Two years ago, when Los Angeles’ Louis DeMenthon was trying to bulk up, he encountered the ubiquitous challenge faced by those seeking physique changes: meal planning.

In vain, DeMenthon searched for an online planner that would tell him exactly what foods to eat in order to pack on muscle. When he came up empty-handed, DeMenthon says, “I decided I would just create it myself.”

The 23-year-old recently launched Eat This Much, a free meal-planning website that plays the part of a virtual nutritionist.

Based on three simple questions — Do you want to gain or lose weight? How many calories do you need? And how many meals do you want to eat each day? — it spits out a meal plan with nutritional information, recipes, approximate cost and a grocery list.

If, for instance, a user wants to eat 3,000 calories split over five mealtimes, the tool would generate a random assortment of five 600-calorie recipes, such as pork ribs with a side of blueberries or strip steak and kale with caramelized onions and garlic. (Those who don’t know their caloric requirements can use the site’s “Not Sure?” button to calculate their needs based on their starting weight and activity level, and whether they want to lose, gain or maintain weight.)

Eat This Much also includes options for people who have dietary restrictions or want more control over their plans. Users can choose among low-carb, paleo, Mediterranean, Zone, vegetarian and vegan diet options, and un-check food items that they simply don’t like or are allergic to. DeMenthon plans to have an iPhone app version ready in the next couple months, followed by an Android app.

DeMenthon says it took a bit of trial and error to get Eat This Much, which has more than 20,000 registered users, where it is today.

“The first versions of the website were very simplistic — very bodybuilder-esque. Two chicken breasts for lunch, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a shot of olive oil before bed. It was absurd,” he says.

Even the original name — Swole.me — was a nod to bodybuilding culture. But as word spread and popularity grew, DeMenthon was inspired to make improvements that would make the app accessible to more people.

DeMenthon says his app will fill a void in an online dieting sphere dominated by paid weight-loss sites, such as subscription-based WeightWatchers.com and eDiets.com, and free calorie-trackers such as FitDay.com and MyFitnessPal.com, which don’t provide meal plans.

“The hardest part of dieting is knowing where to start,” DeMenthon says. “If you have a plan to follow, it’s easier to meet your goals.”

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