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How to Plan a Weight Loss Diet Menu

Updated on January 30, 2016
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Sharilee and her husband, Vern, live with two cats. Due to Vern's cat allergies, she has done extensive research on the subject.

Planning a weight loss menu takes some math but it's worth the effort!
Planning a weight loss menu takes some math but it's worth the effort! | Source

Why Bother Planning Your Weight Loss Menu?

Learning how to plan a weight loss menu is one of the most important components of losing weight. Knowing what to eat, on your own, gives you freedom and a sense of competence. If you are trying to lose weight, and have not been successful, take the time to educate yourself and increase your knowledge. The more you learn on your own, the more tools you will have. As someone on the journey to lose weight myself, I am sharing from my own experience.

Planning your menu is one of the most important components of weight loss. Why is it important to plan? Because unplanned days lead to a much greater possibility of bad decisions. Let's face it. If we made all the right decisions, on our own, we wouldn't be trying to lose weight. We have a problem with discipline when it comes to eating. We need to plan, to circumvent our own tendency to make decisions, or to be tempted.

What follows is the basics of how to plan a weight loss menu. This hub will explain how to decide how many calories you need, and then how to decide how many calories to eat at each meal. I will also give you some more pointers at the end to help you plan your menu.

Daily Calories Example

Let's do an example of the calculation so you can see how it looks. Let's say Georgina is 49 years old. She is 5'2" and weighs 210 pounds.

We input these numbers into the BMR calculator, and find out that her BMR is 1629.6 calories. This means that if she was put into a coma and was laying in a bed all day long, her body would still burn 1629.6 calories.

Now, we put that number into the Harris Benedict Equation calculator. Georgina does not do much physical exercise, so we multiply her BMR by 1.2. We then find out that her daily calorie use is 1956 calories.

Georgina wants to lose one pound a week. So, we mulitply her desired weight loss by 3500 calories. Therefore, she must have a deficit of 3500 calories per week.

We divide 3500 calories by 7 and that gives us a deficit of 500 calories per day.

We then subtract 500 calories from 1956 calories, for a total of 1456 calories and that gives us her daily calorie goal to lose one pound a week.

STEP ONE: Calculate Your Daily Calories

The first step in planning the menu for weight loss is to calculate how many calories you need to eat every day. Now, step up for some math!

  1. Figure out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate.) in other words, how many calories you would use in a day if you did nothing all day -- just laid there in bed, inert. To figure this out, there are a number of calculators online. Here is a BMR calculator that is easy to use. You can also get these calculators as apps, through Amazon or other places. Just enter in the numbers of your current height, weight, and age. Write that figure down.
  2. Next, calculate your daily calorie use, using the Harris Benedict Equation. This equation gives you the number of calories you will use on a daily basis, taking into account the amount of exercise you get during the week.

    You can either use this calculator, or do the calculation yourself. Here are the numbers:

    --If you are sendentary, multiply your BMR by 1.2
    --If you exercise 1-3 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.375
    --If you exercise 3-5 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.55
    --If you exercise 6-7 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.9
    Write this number down. This is approximately how many calories you will burn every day. If you eat this amount, you will maintain your weight.
  3. Next, decide on a weekly weight loss goal. A reasonable goal is from 1-2 pounds, although there are exceptions. The more you plan to exercise, the higher you can set your goal. And don't worry -- if you find it too difficult, you can always go back and change your goal.
  4. Now, multiply your weekly weight loss goal by 3500. That is because one pound is equal to 3500 calories. So, to lose one pound in a week, you must have a deficit of 3500 calories a week. To lose two pounds in a week, you need to eat 7000 calories less than you take in. This amount is your desired weekly calorie deficit.
  5. Now, divide the your desired weekly calorie deficit by seven. This number is now your desired daily calorie deficit.
  6. Finally, subtract desired daily calorie deficit (step 5) from your daily calorie use. This will give you the number of calories to eat every day. If this number seems too high or too low, you may need to go back and change your goals.

    This number should never be any less than 1200 calories. Make this number a range of at least 200, especially to start. Giving yourself a range allows yourself some grace, and will let you stay the course for a longer time.

Meal Calculation Example

Now that we know Georgina's weight loss calorie goal, we can go about planning her meals.

First, we take 1456 calories and divide it by four. That means that each meal will be approximately 364 calories, with the snacks being 182 calories.

Now, we allow Georgina a daily range of 200 calories. In this case, we'll give her a daily range of 1400-1600 calories.

For meals, allow her to eat from 300-400 for each meal, and each snack can be from 150-200 calories, with a total of 1400-1600 calories.

STEP TWO: Divide Daily Calories Into Meals

How's everyone doing so far? Are you still with me? I know that was a lot of math, but math is part of losing weight. You do have to take in less, than you burn off. It is after all, losing weight: it's subtraction!

All right, now just a little bit more math for you, and you're good to go. The next part of the equation is some modified advice I received from a visit with a dietitian. Don't worry ... it gets easier, and doing your own math means you don't have pay a fancy weight loss company to do your math for you!

  1. Divide the number of desired daily calories by four. This will give you a target for the amount of calories you need per meal, with one meal divided into two snacks. For example, if your desired daily calories is 1600 calories, divide 1600 by 4 for 400 calories for each meal. (Snacks divided into two.) Snacks will be 200 calories each.
  2. Approximate the numbers. Use approximate numbers for your planning. For example, if your goal is to have 400 calorie meals, allow yourself a range of 350-450 calories. You need to do this to avoid frustration, because you won't always be able to get it perfect.

    As well, allow yourself a range of 200 calories for your daily calorie number.
  3. Plan out three main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try to make each meal approximately 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbohydrates and 1/2 vegetables or fruits.
  4. Plan out two snacks. Snacks should be a combination of protein and fibre.
  5. Throughout the day, track your food. Use a weight loss journal or some kind to record how you did. You can use a paper journal. There are also several free online sites that help you track your food, including apps for your phone that will track your eating.

Healthy Cooking

Blueberry-Flax Sandwich
Blueberry-Flax Sandwich | Source

More Pointers on Planning Your Weight Loss Menu

Okay, now that you have the math down, here are some more pointers for planning out your weight loss menu.

  • Measure your food! This is a whole art of its own but do invest in some measuring spoons and cups as soon as you can. In order meet your goals, you need to know how you are doing.
  • Plan for the week. Figure out what you need for the week, make a list, and take that to the grocery store.
  • If you are cooking for others, you don't have to necessarily cook separate meals, but you can modify the family meal to make it more "weight loss friendly."
  • For carbohydrates, plan to eat whole grains as much as possible. Include fibre in your meals as much as you can.
  • Start off with a healthy breakfast. I find a weight loss smoothie to be very effective. I also made up a recipe for a blueberry-flax sandwich which is chock full of nutrients.
  • Add vegetables to your meals in creative ways. I have written about how to add vegetables to scrambled eggs.
  • If you are eating a meal at a restaurant, check online to see if they have nutrition guidelines online.
  • Don't expect perfection out of yourself. Use all of this as a guideline, but don't worry if you go over your target. This is an approximation, not an exact science.

And remember, that planning your menu is only part of the picture. For more about all the aspects of losing weight, see this article about the A-Z of Weight Loss.

Very Inspiring Video: Transformation Road. A Doctor Comes Back From 500 Pounds

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