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I go through periods where I’ve eaten this way consistently only to stop sometime later. That’s fine, that’s life. To make it a bit fun, game-ify it a bit and maybe keep it up longer, I created the Michael Pollan meal plan. It is as follows.
A great meal satisfies all three rules. A decent meal satisfies two. A bad meal only satisfies one. An awful meal satisfies none.
If your meal doesn’t meet at least two of those rules, you subtract a point from 10 for each of the rules it misses. If in a week you use up your 10 points, you don’t eat any food or meals that subtract points until next week. Or you can keep eating, but keep counting and just get some perspective on how much you indulge in not real food. Or you do anything any way you want — it’s your eating, do what works for you.
Example 1 — A homemade salad.
Is it real food? Yes.
Is it not too much? Probably.
Is it mostly plants? Definitely.
So you don’t do any subtraction for that meal. It’s a great meal.
Example 2 — Popeye’s fast food
Is it food? No.
Is it mostly plants? No.
Is it too much? That’s up to you.
In this case, you’re definitely subtracting 2 points, and if you eat a lot, 3 points. A meal should clock in at most around 800 calories, so if you go above that it’s too much.
Example 3 — Chipotle fast casual
A Sofritas bowl without excessive cheese and sour cream and lots of veggies is a decent meal. Don’t subtract any points. For a double meat bowl with extra cheese and only lettuce on top subtract two points. It’s not mostly plants and it’s not “not too much”.
Example 4 — Homemade steak, with a side or two.
Is it food? Yes, if you buy decent meat and make fresh sides.
Is it mostly plants? Nope.
Is it not too much? Probably yes, unless the steak or sides are gigantic.
More than likely this is a decent meal, no points subtracted. If you use very cheap steak and match it with boxed sides, probably it’s not food anymore and in that case you’d subtract two points. Get something grass fed, get real potatoes and carrots, don’t lose points.
What’s the end result?
The end result is not always eating food in accordance with these rules. I put Popeye’s on here for a reason. I adore Popeye’s, I’ll always eat it. The end result is getting some perspective on when your eating has gone from “healthy this week” to “decent this week” to “lousy this week”.
10 points is actually a lot, you can still eat 5 bad meals a week, or 3 awful meals a week. This isn’t a meal plan for weight loss. It’s a meal plan to gain food perspective. If your eating habits burn 20 points a week, I would say you’re in critical shape and need to make dietary changes ASAP. If you’re using 8–12 points a week, you might want to identify some bad habits. If you’re using less than 5 points a week in my opinion you’re eating great: mostly real food but with occasional indulgences.
This seems fine, but there’s a lot of room for interpretation.
Yes there is. That’s fine. One person’s “not too much” is not the same as someone else’s. Here’s three guidelines you can modify to fit your needs.
“Mostly plants.” — More than half of the food you eat in a meal should not be meat. This can be by weight. It can even be by serving. 2 plant servings and 1 meat serving is probably mostly plants, unless it’s a huge steak. It’s up to you if you want to make a biscuit “a plant”, but probably they are not. A Popeye’s biscuit definitely not, a homemade biscuit, your call. Michael Pollan meant actual, real, honest to god plants from the ground, not plant product.
“Not too much.” — Probably a meal should clock in around 800 calories, 1000 tops depending on what you’ve eaten prior. If it’s over 1200 almost certainly lose a point. Again, make the limit that suits you and the context you’re in.
What if my food radar is just so messed up I can’t do this accurately?
The act of trying will calibrate it in time. No one starts out a brilliant artist, they build that skill. No recovers from a lifetime of bad eating habits in a week, it takes months and years to cultivate those skills. Go long and slow and eat wonderfully.
This is it, I hope this helps! Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. This isn’t a meal plan to obsess over. If after some time this is stressful for you, I invite you to Let. It. Go. There’s a whole world out there, enjoy.
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