can target specific concerns like discovering food intolerances. While diets are not inherently a bad thing, ones with more extreme and rigid rules will tend to make people feel guilty when they “fail,” which can create an unhealthy relationship with food.
Meal planning, on the other hand, is what it sounds like: planning your meals. That could mean planning your meals for the next day, week, or month(s). Top reasons for meal planning: 1. To lose weight 2. Eat healthier 3. Save time and/or 4. Save money. Meal planning doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose weight; you could be packing burgers and fries, cookies, chips, whatever you want. But meal planning means you’re making conscious decisions about what you want to eat. So if your goal is weight loss for example, then you would plan meals that meet your calorie/macro requirements for each day.
When clients ask me for diet advice, I will send them meal plans that help meet their individual goals but also fit their lifestyles. So in that case, most of the meal planning has been done for them–they don’t have to research, just prep the meals in advance (if they want).
There are some good reasons for dieting, but if you’re looking ahead and aiming to keep weight off for good, changing how you eat and your relationship with food is ultimately the healthiest approach, both psychologically and physically.