So this is something that I’ve wanted to write for a really long time & I could never figure out how to write something so complex. After many, many, many notes & drafts, I finally have my thoughts together.

This isn’t the shortest document. If you’re looking for a “that one trick” style article, a quick fix, or a magic pill – close this page. Just stop reading. Don’t waste my time or yours. Just go away. Buy “It Works” wraps, Shakeology, Thrive or whatever other bullshit you want to waste money on. Then after your money is gone and you’ve put the weight back on (and most likely more) and not gained the muscle you wanted, come read this. Really, if you’re not willing to invest ~30 minutes to read this, why would you dedicate the actual time and hard work it takes to make a real change? There is also an handy info graphic at the bottom of this article.

Now that were past that, let’s start learning how to track macros.

First, before ANYTHING we have to have 2 things. A goal & a why. Without a goal, you have no end. Without a why, you have no guide.

At minimum, you should have two goals; a short term and a long term goal. Short term goals are typically 1-3 months in length, while long term goals are more about the big picture (a year out). You’re not limited to just these two goals, but you should realistically have them as a minimum. Goals should be reasonable, realistic, and achievable (RRA). If my short term goal is to lose 50 pounds in 2 months, that’s not RRA. However, if my short term goal is to consistently lose 10 pounds (4.5kg) in the next two months, then that is a reasonable goal. I can follow that up with a medium goal (6 months) of 30 pounds in 6 months & a long term goal (one year) of 40 pounds lost & maintained.. Goals should always be reevaluated periodically. When I start working with someone, I ask them what their 3 month goal & one year goals are. Then every week I ask for a very short term goal to work on that week. Every time someone achieves their short term goal, we set a new one & reevaluate the long term goal to make sure that everything lines up. Your short term goals should be feeding the progress of your long term goal.

Your “why” is your fuel to get to your goals. You have to have fuel, passion, drive, whatever you want to call it. Without fuel, you’re going nowhere. I often hear people say “I want to lose 20 pounds”, and my first question to them is why. No matter their answer, I repeat my question. I just keep doing this until that light bulb turns on and they can’t stop talking about what losing that 20 pounds will mean to them.

For example:

Client: “I want to lose 20 pounds in 4 months”
Me: “Why?”
Client: “Because I want to be skinny”
Me: “Why?”
Client: Because I will be happier when I’m skinny
Me: Why?
Client: When I go out with friends, they all look happy and socialize. I just kind of sit quietly and watch
Me: Why?
Client: I’m not really happy with how I look
Me: Why?
Client: Because I want to be healthy, have muscle, & and be a strong, confident woman.
Me: Why?
Client: So I can set a great example for my kids on what hard work, dedication, & confidence look like.

It took 6 whys for the real why to come out. As a coach, this information right there is huge. I talk with clients regularly throughout a week, I see their highs and lows. When someone is low, reminding them that they are doing this to set an example for their children can go a long way.

Now, let’s start on the meat and potatoes…the good stuff–Nutrition and training. Both go hand in hand. I can diet perfectly and lose weight, but without proper training, I will have no muscle tone and will have that “empty bag” appearance so many have after weight loss. I can train all day –  lift the heaviest weights but not have the protein to grow. I can eat too many calories & cover all my muscle with fat — Or I can run every marathon in the world & follow a perfect training program, but without proper nutrition to fuel my runs & nourish my body, I will fall short of my potential. Depending on your goal, you may need to put slightly more emphasis on nutrition or slightly more emphasis on training. However, this will never be more than a 60/40 split. Nutrition & training are both equally important. In my experience, nutrition is what most people need and/or get wrong, so let’s start there.

As I previously explained in my Fat Loss Hierarchy post, there is an order to what is important for fat loss:

1) Diet Adherence
2) Total Caloric Balance
3) Non-exercise Activity (NEAT)
4) Exercise Activity
5) Sleep

Now I don’t want to get into a repeat of that, but I will explain on how to get started using some of these principles. Let’s start with diet adherence.

Week 1 – Just track food

So you just found out about flexible dieting, but you’re not sure where to start. Start here, step 1. Download MyFitnessPal (MFP) or MyMacros+ (MM+) for your phone. These are apps that you can use to track your food intake. They have barcode scanners, huge databases of foods & restaurants, as well as offer the ability to enter macros/calories from foods that aren’t in their database or are generic (e.g. apples). We have put together an interactive video on how to use & set up MFP here. I don’t want this guide to be about MFP or MM+, so if you’re not sure how to use those, check out that guide.

Now that we have a way to track our food, let’s talk about tracking. A lot of people are overwhelmed when they first start using MFP, and try to get everything perfectly lined up with their macros. Being perfect right way isn’t necessary, and it is not going to happen right away. Tracking food is a learned skill.. So for your first week, just enter everything you eat into MFP. That’s it. Don’t worry about calories and/or macros. Measure out your portions, weigh your food when possible, scan barcodes, and be mindful of what you eat. Read the label on everything you can. Become familiar with the calories and macro breakdowns of common foods you eat, because this will help you out later. At the end of every day look back at your total calories and the calories of foods you ate. Take note of what has a lot of calories and ways you could have smaller portion sizes.

Week 1 objectives

1) Download a tracking app
2) Don’t worry about calories, just log what you eat
3) Become familiar with measuring & weighing food

Week 2 – Just Track Calories

Often people see flexible dieting as this complicated thing with an overwhelming amount of choices on what to eat. They have been restrictive dieting for years & aren’t really sure about what to do with all of this freedom. They spend all day on Pinterest and looking up #foodporn on IG, and they get overwhelmed with all of the options…so much so that they panic, quit, eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, & go back to their restrictive dieting and bingeing cycle. So stop. Keep it simple!

So now that your first week of tracking your intake is over, let’s move on to something a little more challenging: calories. Calories are what lead to weight loss or gain (as explained in the Fat Loss Hierarchy post. If you haven’t read that, start there). So, for the second week you track, let’s not worry about anything except total calories. Don’t worry about protein, carbs, or fats. Just total calories. Plan out your meals at least one day ahead of time, so that way you won’t be surprised when you hit total calories at 5pm and still need to have dinner. You’ll be better able to space out your meals appropriately to have enough food to last you all day.

If you plan out a day and your calories are over, adjust portion sizes. Instead of 100g of turkey for lunch, have 80g. Instead of 56g of pretzels (2 servings) have 35g (1.25 servings), instead of 3 eggs for breakfast, have 1 egg and 1/2 cup of egg whites. Making swaps of one item for another, and adjusting portion sizes up or down is how you are going to hit your calories/macros.

Week 2 objectives

1) Plan your meals out a day or two ahead of time
2) Minimize eating out
3) When eating out, plan that meal first. Look at a menu online if possible, and decide what you will order. Then plan the rest of your day around your remaining calories.
4) Don’t worry about being 100% with your total calories. As long as you’re ±100kcal/day, you’re doing great.

Week 3 – Just Track Protein & Calories

Now that you’ve gotten used how MFP works, tracking all of your food, & adjusting your serving sizes/portions to fit your total daily calories, let’s work on hitting some specific macro targets. We’re going to focus on protein first. I’m not going to go into too much detail here about why protein is awesome & the most important macro, but it is. So for this step, all we’re worried about is hitting total calories & your protein number (carbs and fat can fall wherever they fall).

1) Plan your meal & adjust total calories like week 2.
2) Adjust protein rich foods to hit your total ±5g (e.g. instead of 80g of chicken breast, have 130g if your protein is low or add in a protein shake)
3) Readjust other food items to keep total calories ±100Kcal

Protein makes you feel pretty full, so a good practice is to space out protein rich meals throughout the day to help you stay full & ensure your body gets at an even rate. A good recommendation is to take the number of meals you eat in a day & evenly divide your protein into that number. Obviously, that may not be practical for everyone.

Week 3 objectives

1) Plan your meals out a day or two ahead of time
2) Minimize eating out
3) Don’t take all of your protein in 1 sitting
4) Use protein shakes to hit your daily total if you are falling short
5) Hit protein ±5g and total calories ±100kcal

Week 4 – Track Macros

Now you’ve been using MFP for 3 weeks. You’ve successfully tracked your total calories for 2 weeks & your protein intake for 1 week. Let’s put this into full scale. Let’s also track carbs and fats! This seems little trickier because there are two numbers you’re trying to hit. However, you’re really only tracking 1 number, carbs OR fats, not both. If I hit my total calories, total protein, and total carbs, the remaining calories will be my fats. On the other side of that, if I hit total calories, total protein, and total fat, the remaining calories will be my carbs. You can track whichever you want. Personally, I find fats more difficult for me to hit, so I track fats over carbs.

1) Plan your meal & adjust total Calories like week 2.
2) Adjust Protein rich foods to hit your protein total ±5g
3) Adjust foods that are high in fats to hit your total fats ±5g
4) Adjust foods that are high in carbs to hit your total carbs ±5g (this should only be minor adjustments)

If you find that you have a hard time getting ±5g on carbs, vs fats, you can follow the steps above, but set carbs first. Remember that mistakes will happen, and you’ll have off days. You’ll have days where you’re ±10g on a macro.

If you are under on calories on one day, it isn’t a huge issue. Plan your day better next time. However, regularly falling below can be a problem in the long run. Yes, you’ll lose weight, but it then becomes difficult to find out where problems lie when progress stalls because there are a lot of variables that could be to blame. 

Week 4 objectives

1) Plan your meals out a day or two ahead of time
2) Minimize eating out
3) Set carbs or fats first (±5g), don’t try to adjust both at the same time.
4) Hit total calories ±100kcal

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