Tired of constantly punching numbers into your food log app to make sure you hit your macro goals for the day? Does planning out what you’re going to eat everyday to make sure you don’t go over your calorie limit stress you out? You’re not alone. I see you. There’s got to be more to life than counting calories and obsessing over your next meal. You still want to look and feel sexy, but you want to be able to enjoy your life too. You’re tired of saying no to foods you love. You are not defined by the number of calories you eat a day. There has to be a better way.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for tracking calories and macros. If you are a beginner and have absolutely no idea what a balanced day looks like or how much food your taking in, tracking could be very useful. It can be a great educational tool to get an idea of what it looks like to balance your carbs, fats, and proteins in a day. I’m not saying it doesn’t work because it does. But it’s not meant to be something you do forever.
If you’re an athlete preparing for a competition, tracking is necessary to ensure that you are meeting nutritional requirements and fueling your body properly. When I am preparing for a fight and trying to cut down to a particular weight, I closely monitor my macro-nutrient intake. If you have special dietary needs like being a diabetic, you have to track your carbohydrates more closely than the normal person.
These are the exceptions. If you are a normal person that just wants to be strong, have endurance, feel confident, fuel your body, but still enjoy food and enjoy life, then there is no need to track your calories and macros. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life counting every meal? How many times have you met your calorie goal for the day, but you’re still hungry? Tracking obsessively teaches us to ignore our body’s natural cues such as hunger and fullness. We get so hung up on the numbers that we don’t even listen to what our body is trying to tell us and we stop enjoying what we’re eating. If you find yourself constantly obsessing about food and being stressed over the numbers, it’s time to stop the tracking and find a better path.
If you’re ready to stop tracking, let go a little bit, and start eating intuitively, here are some steps to help you get there.
- Delete your food log app or get rid of your food journal. If this gives you anxiety and stresses you out, I understand. How will you know what to eat?!? Don’t worry, you won’t get fat, you will survive, and the world will continue to turn. You can do this. If you have been tracking for a while or have done it in the past, you have a good idea of serving sizes and what nutritious eating looks like. You’re past the point of needing to log everything. So, take a couple deep breaths, open your phone, delete the app, and feel a weight being lifted off your shoulders. Give yourself permission to let it go and trust your intuition.
- Learn to listen to your body’s internal cues like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. If you are hungry, not bored or emotional, but actually hungry, that is your body’s way of telling you it needs nutrients. You should never deprive yourself of food when you are hungry. When choosing what foods to eat, think about what your body is craving. What is it telling you it needs and/or wants? Normally, you might want a burger, but tell yourself to eat a salad instead. Stop that. Eat the burger. Pay attention to your fullness level and stop when you are satisfied and have had enough. People make the mistake of restricting themselves too much which in turn causes them to binge and overeat when they finally give in to their cravings. That leads them to feeling terrible about themselves and going back to restriction and the cycle repeats itself. Instead, give yourself permission to eat the foods you want without guilt and you won’t feel the need to overdo it. This is not me saying “Eat junk food all the time if you want!”. Sometimes your body needs nutritious foods and it will crave vegetables, fruits, and lean meat. Sometimes your body needs ice cream, too. It’s about learning what your body needs and not restricting it from that. It’s also not forcing yourself to eat foods you hate just because they are deemed “healthy”. Eat foods for nourishment AND pleasure.
- Focus on balance. When preparing a nutritious meal, it’s pretty simple to make sure you stay balanced and are giving yourself enough fuel. Start with a serving of lean protein such as chicken, fish, or turkey. Then add a serving of a starchy complex carbohydrate and a fruit or veggie such as some whole wheat pasta with tomatoes and mushrooms. Add a serving of healthy fat such as feta cheese, olive oil, avocados, or peanut butter. Then add some seasonings to add flavor and bring everything together. If you focus on adding nutrient dense food to your meals, everything will balance itself out. If you ate a lot of fat and carbs early in the day, then try to eat some lean protein later in the day. Sometimes your body might be craving Mexican food, so you go out for Mexican and you order exactly what you want, enjoy some chips and salsa, and you eat until your full and satisfied. The next day, listen to what your body tells you. There is no need to punish yourself with rigorous exercise or starving yourself the next day. If you feel less hungry the next morning, maybe delay your first meal until you feel ready. Typically, when I enjoy a night out, the next day, my body craves veggies and fruit to balance what I ate the day before. There are no rules except listen to your body.
It may be a hard concept to understand because for so long, we’ve ignored what our body is telling us and instead followed meal plans, macro guides, and diet rules that are unnecessary. It will take time to learn what your body is telling you and how to give it what it needs without apology. Food is meant for nourishment and enjoyment and we have to relearn how to find the balance between the two. Go through these steps, stop obsessing over numbers, and trust your intuition. It will get easier over time until eventually, you’ll go out to eat and won’t even glance at the calorie count on the menu. You’ll be able to pick exactly what you want and enjoy it to the fullest.