In Part Three of this guide, we'll cover some of the basics of actually tracking these calories that will make it simple and easy.
I also want to take you one step deeper into this whole weight loss nutrition nonsense and talk about macronutrients.
Don't worry, though - the heavy lifting is almost over :).
Once you get these basics down, you'll never struggle with losing weight or maintaining a healthy body, that is, as long as you apply it!
Remember our little mission statement from Part One:
You are gaining knowledge and learning skills that will allow for effortless weight maintenance for the REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Weight will no longer be an issue, and you can live life without the physical and mental health burdens of being overweight.
The Must-Know of Macros
I chose not to talk about micronutrients in this guide. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are crucial for optimal health, but they don't need to be tracked or counted like calories & macronutrients if your goal is weight loss
Here's my advice: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and consider taking a multivitamin.
Doing this will help lessen the chances of developing deficiencies and keep things running smoothly.
(You can learn more about micronutrients in this article.)
Calories are made up of three (sometimes four) primary macronutrients.
They are Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat, and Alcohol (the fun one).
Each macro corresponds to a specific caloric value:
- Protein = 4 cals per gram
- Carbs = 4 cals per gram
- Fat = 9 cals per gram
- Alcohol = 7 cals per gram
Some weight loss coaches have a strict rule about counting EXACT macronutrient numbers, and for good reason.
It's true; counting macronutrients will always be more accurate than counting calories alone.
The problem is that trying to hit specific macro numbers every day can start to get tedious, and isn't necessary for most people.
I would only recommend it for folks who enjoy tracking or those wanting to get to sub 10% body fat levels.
Trying to adhering to a strict number of carbs, fats, and protein each day isn't practical in most people's busy lives.
Instead, I provide three simple rules for counting macros.
There are only 3 rules, but it's essential that you follow them to the tee to get the most fat loss benefit from your diet.
Rule #1 - Get Adequate Protein
Protein is mainly responsible for repairing cells and tissue in the body.
When dieting, protein intake (along with strength training) will help you retain muscle mass so that the majority of your weight loss comes from fat stores.
This will help you avoid the dreaded "skinny-fat" most folks want to avoid.
Protein is also the most filling of the three macronutrients (I think it's obvious why staying full on a diet is helpful...)
I wrote an article discussing protein in more depth, but for our purposes, just know you should be getting around .64-82g of protein per pound of lean body weight (typically somewhere between 20-30% of your total calories).
Rule #2 - Get Adequate Fat
Fat also plays a major role in our health (particularly in endocrine and hormonal processes).
Fat has been demonized and portrayed as the reason for our weight problems.
Fat doesn't make us fat...eating too many calories does.
Fat just happens to have quite a few calories (about 2x more than carbs and protein per gram, making it easier to overeat).
You do NOT want to completely eliminate fat from your diet.
Removing fat from your diet can create undesirable health problems such as low thyroid, testosterone, and sex drive.
To avoid this, aim to get 20-30% of your calories from fat and try not to go below 15% (unless you have a medical reason to do so).
Rule #3 - Find a Balance
In my experience, I've never seen the total elimination of a food or macronutrient work out well for the user.
A common way people do this is through eliminating carbs entirely.
Biologically, we can function and survive without carbs, but most people are going to have a hard time doing this.
Plus - foods high in micronutrients like vegetables, fruits, potatoes, rice, and grains all contain carbohydrates.
From what I have seen, read, and personally experienced, total elimination of carbs (or any macronutrient) is not sustainable nor enjoyable. Instead, find a healthy balance between your carb, fat, and proteins.
some popular splits include:
The split you choose doesn't really matter. As long as you are abiding by Rule #1 and #2, the exact number of protein, carbs, and fats is up to you and your personal preference.
Tracking Your Calories and Macros
Alright - You've learned all about calories and finding how many you need to lose weight.
You've also learned the basic of macronutrients and why it's important to take a balanced approach towards eating protein, carbs, and fats
Now, you are finally ready to start tracking!
Tracking is actually quite simple, but it's where most people start making mistakes...
They'll do everything right when determining their calories and macros, but then fail to track their intake accurately.
They'll start off eyeballing and estimating portion sizes from the start thinking that it's "close enough."
The problem is that most of us are pretty terrible at estimating portion sizes. In fact, one study found that even nutritional experts struggle with accurately dishing out portion sizes. (study)
If your goal is to lose weight (and lose weight consistently), then you should make it a priority to accurately measure and weigh your food and the best way to do this is to use a food scale or precise measuring cups.
Here's the food scale I use and recommend. You shouldn't spend more than 20-30 bucks on one.
Accurately measuring your food is a must if you're just starting to track calories for weight loss. I even require my online coaching clients to use a food scale to work with me.
When I share this requirement with potential clients, I typically get one of two responses:
- They are excited because they know they are being accurate and don't have to worry about eating too much.
- They change their mind because they think weighing is too complicated, obsessive and time-consuming.
I understand why someone may consider it's overkill to track, but look at it this way:
Isn't following a strict diet protocol where you eliminate a particular type of food or an entire macronutrient ALSO obsessive?
I would even say that it's MORE obsessive than taking a measly 10-15 minutes a day to weigh your food!
Plus, meticulously measuring your food with a food scale doesn't have to be permanent. I only recommend people do it while they lose weight to allow for a reasonable and consistent rate of progress.
Once you reach your desired body weight, being 100% accurate won't be as important.
What's more is that once you reach your goal bodyweight, you'll have weighed and tracked food enough to have a clear understanding of portion sizes and calories.
At that point, estimating your intake will be easier and likely more accurate than if you had never weighed your food in the beginning.
Think of measuring and weighing food like learning to ride a bike.
You had to start off with your mom or dad holding you up...then came the training wheels...
But eventually, you were able to ride by yourself.
And guess what?
You probably still know how to ride a bike - even if you haven't done it in a while.
The same phenomenon happens once you take the time to track food and learn portion sizes.
It will take some time to get used to in the beginning, but once you learn the skill, you'll have it for life.
You won't accidently overeat (if you do, you'll be aware of it!) and you won't accidently gain 20 pounds. If those things do happen, you'll know how to recover before your weight gets out of hand.
Having this knowledge is one of the greatest and most useful things you can do for your long-term health.
Lifelong balance with your weight comes from knowing how food works in the body, what foods provide what macronutrients, and how much food will make you gain or lose weight.
In Part Four, you'll learn tips and actionable advice that makes this "lifelong balance" possible.
Til' next time :).
Click Here to Read Part Four.