Saving time, money, and reducing food waste are all reasons people love to meal prep—but it can also be a great tool for weight loss. Meal prep:
Helps with portion control: If you’re portioning out your food ahead of time, you’ll be less likely to overeat later.
Makes healthy options more convenient: At the end of a long day at work, it can be easy to reach for whatever is most convenient (which often isn’t the healthiest option. Hello, chips and salsa dinner). But if your healthy, prepped food is ready to go, it’s just as easy to grab that tupperware full of salad as it is a bag of chips.
Gives you control over what you’re eating: When you cook for yourself, you have total control over ingredients, including the oils and fats you use.
But how can you ensure what you’re meal prepping and eating will actually help you lose weight? A lot of people throw around terms like keto, low-carb, paleo, etc.—and while these can be helpful diets for some, the key to weight loss is actually a lot simpler than worrying about all of that.
Eat less calories than you burn.
That’s it. And though it sounds simple, there are still a few steps to get you headed in the right direction.
1. Figure out how many calories your body burns during the day.
Everyone has a Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). It’s the amount of calories your body burns by a) just existing and b) performing everyday activities. This number is different for everyone, and it is different day-to-day. Online calculators can give you a rough estimate based on factors like sex, height, weight, and lifestyle. Wearables like FitBits or heart rate monitors can go a step further in tracking how many calories you burn during the day. But, once you have a general idea of what your specific TDEE is, you know how many calories you can eat per day to lose (or gain) weight.
2. Calculate how many calories are in the foods you’re eating.
Online tools such as MyFitnessPal and LoseIt contain large databases with nutritional information for raw ingredients, packaged foods, and popular menu items at many restaurants. You simply type in the food you’ve eaten, select it in the app, and the app will keep track of how many calories you’ve eaten for the day. These tools also often keep track of your TDEE, so you can know if you’re on target for weight loss for the day all in the same place.
So could I really just lose weight eating cake all day?
If you burned 2,000 calories for the day and ate 1,500 calories in cake, then yes, you can. However, having a diverse diet full of vitamins and nutrients will benefit your overall health, and can keep you feeling fuller longer than foods that are calorie-dense.
But how do I know how many calories are in the meals I prep?
Tools like the ones mentioned above often have recipe calculators where you can input the raw ingredients in a recipe, and the app will figure out how many calories are in each portion. Other meal prep sites, like Salt & Prepper, calculate the nutritional information in their recipes for you (Salt & Prepper even inputs their recipes into MyFitnessPal and LoseIt ahead of time, so all you have to do is type in the recipe name!).