This post is inspired by my friend Jay Ashman’s recent evolution in his own approach to dieting.
While none of this is my invention (imagine that) I do think it’s an alternative perspective that deserves more air time.
So hopefully no one gets too triggered — if you do, you’re emotionally invested in something that should be free of emotion. Just a thought.
Tracking macros is a great exercise for connecting the dots between food choice – portion size – calories. It’s also effective for getting in shape.
That said, rely too much on tracking apps and the freedom you feel seeing food as mere numbers can eventually become a prison.
— Bryan Krahn (@BryanKrahn) August 23, 2020
Whenever possible (and appropriate for their health, lifestyle, diet history, and context) I ask clients to track daily macros.
It’s highly effective for getting in shape, is easy to report, requires engagement to do right, and demands accountability.
It also leads to a few “aha” moments. I.e., “I can’t believe that single mistake erased my entire calorie deficit.” Ninety percent of these involve nuts, peanut butter, red wine, and stuff mindlessly inhaled while decompressing on the couch.
The above exercise alone makes macro counting something everyone should try at least once.
Yet, obviously, it’s still a very narrow minded way to see and “feel” food, and over time many learn to simply shut out their natural hunger/satiety signals — which admittedly can be deceptive when stressed, tired, eating too many hyper palatable foods, have bad habits, or even just overweight.
So, with some of the above in mind, here are nine suggestions for tracking in a reasonable way:
1. EVERYONE should at least learn to do it and do it well.
For at least three months. The lessons it teaches are just too invaluable.
2. It should be your method of choice when you want to “take your physique out of its comfort zone.”
For example: that once a year diet or a concerted cutting or bulking phase.
These are times when you want to ignore natural hunger/satiety cues, or at best take their suggestions “under advisement.” However, this sort of thing shouldn’t last year-round or forever.
3. During maintenance phases, EVERYONE should make a concerted effort to wean OFF tracking.
Instead, rely more on your long-ignored natural signalling.
Now, that can be extremely scary for some, especially those who’ve made massive progress by IGNORING their instincts.
So, to make it easier:
- Start by eyeballing portion sizes for one meal a day. Make it one you tend to repeat throughout the week, such as the daily chicken salad at lunch.
- Another option is to choose the meal you eat as a family and tends to vary, such as dinner.
Use all the classic tips:
- fist or palm size portions of lean protein and starch
- fill plate with veggies
- chew slowly
- no seconds
- still track this meal in a simple food log on notes, or take photos. Be sure to note what your body was telling you before and after eating.
- macro track all other meals.
4. If you’re successful weaning yourself off, add a second meal in a week or two.
Successful means you don’t binge or overeat or otherwise blow it.
5. Understand that this is HARD and you WILL screw up.
You may have to regress and cruise at just one eyeballed meal for weeks or even months.
You might even have to go back to tracking entirely — and that’s okay. That’s why you learned the skill in the first place: to right the ship when “listening to your body” or just bad habits got you into trouble.
6. Even if you graduate to full “no tracking” be sure to ALWAYS measure nuts, nut butters, salad dressings, and other concentrated sources of fat.
7. Maintain a protein goal.
Have a set minimum amount of protein to eat every day. This doesn’t mean you need to track everything, but you should have a good sense of which foods contain how much protein so that you can feel comfortable knowing you’re basically hitting your target.
A gram per pound of lean bodyweight works well; if you are a “gotta feel full after eating” type more protein is usually better.
Grossly overeating protein doesn’t mean more muscle, nor does coming up 10g short leave progress on the table. The body doesn’t work in such a simplistic fashion, nor are food labels all that accurate (save for the truly awful processed foods that would survive the next Ice Age. That shit they’ve got down to the very last gram.)
Respect your body’s beautiful complexity and keep your wits about you.
8. For some (like yours truly) a daily veggie goal is another good idea.
For others it might be a fiber target or water or sleep goal.
In short, pay extra attention to the holes in your game and have confidence where you seem to do well. What gets measured gets managed.
9. EVERYONE should track restaurant meals per week and especially meals you totally blow.
Whether or not you track macros doesn’t speak to how “good” you are at feeding your body. It’s merely another tool. And a tool is only effective if it’s the right tool for the job.
Enjoy the journey, even the bumps along the way.
Especially the bumps.