There are numerous skills you must possess in order to start, maintain and finish a weight loss journey. There is one in particular though that is most important in my mind. Is it exercising 6 days a week? Nope. Is it eating more green veggies? No (but that is a good place to start). Is it eating just chicken and broccoli three meals a day? Of course not; though this might get the job done, it is far too extreme and just isn’t realistic. Is the most important skill counting your points for Weight Watchers? No, but close. The number one, MOST IMPORTANT skill to have when starting a weight loss journey is knowing how to count your macro nutrients. In my opinion it isn’t even close. You can work out 6 days a week, but if you don’t know how to fuel your body for weight loss you will not be successful for the long term. This post might get kind of lengthy, so hope you have 8-10 minutes to sit down and soak it all up. It is worth it.
Let’s start with the basics, what are macro nutrients? If you know what they are bear with me. Macros (I will have this abbreviated from here on out) are protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. These three nutrients and these nutrients only, will make up every calorie, of every food you eat. You may be thinking what about sugar, sodium, fiber, and all those vitamins and minerals you see on nutrition labels? Sugar is a carb. Sodium won’t affect long term weight loss, but still keep it under control. Fiber is included as a carb and vitamins and minerals don’t have calories. Don’t get me wrong, being aware of your sugar, sodium, fiber and vitamin intake is very important to your overall health, but this post is specifically about weight loss. OK, now on to macros. I would say most people know what foods have protein (chicken, beef, fish etc), carbs (rice, potatoes, fruit etc) and fat (almonds, olive oil, dressings etc). Most people don’t know the caloric amount of those foods or how to balance those macros though. This is where learning how to count your macros comes into play for long term weight loss and maintenance of that weight loss. Each gram of protein and each gram of carb contains 4 calories. Each gram of fat contains 9 calories. In short, fat is more dense with calories than protein or carbs and why it will fill you up for longer, but where most people need to be very careful. High fat foods will jack up your calorie quickly. Here is an example of how protein, carbs and fat (protein, carbs and fat only) will make up ALL the calories of one piece of wheat bread:
-5g protein=20 calories from protein (5gx4=20 calories)
-20g carbs=80 calories from protein (20gx4=80 calories)
-3.5g fat=31.5 calories from protein (3.5gx9=31.5 calories)
-Total calories= 131.5 calories
See how that works out? So yes, macro tracking is essentially calorie counting, but going more in depth because eating 1500 calories of carbs and only 100 calories of protein isn’t healthy and you won’t feel very good. Didn’t need to count sugar, sodium, fiber, Vitamin A, Calcium etc. Low sugar diets are usually low carb diets….
Now, why is counting these macros so important? Because the simplest way to lose weight or fat is to eat less calories than you take in. If you are eating 3000 calories a day and cut that to 1500 calories a day I will guarantee you lose weight initially. But, you want to lose weight for the long term and keep it off or you wouldn’t be reading this post still. By knowing what the calories you put in your body are made up of YOU are in complete control of speeding up or slowing down weight loss (or weight gain if you want that too). Let me repeat that again, YOU ARE IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF YOUR WEIGHT LOSS.
By eating less and eating healthier you will most likely lose weight right away but, are you really aware of what you are putting in your body in regards to macros and calories? Unless you have tracked your food in an app like myfitnesspal or loseit you are blindly losing weight. Blindly losing weight is better than putting on weight or struggling to lose at all, I won’t argue that! I want you to know how you are losing weight though, so down the road when have hit a plateau or have put weight back on (yes this will happen if you blindly lose weight) you know how to lose that weight again! Maintaining weight loss after a long journey will be harder than losing the weight in the first place, but if you able to track your macros and at least have some idea of what protein, carbs and fat are, then maintaining where you want to be will be less work.
I have people tell me all the time that macro tracking and logging food in an app is too much work and they don’t have time. This is shocking to me; it takes me 10 minutes a day to track my macros. I tell them if they can track for even 2-3 weeks and get an idea of what they eat and how much they eat that is a good start. It will open your eyes, trust me. Can you eyeball 100 calories of rice, 250 calories of salmon or 10g of salad dressing? I can’t. If you are truly serious about your weight loss journey then you will come back to tracking because it keeps you accountable and you are fully aware of what your body needs to lose weight. You definitely do not need to macro track every single day for the rest of your life though. That is just being crazy and obsessive. Do I track every day? Hell no. Here are times when I think tracking is crucial and very much needed and some times when it is totally OK not to track!
-Track when you are starting a weight loss journey, at a plateau in weight loss, want to change your body fat, are trying new foods/recipes, planning around holidays and events, when you need to stay accountable to yourself, when you interested in learning how the body uses different foods for energy (I find it fascinating), when you are 110% committed to your weight loss.
-It is OK not to track when you are happy maintaining weight (I will have a post on maintenance as well), on holidays/vacations, need a mental break from it, it is stressing you out (macro counting is not for everyone unfortunately, it takes a lot of discipline).
If you are like, “alright this macro tracking thing sounds interesting and I want to start”, but don’t know what to do next, that where is myself or a coach with experience helping clients adjust macros becomes important. Just as blindly losing weight doesn’t set you up for long term weight loss and keeping that weight off, neither does blind macro tracking. Blind macro tracking is starting to eat a certain amount of protein, carbs and fat that you found on a calorie calculator or food app without knowing what you had been eating before. If you start to track macros you must always know what your starting point is. What if a calorie calculator told you to eat 1600 calories a day, but you only eat 900 a day right now?? You will put on weight fast! If you can even mentally handle eating that much. Or what if you eat 3500 calories a day and you are told to eat 1200 calories and only 100g of carbs (that isn’t that much by the way) a day? You will lose weight initially, but try to keep that up for the long run. Your body and mind will need to binge sooner or later. Macro counting will help you avoid extremes, if done correctly. There is no perfect macro number or ratio out there, that comes down to each individual person. Log your food for 2-3 weeks before you decide on how much protein, carbs or fat to eat. Then from there adjust based off of your progress (or lack of progress in some cases).
Here is what you need to macro track and have a successful, healthy weight loss journey:
-A food log app like myfitnesspal or loseit are good ones
-Food scale highly recommended.
-Willing to try something new in order to lose weight.
-Willing to be flexible because your protein, carbs , fat and thus calorie numbers will always be changing as you lose weight!
-Practice. This is skill like any skill you have learned in your life. You will need to take time to figure out what makes up each food you eat and how and when to eat those foods so your body is always ready to burn fat.
-10-15 minutes a day
Whew, that was long. I can go into much more detail and help on an individual basis if you are interested. Comment below or shoot me an email with questions. Happy tracking!
We’re Here To Help
You might be looking to take your fitness to a new level, start a health and wellness program for the first time, looking to break a PR or get dialed in for an upcoming marathon that comes to town. We cater to ALL of these needs at RBF and focus on improving your quality of life in a safe, sound and positive environment.