Hey friends! Happy Monday! I've been meaning to share this post for awhile!
You might remember my mention of an 8-week weight loss challenge I did with friends this summer. I shared how successful it was, and personally, how it was one of the first challenges I've ever stuck with till the very end!
Why was this challenge a success?
The number one reason I believe I was successful is because I started tracking my macronutrients using MyFitnessPal.
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They are the nutrients that compose the various foods we eat. Obviously, not all foods are created equal; some have a lot of carbohydrates and others a lot of protein; some foods have no protein or carbohydrates at all.
I first heard of "counting macros," on Instagram. I stumbled on a company that provides macro breakdowns, meal plans, and support for body builders, CrossFitters, and other people looking to improve their nutrition profile. It was an expensive service but I told Aaron about it because I was intrigued. He was too so we decided to employ the technique ourselves and test it out.
Second reason I was successful is because I someone (Aaron) doing this with me!
We both got on the If it Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) website and punched out information into the calculator - activity level, body mass index, and our goals: weight loss, aggressive weight loss, or maintain. From that I got a nutrition profile or suggested breakdown of exactly how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat I should aim to consume each day.
The nutrition breakdown I received seemed very reasonable to me. My breakdown is about 1,600 calories with 100 grams of carbs, 150 grams of protein and 62 grams of fat. It's low carb but not carb-free (you can chose a carb-free approach if you want) and I like that fact that it doesn't eliminate anything from my diet. I struggle with restrictive diets (such as paleo) because I think they're hard to maintain long-term. I love Greek yogurt and every once in a while you're gonna have a "bad" food like pizza or cake. We all do it!
What I like about counting macros is that you CAN have those foods as long as you track them and anything else accordingly.
The only real surprising aspect of my nutrition profile was the amount of recommended protein: 150 grams! That was a huge change to my usual eating habits but one I think has really paid off!
At first, meeting my macros seemed impossible! So. much. protein. Haha. But, I've gotten a lot better at it. I drink a lot more protein shakes now; I almost always have one within 30 minutes of working out and I use a scoop in a half now instead of just one scoop.
Of course, consuming more protein means I have to pay attention to the protein I'm consuming. For awhile we used the CytoSport Chocolate 100% Whey Protein (sold at Costco and DELICIOUS when blended with a frozen banana!) but recently we've started to experiment with pea and vegan protein.
There's a lot of other ways I try to incorporate protein in my diet like eating hard boiled eggs, greek yogurt, and protein bars. Again, I really love that I'm not restricted in WHAT I eat; it's more about what's in the foods I am eating.
Alright, so it sounds simple right? There's a catch! A few, actually.
First, you've got to log your food and I get it, that may seem way too tedious to do everyday, but once you get in the habit it's really not that bad (I say that after several weeks out of the habit; I gotta get back on it myself)! But, if you miss some days and that's OK, too! There's lots of OKs with this approach, which is another reason I like it; it takes a lot of the pressure off to eat a certain way, only eat certain foods, etc.
You can eat things that would otherwise be considered totally bad, like a donut, but so long as you log it and account for the macros, you are fine; no reason to feel guilty!
Here are some quick tips I have for this approach:
1. Plan Your Protein Sources:
Initially I wanted to plan out every single meal we'd eat with IIFYM but I have to give it to my husband, he had the genius idea of just planning our big meals (lunch and dinner), making sure we got our protein in with those, and winging the rest. I'll admit, it may not sound like the best plan, but let me tell you: it works! Having your main meals figured out is just enough structure, and having some flexibility built-in works well with the unpredictability that is life! Here is an example of the way we try to meal plan:
2. Use the App:
Whether you have to set a timer once-a-day to log or plug in meals in advance, you absolutely have to use a calorie counter for this approach to work so that you know what you're eating! Of course not all the entries available within MyFitnessPal are accurate but regardless, getting in the habit of logging is good for you! I've also learned a lot about foods just by inputting them and then checking the nutrition profile - holy Diary Queen blizzard!
3. Log Before You Eat, Not Vice Versa:
It's also key to use the app when you're on the go and eating out. The trick is use the app before ordering, browsing entries, and finding something that won't blow your macros for the day. For example, let's say you're at Jimmy Johns for lunch with your coworkers; what do you do? Well, if you check the app you'll find there is a lettuce wrap sandwich that is a heck of a lot better nutrition-wise than the regular subs which have upwards of 100 carbs!
4. Watch Portions:
It's really important not to underestimate your portions, especially if you are trying to eat less of something. For example, it's pretty convenient to estimate you had a half a cup of mashed potatoes with dinner but be honest with yourself: was it really just a half a cup? The same goes for over-estimating portions of protein. We use the scale lot now and measure out our protein. It's awesome because having used the scale we can eye things and have a better sense of how much we're really consuming.
4. Speaking of Scale - Measure Everything!
Better than estimating is actually measuring. While it annoyed me at first that Aaron wanted to measure out every little thing we ate - especially our meat! - I've come to appreciate this exercise! It's given me a much better sense of what 2, 4, or 7 ounces looks like.
5. Ignore the small stuff:
Good news: you don't have to log EVERYTHING. (At least we don't.) I eat salad almost everyday for lunch but I don't always log it. In fact, I often don't log it. I spend my time logging the items I know will impact my macros, like if I added cheese, corn, croutons or dressing to the salad but I don't waste time adding 2 cups of lettuce, 3 cucumbers, or 2 tablespoons of fresh salsa; that stuff is mostly water!
5. Chose lean meals:
One thing you do want to be careful about is fatty meats. We use ground turkey for a lot of things now because it saves us a lot of fat! I wouldn't have known that if I didn't log a few burgers over the past few weeks and wonder where in the heck all the fat came from?! This also helped me make better choices on vacation. I contemplated ordering the prime rib one night just to find it has more than 20 grams of fat (and hardly any protein)! No thank you! I went with the flank steak instead.
6. Eat Clean:
So I know a lot of people in the IIFYM community boast about eating whatever they want - even some of the worst foods - but for me personally, I do not think this would work if I didn't eat balanced, healthy meals. Eating clean is definitely a part of this approach.
7. Keep it simple, stupid.
Especially when it comes to meals - don't dump extra virgin olive oil on everything or over season with salt or butter (I'm so guilty of this!) because those things add up! Keep it simple! I can't tell you how many boring dinners we had with cabbage and chicken sausage; the point was that I got full -- not that it was the most flavorful meal, ever! (And, with this approach and through research I've tried some new recipes I really love, like these turkey muffins from Jamie Eason!)
8. Meal prep:
Ah! This is so key! Meal prepping is such a lifesaver, I swear! When it's done, it's done and you don't have to think twice about what to cook or eat! My ideal week is one we plan our meals in advance, I prep them and log them, and then log the odds and ends as the week goes on!
9. Don't fret: Finally, don't fret. This is my favorite part about the IIFYM approach - if you eat something awful - something you know you probably shouldn't have, like pizza, a donut, or some ice cream - there's no need to fret! Simply log it and move on. If you can, try to still stay within your macros but whatever you do, no longer beat yourself up for eating "unclean" sometimes. Start fresh the next day and don't try to make up for yesterday. Everyday fuel yourself what the macros your body needs. One thing I've found is that I feel very satisfied at the end of each day eating this way, as if my body is getting just what it needs!
Does this work for everyone? Of course not! Everyone is different. I also know that the challenge and the allure of a cash prize, plus the encouragement provided by our group made a huge difference, as did having Aaron's support. In my opinion weight loss is a series of choices; there's no quick fix and no right or wrong way to do it. You just do the best you can everyday and for me, tracking macros really helped!
Have you ever tried counting your macros?
What was your experience?
Image via Death to Stock Photo