For years you have been calling people who track their macros, record their food, and count their calories – crazy, restrictive, and obsessive; but now you are starting to consider there might just be some validity to the madness.
But first, you have questions that need to be answered before you make the big leap to download MyFitnessPal and begin tracking macros.
I was right there myself. I thought I would have to eat the same things over and over, wouldn’t be able to eat at social gatherings, and that I would develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I learned to use MFP and began tracking macros, I realized it was a tool to keep in my bag of strategies and tricks for my health. I came to realize that it was not neurotic or crazy, but necessary in today’s world of endless amounts of food and diet fads.
Structure = freedom.
We create structure in so many other aspects of our lives but fail to see the importance of creating structure in our nutrition and eating. There’s structure in our jobs, at our schools, within our household and families, and in our finances.
Imagine if you had no structure in your finances, spent money without regard to consequences. You’d end up broke. But instead, people learn to track their money, monitor how much is coming in verses how much is going out. Sometimes we save it and from time to time sometimes we spend it. But either way, at any given moment, we are completely aware of our money’s status.
Is that obsessive? Or does that sound familiar; tracking calories in versus calories out.
Can you recall exactly what you ate today?
Can you guess within 15 grams how much protein you consumed?
Do you know if you’re in a deficit or surplus for the week?
I’m guessing probably not. So why are we so against monitoring and tracking our food in the meticulous way we monitor and track our money? If you have financial goals you create a plan and use various tools. If you have health goals, performance goals, and especially aesthetic goals, you need to be aware of your food intake.
What you need to know about tracking and macros – most asked questions:
Q&A #1: What’s the point in tracking? What will I gain from doing it?
When tracking our food we become very aware of exactly what and how much we eat and drink. It will reveal patterns in our eating habits like:
Weekend warrior behavior – perfect restrictive eating during the week with uncontrolled binge eating over the weekend
Balance of whole foods to processed/restaurant foods
Amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats eaten
Food calories and drink calories
Amount of fiber, sugar, and sodium intake
Tracking our food teaches us which foods contain which macronutrients so we can learn if we’re eating protein, carbs, and fats in an appropriate balance. It’ll help us learn how to make healthier choices.
Q&A #2: If I start tracking will I have to do it forever?
The answer here is, it depends. It depends on the person, their goals, and preferences. Most often, tracking is used to educate people on what and how much to eat until they get to their maintenance calories. Once there, they can transition into intuitive eating after they have a good handle on how much protein, carbs, and fats to eat.
From there proceed to use MFP and tracking as tools throughout the year for specific health, performance, or aesthetic goals. However, others prefer to track all the time. They find it comforting in knowing what they eat all year and as long as it doesn’t interfere with being social or in relationships, it’s not an issue.
Q&A #3: How do I learn to track, what’s the best approach?
Just jump in and start using the app. Take some time to sit down and play around with the functions of the app, entering various foods, learn to use the scanning button, learn to create recipes and meals in the app, and the restaurant finder. Play around in the app on a phone and on a PC to see the difference.
You can watch YouTube tutorials and videos on how to use the app, the ins and outs, the tricks and timesavers. Ask friends and family members who already use it to give you a lesson too.
One meal at a time. Start by entering your breakfast first, do that for a week straight, then enter breakfast and morning snack, next add breakfast, snack, and lunch, each week until you’re entering your entire day.
Q&A #4: Why do I have to weigh and measure food? Can’t I just eyeball it?
Have you ever eyeballed a tablespoon of peanut butter on a spoon and then actually measured out a tablespoon of peanut butter?
The difference is shocking to most people and the difference in calories is even more shocking.
It can really add up and if you’re “eyeballing” all your food, the calorie difference over the course of a day or week could be huge.
So, yes, if you’re taking the time to track your food, you need to take the time to weigh and measure too. It’s not neurotic, it’s important to learn so that when you move back to eating intuitively you will have learned what 1 tbsp of peanut butter actually looks like, what 4-5 ounces of protein actually looks like, what 2-4 cups of vegetables actually looks like, and what 130g of sweet potatoes actually looks like. That way when you’re at a restaurant or a friends house eating dinner and you do need to eyeball that one meal, you’re estimations will be much more accurate.
Q&A #5: Tracking takes up so much time, how do I make it a faster process?
First, being comfortable with the app and learning the ins and outs of how to use it.
Second, enter your food either right when you’re eating it so you don’t forget or enter your food for the day the night before. Then it’s already in there and if something changes you just have to make small adjustments.
If you wait until the end of the day to enter your food you’ll forget things, it’ll take 20-30 minutes, and you might not be close to your macros but it’s too late to fix.
If you have meals or foods that you eat over and over, create meal recipes in the app. That way you can find them easily to add to your day and have the macros right there for you. But mostly, be patient and give it time to learn. Use it every day and that’s how you’ll get faster and faster at entering food.
Q&A #6: How do I maneuver around social gatherings or the holidays?
It’s what we do consistently that counts. If you’re tracking your food and macros for six and a half days, but miss one dinner because you ate at a friends house, that’s okay, you’ll still be ahead for the week.
Also, please don’t track on the day of a holiday. It takes the fun out of that day and the last thing you need to do is upset dear old grandma and not eat the food she’s worked so hard on all day because you’re not sure how to track it. One day or one meal will not disrupt your progress, just as one day of tracking won’t fix your poor health.
Track as much as you can throughout the week, because when tracking starts to interfere with your social life, relationships, or if it starts to create food anxiety, you would need to address that and take a break.
MFP should be used as a tool and a way to educate yourself on foods and macronutrients, not keep you from social events.
Q&A #7: How do I add variety to my food and still track? I don’t want to eat the same things over and over just for ease…
This was my biggest concern when I first started tracking. I love to cook and didn’t want to be limited just because I was tracking macros.
Plan your meals out for the week on Sunday and create meals in MFP for the more complicated ones so you can add them quickly during the week. Make sure you have a good mix of easy, fast meals plus 1-2 meals that are recipes that you want to include and make for your family. I always double my recipes so I have leftovers, then it makes tracking easy for the week. Then the following week repeat but with 1-2 different fun recipes.
The more recipes you enter into MFP at the beginning, the easier tracking becomes as you repeat meals down the road. This is where really learning the tricks of MFP come in handy.
Grab our 101 Macro Friendly Recipe Guide, all the macros are done for you and full of flavorful meals to keep you from food boredom.
Q&A #8: How do I calculate my macros?
I saved the best one for last. This one can be complicated and is why working with a health coach is beneficial. When setting up your MFP account, it’ll ask if you want fat loss, maintenance, or to build muscle and will calculate from that response plus your weight, height, age, and activity level.
But let’s say it tells you to eat 1950 calories for fat loss, however, over the last 3+ years you’ve been grueling it out at about 1400-1500 calories a day, trying to eat as little as possible to get that weight off. If you start eating 1950 right away, you’ll most likely gain more weight. This is because you’ve been eating at such a low deficit that you’ve created a new set point for yourself and slowed down your metabolism.
Basically, you need to reverse diet first. Then once at a new manageable and more appropriate maintenance calories, can think about doing a small cut and going into a 5-10% caloric deficit from your maintenance.
Or what if you’re a CrossFitter, a bodybuilder, a triathlon competitor, a yoga instructor, or HIIT class fanatic, it’s important to understand the energy systems used for those activities and what amount of foods are needed to fuel that activity. Some need more carbohydrates and less fat, some need more protein based on age and activity level, and some need to go in and out of maintenance and cut or maintenance and surplus depending on goals.
A good place to start if working with a coach isn’t possible, is downloading our FREE Nutrition Hierarchy guide to help you figure out your calories and macros.
MyFitnessPal or any other food tracking system is one of the best tools we can use to help us manage our nutrition. This along with following the basic foundations of health and getting proper sleep, hydration, movement, and managed stress, will show you that it is possible to fit a healthy lifestyle in a busy non-stop world. Bringing awareness to your food is definitely step number one.
P.S. – Here’s a great guide to help you learn how to use MFP.
Written by Boom Boom Performance Nutrition Coach, Courtney Sturgeon. Courtney is a health coach specializing in nutrition and positive long-term lifestyle changes. After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2001, she and her husband moved to the PNW where they currently live with their 2 children. While taking some time off from working as a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant to raise her children, she discovered her true passion and calling in the field of health, fitness, and nutrition – now coaching clients full time. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram at @coachcourtney_bbp