It’s not exactly a secret that most people aren’t willing to try calorie and macro tracking, but I don’t think it’s because they don’t believe it will work. Rather, I think it’s because they think it would take way too much effort, far beyond what’s practical or feasible.
I can certainly understand this viewpoint – the first time I tried calorie and macro tracking I gave up on it after a few days because it seemed utterly overwhelming. I think a lot of people have a similar initial experience, even those who, like me, eventually got it down and succeeded with it.
Regarding my own success, here is the most important thing I’ve realized: Tracking calories and macros is ultimately a skill, something that, like any other skill, can be improved at over time with practice and thought. A specific aspect of this skill that I’ve figure out is how to make tracking a much simpler and easier process than most people think it is, or that I initially thought it was. Anyone else can do the same.
This post is a list of general tips on ways that I’ve learned how to make tracking no more difficult than it needs to be. Hopefully by reading this you can save yourself some of the trial and error I had to undergo in figuring this out on my own.
Tip #1: You merely need to aim for ranges, not exact targets
I think one of the biggest hurdles with counting and tracking is that people get overwhelmed with trying to fit their daily food intake to exact calorie or macronutrient targets.
But you don’t need to do that – the primarily important thing for weight loss is an overall calorie deficit over the long run to the tune of about 20%. Maybe you’re at 10% today, 22% tomorrow, 17% the next day, etc., but as long as you hit that ~20% deficit on average over the long run, you’ll steadily lose weight. It’s exactly like the stock market: as long as the long-run trend line is slowly moving in the right direction, the day to day variance doesn’t matter.
Don’t try to hit an *exact* calorie target each day, just try to get within a range with a reasonable differential of like +/-100 or so calories.
The same applies to macronutrients – you don’t need exactly X grams of protein per day or else your fat loss will stall or your muscles will fall off. You need an ideal minimum of around .6-.8g per lb of bodyweight of protein, so just try to hit that threshold as much as you can, and realize that the occasional day of low protein isn’t going to make a noticeable difference. With regards to carbs and fats, remember that the individual amounts of either don’t make a difference towards fat loss if calories are controlled for. I would honestly shoot for just moderate amounts of both and, as long as you’re within your target calorie range, call it a day. No need to make it any more complicated than that.
When you have the room of ranges as opposed to exact targets, it’s a lot easier to fit your food to your targets.
Read this article to learn how to calculate your appropriate ranges, by the way.
Tip #2: Just try to get close enough to the truth, not exactly on it
As long as you’re within 10% or so of the “truth,” that’s close enough to progress (again, the same analogy of the stock market applies). This makes logging and tracking food so, so much simpler and easier.
Don’t weigh an egg or an apple or whatever when you eat it, just call it 80 or so calories and realize that a year’s worth of eggs or apples or whatever will pretty much even out to that assumed average.
There’s a breakfast burrito that my local store sells that I love. I’m not exactly sure how many calories it has, but I know it’s roughly the same size and contents of a popular fast food chain version of it, so I just log that item instead and call it close enough, because it is.
Guesstimating with sufficient accuracy does take some practice and experience, but it absolutely can be done effectively.
Tip #3: Utilize “recipes” (and any other useful functions) with a tracking app
Repetition, as unsexy as it is, certainly begets success with weight loss and general health and fitness. Indeed, many people realize that mostly eating the same stuff makes tracking a lot easier, and you can utilize the “recipe” function of any popular tracking app (my choice is Cronometer by the way) to make this all the more easy.
For example, one of my old go-to’s at lunch hour was Chipotle. I’d always get the same thing, which I pre-programmed into my calorie app as a recipe:
Many popular chain restaurants have their nutrition facts online, so you can reconcile those with your recipe and make sure that it’s sufficiently close enough to the truth. And then? Tracking my lunch’s calories and macros literally takes a single click.
If you have a choice meal that you eat with some degree of frequency, you can utilize the power of the calorie apps to streamline the logging and tracking of it.
Tip #4: Have a plan for restaurants, family dinners, or other such times when you don’t know exactly what’s in your food
The uninitiated person might think that restaurants or family dinners are off limits when tracking, because you don’t always know exactly what’s in the food you get. Almost nobody is willing to completely sacrifice eating out – understandably so of course – thus they’re not going to consider tracking as a strategy if they think it completely forbids that.
But remember the rule of “just close enough, not deadpan accurate,” and think about how it can be reasonably applied to the big picture: If you diligently track 90% of the time, then eat a restaurant meal, say, once a week, do you think you’ll still be close enough to that overall ~20% deficit for the week? Of course you will, especially if you try your best eat the right amount of calories/macros by feel, which is yet another thing you’ll get better at with practice and experience.
Read this article for an exact break down of how I personally log and track restaurant meals – you’ll likely be surprised at how easy it can be.
These are just a few key tips that I’ve thought of for now, but chances are I’ll update and improve this post over time, because making calorie and macro tracking practically easy enough is an incredibly important yet very underdiscussed topic in health and fitness.