Do you have to track macros forever?
No, but you should still track your food and yourself, to some degree.
Wait, wait, wait. Confusing, I know. We should define tracking and then talk about the various levels of tracking. Our goal is to eventually help you graduate with a Master’s Degree in macro-management, and by following these steps I’m certain you can get there.
First, what does tracking mean? Because, despite what you might think, it’s not weighing and measuring everything. At the start, that’s what it means, sure. But tracking for someone who is in week 100 sometimes looks different than someone who is in week 1. One has two years of experience under their belt and the other is just getting started.
Tracking means entering some data and watching trends. You know, what everyone should do so they can see what’s really happening with their behaviors and progress. Data takes out all emotional decisions regarding food (which is, like, all of them). I already know you’re probably a little scared and maybe intimidated that you have to track forever. But I promise if you follow these steps you can eventually live free and do very well. We can’t skip steps, and we can’t jump ahead, though. We have to be open to change.
Level 1: Weigh and measure everything
During this level, you are micromanaging everything you eat in order to get total control. You’re weighing your food, logging in MyFitnessPal, and being careful not to eat things you can’t accurately measure. Perfection isn’t expected but precision is. During this level, it’s necessary to be as accurate as possible to reach your goals.
This is where the most “growth” happens with your food awareness and nutritional education. It’s where you will see what may have gotten you in trouble in the past, and what areas of your “food personality” you may need to work on in the present. During this level, it’s essential to train your tracking eye into knowing what a certain food weighs before you put in on the scale.
Take a food out, guess the weight, put on the scale and see how close you are. Over time you will get good at this and graduate to Level 2. But until then, be precise with your tracking.
Level 2: Weigh and measure most foods
This is where you can begin eyeballing the foods that won’t get you in too much trouble. It’s kind of subjective. The most common examples are lean proteins, fruits, and veggies. Some other dominant macro foods (containing primarily one macronutrient) are okay to do this as well. While eyeballing some foods may be alright, be careful to not eyeball fats, treats, fatty meats, or recipes with multiple ingredients. Those foods are too easy to track inaccurately. The goal here is to ease off of the food scale. If you’ve been practicing eyeballing, you’ll do great.
On this level, you are still going to enter everything into MyFitnessPal. It’s assumed that the macros may not be as precise as they once were, but they should still be close. If you are making smart decisions and being honest with yourself, then you don’t have anything to worry about.
It’s natural to be asking yourself how long this takes. As frustrating as “it depends” is as an answer, that’s what I would say here. My opinion is to follow this plan, then once you hit your goal, transition into maintenance. Just know that if you are giving up the food scale at this point, this may make a maintenance phase a little less precise. That’s not a bad thing, and maybe you want maintenance to be less precise. It’s just something to be aware of.
Level 3: Track food but don’t weigh and measure
The more whole foods you eat, the easier this level will be. The more treats, snacks, and processed food you eat, the harder this level will be. That’s the name of the game, and that is especially true at this level.
Tracking macros is about accuracy, and the idea is to limit the areas you can accidentally mess up. Hopefully, the time you spent on Level 1 and Level 2 prepared you for this moment: The moment where you are making better decisions by default. This is the level where you accept you can’t just eat whatever you want and keep the results you’ve gotten. Tracking makes things real and by continually keeping a log of what you’re eating, you’re staying accountable to yourself and the new you that these behaviors have built.
Level 4: Track yourself not your food
At this point, you may be able to eat without logging anything. It’s what some call intuitive eating. You’ve changed your food personality so much that you’re able to make the right decisions so often that you never even worry about going off-plan. Now, this is where it gets funky.
Not many people can do this well. It takes a lot of time, practice, and more than a few slip-ups to get to this point. Most people need to track in order to be fully aware. But, if you are tracking your weight and measurements, then you’re probably now in a place where you can adjust on the fly. Maybe you “clean it up” a bit if needed, or maybe you jump back a level and track your food as a refresher.
Gaining access to this level can take years of practice or may not happen at all. This will depend on how much you’re learning along the way, how you respond to your unique biofeedback, and your individual “food personality”
If you’ve been stressed about “doing this forever” this is good news. You aren’t always going to have to weigh and measure your food unless you want to. By doing that you will have more control but there will always be a cost to that. Is that for you? Only you can answer that. Hopefully, this provides more insight into what the future may look like but always know the more strict you are in the beginning, the more prepared you will be.
“What’s something that you could change about the way you’re living your life that would help you be the version of yourself that you want to be, reach goals, and contribute more fully to the roles and relationships that matter to you?” - Dr. Kelly McGonigal
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