- The best way to count calories is to make changes super easy and actionable so you have no choice to execute.
- Calories and protein are the most important regardless of your goal
- If you’re bulking track calories, protein, carbs, and fat
According to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards nearly a third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy.
Think about that for a second.
One day you’re scraping by and the next you have more zeros that you have fingers on one hand in your bank account.
How da fuq can you blow through that much money?
Not having habits in place to protect that money. They’re spending it on bad business investments, Lambos, sparkly shirts, and tigers.
The same is true for people who do every diet but can’t stick to it long term. They get dope results in Week 1 but it all goes away once they stop the diet.
They didn’t build the habits necessary to keep the weight loss. They went diet bankrupt.
In this article I’m going to show you the best way to get started counting calories. Counting calories is one of the best ways in to lose weight, build good habits around food and maintain weight loss long term. This is the progression I use to help my online coaching clients build the habits to keep their weight loss and become dieting millionaires.
Why A Progression?
When it comes to big change, most people can handle it for a few days then motivation fades and then they settle back into their old habits. Which is why I’m a huge fan of James Clear’s work.
In his book Atomic Habits one of the key things in building a new habit is making it easy.
Like stupid easy.
Let’s take my journaling habit as an example.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to keep a consistent journal to document my history, thoughts, and flesh out ideas so my grandkids or even my son can see what I was like when I was younger and what it was like living in the beginning of the 21st century. And every time I would fall off after a couple of days.
So this past fall I made a commitment to myself that I would journal 4 days per week for 5 mins. And without fail I have journaled 4 days a week for the last 5 months.
There was a low bar of success that I needed in the beginning to reinforce the practice until it became a habit.
This whole progression I’m going to roll out is built on that principle. Making the changes super easy and actionable so you have no choice to execute.
The time spent on each step is going to depend on the person. If you feel comfortable that you can be consistent with the current step, move one. Based on my experience 1.5-2 weeks is usually the sweet spot for someone to get comfortable at each step.
Step 1: Track Your Food
The main reason we track is for awareness.
Awareness is an unsung hero in a fat loss phase and I’d argue it’s the most important.
Think about if you didn’t have a speedometer and just went with the flow of traffic. Depending on who was in front of you, you could easily be doing 15-65 mph just going with the flow of traffic.
This is why most people when they get back into working out gain weight. If you aren’t tracking calories and going on how hungry you feel (following the flow of traffic), with the increase in exercise you’ll naturally be hungrier and as a result, consuming more calories than you need halting fat loss.
Also, when you are aware of something you can change it.
Being aware of how much you’re eating and what you’re eating can help you make better decisions to fix the issues.
Does this mean you need to become an obsessed anal retentive maniac tracking everything you ever eat from now on?
When you’re stuck, track calories for a few days to see how everything is going and where you can make small changes to get you moving towards your goal.
It doesn’t need to be 100% accurate (this is an ongoing process) right out of the gate. I often tell my clients to do their best with portion size in the beginning. The importance here is building awareness and getting the ball rolling with tracking your food.
Keep it simple, then layer on the complexity.
Step 2: Track Calories
I get at least a handful of emails/messages a week that go something like this:
Email: I’ve struggled to lose fat for the last 6 months. I’m eating healthy and going to the gym 4 days a week. How come I’m not losing fat?
Me: Are you tracking calories?
Email: No. But I eat healthy and my meals aren’t crazy.
Me: Track calories.
Eating healthy and eyeballing meal size is very subjective. It’s best to work with the best data we have at our exposal; tracking calories.
Adding the next layer to the progression is paying attention to portion sizes and hitting a calorie goal.
In the process of just tracking your food like you did in Step 1, most people tend to eat better because there is some accountability. And by better I mean portion sizes come down and food choices tend to focus on more whole foods than processed foods.
Then when you layer on a calorie target the food choices really tend to shift because hunger increases.
This is when the focus changes to leaner protein and veggies aka foods that are very satiating.
While this is all going on in the foreground, in the background you are losing weight. By not focusing on restricting certain foods, you’re actively watching portion sizes which is a very simple way to get into a calorie deficit which results in weight loss with all the food FOMO.
Step 3: Track Protein
Hunger is your diet’s Kryptonite.
When you’re in a fat loss phase the best thing you can do for your overall results and sanity is to shift your food choices to more satiating foods.
Satiating foods are foods that take a while to digest so they take up more space in your stomach for a longer period of time.
And when it comes to satiating foods there are a few things you want to look for:
High Volume=more volume = more space taken up in your stomach
Low calorie = we are in a fat loss phase so you need to keep calories in check
Fiber= takes a while for the body to digest
Protein=takes a while for the body to digest
Unprocessed = takes more work for your body to break down the food
By tracking protein to a protein target helps to ensure 1) you are getting enough to preserve muscle and 2) making sure you don’t become a ravenous beast tearing through your refrigerator.
Foods like chicken, turkey, beef, fish, and greek yogurt come into play here.
And like in the previous two steps, food choices tend to change automatically to be more whole food focused. And since protein has a higher Thermic Effect of Food (tk to an article), the more protein you eat, the more calories you need to burn to digest it. This creates a bigger calorie deficit and the weight keeps dropping.
Step 4: Set Carb and Fat Targets
Depending on how in depth you want to get and what kind of results you want, this step is optional.
In a fat loss phase total calories matter most followed by protein. Focusing on these two things allows you to lose weight (calories) and help preserve muscle (protein).
If your goal is to simply lose weight then you can just focus on calories and protein. It’ll get you all the results you want and your food choice is pretty wide open.
If your goal is to get down lean enough to see abs then tracking carbs and fats is going to play a bigger role because you’ll be pushing your body that much harder.
When you’re trying to get down to sub 10% body fat takes a lot of effort and dedication. Which means your tracking and adherence needs to be next level.
Carbs are going to help you recover from your workouts and help repair muscles along with protein.
Fats help with hormone production.
And since we want to manage hunger this means a focus on satiating carbs. Veggies, potatoes, oats are all good carbs to start with. If you go with processed carbs like chips, candy and white rice they tend to digest quickly leaving you hungrier faster.
And there you have it and there it is. The 3-4 step process to get in the habit of tracking calories while seeing results every step of the way.
How a Building Phase Would Differ
A building phase and a fat loss phase are based on the same framework. Tracking is very important to both and the focus on calories and protein is very similar.
The only real difference is in Step 4: Tracking Carbs and Fat Targets.
In a fat loss phase these two macros don’t really matter which is higher. Your body is using everything readily because calories are reduced and your body still needs a certain amount of energy to function. In a building phase though, carbs and fats play a very big role.
The goal of a building phase is to kill it in the gym and be able to recover while not getting fat AF. Carbs are YUGE in this instance. So you’ll want to make sure these are high.
Fats on the other hand you’ll want to keep them to a lower portion of your total calories. Since in a building phase you’ll be eating in a slight calorie surplus you’ll want to keep fats down because they are more readily stored as body fat than protein and carbs would be.
So if you are in a building phase focus on calories, protein, carbs and fats equally. For a fat los phase calories and protein will get most people the results they want.
Let’s Wrap this Shit up
So over the course of 4-6 weeks you’ll have brought awareness to portion sizes, calories for different foods, the importance of satiating foods while in a fat loss phase and found a way to incorporate the foods (and drinks) you enjoy while still making progress towards a goal.
And unlike diets like Keto that give you a specific food list you can tailor your diet to your preferences which makes it sustainable and are skills you can bring with you for the rest of your life.