I talk a lot about macros and a lot (probably 90% of my clients) track or follow a macro prescription. I personally enjoy following a macro prescription.
They work! Plain and simple. They’re a sure, fire way to know how much your eating and the quality of your meals. A balanced macro split ensures your hunger and cravings are managed in a diet and that you’re giving your body the tools and ingredients, if you will, to build muscle via muscle protein synthesis. They’re VERY good at teaching you how to diet flexibly and include foods you typically wouldn’t include in a diet—like pizza, ice cream, and alcohol—in a controlled fashion so that you still see results. For many, they tend to be very empowering and help take back the control around food.
Macros aren't for everyone, either now or honestly never...and that’s okay! People were getting shredded or even just losing weight long before macro counting was a thing.
Why NOT macros?
They are work! It takes effort. You will end up having to play some form of macro-tetris and playing with the amounts of chicken or eggs you’re eating to get your protein intake just right. They generally require some form of pre-logging, usually the day before (at least for my clients) so your day can flow well. They can be triggering and overwhelming, especially for people with prior disordered eating patterns. They’re complicated and it requires a bit of a learning process to get used to counting your macros.
Lastly, and most importantly, they may just not be required YET and results could be achieved before having to dial in macros. This is an important distinction and is something I’ve begun to do recently with newer clients who I’ve recognized just aren’t ready for them and could simply get results FIRST by restructuring meals and starting with a habits-based approach.
Today’s blog is to teach you HOW to get results without diving headfirst into macros. YES, at some point, macros might need to be incorporated (say if you reach a plateau), but this could be MONTHS down the road after tons of practice and progress.
First, let me throw out a couple of quick examples on to whom this could be applied.
Example #1. Suzie. Female. In her 30s. Runs a few days a week. Walks occasionally. Eats mostly fruits and veggies. Occasional eggs or chicken with breakfast or dinner. Follows somewhat of a Paleo diet.
Example #2. Johnnie. Male. In his 40s. Lifts some weights, not super structured. Breakfast and lunches are usually fast food or dining out. Dinner is some dish, usually a casserole or pasta dish. Beer on the weekends.
Example #3. Jane. In her 20s. Struggles with body image. Barely eats enough food (1200-1500 cals if that). Mostly veggies and bars. Runs a lot. Eats ~2 meals/day. Has fears of tracking meticulously. Desperate to see changes though but knows tracking likely will lead to some triggering thoughts.
IF SO, then this blog is for you...because there is SO much you can do without having to even worry about macros, and IF you do have to eventually tie in macros, you’re going to be months down the road in a much better place to worry about it.
These are typically three of the most common types of clients I get and probably are pretty representative of the general population.
Below are the steps that these individuals, and maybe you, should take BEFORE working about full-blown macro tracking.
Step 1. EAT WHOLE FOODS
The first step of any diet, especially that of the classic examples above, is to improve food quality. Especially in the case of Johnnie (example #2), we don’t need to bother with macros. What we need to do is get him out of the habit of eating out, especially at fast food joints, and instead cooking foods, controlling what is going into his body, and learning about food quality.
Aim to eat only foods that grew, ran, swam or flew on this Earth. This includes fruits, veggies, some grains (quinoa and rice), and all lean high quality proteins (chicken, grassfed beef, eggs, fish).
Eat slowly. Chew your food. Your goal is to take 20-30 minutes to eat each meal. Remove distractions. Be present with your food.
Step 2. MEAL FREQUENCY
Most people, especially these 3 classic examples are not eating enough and struggle with cravings and with binges. The solution to that is to EAT MORE and OFTEN. It’s hard to binge when you’re eating 3-5 times/day with foods full of nutrients and calories.
Aim to eat 3-4 meals/day evenly spaced apart with 1-2 snacks. This is usually a usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an optional either mid-morning or mid-afternoon meal and 1-2 snacks. These snacks should consist of only whole foods. I will have my clients in this step use the snacks to get in their 1-2 servings of fruit. Fruits will boost energy, provide good micronutrients, and help satisfy that sweet tooth without having to rely on pure sugar and processed foods. YES fruit is a sugar...but completely different and GOOD.
Step 3. LIFT WEIGHTS AND WALK DAILY
One of the quickest and most effective ways at eliciting change and seeing results, be it building muscle OR losing weight is to implement a good and effective training program. Everyone should be lifting weights. If you missed it in the news, an 82-year-old female bodybuilder beat the crap out of a home invader and sent him to the hospital. She literally hit him over the head with a freaking TABLE! Being strong is a damn good thing, for many reasons.
The other thing to do is to walk daily, aiming to get a minimum of 7-8k steps/day. Walk in the morning, middle of the afternoon as a pick-me-up, and/or at night after dinner. Humans are made to MOVE not to sit. Walking is also a great way at increasing your energy expenditure (i.e. burning more calories) without having to hit the gym. If you’re not quite ready to go a gym or don’t quite have the time yet, then this is a perfect way to start. It burns the calories without creating the stress or inflammation. It’s also great for the mind, as it’s a good time to connect with yourself and with nature and either listen to relaxing music, a motivational podcast or even a guided walking meditation.
Step 4. EAT PROTEIN
Now we’re getting to the fun stuff....and the stuff that is going to make a difference.
Your goal here is to eat protein (whatever serving you would like) at each meal. My recommended amount is roughly the size of your hand. Generally, this equates to 3-5oz protein, which is a great place to start.
This could look like an egg scramble in the morning with some eggs and egg whites, a grilled chicken salad for lunch, Greek yogurt for an afternoon snack, and some grassfed steak for dinner.
Protein is vital. It’s needed for muscle protein synthesis (building muscle), combatting hunger and cravings, improving blood sugar, and essentially every bodily process that goes on in your body. One of the biggest flaws is people’s diets is not enough protein. But! We don’t need to worry about amounts yet. Likely if you’re reading this, all you need is MORE protein...like at every single meal. No need to count protein, yet, until you’re used to just eating it on the regular.
Step 5. EAT VEGGIES
Like step 4, you’re goal should be to eat veggies at every single meal...including breakfast. The reason for this is because veggies provide you the micronutrients needed to survive and thrive. Veggies have a diverse micronutrient profile that give you all the needed vitamins and minerals. They’re also most often underconsumed, so like protein, it’s not a huge deal to track and monitor their carb amounts when you simply just need to eat them.
Veggies are also incredibly satiating and hydrating. This helps manage hunger, while keeping your calorie intake pretty manageable. Veggies are much less calorically dense meaning you can eat a lot more for fewer calories, which is a great way to lose weight. You’re increasing the volume at each meal (keeping you full) but losing weight in the process.
Alright now for the numbers. Now we’re getting into tracking...but again not immediately diving straight into the full-blown macro world.
Step 6. TRACK PROTEIN ONLY
Before, we were eyeballing it. There may come a time where you’ve gotten all you can out of a habits based approach. Likely you’ve been seeing results from Steps 1-5, but ultimately your weight or progress will plateau. From here, often the next step is bringing in macro counting, but by this point you’ve educated yourself on the types of food. You’ve been paying attention and monitoring your diet. You’ve learned that you’re not restricting yourself. You’ve done it all, essentially, which makes adding in macro counting a bit more feasible and manageable.
But we don’t start with all three macros. First, we start with protein. Although Step 4 increased your protein intake, it likely didn’t increase it enough. By tracking just protein, you’ll be able to make any necessary changes there and again reap the benefits.
Step 7. TRACK CALORIES AND PROTEIN
Once Step 6 takes its course, it’s time for calories to be brought in. Yes, all of the steps above are crucial, but ultimately it comes down to calories in, calories out and without factoring them in, you truly can’t know if you’re eating in a deficit, at maintenance or in a surplus and if your goal is to lose weight, then calories consumed must be less than calories expended. If you’re goal is to gain muscle, you need to be consuming more than you’re doing by eating in a surplus.
Here, though, just protein and calories need to be factored in. You still don’t need to worry about all three: protein, fats, and carbs. Yes they’ll make a difference, but again are more stress so just focus and prioritize on calories and protein and let this step work its magic before moving on to the next step.
Step 8. TRACK MACROS
Now you’re ready to track macros. Notice that this is STEP 8...and that 7 steps preceded this. Likely, you may never get to this step, but if you do, it’ll be MUCH easier to factor in and implement in your diet as compared to the start when you also needed to learn protein, veggies, meal frequency, whole foods, exercise, hydration, and more and more and more....THEN was overwhelming. By now, you’re somewhat of a pro and you’ve progressed yourself here to do so.
This step is simply tracking all three macros (protein, fats, and carbs) along with calories. The benefit here is having a prescribed set of macros lets you get a bit more focused and specialized in body composition and performance. Carbs are usually the main source of fuel and help fuel performance and improve body composition, so balancing carbs and fats usually has a decent effect that is worth trying.
How fast you move through these steps is completely up to you. Each step will work in its own unique way. My recommendation is to give at least 2 weeks per step. Some like steps 1-2 don’t need AS much time especially if all you do is eat whole foods. Steps 4 and 5, though might be an adjustment and may need more time. It’s important to note, too, that once you reach a step and move on, you’re keeping that practice in your nutrition. Once you pass through step 1 and onto steps 2 and 3, you’re still prioritizing whole foods. This is why giving each step at least 2 weeks is important, because it reinforces the pattern and turns it into a habit.
Just because you’re not tracking macros doesn’t mean you can’t work with a coach. If you’d like to hire a coach, apply here to get on a call to work with me.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.