Diet to Live, Not to Diet: If It Fits Your Macros; A How to Guide
Today, is the day you take your diet by the horns. YOU should be in control, not the other way around. Too often the word diet is negatively associated with a predetermined way of eating in order to lose weight. While losing weight is great if weight loss is necessary, too often predetermined diet plans restrict a person from eating things that they enjoy and therefore they develop an unhealthy relationship with food by believing that they cannot have something that they enjoy, causing stress. Controlling your diet, should be stress free. Enter Flexible Dieting, also known as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).
IIFYM consists of a person having macronutrient (Macros) goals set for them based on their goal and then eating in order to meet those goals. Macronutrients consist of three things: Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate. By altering the diversity of these three macros, you can alter your body composition. Dieting should be easy, and I’m here to show you how.
To begin, to stave off any naysayers to IIFYM, I say this: All diets, no matter what predetermined way of eating they outline, consist of macros. If a person is losing, maintaining or gaining weight, that means the program they chose has a macro spread conducive to whatever is happening with their body composition. IIFYM is not a free pass to eat complete garbage. While it’s true, a person can consume things that wouldn’t be seen on a ‘clean’ diet and still achieve their body composition goals, eating a diet low in nutrient density can cause other issues altogether. I recommend eating foods that are typically seen as healthy as the majority of a diet, somewhere along the lines of 90 percent healthy food and 10 percent pleasure food split is best to maintain sanity. If you want to eat less healthy but still hit your macros, great. If you want to eat 100 percent clean, great. Both work, one is better for health than the other, but, they both work. End rant.
Alright, now, let’s truly begin.
So you’ve decided you want to take your diet by the horns and actually LIVE your life without constantly thinking about your diet in an unhealthy, stressful way. Awesome!
Step 1: Tracking Your Macros
First, download My Fitness Pal (MFP) on your phone or go to www.myfitnesspal.com and create a free account. Input all of your information and get started! It’s going to give you a calorie and macro goal based on the options you select, but we’re going to ignore that for now and set our own. This app/website will be used to track EVERYTHING you eat and drink, including alcohol. If you don’t put something in, or lie about the amount, you’re only hurting yourself, so, be honest! As a side note, make sure you don’t log your exercise into the app/website and don’t link it to any fitness instruments (Polar watches, fit bits, etc) that you might have. When you enter exercise manually or through a fitness tracker, it gives you extra calories/macronutrients, which most of the time we don’t want.
Step 2: Determining your Macros
Once you’ve created your MFP account, it’s time to figure out our macros.
- Let’s begin with the most important number first; Calories:
Your activity level will determine the amount of calories that your body requires to maintain your current weight. To figure out this number, multiply your body weight by 10-15 (Example: 150 lb person of moderate activity(13) needs 1950 calories to maintain their weight). Often we over estimate how active we really are throughout the day, so be conservative when determining how active you believe you are.
If you’re bulking, add 250-500 calories to this number to gain .5-1lb a week.
If you’re trying to lose weight, subtract 250-500 calories from this number.
A caveat before subtracting or adding calories, though: Try eating at the selected maintenance calories with a good macro ratio to see if you gain or lose weight with that number, just in case the original number was set too low or too high.
- Next, Protein!:
Here’s where most people wouldn’t know where to go because of conflicting information. To make this simple:
– If you’re LOSING weight, you need HIGHER protein than someone who is maintaining or gaining weight. So select a number between .6g and 1.4g of protein per lb of body weight instead of the default .8g/lb. The lower your body weight, the higher that number should be (so someone with low body fat who is trying to get to a lower body fat percentage would need to be closer to 1.4, and someone who is overweight can be closer to .6). The reason for higher protein intake when at a lower body fat percentage is so that dietary protein can be muscle sparing (i.e, when losing weight, your body will try to break down muscle tissue to lower the calories that it needs, so eating more protein will help waylay this happening).
– If you’re GAINING or MAINTAINING weight, your protein doesn’t need to be as high, especially for women. So select a number between .6 and 1.0. If you’re going to be doing heavy endurance workouts, keep the number closer to 1.0 so that you maintain muscle mass.
- Third, Fat:
To determine fat calories, simply multiply your weight by .2-.4 and this will equal the number of grams of fat you require.
Unless you KNOW you’re the type of person who functions better on a high fat diet (or you have a reason to be in ketosis), begin with .2, regardless if you’re gaining, maintaining or losing weight.
Typically, when a person wants to lose weight or as you’re losing weight, it’s ok to begin to inch that number from .2g/lb to .4g/lb. However, monitor your energy levels and mood. If you begin to feel moody or lethargic as you reach or are nearing .4g/lb, lower the number back down.
- Finally, Carbs! Oh delicious Carbs!:
No matter what you hear; Carbohydrates are good for your brain. The higher consumption of carbohydrates has been touted to the reason our brains are evolving to higher thinking. The brain and body readily accepts carbohydrates as energy to be used quickly.
To determine your carbohydrate needs, simply multiply your grams of protein by 4, your grams of fat by 9, add those numbers together, subtract THAT number from your calories to get your total number of calories left for carbohydrates, and then divide that by 4. Should look something like: g/Carbs = 4(Calories – ((g/Protein x 4) + (g/fat x 9))).
Someone who is gaining weight can utilize carbs to help provide the energy necessary to facilitate protein synthesis for muscle building.
Someone who is losing weight can utilize carbs to help waylay muscle protein break down by the body using carbohydrate as energy rather than needing to break down muscle for energy. As you’re losing weight however, most people see the best result by slowly lowering their carb intake and increasing their fat intake while simultaneously lowering calories.
If you’ve gotten this far and are still confused, go to the contact form and set up a session with a trainer for assistance!
Step 3: Editing your MFP
After getting these numbers, it’s time to put them into your MFP. On the app, go to ‘More’ at the bottom of the home page, ‘Goals’, ‘Calories & Macronutrient Goals’ and then edit the calories and percentages until the macronutrients resemble the numbers from the calculator (they will almost never be exact, but as long as they’re close, you’ll be OK). Every 5 lbs or so down or up, repeat steps 2 and 3 to make sure your Macros stay in tune with your body composition.
Step 4: Understanding MFP Macro Goals
Now that you have goals in your MFP, it’s time to actually hit them. Under the nutrition tab on MFP, you will see two views. One is a pie chart, we’re going to ignore this one, and a list view with progress bars (As of the most recent update this is true, it may change in the future). These progress bars will fill up as you reach your goals throughout the day by entering food. The main 3 bars to pay attention to are: Protein, Fat and Carbs. You’ll see at the top 3 columns: total, Goal and Left. At the end of the day, Your total and goal columns should be nearly identical and your left column should say 0 or slightly under 0 (if you’re losing) or slightly over (if you’re bulking). As you enter food throughout the day you will see the bars fill, and that will allow you to know how much of each nutrient you have left to eat for the day. Often times people struggle to initially meet protein goals and typically go far over carbohydrate goals. As you get better at controlling these two categories, you’ll begin to notice changes in the way that you eat and ultimately your body composition.
Step 5: Tips and Tricks
I was going to call this section rules, but hey, rules aren’t fun and there is really only one rule: stay close to your macro goals to ensure success. Protein and Carbs are less calorie dense, so +/- 10 is acceptable whereas fat is more calorie dense, so staying +/- 5 is usually better. Below are some tips and tricks to help you succeed!
– Every 5 lbs up or down, recalculate your macros to keep them consistent with the changes in your body composition. Also recalculate if your goal changes (Going from losing to maintaining or maintaining to gaining, for instance).
– Eating healthier, over time, will serve you better than eating less healthy. Yes, you can have that piece of chocolate cake if it is within your macro goals to do so. Should you every so often? Yeah, that’s fine. Should you every day? No. That’s not good for your overall health. You need to eat things with vitamins and minerals to keep yourself healthy and strong!
– Tracking all of your food the night before or in the morning will always be less time consuming than tracking it each and every meal. If you want to do it every meal, that’s great. Tracking can be tedious, so find a pattern that works best for you and your schedule. A note here though, if you decide to track what you ate throughout the day, at the end of the day, you won’t necessarily know that you hit your goals. Doing it the night before or morning of, keeps you accountable for the rest of the day because you know what you’re able to eat.
– Getting a food scale and/or meal prepping will make this entire process easier.
At the end of the day, choose a plan that works best for you. The way that we eat impacts our health and fitness in a HUGE way; make sure you’re impacting both in a positive manner. As I said earlier, if you have any questions, comments, or requests for future articles, feel free to fill out the contact form. Until next time, get fit, get healthy, and get above the ultimate competition; Yourself.