There are a variety of factors that are believed to feed into a person’s chance of successfully losing weight. But one factor that is often overlooked is planning meals and exercise.

When you first start out on a weight loss journey, there’s a good chance you have invested some time into planning your meals. But could continuing to plan meals on a regular basis lead to a greater chance of successful weight loss?



Behavioural weight loss programs are often recommended as the most effective treatment for obesity. The aim of these programs is to improve diet and increase physical activity through behaviour change strategies, leading to weight loss.

One of the key components of treatment with a weight loss program is planning for weight loss behaviours, including meals and exercise. Planning helps the individual to enact changes to their eating patterns and physical activity levels.

However, only a handful of studies have looked at isolating planning as a strategy and examine its effect on weight loss outcomes. These studies have also not assessed the impact of more frequent meal planning.

Understanding the impact of frequent meal planning will help with structuring effective weight loss programs, as well as helping individuals to choose strategies that set them up for success.


The study

Researchers designed a study to examine how meal and exercise planning frequencies influence weight loss outcomes within a behavioural weight loss program.

Data was taken from the MyWay to HealthProgram, a 40-week worksite-based program. The program was offered to employees employed in a regional health care system. Participants were hospital employees or their adult family members. 139 undertook the program, with 113 completing the program.

Inclusion criteria were a BMI of 25 or higher, an employee or direct relative of an employee and medical clearance to participate. There were no additional exclusion criteria.

As part of the study, the participants completed a questionnaire about meal and exercise planning frequency at baseline and weeks 10, 20, 30 and 40. They were also weighed on a weekly basis.

The researchers used growth curve models to assess the role of an individual’s average meal and exercise planning on BMI.


The findings

Of the models used, the best-fitting model demonstrated that meal and exercise planning frequency increased over the course of the program.

Between the participants, higher average meal planning frequency was associated with greater weight loss. Higher average exercise frequency was not associated with greater weight loss.

Within participants, exercise planning predicted a higher than expected BMI, but meal planning did not.



The researchers concluded that there is an association between frequent meal planning and weight loss. As such, they suggested meal planning should be emphasised as an ongoing goal in weight loss programs to enhance weight loss efforts.

Average exercise planning frequency was not found to impact weight loss. However, two theories were raised for the results around exercise frequency and higher BMI. One theory is that acute increases in exercise planning is a popular coping strategy for a setback or plateau in weight loss. Alternatively, frequent exercise planning may lead to higher calorie consumption and resulting weight gain.

Further studies are required to confirm the outcomes, and explore the relationship between exercise planning and increased BMI.



Hayes, J.F., Balantekin, K.N., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E.E., Jackson, J.J., Ridolfi, D.R., Boeger, H.S., Welch, R.R. and Wilfley, D.E., 2020. Greater Average Meal Planning Frequency Predicts Greater Weight Loss