To track or not to track?
I confess, I eat when I’m hungry, unsurprisingly. But I also eat when I’m bored, sad, moody. Not to forget when I have cravings. Most of the times I don’t need the food to satisfy any energy requirements, just the comfort of shoving something into my mouth. This can get out of hand, especially when you’re trying to lose weight. There have been many diet fads over time, cabbage soup diet, atkins diet, ketogenic diet, GM diet, the list is endless. I have not tried any of these, but I know of people that have and their inability to stick to any of them. Why? Because they all expect you to completely or to a large extent cut out certain food groups, and we all know how difficult that can be. The one underlying factor they all have in common is that they try to cut down the number of calories you consume in one way or the other. For example, a ketogenic diet virtually cuts out all carbs, which of course is the macro-nutrient most of us consume the most of, thereby creating a calorie deficit. What this means is that as long as you are in a calorie deficit (i.e. eating fewer calories than your body needs), you are going to lose weight. This is the one universal truth of weight loss and you probably already know this if you’ve read my post on how to calculate calories and macros.
Assuming you have and that you have calculated the target macros for your goal, how do you go about making sure you consistently eat that many calories while hitting you macro-nutrient goals as well? That’s where tracking your calories and macros comes in. There are some advantages and disadvantages to tracking your calories and macros, hence it isn’t for everyone.
Advantages of tracking calories and macros
There are many advantages to tracking your calories and macros. Here I go through some of them.
Weighing and tracking what you eat makes you aware of what and how much you’re eating in a day. Doing it over a period of time will enable you to “eyeball” or “guesstimate” fairly accurately how many calories there are in a meal. What this helps you with is awareness about portion sizes and portion control. This awareness of what foods contain how many calories allows you to make better decisions. For example, choosing between eating a plateful of whole foods and feeling satiated versus eating one measly doughnut and being ravenous an hour later.
Flexibility/If it fits your macros (IIFYM)
If you’re tracking your calories and macros and you have 500 calories left at the end of the day and you have met your protein requirements already, you now have the flexibility of getting yourself a little treat. This makes the entire process a whole lot more enjoyable which means you will probably stick to it over the long term. The general rule of thumb I follow is to ensure I eat clean, wholesome foods 80% of the time and allow myself a few indulgences 20% of the time. The alternative is to only eat “clean” foods all the time, which while being great if you can stick to it, has a higher failure rate and could lead to binge eating.
Disadvantages of tracking
There are also certain disadvantages to tracking and hence it isn’t for everyone.
Some people get obsessed with weighing and tracking everything and this can become a problem. Especially when eating out or at social gatherings. If you’re the kind that shows such a pattern of behaviour it is better to stay away from tracking calories.
Tracking just calories
While tracking, it is important to track both calories and macros. If you end up tracking only calories, it can end in a situation where you might end up eating junk while still maintaining a calorie deficit. This can lead to weight loss but is definitely not healthy. You need to aim to consume proper amounts of all macro-nutrients as well as micro-nutrients for healthy weight loss.
Tips to start tracking
So, you’ve decided you want to give tracking calories and macros a go. Where do you start?
- Begin by calculating what your target calories and macros should be by reading this post.
- Download and setup a tracking app like MyFitnesspal
- Get yourself a food scale and make yourself familiar with different units of measurement
- Track calorie dense foods such as nut butters etc as accurately as possible. You can be a lot more flexible with calorie sparse foods such as green, leafy vegetables and so on.
- Do not obsess over it. Do it when possible but be aware of what you’re eating.
It may seem daunting at first but once you’ve done it for a week or two, it becomes second nature and doesn’t take much time at all. Also, you get better at guessing more accurately and that goes a long way too. Good luck and hit me up if you need any clarifications.