With the New Year Challenge right around the corner, I’ve been able to hear a lot of people’s nutrition and fitness goals for 2018. You might expect that most are looking to lose weight, get stronger, and look good naked… and while those are certainly on the list, the majority of people are really just looking for better accountability and a more balanced, realistic approach to nutrition change that they can actually stick with this time.
The thing is, in our community, most of us have a pretty good idea of how to eat healthy. Many of us have gone Paleo, tried the Whole30, meal prepped, bought into cleanses… I could go on. We know certain foods will make us feel heavy and sluggish, and other foods will give us good energy and keep us in line with our goals. “Eating clean” is pretty simple- so why is it so hard to reach your goals with this approach? I’ve tried almost every diet Google could find for me. Partly out of curiosity and interest, but mostly because I never found something that “worked” well enough for me to stick with it long-term. My problem? I LOVE FOOD!
I really believe that food is meant to be enjoyed. I love trying new things, meeting friends for drinks, and touring Columbus for the best donut shop. Food makes me happy. But, I also love discipline. I can go for a Whole30 and go hard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone cold turkey on many things that I enjoy, simply for the sake of the mental challenge and seeing what change I can make in a month’s time.
Part of staying on track for me was always keeping a running note in my phone of all the bad food I craved. Oreos, pizza, a sugary Starbucks latte, chips… you get my drift. Writing it down felt like I was saving it for later, after whatever that month’s plan was ended. So, no matter how good the 30-day challenge made me feel, what do you think I did on day 31? Yep – those were some good binge days. We’ve all been there. We keep a ridiculously high standard of “clean” eating and set ourselves up to fail. Maybe you have a really solid routine Monday – Friday where you’re meal prepping, eating all your veggies, and drinking plenty of water. Friday night you deserve a reward! So you meet your friends for pizza and beer.
Subconscious, or maybe conscious for some, thought process follows: you’ve opened a window by messing up. If you’re going to mess up any more, ever, you better do it right now before you get back on track. So you find that old note in your phone of all the bad food you wanted on Tuesday, and there goes your weekend. By Sunday afternoon you feel like crap, both physically and mentally, so it’s time to go to the grocery store, make your chicken and veggies, and get back on the wagon by Monday morning. Sound familiar?
Enter: MACRO Tracking
Ever seen the #iifym (if it fits your macros) hashtag on Instagram? There’s people on there with six-pack abs eating ice cream and bread. Sounds like a diet for me! And, it is. But it doesn’t work exactly like that. Macro counting is essentially calorie counting, but divided into ratios of calories from the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. Let’s say you need to eat 2,000 calories per day, and you want 50% of those calories to come from carbs. So you’ve got 1,000 calories of carbs to eat per day. Carbs are about 4 calories per gram, 1,000/4 = 250g of carbs per day.
More than just controlling your overall calorie intake, when you eat the correct macronutrient ratios, you get to tailor your nutrition to your exact needs and goals. You want to lose body fat, but still keep your strength and have energy in the gym? Or, get a lot stronger without gaining a bunch of weight? Accurately counting macros can help you do that. That’s pretty cool. But in my opinion, what’s even cooler about macros is the true balance you can find. Taking the example above, let’s say I get to eat 250 grams of carbs per day. I can fill that carb number up with 30 oreos, or 10 apples, or 7 servings of white rice at Chipotle, or 42 cups of broccoli… OR, even better, a little bit of all of that. Let’s take Oreos.
I could have three cookies for 25g of carbs. Here’s where this gets really cool: if I track that, fit it into my carbs for the day along with veggies, fruits and grains… I might actually only eat three and then I get to move on with my life. No reason to eat the whole bag. No reason to say “F it” to the rest of my day. No reason to feel guilty, because I didn’t even mess up.When you find this balance, you can find self control over food. I can have the oreos, but I’d much rather have a few apples that keep me fuller and give me better energy. You don’t have to deprive yourself of what you’re craving, but you know what the best choice is. There will be some days when you eat the apples and some days when you eat the oreos. But when you realize the choice is yours, you can find new control over food. And control over food equals freedom, balance, and maybe finding a plan that you can stick with for longer than 30 days.Now, there is a catch here. You have to track your food every day. So many people hold themselves back by refusing to track their food! First, food tracking apps like My Fitness Pal or My Macros+ make it incredibly easy to enter anything you eat. It is far less of a hassle than many make it out to be. By tracking your food, you can:
Increase your awareness of what you’re eating. If you’re not even aware, there’s no way to know what you’re doing right and wrong. Many “healthy” foods would completely blow your macros, but how would you know? You can’t expect to improve anything if you’re not aware.
Eliminate mindless snacking or forgetting to eat enough. You’ll look at the bowl of almonds differently and make better plans to always eat lunch.
Keep your head in the game even when you’re “cheating” or taking the day off. Try tracking your pizza, ice cream or burger sometime. Then, next time you want those foods, you can make an educated choice on what is worth cheating for.
Hold yourself accountable, or have the tools for someone else to hold you accountable.