- Counting macros is the by far the best way I’ve found to help people lose weight
- Being 100% accurate is not the point, being consistent is.
- Getting the serving size right is the most important piece of tracking
Counting macros, food logging or whatever else you call it is by far the best way I’ve found to help online coaching clients lose weight.
Sure diets like Keto can work in the short term but mostly everyone slides back to their normal way of eating and pack all the pounds back on they just lost. Because honestly how long can you go without carbs?
I lasted an hour…OK I lasted a month but I haven’t been able to look at bacon or avocados the same since.
You need a way to diet long term so you aren’t gaining and losing the same 10 pounds every year.
And this is where counting macos comes into play. Counting macros is not a “diet” with a predetermined acceptable food list and a list of eat-this-and-you’ll-die-of-dysentery foods. It’s a way of managing your calories and macros with the foods you enjoy.
Because let’s be honest here, eventually you’re going to want to go off script every once in a while when you’re dieting and you prob don’t want to feel like a piece of shit when you do. Counting macros allows you to do this while still maintaining progress as long as you stay within your targets.
Plus, we’ve all hit that point in a diet where you feel like you’re killin it and the scale just isn’t moving, myself included. Then what do you do?
Do more cardio?
Take out white bread?
Do you drop calories more?
This is another area where counting macros comes into play. You have a log of all the foods you eat, in what quantity and you have a calorie total so you can figure out your next steps and keep the weight loss going.
Take one of my online coaching clients, Robert for example. His weight had plateaued last summer (Weeks 7-10) then he made the effort to get more accurate with his counting and that plateau disappeared.
But to do that, you need to be accurate in your tracking.
And sometimes that can be intimidating if you’ve never done it or you tried it without guidance. Lucky for you I am a self proclaimed MyFitnessPal expert….It’s not a big deal really.
If you can be accurate in your tracking you’ll have everything you need to crush your next dieting phase.
The Case for Counting Macros
There’s a lot of haters out there poo-poo’ing on counting macros. The biggest one I’ve seen is they say it’s inaccurate.
And I partially agree with this.
If you are looking for exact numbers on exactly how many calories are in your food, that’s a fool’s errand. Without using a bomb calorimeter on all your food everytime you won’t know with 100% certainty that chicken breast is exactly 200 calories.
When it comes to counting macros there are a few variables that need to be talked about to get the most accurate results.
The food label +You = your calories
There’s always some error in the food labels. If you ever figured out the calories of a food by adding up the calories of the protein, carbs and fats there’s always some error there. As American’s we only like to see calorie amounts that end in zero for some reason. To lessen the margin of error, focus on the macros on the label rather than the calories.
The second part is your accuracy and the point of the rest of this article.
IF these two variables are as accurate as you can make them then rest assured you are pretty damn close to the actual calorie amount.
But being 100% accurate isn’t the point.
With counting macros you find a baseline plus you have a running log of what you ate to see what you can improve on (food quality, food accuracy, calories over time).
This is the difference between being blind folded and pointed towards the target or blind folded and spun around and being told to hit a target. While it might not be 100% accurate you’ll at least have a direction and some consistency while tracking to make the right changes needed to keep weight loss going.
This consistency will allow you to make small changes that yield big results.
Where People Go Wrong With Counting Macros
Let’s take a fictional character, John, that may or may not be completely based on me when I first started counting macros back in the day. John is heading to Five Guys for a Regular Cheeseburger and Regular Fries.
John goes looking through MyFitnessPal for this cheeseburger and find this:
John picks the top option because it’s got that fancy ass green check next to it and off he goes eating some greasy cheeseburger goodness. 300 calories. Done.
Completely ignoring the fries for right now, that burger John just ate is actually around 840 calories according to Five Guy’s website.
Let’s assume (yes, I know what they say about assumptions but this is a hypothetical situation so it’s cool) John’s calorie target is 2500 calories and after downing this burger and fries he thinks he’s spot on…but in reality he just ate 3000 calories for the day.
Meaning his calorie total today will be off by about 500.
So instead of losing weight and enjoying the freedom of calorie counting, John gains weight because he’s consistently eating too much and curses the day he started counting macros.
So let’s all strive to be better than John.
Despite this, counting macros is still my preferred choice when it comes to helping clients lose weight (and bulk). But like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.
The Basics of Counting Macros
Being a self proclaimed MyFitnessPal expert, here’s my process and recommendations for counting macros.
Pick the food
As we saw in the cheeseburger example picking the right food is kinda important. Most of the time I like to scan it right into MFP.
If you hit that Scan Barcode icon at the top you can hold your camera up to the barcode and the exact food you are eating (or about to) will pop up.
For most foods you can use this option and skip down to the serving size section. (for takeout or eating at restaurants, I’ll address that later in the article.)
But when it comes to meat, scanning it in isn’t the best option. When you look up chicken breast for example in MFP a bunch of different options come up. All these calorie amounts are based off of the raw weight of the chicken breast.
This is all well and good if you are weighing your meat **chuckle** raw and cooking one single chicken breast. But odds are you’re weighing your food as you put the cooked version in your plate.
When you cook your meat it loses water and in turn weight. So while the raw version might weigh 6oz the cooked version might weigh 4 oz. This might prompt you to add more cooked meat and more calories that will slow down weight loss.
(Side note: Mike Vacanti wrote a great article about the weight difference between raw and cooked meat.)
Personally, I find weighing it as I put the cooked meat onto my plate easier because we often cut up chicken breast or we cook 2-3 breasts at a time. It would be a giant pain in the ass for me to figure out which pieces were from which breast that I just weighed out raw and honestly, I’m not about that life.
I like easy and weighing after cooking is hella easier for me. So if you’re with me, add one word to your chicken breast search in MFP. Cooked.
Once you search for “chicken breast cooked” or “cooked chicken breast”, you’ll get options that take into consideration the water loss when you cook it into the weight and the calories are scaled appropriately.
So when it comes to meat, make sure how you weigh your meat **chuckle again** and the option you select in MFP line up.
Pick the serving size
This might be the most important section in this entire article. Getting this right has led my online coaching clients to months of weight loss without having a single calorie adjustment and what carried me through the first 9 weeks of my photoshoot prep.
For this you’ll need some tools to help track accurately.
- A food scale
- A set of measuring cups
- A set teaspoons and tablespoons
When you look in MFP, in light grey text you’ll see a serving size. Sometimes they are in grams, other times it’s a generic term like medium.
First off, don’t track using metrics like: small/medium/large or something like one large avocado or 1 steak. This leaves a lot of room for error.
How big is 1 steak?
Fuq if I know.
For prepackaged foods like M&M’s Fun Size package, or a slice of bread it is fine to use these generic terms because they are fixed portion sizes but this falls apart for whole foods like apples or a steak like we just saw.
So for these the fastest way to see what tool you need to be the most accurate is to look at the number in parentheses in the Serving Size section of the nutrition label. The units given there will determine the best way to measure portion size.
mL= volume=measuring cups/measuring spoons
For foods that don’t have fixed portion sizes, the unit in parentheses is going to be the most accurate. And this includes foods that have cup/teaspoon measurements as the initial serving size as well.
For foods that don’t have a nutrition label, odds are these are whole foods like fruits and veggies so weighing them with your food scale is going to be the best option.
Let’s look at an example of a food we all know and love, the nutrition label and the benefits of using weight than the measurement given on the label.
On the label it says 2 TBSP is one serving which is 190 calories. Cool.
But in parenthesis, there’s a number 32g. That’s the actual serving size. [choking back tears]
Two tablespoons of peanut butter is double the actual serving size. So instead of the 190 calories you thought you were eating, you’re actually getting 380.
This is why having a kitchen scale and using it to weigh just about everything is important.
Then for sauces, liquids or ice cream or anything else that has mL in parentheses, use your measuring cups, teaspoons and tablespoons to figure out portion size. Yes that means measuring out dressings, toppings, and condiments. All these are guilty of being “ignored or forgotten” about when it comes to tracking.
Best Approaches in Different Scenarios
Now that the basics are out of the way let’s do some role playing. I’ll be the landlord and you’ll be the hot tenant that can’t pay her rent….shit wrong forum.
Welp, at any rate, here’s a few things you might come across and here’s how I would track them:
Cooking Oils –
Even if you don’t put it directly on to your food and just cook with it, the oil still gets absorbed. This can add up to hundreds of untracked calories. If I cook with oil I always measure it out and add that amount to MFP.
Logging Food When Cooking-
If you’re making a meal with a bunch of ingredients, add all the ingredients and the amounts used into MFP or put them into the recipe section.
When you get takeout, this follows the same method as cooking a meal on your own. Meaning use a scale to weigh out the different parts of the meal. This is by far the best way but it’s less accurate than if you were to cook the same meal at home because you don’t know the exact ingredients, portions of those ingredients etc.
If you get something that has a sauce or gravy on it, like a Chicken Tikka Masala, try your best to pull out the chicken (or whatever the meat is), weigh that, then add sauce to it after. If you can’t just weigh everything together but take into account that 9oz of just chicken does not equal the same amount of protein as 9oz of chicken plus sauce.
If you get lucky and the restaurant you order from has food already in MFP or they have a nutrition guide on their website, use that to determine portion size and calories.
At Restaurants or at Someone One’s House-
If you’re going to eat out at a restaurant or if you’re eating over someone’s house use the Precision Nutrition Hand Method to determine portion sizes and log that.
If the menu shows the size of a steak, use that. This is always the raw version so make sure to look for that one in MFP.
I posted an article about how to track restaurant foods a couple months ago with a video.
Whatever you do, always go conservative with selections in MFP when you don’t have control of the cooking process (i.e. restaurants, other people’s house). Pick at the upper end of the calorie range with the choices given. This way you won’t overshoot your calorie goal for the day by too much. If you pick an option in the middle or at the low end you might feel the need to eat more and overshoot calories by a ton.
Last but certainly not least, alcohol. If it’s something with a fixed portion size like a bottle/can of beer just use that. Search for the brewer’s name and name/type of beer. If there is no entry in MFP then a quick Google search can get you the carb and calorie information you need to create your own entry.
For shots or spirits use a jigger to measure portion size. Side note, I can’t tell you how many times I read jiggle instead of jigger. You can measure out 1 or 2 oz in a normal jigger. Enter whatever you use and the brand of alcohol.
My personal favorite, wine, can be measured with the glass you’re using. A typical serving size is about 5oz. According to this website, unbeknownst to me before writing this article, the widest part of the glass is 5-6oz. From there just add that into MFP.
Don’t Aim for Perfection, Aim for Consistency
Perfection is never the goal with counting macros or weight loss for the matter. The goal should always be consistency.
If you can be consistent it makes it easier to make adjustments when needed. If shit (calories) are all over the place you might think you’re nailing your diet but you’re actually eating hundreds of calories more.
While it’s not perfect, and I will never say it is, it’s the best method I’ve found to get the results my online coaching clients want nutritionally.