Do you really have to track macros or calories?
For years, tracking calories or macros (also known as 'flexible dieting') has gained a lot of traction as an effective way to go about reaching many fitness goals.
But there are some people who simply do not wish to count macros or live my the dietary restriction of an app on their cell phone. Is there hope for these people or should they just give into their fate of never being able to change their body or reach their goals without sucking it up and using a tracking app? Do you really HAVE to track macros or calories to reach your goals?
The simple answer is no. But there's more.
The idea of tracking your intake is simple and pretty straightforward. You keep track of the food (and amounts) that you're eating in a day in order to ensure you are hitting a certain macro or calorie target that aligns with your goals whether that be weight loss, muscle gain, improved performance, etc. If you want to lose weight, you must be in a caloric deficit. If you want to gain weight, you must be in a caloric surplus. Therefore, it is helpful to know how much you are consuming each day in order to ensure you are meeting these requirements based on your goal. However, just because you are not tracking does not mean it's impossible for you to reach these requirements. And over time, even dedicated macro trackers are often able to ease away from the use of a food tracking app while still being able to reach their fitness goal.
But there are certainly diets out there that don't promote inherently tracking your intake and often times, they work. So why would one go through the trouble of manually tracking their intake?
One benefit of tracking that most other diets won't provide is the inherent education of the nutritional content of different foods and portion sizes. Tracking forces you not only to pay attention to what a true portion size looks like, but also what those portions of different foods provide your body with in terms of calorie content, macronutrient breakdown, etc. Upon tracking, people often find that foods that they considered to be 'healthy' or appropriate options may actually be the very foods that were holding them back from reaching their goals, even if they are categorized as 'healthy'.
But isn't measuring and inputting all of your food into an app or database tedious and time consuming?
In short, yes, especially at first. It will require some effort and commitment on your part, but the education about nutrition that you will obtain from doing so is worth the trade-off for most who are serious about maintaining their goals long-term. The more that you do it, the easier it will be for you to know how to eat properly for your goals even when you aren't tracking. However, you won't obtain this knowledge unless you invest the time and effort up front.
Reaching your goals is always going to require a certain level of effort and commitment to consistency, whether it's with tracking, following a specific diet or cutting out specific food groups. You may as well invest that time and commitment to a method that will help you learn how to be successful long-term, whether you are 'on' or 'off' a diet.
How To See Progress Without Tracking
However, there are absolutely ways to see progress without tracking your intake. This is especially easy for those who tend to eat pretty much the same things everyday. If you would like to lose weight, you need to cut out some of the food you eat (by either scaling back on portions or cutting some things out) everyday, and if you would like to gain weight, you will need to slightly increase the amount of food you eat in a day. It really is that simple (read: simple and easy are NOT synonymous).
As valuable of a tool and educational resource as tracking your intake can be, there really are some people who it may not be best suited for. If you're brand new to fitness or dieting, you may want to start with something smaller and less complex such as cutting out snacking in between meals, or basing meals around a protein source and vegetable. If you're someone with a history of obsessive or restrictive eating disorders/calorie counting, you may also be better suited to take a break from inherently tracking your intake. If you want to try your hand at weight loss/muscle gain without tracking, here are a few useful guidelines that might help you to be successful in your endeavor:
1. Stick to 3 meals and 1-2 snacks each day (no between meal bites or snacking).
2. Each meal should be ONE bowl or plate of reasonable size. Half of the bowl/plate should be veggies cooked with minimal oils/dressing. One quarter of the plate (or about one palm) should be a protein source. The remaining quarter of the meal can come from carb/fat sources.
3. Each snack should be no larger than 1 palm/fist in size and can be either a fruit, vegetable or protein source.
4. Limit alcohol OR replace 1 snack with 1 drink (or one meal with 2-3 drinks).
5. If you're not seeing progress, you can reassess your meals/snacks.
6. If you're STILL not seeing progress, try tracking your intake. It might not be as bad as you think.
The problem with this approach is that it can be very limiting. There are many foods that won't fit into these guidelines and you may wish to incorporate some different things or not always follow these rules eventually. In this case, it may be time to graduate to tracking your intake (at least for a brief period of time). Tracking will allow you to eat ANY foods you wish so long as they are in the appropriate quantities and will also help you to learn and understand what the heck an 'appropriate quantity' even is of a given food.
Even for many who are not new to the fitness world and have taken their rounds with dieting, intuitive eating or following a specific diet may seem more appealing than counting calories or tracking macros.
Intuitive eating is great, but I would consider it a more advanced approach to weight loss or gain. The thing about intuitive eating is that it rarely leads to change. The body likes homeostasis and will fight very hard to stay exactly the way it is in most cases. This means that hunger signals will most likely lead you to eat the amount of food that would cater to staying exactly the same. Cravings will likely be similar. Intuitive eating is more of a privelege that should be earned through a period of education (in this case, in the form of tracking and measuring your intake. Yes, like, with a food scale and a nutrition database).
Everyone who really wants to achieve a better understanding of how they should be eating for the rest of their lives to achieve or maintain a certain look should give measuring and tracking a true, honest effort for at least 30-60 days. Then, if you would like to graduate to a more intuitive eating approach, you will most likely have gained some of the tools and knowledge necessary to have a much higher chance at being successful. In either sense, tracking is a useful tool in helping you become more aware and self sufficient when it comes to nutrition and proper eating habits. If it's not for you, that's okay, but by refusing to track you may or may not be limiting your potential.
Okay, okay. What if you decide that it's worth it to track (even if just for a finite period of time) but you don't know how to track or where to start?
Don't worry, there are TONS of resources on the internet to help you. Actually, I have a resource that I created just for people like you because you are not alone. If you're interested in taking the next steps toward tracking your intake and reaching your goals from there, the nutrition E-book below will give you all of the information you need to get started and be sure that you are tracking properly. In addition, it will answer many additional questions you may have along the way about tracking, dieting, and navigating the world of nutrition and macros to help you achieve and maintain your goals both now - and for months and years to come. It will provide a quick guide of protein sources, fat sources, carb sources, and their relative appropriate quantities for you and your goals. It provides a guide to eating out while tracking, navigating real-life events (such as those that may contain alcoholic drinks), how to properly measure and track your intake to meet your goals, a supplement guide, and so much more information that you can refer to in order to ensure your success.
The thing about knowledge is that once you know, you can't un-know. I want to help you obtain the knowledge you need to know what to do for now, and forever. The education obtained through tracking and with the information in this E-book will be carried with your forever to help you make better and more informed decisions to sustain a lifestyle that will help you adhere to becoming the best version of YOU that you can be.
This E-book can be found on my website, or at the following link: http://www.nirvanafittraining.com/product-page/minding-your-macros
A complete guide to go educate, inform and prepare you to tackle macro-based nutrition. This guide will provide you with all of the information you need to hit your macronutrients as well as provide practical tips and strategies to help you implement new nutritional protocols and start seeing results. You will not only learn how to hit your macros, but also the reason behind many effective nutrition protocols as well as which protocols and methods have been proven ineffective that you may be wasting your time with. This E-book includes but is not limited to topics such as: how to hit your macros, macro tracking mistakes you are making, guidance on meal frequency, importance of sugar and fiber intake, how to track alcohol, how to track nutrition while eating out, easy ways to hit your protein target, sports supplement guidance, the science on artificial sweeteners and net carbs, and so much more. This E-book is intended to answer and address all of the most common fitness based nutrition questions and protocols. It's the perfect blend of evidence-based information and practical tips to implement the most effective protocols into your life. This E-book is all you need obtain the information you need to stop spinning your wheels and start seeing results. This book is suitable for a variety of individuals from beginners to physique competitors and everyone in between. If you have ever wanted to know more about tracking macros, how to hit your macros or still have questions regarding what does and doesn't work in the dieting world, this E-book is a great basic handguide to bridge the gap between what should be done and how to actually do it. *Note: This E-book does not provide information on how to calculate your target macronutrients, but will help you reach your pre-calculated target macronutrient intake as well as help to assess if/when the macronutrients you are aiming for are right for you. *