I know, I know – we all hate the term [almost as much as we hate the act of]: Food Tracking…
But today I’m going to lay this one to rest. Too many people whine and cry about it.
‘But it’s too much hassle.’ – Really? Grand scheme of things… really!?
‘Well, I’ve never tracked my food, and that’s worked for me just fine!’… Again – really!?
Be honest with yourself – if you’re trying to “lose weight” (drop your *bodyfat percentage* – is how you should be thinking of it!), and if you have “struggled to [do so]” for “so many years”, then uhhh… *That* (not food tracking) has clearly NOT worked for you ‘just fine’ at all!
BOOM – Truth bomb! (Sorry, I know those hurt!)
Alright, cynicism aside, let’s do one of my favourite things to do on this blog: Let’s play Devil’s Advocate! (I would have called this article ‘Playing Devil’s Advocate with Food Tracking’, but the connection to Shark Tank & Dragon’s Den seemed more appropriate).
Anyhow, so… this first part will be slightly more… limited.
What are the “benefits” of NOT Food Tracking?
[Cue staring, unimpressed face, crickets chirping in the background, and tumbleweeds blowing past]…
The slightly more “put yourself in our shoes” answer:
Okay, YES! It is tedious! I concede on that. However, so is filing your taxes, yet we all have to do it. Those who hire an Accountant… Bravo! But that only creates surmounting levels of dependency and increasingly takes away from your own autonomy.
Same goes for Food Tracking – you could have someone else do it for you; look at Celebrities who undergo EPIC transformations – they sure AF aren’t “counting their macros” they have a Nutritionist and/or Trainer do that for them.
Funny thing in my mind is though – that’s a LOT of trust to put in the hands of another individual! Whether we’re talking about Taxes or Food Tracking! In one instance, your Financial Wellbeing is at stake, in the other, your Health & Wellness…
But hey, they’re professionals – they’ve been doing this for years; they’re excellent at what they do, and it takes extra work off your load. Happy days!
I’ll tell you this though – regarding the tediousness – that you only have to drag through the process a few times to get the hang of it. Through practice and repetition, you’ll find that looking up foods, tracking the numbers and reaching your “macro goals” gets easier and easier.
And let’s be honest, most of us like to eat the same kinds of foods week-in, week-out. So really, as long as you’re not going on some “month of discovering a different food every day” or some other quirky quest, you’ll actually come to realize that when you ‘do the math’ [tracking your food] for even just a week or two, you kinda just know what the numbers are going to be.
Of course, then we have the “curve-ball”: Eating Out! Even then, most restaurants now have the Nutritional Info available – some display it on their menus in the restaurant, others have a readily accessibly PDF that you can access from their website.
So, ‘Pro Tip’ on how to manage these [hopefully] not-too-frequent occasions: adjust your calorie-intake for that day! If you’re about to chow down on a meal that’s loaded with 1000 (+)kcal… you might wanna bust out the Rice Crackers for breakfast and lunch!! (I’m totally kidding – do NOT do the Rice Crackers! We’re not rabbits, people!). But in all seriousness, you might do well to stick to lower calorie options throughout the day to create space (in your “calorie budget”) for that big meal!
Say your goal is to stick to 1600kcal per day (this low a number would be for someone trying to shed some lbs!)… You’ve looked up what you’re gonna eat ahead of time (am I the only one who does this!? I swear – anytime I know that I’ve got plans to go out and eat with friends or family, I look up the restaurant, check out their menu [and Nutrition Info for it], and I’ve already made up my mind before I walk through the door!)…
Let’s use that ‘1000kcal’ as an example (in America, I’ve found this is somewhat average – tragically enough!). So, you have 600kcal as your limit for the rest of the day. Best bet? A 300kcal breakfast, and a 300kcal lunch. Now, that’s not much… but it WILL help you to stay as close to within your calorie “budget” as possible!
Bonus ‘Pro Tip’: get in a big-a$$ workout at the gym ahead of time! Heck, as I like to say – ‘Earn it!!’ If you go to the gym for an hour or two and burn an additional 700+kcal, then you’re creating a greater deficit, thus allowing a little extra “wiggle room” for those extra calories later on.
HOWEVER, you shouldn’t be doing this (eating out) regularly! – I’m relieved to see that there’s been a move [in recent years] towards helping people ‘eat in’; look at Hello Fresh! (for example) – giving YOU all the ingredients to make a restaurant-worthy dish at home (and for a fraction of the price!).
But okay, so how is Food Tracking like Shark Tank & Dragon’s Den…
First off – just to be clear – they’re the exact same show; it’s just that Dragon’s Den is the original (from the UK), and Shark Tank is the U.S. version that came later.
If you’ve never heard of either, then here’s the rub: Entrepreneurs go onto this show and present their businesses / business ideas / inventions to a panel of wealthy (often well-known) millionaire investors.
Mark Cuban is perhaps the most famous of “The Sharks”, and Duncan Bannatyne is [debatably] the most well-known “Dragon”.
If the Entrepreneurs can win over the Investors, they’ll secure massive amounts of cash as well as the epic influence and connections that come with their Investor.
Fact is, the ONLY brave souls who enter the Tank/Den and actually receive the investments are the ones who *know their numbers*!!
If they can’t readily reel off their P-‘n’-L’s (Profits and Losses), Previous Year’s Earnings, Forecast for the Coming Year, and other *crucial* data… They will be shunned by the Investors almost straight away!
So, the successful Entrepreneurs know their Cash Flow, their Income & Expenses, their Assets & Liabilities. They know how much is spent on R&D (Research & Development), how much is needed for Marketing. The numbers are vital to the longevity of their business.
In much the same way, it is important to know YOUR numbers when it comes to your *Nutrition*!!
How many Calories does your body require? More importantly [on that note], what’s your goal!? Because THAT is going to truly determine whether you need to adjust your caloric intake (in order to loss weight, gain weight or maintain your current weight).
What are your Protein requirements? How many grams of Carbs do you need? How much Fat is right for you? Without these numbers, you’re just shooting in the dark and hoping to hit your mark…
It comes down to investing the money to buy food that is healthy and supplying you with the Nutrients your body NEEDS (from Macros to Micros); and you also have to invest the time to calculate how to hit “your Macros”.
Truth Bomb #1: You gotta strap in and get comfortable with reading Nutrition Labels.
Truth Bomb #2: You gotta LOG what you’re eating! (And be *honest* about it!).
Truth Bomb #3: It WILL get easier with just a couple of weeks of due diligence! You’ll hit your stride and it will just become a simple task (and less laborious to boot!).
Now, if you haven’t already, I would recommend reading the following articles that will help you get a better idea of your Caloric Needs, Protein Requirements and Understanding Carbs:
These are going to help you determine what your personal numbers should look like. Then it’s just a simple math game of adding foods to your meals that help you achieve those numbers.
(In case you’re wondering – a) I haven’t written ‘Playing Devil’s Advocate with Fat’ yet, and b) to be fair, once you have “cracked the code” with Calories / Protein / Carbs, it is very simple to fill in the gaps).
I know, you’re probably wanting an example, right?
So, I’m 5’10”, 180lbs, pretty damn active (as a Trainer). My Basal Metabolic Rate is [approx.] 1800kcal, with Thermic Effect of Food at about 200kcal, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis also being roughly 200kcal, and *my* Thermic Effect of Activity ranging between 500-1500kcal (depending on whether I do a workout or not).
Therefore, on “Active Days” I’m burning up to 3700kcal, and on “Rest Days” I’m burning between 2200-2700kcal (basically depending on how much walking I get in that day – if I’m walking, I usually ring up around 3-4miles per day [encumbered / load-bearing], thus yielding roughly an extra 500kcal burn – I’ve worn a Heart Rate Monitor [that provides calorie-burn readings] to verify this, but those are MY results – you might burn a slightly different amount).
My goal is to *maintain* my weight…
As a result, I aim to consume up to 3700kcal on my *Active Days*. But if it’s a Rest Day… I’ve gotta keep it in the low 2000’s for sure!
My protein requirements are up to 180g per day. I like to get in 1g per lb of bodyweight – this is what I recommend in Playing Devil’s Advocate with Protein; however, for most people, even 1g per lb of Lean Body Mass is suffice. (So, if you’re 20% Body Fat, you would calculate 80% of your total bodyweight, and aim to consume that much [in grams of] Protein).
As for Carbs and Fat…
I’ve played around with these two before, and ultimately, my body responds best to an equal amount of each! So, if I’m getting in 180g Protein, that’s 720kcal. Therefore, whatever the remaining calorie goal is, I’ll split evenly between Carbs & Fat. Therefore, let’s say I’ve had a Rest Day with a lot of walking (approx. 2700kcal in total)… I’ll then aim to get 990kcal from Carbs (248g) and 990kcal from Fat (110g).
So, the four most crucial numbers that I have to hit are:
Calories – 2700kcal (the sum total coming from Protein / Carbs / Fat)
Protein – 180g (720kcal)
Carbs – 248g (990kcal)
Fat – 110g (990kcal)
From there, I just have to add up the Calories / Protein / Carbs / Fat that I find on the Nutrition Labels of my food. There are several numbers on those labels (inc. Sodium and Fiber, for example)… You can get away with only paying [the most] attention to just these FOUR!
Another “Pro Tip”: As if there aren’t enough good reasons to buy natural, UN-processed food… fact is, the preservative-laden, plastic-wrapped, processed-beyond-recognition foods out there that people like to eat so much often have Nutrition Labels that *under-report* the numbers by as much as 10-15%!! So, if you can ‘clean up’ your Diet with NATURAL food, you’re going to stand a better chance of having infinitely more accurate Nutrition Labelling.
Anyhow, that’s all I wanted to touch on today. Just how absolutely fundamental it is to know YOUR numbers! So, *please* go and read those other articles, and figure out what *you* need. Then just try Food Tracking for a couple of weeks! Because you seriously can’t guarantee yourself results when you have zero clue as to how many calories you’re consuming, and how many you’re burning; or when you’re nowhere near getting enough Protein in, and your Carb/Fat intake is out of whack.
Do the math, guys! It’s not hard. Just a tad tedious [in the beginning]. I promise you it doesn’t take long to quickly become a habit that is [eventually] effortless. Once you dial in the numbers, you’re going to see better results.
Invest in yourself. Invest in your health. It will pay off dividends in the end.
I’ll catch you next time, but until then, remember: Eat healthy, and eat smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO