You lose weight when you trim calories below your daily burn rate. A 500-calorie-per-day deficit yields a weight-loss rate of 1 pound per week. Don't dip below 1,200 calories, though, or you may become nutritionally deficient over time. In addition to being almost impossible to maintain, extremely low-calorie intakes can also lead to gallstones and heart problems.
To make the plan healthy, include all of the macronutrients in your diet, even fats, and carbohydrates, which are sometimes made off-limits by fad diets. Your body needs these major nutrients to function properly and to feel satiated. A successful seven-day meal plan will also include some foods that you enjoy, even if they aren't traditional "weight-loss" foods. This prevents you from feeling restricted and reduces your chances of failure.
Start the Day Right
Eating breakfast is a factor in weight-loss success, as demonstrated by almost 3,000 people who successfully maintained a 70-pound weight loss over six years as part of the National Weight Control Registry.
Examples of a week's worth of 300- to 400-calorie breakfasts include two poached eggs with a whole-wheat English muffin and an orange; 1/2 cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of low-fat milk and 1/2 cup of fresh strawberries; an omelet made with one egg and two egg whites and filled with sauteed spinach, mushrooms and low-fat cheese, along with a slice of whole-grain toast; plain Greek yogurt topped with 2 tablespoons of walnuts and 1 cup of fresh blueberries; 1 cup of low-sugar, high-fiber cereal with 1/2 cup of low-fat milk and half a banana; a whole-wheat waffle topped with 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter and apple slices; and 1 cup of cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon each of raisins and slivered almonds.
Don't skip lunch to save calories. You'll only end up hungrier at snack and dinner times, so you'll likely make poor choices and eat more than you need. Common lunch fare, such as sandwiches and salads, work as part of a weight-loss meal plan as long as you choose whole-grain breads, skip creamy dressings and spreads and opt for lean protein toppings and fillings. Try roasted turkey with an eighth of an avocado and romaine lettuce on a whole-wheat tortilla or a salad of arugula, 3 ounces of roasted salmon, orange segments and a tablespoon of almonds.
Round out a week's worth of lunches with a turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun with carrot sticks; homemade pasta salad made with 1/2 cup of cooked macaroni, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, an ounce of cubed cheese and a vinaigrette dressing; a cup of broth-based vegetable soup and a slice of crusty, whole-grain bread; 1/2 cup of black beans mixed with 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa mixed with sliced cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup of cooked corn and a cumin-cilantro dressing; and 1/2 cup of spaghetti with marinara sauce and roasted zucchini.
Snacks, Then Dinner
Snacking between lunch and dinner can help prevent extreme hunger that can lead to destructive binges. You might choose a string cheese, an ounce of nuts, cottage cheese, a piece of fruit, chopped veggies or yogurt to tide you over between meals.
When you reach dinnertime, an easy formula for a weight-loss dinner involves 3 ounces of lean protein, such as white-meat pork or poultry, flank steak, white fish or tofu, served alongside plentiful amounts of green vegetables and 1/2 cup of whole grains or starchy vegetables. For example, choose tofu stir-fried with broccoli and served over brown rice, or roast a chicken breast to have with a baked sweet potato and steamed green beans. Broil flank steak and serve in corn tortillas with salsa and shredded cabbage, or steam fish and top with a teaspoon of pesto to serve over couscous. If you're headed out for dinner, look for entrees that offer baked or grilled meats or fish and ask for extra steamed vegetables in lieu of fries or mashed potatoes.
To curb mindless snacking after dinner, permit yourself an occasional treat as part of your weight-loss meal plan. A few squares of dark chocolate, a single cookie or a few bites of dessert at a restaurant can satisfy a sweet tooth without putting you too far over your calorie budget.