Poor choices are easy when there’s no (meal) plan
We don’t make the best choices when tired
And when we have the added concern of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, it becomes almost impossible.
When we’re tired – whether from a full day at work or a long day running errands and putting the house in order on the weekend, we sometimes feel like we don’t have an ounce of strength left to figure out what to eat for dinner.
It’s just so much easier to call for a pizza…and a side salad of course. A side salad always makes our choice seem a little more reasonable, doesn’t it?
All that other food, the stuff in the fridge and pantry, it needs chopping. Maybe defrosting. Boiling, seasoning, or baking. When we’re tired, we just can muscle up the energy for all that. Not when we can pop a cardboard box in the microwave for 7 minutes or when Mr. Delivery Boy can bring us something hot and delicious in 20 minutes or less!
We REALLY don’t make the best choices when hungry
Forget about tired.
If you’re hungry, and I mean hungry-hungry, not just looking for a snack-hungry, making a healthy choice when it comes to food is probably the last thing on your mind. In fact, if you’re really hungry you may also be craving something. And that something is probably the quick energy that can be found in carbs!
And if we don’t feed that hunger fast, it can send us into a state called “hangry.”
Hangry is a real emotion and it can make us completely forget our commitment to healthy eating. I think most everyone has felt the hangry effect at one time or another. It’s that short-tempered, “I’ll eat the first thing I see,” feeling. Heck, even Snickers candy bar made a whole series of commercials out of it. (Betty White anyone?)
The solution is to stop making choices
So if we’re not disposed to make healthy choices when we’re tired or hungry then we need to stop making choices. It’s as simple as that!
Okay, thanks! End of article. Glad I could help.
No really… I honestly do mean, stop giving yourself all those choices, it’s overwhelming when you’re in distress. Which is what hunger and fatigue, or even frustration are – distress.
Decision fatigue is a real problem
The concept of decision fatigue isn’t new, but it seems to be becoming more and more prevalent in our modern lives. Decision fatigue essentially says that your willpower or ability to make good choices declines after an extended period of decision making – or a long day at the office or wrangling kids or driving a long commute home.
That’s why it always seems harder to figure out what to make for dinner than it does for lunch. Of course, we’re more likely to plan ahead for our lunches than our dinners…
Hmmm…let’s revisit that idea in a bit!
Often having less choice means the choices we do have are easier
So it stands to reason that if we can eliminate those important choices as we get toward the end of the day – or any point in our day where we expect decision fatigue to set in – that we could avoid making poor quality, or unhealthy food choices…by simply not making them.
But then what are we gonna have for dinner?
Choose in advance to avoid choosing under distress (aka don’t make choices when you’re hangry!)
If we can choose what we’re going to eat in advance, we avoid all the problems brought on by hunger, tiredness, and decision fatigue. If we choose what we’re going to eat ahead of time – and prepare some or all of it – we’re far more likely to keep our health commitments in mind and make better food choices.
How meal planning helps you make better food choices
So that’s where meal planning comes to the rescue. And it really can be a lifesaver for those of us who manage prediabetes.
Meal planning is done calmly and thoughtfully in advance of hunger or fatigue
Because meal planning is typically not done in the heat of hunger, we have time to reflect on what we’d like to eat, what would be good for us to eat, and how each meal will complement the others in the day or the week we’re planning for.
We’re not operating under the gun when we’re meal planning. We can think through our choices. We can switch things around, substitute better options, make sure we’re eating a balanced meal.
You can stay focused on your goals and health commitments when planning ahead.
3 simple guidelines for good meal planning
So what’s the best way to meal plan? Is there anything special that someone with prediabetes should consider when meal planning?
Great questions! I am going to focus on 3 simple guidelines. If you have specific concerns either because of your preferred eating style or because you already know there are certain foods that adversely affect your blood sugar, then by all means keep those front and center.
Make real foods your focus
So what’s real food? Isn’t food…well, food?
Not really. At least not in this day and age.
In fact, there’s a whole eating approach that hinges on eating what our great-grandparents ate. The concept states that if your grandparents or great-grandparents (think early 1900’s) wouldn’t recognize it as food, then you shouldn’t eat it. This would include things like frozen dinners and cheese in a can. Or things that are served to you through your car window!
Real food is the food that you find mostly on the outer perimeter of the grocery store. It’s the stuff that goes bad or spoils the quickest. The stuff that doesn’t come in plastic or cardboard.
It’s fruits and vegetables. It’s meat and dairy. And nuts and beans. Food that takes some preparation and cooking to eat. Another way to describe real food is that it’s a whole, single-ingredient food. So it may not even have a nutritional label, because the only ingredient in a head of lettuce is lettuce. The only ingredients in eggs are eggs!
So stick with real food as much as you can and keep the bulk of your buying contained to the outer aisles, particularly the produce department.
Use the plate method to ensure your meals are balanced
The plate method is just an easy way to visualize a balanced meal.
Simply put, when you’re planning out your meals, try and plan for half your plate to be made up of non-starchy vegetables. The other half of your plate should be filled with equal parts lean protein and complex carbs with lots of fiber. Include some healthy fat and a serving of fruit and you’re good to go!
When you eat a balanced meal like this, it slows down the impact that carbohydrates can have on your blood sugar. Because you’re eating complex carbs and non-starchy veggies, you’re also minimizing that potential blood sugar spike after a meal.
If you’d like to dive deeper into the plate method, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has an interactive “Create Your Plate” virtual dinner plate that you can fill with healthy food choices. Try it out and see if there aren’t a few options that you hadn’t considered before.
Keep an eye on portion sizes
The last thing you want to make sure you consider when you meal plan is portion size.
Understanding what a healthy portion or serving of food is can be a real challenge in our society where everything is supersized. We get convinced that the supersize is normal size. And when we’re confronted with a healthy 4 oz portion of lean protein, we can balk.
But as much as reducing your intake of processed foods (in favor of real food!) and reducing your consumption of simple carbs in favor of fiber-rich complex carbs can aid in maintaining a healthy blood glucose level, that can all be undone by the intake of oversized or excess portions.
Maybe not an oversized portion of cauliflower, but even quinoa, or chicken, or sweeter vegetables like carrots and onions can affect your blood sugar after a meal. Especially excess portions of fruit!
So get familiar with healthy portion sizes and learn the simple tricks for estimating serving sizes so you don’t need to weigh everything with that trusty kitchen scale (especially if you’re eating out)!
Take some time today to plan out the rest of your main meals for the week. Or put together a plan of “hangry” meals that you can easily prepare for those moments when your willpower has neither the power nor the will to support your health goals.
Meal planning resources to get you started
Premade Weekly Meal Plans from Skinnytaste (with a variety of eating styles)
Diabetes Meal Planning from VeryWellHealth.com
Free Weekly Food Diary PDF Download
Free Meal Planning templates you can download today