Macro Accountability or Failure- your Choice
A reader recently reached out to me with a few concerns after scrolling through my latest post on following a macro-based diet (HERE). Since I’m sure there are others out there with the same concerns, I will break down the conversation we had and give my take on the matter. This post will hopefully serve as a serious wakeup call to those who struggle with or refuse to learn the macro game known as flexible eating.
If you have not done so already, it may be beneficial to familiarize yourself with this (HERE) post before continuing on, most notably the “How do I track These so said Macros” section.
Let’s just dive right in. The conversation started with
“Wow, you must be really dedicated to do all this.”
Well, it just so happens that yes, I am very dedicated to flexible eating. It is a method that has allowed my body composition to stay somewhat lean year-round whether taking a break from training due to finals week, vacationing, or throwing around 550 pound deadlifts like peanuts. Flexible eating is not a temporary fad for me: it is a lifestyle modification that I integrated about two years ago. Tracking my macros has become second nature and I am able to do so without much thinking or time commitment.
“I’ve got a lot going on right now. Children, work, and just plain life take up all my time.”
Well, life can get busy for everyone but that does not stop the dedicated. If you decide to make your health a priority, you will do whatever it takes to make time for things like regular workouts and learning to track your nutrition. For the new clients we bring on that are not familiar with tracking macros, all I ask of them is that they give me two good solid weeks of dedicated practice tracking their macros accurately (with a large emphasis on accurately). If they can not take the extra few minutes to track as accurately as possible, this is the approach they are going to take every time. This will leave them with suboptimal long-term results and make future macro adjustments a nightmare. Practice does not make perfect; Perfect practice makes perfect. After those first two weeks when I follow up with them, I am usually delighted to find out they are efficiently and accurately tracking their daily macros. Two weeks is all it takes the average person to learn this life changing skill. I know people that binge-watch TV shows for longer than two weeks- let’s get real.
Usually clients that are unsure of how to track macros are unsure of what their maintenance calories are. So this short two week tracking period gives us a baseline for their daily energy expenditure. In addition, our clients usually see body composition improvements over those two weeks as well. Why you ask? Tracking macros is much more than just a system of tracking nutrient intake. Tracking macros is a very good way of making someone accountable for what they are shoveling in their mouths. When you begin tracking your nutrition, you will begin to either cut out all the useless handfuls of snacks you just realized you have been devouring throughout the day, or you will learn to track them and see their impact on daily energy intake. Usually when people see just how energy dense their daily snacks are, they will be less inclined to eat them. So many people begin making healthier choices due to being more aware of what exactly they are consuming.
“I just don’t know if I can do this all the time.”
Good news, you do not have to! No one ever said that once you open that macro-tracking door, there is no way out. Learning to count macros is an incredible tool to have in your fitness and lifestyle toolbox. In fact, this will probably be the sharpest knife in your toolbox and it is ready to go whenever you decide to pull it out.
Let me quickly share with you how I have used this tool over the years. First, I took the time to learn how to efficiently and effectively track my macros. This daunting task took me a whole 5 days for approximately one half hour per day. Next, I practiced eyeballing portion sizes before weighing them to see how close I was. After doing this for a few weeks, I was able to get pretty darn close every time. Why is this step so important? I decided after tracking my macros for almost a year that I wanted a little more freedom with my diet. I no longer had the desire to track my macros daily. I was staying fairly lean and continuing to put on lean muscle mass, so I wanted to see what would change if I stopped tracking.
Since I had used flexible dieting with the 80/20 rules for quite some time I knew that a majority of my portions should come from wholesome, nutritious, and minimally processed foods. I knew approximately how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat I should be eating throughout the day and how to manipulate those nutrients around my workouts. After 3 months of eyeballing portions and enjoying a more lenient social life, I put on a slightly noticeable amount of body fat and gained roughly 5 pounds. Not too shabby for 3 months.
What did I do next? I fired up my macro-tracking app, tracked my macros for a few days, realized my fat intake was a bit high and protein was lower than it should be, and I adjusted. Within two weeks, I was back to the body composition I was at prior to starting my hiatus and up a pound and a half of lean body mass. Happy with what I saw, I went back to eyeballing portions for the next few months. This has been my regular cycle to this day. If I ever get the crazy itch to compete again or get extremely shredded, I will go back to full-time macro tracking. For our clients that are currently in their “off-season” or those that are just trying to live healthier lives, this is the approach I recommend.
The freedom of using this intermittent macro-tracking adjustment method to control your progress and body composition comes with one caveat. You must make the initial time investment and learn how to efficiently and accurately track your macros. It is an investment you will be very glad you made.
“I’m really just trying to get back to the gym to start lifting again. I’ll work on the nutrition later when I have more time.”
Well, that is partially acceptable, I guess. Getting to the gym and lifting weights is a much better lifestyle choice than sitting on the couch and eating Cheetos while binge watching the latest trendy TV series. However, I feel it would be in your best interest to make nutrition and training a package deal. After taking the first few days to learn the workings of MyMacros+ along with my new food scale, it now takes me approximately seven minutes per day to track my macros. Seven minutes is a conservative guess and assumes I need to search the Internet for a few minutes finding the nutritional information of a Quiznos Traditional Toasty Ciabatta.
The conversation I have been sharing was obviously a bit longer and I removed most of the fluff, but here is the bottom line: If you cannot commit to two weeks learning how to track your macros, if you do not have time to practice eyeballing portions, or if you do not have seven minutes a day to log your macronutrient intake, then you are not cut out for making lifestyle changes. You are essentially deciding that you do not want the most effective and easy method for improving body composition and reaching your goals. If you decide you do not want to count macros and instead want to follow a cookie cutter meal plan or have no nutritional direction at all, you can count on guaranteed failure. You may not fail tomorrow or even next month but you will eventually fail. You cannot build a house on a weak foundation and expect it to stand the test of time. Reward yourself with a strong foundation now so you can guarantee success.