You’re leaner than most of the people you know.
You’ve been counting your macronutrient intake for months, even years, and it’s paid off.
Thanks to flexible dieting, you’ve been able to include treats in your diet while getting leaner. This time, losing fat hasn’t been that bad.
But you’re tired of tracking your macros and weighing your food. Now you’re ready to maintain your new body, and you’d like to try a more relaxed approach.
Why You Should Take A Break from Counting Calories and Macronutrients
Counting macros is the most effective method for losing fat. It works. But that doesn’t mean you need to do it forever to stay lean.
After a while, counting macros can cause some problems.
1. It can be hard to eat when you’re hungry, and stop eating when you’re full.
If you do it long enough, or in a highly restrictive way, counting calories can create a disconnect between your hunger levels and how much you feel its okay to eat.
In other words, you start to pay more attention to your macro targets than your own hunger levels.
2. It can be socially restrictive.
There are ways to make counting macros work in social settings, but it’s not always easy.
Parties can be stressful when you’re thinking, “how am I going to track all this?” the entire time.
It can also be frustrating to always think about macros before you order food at restaurant when you’re with friends. Tracking macros also makes traveling more complicated, especially if you’re with other people.
3. It can encourage obsessive thoughts about food.
This is one of the best reasons not to count calories year round — it makes you think more about food.
When you know that your calorie intake is dropping throughout the day, you’re going to think about them more. It’s the same reason humans value any scarce resource.
4. It’ not necessary forever, for most people.
The goal of dieting is to find a system that’s easy for you to maintain and enjoy, while giving you the results you want.
Calories always count, and macronutrients always matter, but you don’t have to micromanage them for the rest of your life.
When many people get tired of tracking their macros, they stop thinking about their diet at all.
A better solution is to gradually add more flexibility to your diet, so you can find the right balance of precision and freedom.
Think of what follows as a gradient. The more steps you take, the more flexible your diet will become. You don’t have to use all of these steps, so go down the list and find what level of flexibility you want.
Step 1: Stop weighing your food.
If you’ve been tracking your diet for a while, you’ll know roughly how many calories are in your portions. You’ve also probably been eating the same foods for a while.
At this point, you can get close to your calorie and macronutrient goals by eyeballing your serving sizes. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to do it, practice a few days first.
Before you put something on your scale, guess how much it weighs first. I bet you’ll find that you’re more accurate than you think.
Step 2: Stop counting low-calorie vegetables.
Vegetables like spinach, kale, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini have so few calories it’s usually not worth tracking them. It’s almost impossible to eat enough calories from spinach to make any difference in your physique.
Thees foods are also high in fiber and water, so they tend to keep you more full than other foods.
At this point, you should keep tracking anything you put on them like butter, dressing, etc.
Step 3: Stop counting fresh fruit.
Next to vegetables, fruit is the second lowest calorie food.
Things like like strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, oranges and grapes generally don’t have more than 50-100 calories per serving. They’re also very filling and high in nutrients.
Some foods, like bananas, plantains and mango are higher in calories, so keep tracking those for now. Also, dried fruit is much higher in calories and sugar than fresh fruit, so keep tracking that, too.
Step 4: Stop counting starches.
Foods high in starch tend to be very filling and relatively low in calories.
Sweet potatoes, potatoes, bananas, rice and oatmeal are all high in fiber and water. They’re also low in palatability, which research has shown makes them more satisfying.
Starches are higher in calories than fruits or vegetables, but they’re harder to overeat.
Step 5: Stop counting carbohydrates.
Now you can stop counting all forms of carbohydrate, including cereal, sugar, sports drinks, etc. If you’re eating a healthy diet, then you shouldn’t be getting a ton of calories from those foods anyway.
If you’re eating a large amount of processed carbohydrates, you may need to cut back for this to work.
Step 6: Stop counting fat.
Fat is generally easier to overeat than carbohydrate or protein.
It’s higher in calories and, depending on the form, less satiating. It has 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrate only have about 4 calories per gram.
That said, once you’re used to eating a certain diet, it’s okay to stop tracking fat. You’ll probably keep eating about the same amount as you did before.
Step 7: Stop counting protein.
The main reason you should count protein is because most people don’t eat enough. This lack of protein makes you hungry and increases your chances of filling up on excess calories from fat and carbs.
Not eating enough protein also increases your risk of losing muscle while dieting. But once you’re in the habit of eating enough protein, you generally don’t need to keep tracking every gram.
Step 8: Stop counting calories.
Keep eyeballing portions and writing down your food intake, but don’t add up your calorie totals throughout the day.
If you want to keep setting calorie and macronutrient targets for each meal, that’s fine, but not required.
Step 9: Stop keeping any food records.
This is the final step — you stop keeping a food journal of any kind. No writing, updating your food log or anything.
It’s still a good idea to eyeball your proton sizes and have some macronutrient targets set for each meal, but you can do that in your head.
But, what happens if your weight starts creeping up after using a more flexible approach?
Consider performing intermittent “tracking audits.”
Every 6-12 weeks, it’s a good idea to weigh and measure your food for 2-3 days.
Your tastes may change, you might start eating different foods, and you may not have any clue how many calories they contain.
It’s easy to let your portion sizes slowly rise over time.
You may accidentally start eating less protein and fiber and more carbs and fat.
You may have new goals which require more or fewer calories.
All you have to do is keep eating normally and weigh, measure, and track all of your food for 2-3 days. Then if necessary, you can make small adjustments to your diet.
Calorie counting works, except when it doesn’t.
I love counting calories and macros. I’m an extremely analytical, numbers-oriented person.
By counting macros, I’ve gotten great results, as have many of other people.
But counting macros isn’t always necessary or helpful. Once you’ve been doing it a while, it’s a good idea to try more flexible methods.
You can always go back to tracking if you want.