People who are trying to lose 20 pounds or more are usually tired of dieting, and have lost and gained weight multiple times. They’re looking for a more permanent fix. While it’s important to focus on making lasting lifestyle changes that involve both diet and exercise, in these cases you also need to think about the “why” of what you’re eating, not just the “what.”

When people want to lose 20 pounds or more, they almost always have an emotional relationship with food that needs to be addressed first. Mindful eating is a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food. It’s designed to make you aware and attentive about the food you eat and how it affects your body.

This 1,500-calorie meal plan incorporates both a traditional calorie counting plan along with mindful eating tips and cues. After the first week, you will be more aware of your physical and emotional cues, be able to recognize your non hunger-related reasons for eating, and learn to meet your emotional needs without food.

This plan is designed to be slow and steady, which is key when it comes to lasting, sustainable weight loss. You should start to see some weight loss within the first month, and lose 20 pounds within four to six months. This plan is also flexible: It’s not so much about what food you eat, but rather how much and how often you eat. Take care that you are choosing foods that you enjoy while falling in line with the recommended calorie allotments.

As you go through each meal, focus on asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I actually hungry?
  2. Am I emotionally hungry or physically hungry?

These questions will help to narrow down your reasons for eating and identify how often you reach for food for comfort vs. nourishment.

Day 1

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: Before each meal today, ask yourself: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry am I? If you are at a 5 or above, ask yourself, do I need to eat, or do I just want to eat? Never wait until you are starving, however, as that usually backfires and you end up consuming more food than you originally planned on. Lastly, see if you can start noticing fullness. Are you able to stop when you are satisfied rather than full or overly full?

Breakfast: 400 calories. Focus on what you want to eat and what will satisfy you the most.

Lunch: 400 to 500 calories. Make sure you have at least 3 to 4 ounces of protein to aid in satiety and fullness.

Dinner: This meal should have a lot of nutrients. Enjoy 300 to 400 calories of whatever you want, along with 1 to 2 cups of vegetables.

Optional snack: 100 calories. Dessert treat of choice.

Day 2

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: We focused a lot on hunger yesterday, and today we are going to focus on fullness. When you notice the first signs of satisfaction, stop and take a five-minute break. If you are still hungry after the break, give yourself permission to eat until you are satisfied (remember the distinction between hungry and just wanting food).

Breakfast: Breakfast sandwich: One egg and two egg whites, scrambled with 1/2 cup vegetables of choice. Serve with one toasted whole-wheat English muffin and a slice of either cheese or two slices of bacon or turkey bacon.

Lunch: Super salad: Toss mixed greens with 4 ounces of smoked turkey, 10 halved grapes, 2 tablespoons roasted walnuts, one small pear, sliced, and 1/4 cup white beans. Toss with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinaigrette.

Dinner: 500 calories. Dinner of choice.

Optional snack: 1/2 cup frozen yogurt or 100-calorie treat of choice.

Day 3

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: Today is all about choice. Most dieters fail when feeling deprived, starting off with a bang only to fail a short while later. Today’s challenge will build on what we did the previous two days with hunger and fullness. Now we ask: What do I want to eat? While it’s not always possible to eat exactly what we crave, we can learn a lot about why we crave certain foods or meals. Most importantly, see if you can feel more satisfied with less when you choose foods you really enjoy. The goal in successful weight loss is not restriction, but portion control.

Breakfast: 400 calories. Focus on what you want to eat, what will satisfy you the most.

Lunch: 400 to 500 calories. Make sure you have at least 3 to 4 ounces of protein to aid in satiety and fullness.

Dinner: 400 to 500 calories.

Optional snack: 100 calories.

Day 4

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: Take the apple test! Before you reach for food today, ask yourself: If that were an apple, would I eat it? We often don’t eat apples just because! If you don’t want the apple, you’re probably more emotionally hungry than physically hungry. This is a great test to help you determine the difference between emotional and physical hunger.

Breakfast: Yogurt parfait: Layer 6 ounces of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt with 1 cup berries/fruit and 1/2 cup high-fiber cereal. Still hungry? Add another 1/2 to 1 cup fruit.

Lunch: Tuna pita sandwich: Combine one small can drained, water-packed tuna with 2 tablespoons light mayo, 1 tablespoon relish, and salt/pepper. Stuff into a pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, and sliced red onion. Still hungry? Serve with fruit salad or side salad.

Dinner: Mediterranean zucchini noodles. Eat until satisfied.

Optional snack: Small treat of choice.

Day 5

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: We are slowing things down today to take breaks between bites. See if you can take a break between bites, placing your fork/spoon down during meals. This will not only help you connect to the food, but also allow you to be more in tune with how you are feeling as you eat. In general, the slower you eat, the less you need. If you don’t finish all of the food, that’s OK.

Breakfast: Oatmeal: 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/4 cup dried fruit, 1/8 cup mixed nuts, and 1 tablespoon of honey.

Lunch: Chicken wrap: one lavash bread spread with 1 teaspoon mustard and 1 teaspoon light mayo. Cover with 3 ounces of sliced chicken breast and as many vegetables as you’d like. Roll up and eat! Serve with a handful of baby carrots and hummus or a handful of baked chips.

Dinner: Pasta! Roast whatever vegetables you like. My favorites are broccoli, cauliflower, onion, peppers, and carrots. Toss 2 cups of roasted vegetables with 1 cup cooked whole-wheat pasta and 1/2 cup marinara sauce.

Optional snack: 2 to 3 dark chocolate kisses.

Day 6

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: Turn off the distractions! Remove the TV, phone, and computer from your meals today. You don’t have to enjoy your meals in complete silence, but try to enjoy them without any outside distractions.

Breakfast: 400 calories. Focus on what you want to eat, what will satisfy you the most.

Lunch: 400 to 500 calories. Salad of choice: Aim for at least two to three servings of vegetables, one serving of healthy fats (about a thumb size), and one serving of protein (about the size of an iPhone).

Dinner: 500 calories.

Optional snack: 50 to 100 calories. Dessert of choice.

Day 7

Share on Pinterest

Mindful eating challenge: Put it all together! Wow! In one week, you’ve learned mindful eating concepts and hopefully gained enough insight as to why you eat. Now, you can begin making lasting, permanent changes. Today is a test day. See if you can put everything you’ve learned into choosing today’s food.

Focus on what you want to eat, why you want to eat, and assess hunger levels before eating. While eating, limit distractions and slow down your rate of eating. Once finished, check back in with your fullness scale. At the end of the day, reflect on how you did. What do you need to work on from here on out?

And remember: The more active you are, the easier weight loss should be. For exercise, focus on positive things you enjoy rather than another item to add to your to-do list. Think of it as “me” time, and choose to do something that you really love and will continue to do. 

Alex Caspero, M.A., R.D. is the author of Delish Knowledge. She’s also a yoga teacher and weight management specialist, with a focus on helping you develop a healthy relationship with your food, finding your “happy weight.” Follow her on Twitter @delishknowledge!