As you may have heard, your diet is going to play a very meaningful role in your ability to lose fat, build muscle or make whatever other improvements you’re looking to make to your body.
And in that “diet” category – at the very top of the list – is your total calorie, protein, fat and carb intake each day.
No, these aren’t the only dietary factors that you need to care about. There are other factors that will play important roles in your results and overall health in general. However, above all else, your total daily calorie and macronutrient intake is going to play the largest role of all. By far. Times infinity. Plus one.
And it’s when you finally come to understand this fact that you begin to see the very specific task that lies ahead: you’re going to need to closely monitor what you eat.
That’s right. You have to count calories. You have to count grams of protein, fat and carbs. You have to weigh/measure the foods you eat. You have to consistently track your diet each and every day.
And it’s when you finally come to understand this (and/or actually begin to do it) that one very common thought comes to mind: “ughhh, this is a huge pain in the ass!”
And from there, two questions will typically arise:
- Do I have to do this for the rest of my life? As in, do you have to count calories and macronutrients, weigh your foods and closely track your diet every single day forever? Even after your goals are reached and you just want to maintain?
- Do I really have to do this in the first place? As in, is all of this counting, weighing, measuring and tracking stuff REALLY necessary for reaching your goals?
Well, the way I see it… you have 4 possible options.
1. You Can Count Something Else Instead
I’ll admit this up front… this option is almost definitely NOT going to be what you’re looking for. Rather, it’s mostly just a semantic technicality.
For example, instead of “counting calories,” you can simply ignore calories and only “count macronutrients” instead.
Why? Because your macronutrient intake (protein, fat, carbs) will initially be calculated based on what your daily calorie intake needs to be to support your goals. Which means that when you eat the correct total amounts of protein, fat and carbs each day, you’re going to end up eating the correct total amount of calories as a side effect of that.
Let’s say you’re aiming for a diet of 2000 calories with the following macros:
200 + 165 = 365. 365×4 = 1,460 calories
60×9 = 540 calories
1,460 + 540 = 2000 calories
So when I am tracking, I simply set my total calories, and then determine the macro composition. Once I know that – all I focus on is meeting the macro requirements.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with approaching your diet this way. Calories still matter just the same, and you still need to figure out how many calories you need to eat just the same, and you still need to figure out what your macronutrient intake needs to be based on that calorie intake just the same.
But, once you do that, you technically only need to count macronutrients if you prefer it that way.
There’s just one small problem. You’re still counting, weighing, measuring and tracking. This doesn’t eliminate that task. So you’ve maybe eliminated “daily calorie counting” but the virtually identical process of “daily macronutrient counting” is still required. Which means the original pain-in-the-ass aspect of having to closely monitor your diet every day is still present.
A second example of something else you can count is “points” using a diet like Weight Watchers. They have their users count points rather than calories and/or macronutrients.
But again, the same problem still exists. You’re still left counting something every single day and closely monitoring what you eat. That task remains yet again.
On a slightly off-topic note, there’s an unrelated problem in this specific example because Weight Watchers employs the lovely concept of “free foods.” As in, foods (apparently magical ones… typically fruits and vegetables) that you can eat an unlimited amount of because they’ve been assigned no point value whatsoever.
If I could be so douchey as to quote myself on this topic…
If your weight loss diet has “free” foods that you’re allowed to “eat unlimited amounts of” and “don’t have to count,” then please allow me to bring to your attention the fact that your weight loss diet is fucking stupid.
For clear evidence supporting this statement, look no further than this real world example.
So yeah, while there are other things you can count besides calories, you still have to count something.
2. You Can Follow A Fad Diet… And Hope For The Best
Now here’s what you’re really looking for. A diet that will flat out claim that “calories don’t matter” and/or “you don’t have to count anything as long as you [insert some special way of eating here].”
The best way to categorize these types of diets is by referring to them as fad diets. In this context, I’ll define that as any diet that doesn’t directly have you figure out what your calorie intake needs to be AND THEN have you directly set out to meet those needs.
What you’ll find here instead are diets that place a bunch of rules and restrictions on the way you eat with the intention being that these rules and restrictions will be enough to indirectly cause your calorie intake to be what it needs to be without actually making you directly do that. (All of course while claiming it was their “special way” of eating – not calories – that caused everything good to happen.)
You know the types of diets I’m referring to. The ones that say “eat these good/clean/magic foods” and “avoid these bad/dirty/evil foods.” Or “eat only at these times and avoid eating at these times.” Or whatever else. And that as long as you do these things, you’ll lose fat or whatever else the diet is designed for making happen. No need to count or track or care about calories at all.
Now, does this sort of thing ever work?
I mean, if you restrict enough of the stuff that people commonly eat (carbs, fat, grains, wheat, meat, sugar, “dirty” foods, gluten, foods that cavemen didn’t eat, etc.), it’s going to make it much harder for someone to eat more calories than they’re supposed to be eating.
However, just because something is “harder” to make happen doesn’t mean it’s still not going to happen. And therein lies the problem.
Because with diets like this, whenever you end up eating the amount of calories/macronutrients you ideally should be… it’s really just a matter of blind luck. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t. Cross your fingers and hope for the best, I guess?
But if you just figure out how much you need to be eating, and then track your diet closely enough to ensure that you eat those amounts, the need for luck goes out the window. Now you’re just directly doing the thing you need to do AND making sure you do it.
The bonus in this case is that all of those (often completely pointless) rules and restrictions that fad diets typically require are gone, and they’ve been replaced by simply getting the total amount of calories/macronutrients you need each day from a nice balance of (primarily) higher quality foods that you truly enjoy eating.
3. You Can Be Less Strict About It… And Hope For The Best
So on one hand, you can carefully weigh out everything you eat and closely track the nutritional content of every single food… every day… for the rest of your life.
Or, you can maybe take it down a notch. Or two notches. Or ten notches.
So maybe you can “eyeball” things more often. Take more guesses. Do more estimating. Stop eating when you’re full. Make smarter decisions with your food choices. Use better judgement with your portion sizes. Use a combination of pictures, mirrors, tape measures and the scale to let you know when it’s time to “adjust” a bit. Or do 100 other similar things that on paper will ideally allow you to be some degree less strict about tracking your diet while STILL allowing you to reach your goals and/or maintain them after they’ve been reached.
Sounds pretty good, right?
The only problem is that what works on paper doesn’t always work in the real world. At least, not for everyone.
You see, more often than not, these varying degrees of “less strict” diet tracking are exactly what prevents a very significant portion of the population from reaching (and eventually maintaining) their goals.
Why? Because it’s just WAAAAAAY too easy to screw up.
In fact, it’s so easy to screw up that it’s one of the main reasons why people end up in a position where they need to start closely tracking their diet in the first place.
Want an example? Okay. This old (yet forever-relevant) video from Leigh Peele should do:
And this is only showing you the difference between weighing foods on a scale vs using measuring cups/spoons. Now imagine how much the degree of potential screw-up difference would be if you remove the measuring cups/spoons and just “eyeball” it? Or take your best guess? Or estimate? Or just try to use “better judgement” and make “smarter decisions” or countless other less-strict dietary approaches?
How do you envision that working out for you?
If you’re like most people, the answer is horribly.
And this is equally true both for people who are looking to eat less for the purpose of losing fat and those who are looking to eat more for the purpose of gaining muscle (without gaining fat). If you’re not closely tracking your diet, the odds are strongly against you.
Now that doesn’t mean that every single person reading this will need to be super obsessive about every little detail of their diet for the rest of their lives. Some people certainly will (like it or not, some people permanently require the highest level of strictness possible to keep themselves/their diet in check), but plenty of others will gradually be able to take things down a notch or two without anything bad happening. I put myself in that category, although I will note that it took me years of practice to get there.
4. You Can Continue To Track Everything For The Rest Of Your Life
Here’s something funny.
You know who asks this question the most? Do you know who is most concerned with and annoyed by the possibility of having to track what they eat for the rest of their lives?
People who literally just started doing it.
I’m talking about people who are a few weeks (sometimes just days) into tracking their diet and closely counting/weighing everything for the very first time.
You know why that’s funny? Because every new habit is going to be at its hardest and most annoying when you first try to implement it.
And I’ll admit, when you make that initial transition from just eating whatever the hell you feel like eating with no regard for nutritional content (which was pretty fun as best as I can remember it… except for the fact that I looked/felt like crap), it DOES seem like a huge pain in the ass.
Let’s face it, it’s just this annoying “time consuming” extra step that has now become a part of your daily life. I remember that feeling well (and this was back in the early 2000’s when there was no fancy app on my phone… it was just a pen, paper and a calculator, or maybe an Excel spreadsheet).
And I remember thinking “seriously, am I really going to still be doing this 10 years from now?”
Well, it’s been 10+ years since then and here’s what I can tell you.
It gets easier. Much easier. And much less annoying and time consuming. It also becomes pretty routine. Like brushing your teeth or showering. And it honestly doesn’t take much longer than these types of normal daily tasks. It just sort of blends right in with them. And the addition of a fancy app on your phone makes it laughably easy.
Which is all my way of saying relax and give it some time. However horrible it seems now, it will seem a whole lot less horrible at this time next month. And again the month after that. And again the month after that. And even more so the year after that.
Plus, when you see this task become directly responsible for you getting the results you want, you’ll start to feel like the world’s biggest idiot for ever making such a big deal about having to do it in the first place.
“Ughhh, do I really have to keep doing the thing that is allowing me to reach my goals?!?!”
Yeah buddy, you kinda do.