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Over the past 3 years, we’ve worked with hundreds of individuals, introducing them to flexible dieting and tracking their macros or calories. We like it because it’s sustainable, empowering and shown to be effective in both the scientific research and practice. However, that doesn’t mean mistakes can’t be made, that leaves users frustrated with a lack of success.
Each individual will have their own unique struggles, but here are the three most common mistakes we see in our beginner macro counters.
Freestyling Too Soon
“Freestyling” is the method in which an individual wakes up with daily target macros, but no outline on what foods or timing of meals they’ll shoot for. Although not recommend, this could also include not immediately tracking the meal after eating. Instead, having breakfast, snack and a lunch and then tracking it all prior to their workout.
This is problematic for newbies. Most of us do not look at a bagel and think “60g carbs.” Initially, we’re all ignorant to the energy and macro yields of foods. If you aren’t tracking your food in real-time as you eat, you don’t learn what exactly are in those foods. You may learn later, by having an “oh shit” moment when you’ve met 3/4th of your fat target before noon.
In order to sidestep these growing pains, we recommend pre-tracking your food the day prior. Make sure you have a game plan to hit your macros. Now, you’ve greatly increased your chances of being successful. The flexibility is still there to remove and add certain foods, but now you’re at a better starting place. You can do this for a few weeks, then you’ll have the knowledge and experience to freestyle if you’d like.
Think of it as taking a road trip to a new location. Not many of us would jump on the road without a GPS and try to figure it out as we go. Instead, we look up the location on our phone to see the major roads and turns, or maybe leave our navigation on the entire time. Then, once you’ve traveled that route a few times you gradually get more comfortable. Roads, buildings and trees become familiar and eventually navigation won’t be needed.
Not Eating Enough Whole Foods
For many, counting their macros is a release from a food restricted diet in which they weren’t allowed to eat goodies like sugar, dairy or pizza. They learn about this “macro diet” where they can eat whatever they want as long as they hit their macros and take it too literal. Resulting in an overconsumption in junk food or more accurately “discretionary calories.” You know by now, regardless of the foods consumed, if one is in a calorie deficit, they will lose weight. BUT, this requires the individual to be in a calorie deficit for a sustained period of time. It’s no secret that pizza and ice cream aren’t equally as filling as broccoli and chicken. You may be able to get away with over consuming junk once in awhile and be under your macro/calorie needs, but eventually your hunger will be greater than your willpower and it will lead to overeating. How long will you be able to sustain a calorie deficit if you’re constantly hungry? Or even a better question, if you can adjust your food choices to be less hungry why wouldn’t you?
Enjoy your tasty junk foods, but on most days limit their intake to 20% of total macro/calorie intake.
Lack of Precision
As counting macros becomes more popular, some of its original tenants have been lost. With origins in competitive bodybuilding, most macro counters used very high precision, weighing out most of their foods on a food scale. Now, some people start off their macro counting journey without ever purchasing a food scale or even bothering to use measuring cups. While those with non-competitive goals don’t need to weigh out foods for the rest of their life, it would suite them well to spend a period of time initially in the OCD zone.
Our relationships with servings sizes have been skewed by eating out and enormous plates and bowls at home. Until you measure and see what 15g of peanut butter or 1/2C of ice cream looks like, it’s difficult to understand. Too much guessing in the initial weeks will likely lead to an underreporting of intake. Instead, we recommend channeling your inner OCD for a few weeks or even a few months. Then, once you have the ball rolling you can become more relaxed. Guessing when you eat out, not weighing out coffee creamers or condiments like ketchup. Still getting the big things right, but relieving some cognitive energy of the minutiae. Like pushing a large boulder, weight loss is difficult to get started, but becomes easier with momentum.