Meal Plans have their place. I use them if applicable to the client, but like everything else, they also have downfalls.
Its when people start relying on meal plans as a crutch, which usually results in 2 main outcomes, is where we see some issues.
1-they Become attached to the idea of “on or off” plan, eating anything, not on their meal plan elicits panic or anxiety due to thinking they are going “off plan or off track”. They Lack the ability to make manipulations or choices outside of the meal plan.
2-They become lazy and stuck in a routine of eating the same thing every day without experimenting or diversifying their intake of nutrients. If they want food changed, ask the coach as they are unable to make such changes or alternatives themselves to lacking the knowledge and skillset to do so from relying on the Plan as a crutch.
Meal plans, in my opinion, are approx. 10% of the entire process of your journey to becoming healthier, happier, losing fat, and feeling better. They are simply a stepping stone within your process to progress your skill acquisition, knowledge, and ability to make your own dieter choices sensibly when eating out, stuck for time, or unprepared. Real-life stuff.
The 'Dark-side" of Meal Plans, is that they sometimes ad to the client becoming bound rigidly to the idea of what's written in that PDF within their emails to make conscious and sensible nutrition choices and without it, can elicit fear, anxiety, panic or overthink. This is where issues arise and often the mentality of "if its not perfect its not worth it" type thought processes kick in, whereby the individual may feel that because they can't control everything to their level of perfectionism and minute detail, they may as well not control any variable and wait until they DO have the opportunity to do so (a weekend away, surprise party, holidays etc).
What they are absolutely excellent for, is structure, and routine. As I said at the beginning hry do have their application, however.
For Individuals who live quite hectic lifestyles with a lot of external commitments and demands,
Long Work Hours
Very little time in the day
High-stress environment etc.,
Well then tracking their food may not be the way to go either as it may leave shortfalls with lack of preparation, and this is where having some set structure, routine and reliance to fall back on with Nutrition set-up for these days, is a sweet spot to make sure there is some level of control, consistency & specificity.
Just like all other things Nutrition, Training & Fitness Related, it's not "Back or White" , its context dependant. This is where having a good Coach to properly assess and understand the client, their lifestyle, thought processes, past experiences & Mindset is beneficial to decide what they right approach may be for them to bring about the most practical, enjoyable, sustainable & stress-free process to achieving a goal or outcome.
And lastly, there is no on or off-plan, there's no falling off the wagon, there shouldn’t be a wagon to fall off. The plan is on a macro scale not micro and Id argue going out with friends for some food/drinks every now & then is/should be part of the overall plan of a realistic and enjoyable approach still achieving the goals you desire.