Since the emergence of flexible dieting, food tracking has since become one of the easiest and most effective ways to manage, gain and lose weight due to accuracy and freedom of food choices.
The reason(s) for using calorie and macro tracking are quite simple:
The second point is arguably as important as the first. By tracking calories and macros, you're afforded the ability to consume different foods you enjoy such as pizza or cheeseburgers, in moderation without guilt. Simply add it to your daily calorie intake and adjust the remainder of your day accordingly.
Without getting into other mumbo jumbo, lets jump in to what calorie tracking is, why you should consider it and finally, how to actually use it, even as a beginner.
The amount of calories you've burned from your resting metabolic rate and activity will drive the amount of calories you consume and will then dictate whether you lose weight, gain weight or stay the same weight.
How Weight Loss Works
Before getting into how to use food tracking, you need to understand why you would. In terms of changing body weight, the simplest way to actually do so is to manipulate the amount of calories you're burning, compared to how many you're consuming. At first, it may seem intimidating, but really it's quite simple.
Think of calories as a gatekeeper. Your entire body consists of matter, which are worth calories. Your muscle is worth calories, your organs, your bone and even your body fat.
From here, you have a resting metabolic rate. This is the amount and efficiency of calories that are needed to be burned by the body to function, in a vacuum. This means the bare minimum amount of calories that will be burned, even if you're just sitting all day in order to sustain your life.
Moving forward, we must consider the amount of calories that your burn through any activity: standing, walking, exercise, etc. This amount of calories you burn through these activities, gets added on to your resting metabolic rate.
Afterwards, we then consider the amount of calories you consume. This is where the magic happens.
Changing your body weight starts here. The amount of calories you've burned from your resting metabolic rate and activity will drive the amount of calories you consume and will then dictate whether you lose weight, gain weight or stay the same weight. Here's an example to better visualize this.
Ex: I want maintain weight. (Numbers are examples)
For the sake of simplicity, lets say this happens every day. If this is the case, it's safe to say that your maintenance would be around 2650 calories. Why maintenance? Well, your body is burning 2650 calories per day. In order to maintain your body weight (since the contents of your body are worth calories), you need to consume 2650 calories to match the calories that were burned.
Ex #2: I want to lose weight.
See, since you're now consuming less calories than your body is burning (maintenance is 2650, you're consuming fewer calories), your body expends more calories or energy than you're consuming through food. As a result, those calories come from somewhere on your body, which leads to a reduction of body weight.
Adjusting body weight comes down to the amount of calories you burn compared to the amount you consume. If you burn more calories than you consume, you should theoretically lose weight.
Why Use Food Tracking?
The simplest explanation for food tracking is because it allows for pinpoint accuracy.
With a food tracking app, using it allows you to have a clear picture of what a "maintenance" calorie intake actually means for you as an individual. From there, you can manipulate your calorie intake from a quantitative standpoint, taking guesswork out of the equation.
Knowing that I ate 200 calories less than needed is much easier when I'm tracking exactly, rather than just hoping.
Further, using tracking allows for a wider range of food choices. Without tracking, foods like pizza would be totally off limits. Why? Because pizza is a high calorie food. Without tracking, I might be consuming over 1000 calories in a single sitting. With tracking, I can ensure I'm only consuming 400, for example.
Tracking simply gives you more freedom, yet provides a much more accurate display of the calories you are consuming.
Tracking food takes guess work out of the equation. Want to lose weight? Simply reduce calories you are consuming. Tracking makes this very simple and accurate.
What's The Deal With Macros?
Macro tracking seems to be the place that people get lost, yet it's actually almost easier than tracking total calories.
When trakcing total calories, you need to keep in mind that those calories all come from different sources. Some calories come from fat, some from carbohydrate and some from protein. Better described, there are 3 macros, which have a caloric value, and when combined, all formulate your total calorie intake.
Even better, here is a full example:
Total Calories Consumed: 2000
Macronutrient ratios: 40% protein, 30% carbohydrate, 30% fat
And then here is a simple math check to view how these make up total calories:
Using Our New Macro Knowledge
Once you've understood what macros are and how they contribute to total calorie intake, you can begin to track your food intake, while trying to hit your specific numbers.
Keep in mind that overall, hitting your total calorie intake is the most important part of this whole process. Chances are, even if you avoid tracking specific macronutrients (as you can do that, since macros have calories, which make up your total intake) and spend time on just tracking total calories, chances are you'll change your bodyweight.
Using a Tracking App
Surely, everyone will have preferences of which application they use to do this (or even pen and paper) but for simplicities sake, I'll use MyFitnessPal, which is my personal favorite. It's free, easy to use and will cover all bases you need for successful tracking.
Step 1: Setting Up Calorie & Macro Goals
As you can see, the steps required to adjust your goal calorie and macronutrient amounts is actually quite simple and painless. As an additional note, these images were taken using a mobile smartphone. It's likely regardless of the phone you have, the steps will be similar.
Step 2: Logging Food
After you've set up your goals, you can begin adding food to your daily log. As you add foods, the calorie amounts that the food is worth will automatically be deducted from your goal calorie amount, allowing you to visualize how many calories you have left for the day.
Step 3: View Macro Distribution
Using this section of the app allows you to view where your calories are coming from in terms of macronutrients. For example, if you see that your percentage of carbohydrates is high, but protein is low, you can ensure that choices you make later in the day are more protein heavy.
This is just another tool to adjust your calorie and macronutrient amounts.
From here you can begin to visualize how many calories you are consuming and then associate that with how your body changes.
If your weight has decreased, it's likely you've been consuming fewer calories than you typically do. If you've gained, then it's likely you've been eating more than normal.
If you're confident that you've been tracking accurately and consistently, you can use an average of calories you normally consume (just go through history) and then manipulate that calorie amount based on your goal (reduce calories if weight loss is the goal, increase if you need weight gain).
Surely, this may seem difficult or confusion, but once you get past starting, it literally could not be easier to lose weight. Further, using this method allows you to consume foods YOU want, in moderation, which I believe to be the key to sustainable body changes.
I understand, as it can get complicated. If you have a question about this process, please drop a comment below and I'll address anything I can as soon as I can.
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