You had full intentions of ordering a salad at lunch today, but when you got to the restaurant with your co-workers, starved after not eating much for breakfast that morning, you just couldn’t resist the hamburger meal deal, and now you feel guilty…and bloated.

Most of us have experienced this scenario more times than we’d like to admit, and we blame our lack of willpower. But honestly, it’s not your willpower that’s to blame — it’s a lack of planning. Why is meal planning so key to healthy eating? Here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Meal planning takes the pressure off our willpower.

You might not realize it, but we use our willpower to make a lot of decisions throughout the day, not just for resisting the company-provided doughnuts in the lounge. Some days it takes a lot of willpower just to get out of bed! Then there’s the willpower it takes to grab our gym bag and head to the fitness center before or after work. It also takes willpower to control our emotional responses when someone cuts us off in traffic or the boss is being unreasonable. All this to say that expecting to be able to resist tasty food when there’s no backup plan in place is just not fair to yourself. It sabotages your good intentions.

Meal planning takes that pressure off your willpower by providing the support to back up your desires to make healthy choices. It’s easier to eat better when there’s a lunch you’ve already taken the time to pack or a healthy breakfast already sitting in your refrigerator.

2. Meal planning frees up time and energy.

Planning and prepping meals in advance does require energy and time focused on making decisions about food, but that time and energy is concentrated. When you’re done, there’s no further need to stress about daily food choices throughout the day or week. This means more energy for other more important things and less stress, overall.

3. It reduces stress over food choices and the cycle of emotional eating.

Ironically, stress over whether or not you’re making healthy choices from meal to meal can sabotage you, as well, by leading to emotional eating. Worrying whether or not what we ate was healthy, fell within the right calorie count, or had the correct nutritional balance causes stress, and our bodies seek comfort when we’re emotionally stressed – often in the form of comfort foods.

Making the point to plan meals you know meet your nutritional needs alleviates that recurring stress and can, in turn, help you overcome your perceived ‘emotional needs’ by reinforcing the fact that the very tangible, tasty food right in front of you is also nutritionally sound.
Meal planning isn’t always convenient or easy, but most nutritionist and fitness gym trainers will attest that it’s vital if you’re serious about making consistent changes to your eating habits and seeing lasting results in the way our body feels, looks, and performs. Take the pressure off your willpower and eliminate stress over food choices by making meal planning a priority in your weekly schedule.