My Weight Loss Journey and Macros- Why I Don’t Count Calories

When I started my plus size fitness and weight loss journey, I knew I’d need a plan.

Though I’m a decently creative soul, I tend to thrive within the perimeters of some outline and structure. When I contemplated how a weight loss journey would play in my overall larger goal to be a happier and healthier person with Greater At 40, I knew I would want to address eating and the relationship I had to food in my life.

My first thought was not a desire to shed pounds rapid fire in the hopes of becoming thinner, but instead to search for a more optimal health-driven quality of life where I was more physically capable of doing the things I wanted to do. With both parents having had cardiac issues in the past, I was keenly aware that my own heart-health would be something to keep an eye on.

To reach a more optimal state of my personal health, I’d have to find a more sustainable and, frankly, balanced way to eat then I had been doing up to this point. Because things like this…

Not eating all day and then eating an entire Dominos pizza and chicken fingers at night.
Consuming nothing but three or four NYC bagels in one day.
Mainlining Diet Coke from sun up to sun down.
Never eating breakfast.
Not actually stopping to eat meals… EVER!

Had not been helpful for me in the past. (And, ps, I say this with absolutely NO judgment on the patterns that I used to have!)

I didn’t want to do Jenny Craig or some pre-packaged food plan. I knew I could do Weight Watchers. But, I was unsure and not confident. And, frankly, I was scared. I was scared to be making a whole bunch of changes at once.  In addition to working on my eating, I’d also be starting to workout for the first time in years. I was overwhelmed and scared I was attempting too many HUGE changes at once. The idea of exercising AND dieting at the same time freaked me the hell out.

Enter my health coach and trainer, Blake Elarbee, who met with me at the start of my journey and gave me one simple instruction — to track my food. He suggested I use the popular app My Fitness Pal , which has both a web-based and mobile version. The reason why? I wasn’t going to do some pre-formulated diet. Instead, he explained I was going to do something he called Flexible Nutrition. Truth. I was scared shitless. So I nodded my head and said “yes” to all his instructions without having any idea what I was doing. But over the course of the next few weeks I started to learn exactly what Flexible Nutrition was and why, in the long run, I would come to think it was the greatest thing ever.

But first, let’s pull the curtain back…

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Why I’ll Never “Diet” a Single Day of My Weight Loss Journey

Diet’s suck. More importantly, they simply don’t work. In the short term? Of course they do! However, science has proven that diets are not a suitable tool to improve one’s long term health. Why? Well, it turns all bodies have actual “memory” that “remembers” what weight it believes is “normal” for your body. The longer you stay at a weight, the more comfortable the body gets there until it becomes your “norm.” When you deviate from this “norm,” your body freaks out and does it’s best to keep you there. If you have been heavy for a long time, your heavy weight is what your body believes is it’s “norm.” This is real. It’s called “metabolic suppression” and, if your goal is to lose weight, then it’s a real bitch. “The root of the problem is not willpower but neuroscience,” this article from the N.Y. Times points out. “Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.”

So, basically, our bodies fight to keep us at the weight it is used to. Strict food deprivation and diets based on super intense caloric restriction actually increase our psychological and physiological desire to binge. Have you ever heard someone use the expression of a “Cheat Day?” Implying, they eat within the vacuum-sealed bag of perfection for six days and then, one day a week, eat whatever the hell they want? I LITERALLY ABHOR THE IDEA OF CHEAT DAYS!

No. Really. At first the idea of a Cheat Day sounds fun and exotic. Then, eventually, one finds themselves literally living for Cheat Day. And life can’t be a Cheat Day! Life is meant to be lived!! It is not physically possible to be a “perfect” eater all day every day. And, even if it was plausible, how much fun would it be? Do you ALWAYS want to skip the cake? Do you ALWAYS want to go home early when your friends are going out to dinner? No way, dude! Ideas like “Cheat Day” work to fortify the idea that food is “judgment.” I don’t ever want to live a life where the idea of eating cake sends me into cold sweats. I want to live a life where I have a balanced relationship to cake!

Diet’s have never worked for me. They didn’t work for me when I was a kid and dragged to Weight Watchers. They didn’t work when I went to “fat camp” three summers in a row, had a great time and lost a bunch of weight only to gain it back during the school year. And a diet didn’t work for me when I was 29, weighed 340 lbs and was on the other side of a bad breakup and ready to prove to the world how awesome I was. (For the record, I went on to lose 50 lbs… and then gain 60 back.)

Diet’s have never worked for me. They didn’t work for me when I was a kid and dragged to Weight Watchers. They didn’t work when I went to “fat camp” three summers in a row, had a great time and lost a bunch of weight only to gain it back during the school year. And a diet didn’t work for me when I was 29, weighed 340 lbs and was on the other side of a bad breakup and ready to prove to the world how awesome I was. (For the record, I went on to lose 50 lbs… and then gain 60 back.)

For me, food has been more than just stuff. I have had a highly emotional relationship with food based on years and years and years of misuse. Times when food became an emotional crutch and how I was eating (or not eating) became an indicator of my general state of happiness in my own life.

Traditional “diets” have nothing to do with nurturing our emotional selves and getting to the root of WHY we have misused food. They are fast fixes that skim the surface level of change, never really digging deep into the stuff that will help us adjust our approach to food in the long term. Fixes that make us O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D with caloric perfection that can be virtually exhausting and impossible to maintain over time.

I have dieted many times in my life. “Traditional Diets” are based on suppression and deprivation. They are based on the idea of “good” and “bad” and “success” or “failure.” Diets are based on this one single moment, every week, where we stand on a scale and get judged. We allow that number to rule our sense of self. If we lose a lot we feel sky high; if we lose a little or *gasp* gain, then we feel like utter crap. We get mad at ourselves, get frustrated and feel defeated. We want to throw in the towel at the process.

I have dieted many times in my life. “Traditional Diets” are based on suppression and deprivation. They are based on the idea of “good” and “bad” and “success” or “failure.” Diets are based on this one single moment, every week, where we stand on a scale and get judged. We allow that number to rule our sense of self. If we lose a lot we feel sky high; if we lose a little or *gasp* gain, then we feel like utter crap. We get mad at ourselves, get frustrated and feel defeated. We want to throw in the towel at the process.

Diets play on our desire to be awesome, successful people; entire industries thrive based on our believing that eating certain foods makes or better, or worse, people. Diet’s are about restriction, the word “no” and making you scared shitless to color outside the lines of the food prison you are living in. They are fear-based and I don’t believe in them. In short, diets suck donkey.

Diets play on our desire to be awesome, successful people; entire industries thrive based on our believing that eating certain foods makes or better, or worse, people. Diet’s are about restriction, the word “no” and making you scared shitless to color outside the lines of the food prison you are living in. They are fear-based and I don’t believe in them. In short, diets suck donkey.

Food is not the enemy. Food is just… particles. It’s the relationship that we have to food that holds the power. Did you hear that? Let me repeat it again cause that shit is important. Food is not evil. It is not judgmental. It does not yell at you. What kind of foods you eat have no effect on the value of who you are as a person. Stop making food the enemy!

The disconnect comes from the power we give food and how we might misuse food. Why might we do that? Well, if you are like me… your relationship to food may be off balance due to the relationship you have with yourself in general. This is why I’m not chasing a diet-based scale victory. My Greater At 40 journey is about a LOT of things including my emotional and physical health, becoming a more balanced and badass and strong version of myself! I’ll get more into that another time. Why do I bring that up? Because I don’t believe in the idea of “bad foods” and I don’t believe in the idea of punishing yourself because you eat something. This is where macros come in.

What is “Eating Your Macros” / Flexible Nutrition and Why Does It Work?

Flexible nutrition is the concept of eating a specific amount of macronutrients every day to achieve a body composition goal. It doesnt matter what foods you eat in order to reach your macros goals, it just matters that you eat them. To do this, you need to understand what macronutrients (macros) are and how understanding them can play a part in your greater fitness and weight loss journey.

Macros are the building blocks that make up the food we eat. According to this website “Macronutrients are the structural and energy-giving caloric components of our foods that most of us are familiar with. They include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, trace elements, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that are essential for good health.”

Think about it this way – food is like a swimming pool.  The water itself are your macronutrients; they are the stuff that fills the pool and that makes up the food. Macro’s are protein, carbohydrates,  and fat. The chlorine and the chemicals that are used to keep the pool water healthy and swimmable are your micronutrients.  These are your vitamins. Make sense? Macros are the  breakdown blocks and micros are the things that give those blocks characteristics and personality.

With flexible macros eating, you select the foods that you want to as long as you stay within your guidelines for the day. The expression is IIFYM aka If It Fits Your Macros. This is not “dieting” in the traditional sense. Far from it! Instead, it’s a weight loss journey that is based on slow and sustainable changes!

According to Dr. Layne Norton, a bodybuilder and prominent thought leader in the school of Flexible Nutrition, quoted in this easy-to-read article (FYI, it’s a great read for newbies!) “The point of flexible dieting is to have long-term sustainability. Allowing people to eat foods they enjoy in moderation makes them less likely to cheat and binge eat.”

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Want to hear it from a source you know already? Here’s what my health coach and trainer Blake Elarbee has to say about macros!

“Nutrition can seem confusing, but the beauty of science is that it is calculable. By tracking Macronutrient Intake(carbs/fat/protein/fiber), I can help a client design their own diet that fits their goals and lifestyle. Knowing what types of food, what proportions, and what times to eat can dramatically accelerate someone’s progress, and far more than blindly just “trying to eat better.” The last benefit of tracking macro’s(aka flexible dieting), is that there is a small trade off worth the trouble. By going to the trouble of using an app to log the foods you eat, you are then allowed to eat whatever you want, as long as it’s macronutrients don’t exceed your daily goal. This is a much superior form of dieting compared to the all-or-nothing, black-and-white, “clean” eating strategy, that is unsustainable long-term, unnecessarily restrictive, and can even promote eating disorders with its pattern of strict dieting followed by “cheat” days or meals that can essentially be considered binge eating. Flexible Dieting [noun – the simple act of eating food not describing the style of eating] works long term and can be catered to your lifestyle and goals. Doing it diligently for a period of time teaches you invaluable information about nutrition and, eventually, gives enough education that you can just do the math in your head with more precision than many actual Dietitians! Simply put, it’s flexible, realistic, educational, and promotes a healthy relationship towards food that is sustainable. It’s just math! Nutrition is a science, not a fad.”

the-point-of-flexible-dieting-is-to-have-long-term-sustainability-allowing-people-to-eat-foods-they-enjoy-in-moderation-makes-them-less-likely-to-cheat-and-binge-eat-3

 

Why count macros instead of counting calories?
It is important you have a cross-section of all the macros in your daily food lineup. But, each macro has different caloric values associated with it. Protein and carbs each have four calories per gram while fat has nine. If you were just counting calories, you could “spend” your macros in any way. With Flexible Nutrition, you are eating a certain ratio of nutrients. It is up to you, however, to decide what you want to spend your macros on!

greater at 40, flexible dieting

I’m going full-blown cliché to give you a visual here as a comparison. Neither one of these examples below or GOOD or BAD. This is simply to illustrate how you can “spend” your macros in different ways. As you can see, both meals have similar macronutrient breakdowns with the exception of the later, which has more protein in it.

This is the point of Flexible Nutrition. It’s all about making the choices you want to make just for you. If you want to eat fast food, eat fast food. If you want to eat other things, eat those instead. The choice is yours!

weight loss journey and macros
weight loss journey with macros

Macros don’t judge you. Macros don’t care what choices make. Macros just care that you eat them. LOL.

If you eat something you didn’t intend to, don’t beat yourself up. Think about why you ate it, but don’t punish yourself for it!

(Note: I want to add this. While it really doesn’t “matter” how you eat your macros as part of your weight loss journey, it is still true that certain foods will make you feel different ways. For example, just because it is in your macros it doesn’t mean that fried foods won’t make you feel bloated or heavy. Doesn’t mean that foods high in processed sugar won’t amp you up or make you crave more. It just means you can eat them if you want to etc. I am eating the specific foods that interest me and avoiding the ones I want to! )

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Confession. I love me a Whopper from Burger King. I haven’t had one in about nine months but, HOLY LORD, I remember them as being SOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDD. I haven’t eaten one because I haven’t wanted to but, if I did, I WOULD. It isn’t that it isn’t “allowed” on my diet, it’s just that I haven’t made the choice to eat one. That’s it. Simple.

Eating your macros is about eating the foods that work for you. It is about adjusting your eating, not eating miserably and being unhappy with food!!! It is about walking into a birthday knowing if you want to eat your cake you eat the damn cake, and it doesn’t make you a bad person if you do. Eating, like life, must be designed to be adjustable and flexible!

Foods I Eat Regularly in My Weight Loss Journey and Plus Size Fitness Journey

Here are actual screenshots taken from My Fitness Pal. These show you a few examples of what a day of my eating looks like. Some days, I eat more VOLUME of food, Some days I eat LESS food but with higher macro counts for the foods. It is up to me what I want to eat. Lots of time, due to budget and ease, I eat the same things throughout the day.

Sample of Macros Food Diary Sample of Macros Food Diary Food diary using macros macros food diary

Am I eating “perfect” and “clean” like some people would suggest I do? No. Not at all. But I am eating foods I can wrap my head around RIGHT NOW. As I become more confident with my food preparation I will add more variety. Remember, this is what works for ME. I’m not going for a quick fix. I’m taking the long view!!

The screenshots above were from last month. In the last month, I’ve started to use my slow cooker. I make stews, meats and a whole bunch of things. I will totally elaborate more on my eating in the future. For now, I just want to make sure you understand the essentials of eating your macros!

 

Here is a list of some of the foods I eat pretty regularly.

They are in no particular order, and I have listed the foods by their dominant macronutrient. Keep in mind the following things that help me guide my personal eating choices!

– First, I am on a budget.
– Second, I like to do the bulk of my weekly shopping at Costco and use the supermarket for smaller things and items I use less of.
– Third, I don’t eat cheese and I am trying to avoid dairy in general; I don’t have any moral issue with it, it simply doesn’t agree with my stomach. (Note that if you do eat dairy, 0% or 1% Greek Yogurt should TOTALLY be something you take full advantage of for its high protein content!)
– Other things to consider are, I like to keep my foods simple. I prefer not to have most crackers, breads and snack foods in the house because I have a harder time portion controlling them. I also prefer not to make the bulk of what I eat be “packaged” foods vs things I can compile and make myself. I have a pretty strong attachment to Diet Coke and I have been working to break that by substituting other drinks. I am now down to less than two DC every week! I try to avoid super heavily processed foods or fried foods and I try to eat the majority of my meals at home.

  • Proteins
    Eggs // Whole, Egg Whites
    Chicken
    Beef // Top Round, 95% Ground Beef
    Jerky // KRAVE Beef and Pork Jerky
    Turkey // Ground Turey and Turky Breast Deli
    Almond Milk
  • Carbs
    Jasmine Rice
    Sweet Potato
    Wasa Cracker Bread
    Lara Bar
    Cheeze Its (YES!! I eat these LOL)
    Good Bean Chickpea Snacks
    Popcorn
    Onions
    Apples
    Blueberries
    Cherries
    Bananas
    Zucchini
    Red Peppers
    Balsamic Vinegar
    G2 Gatorade
    Salsa
  • Fats
    Pumpkin Seeds
    Almonds
    Avocados
    Dark Chocolate
    Olive Oil
    Coconut Oil
    Pam Cooking Spray
    Peanut Butter
  • Misc
    Coffee // No Sweetener
    Sparkling Water // La Croix, Perrier
    Iced Tea // No Sweetener

 

How Do I Know How Many Macros to Eat?

If you think that “eating your macros” could be the way to go for you in your own personal fitness and weight loss journey, you are probably wondering what the right macro goal for you is? Great question! I will tell you now, I am NOT the authority here!! Many resources suggest getting 50% of your daily intake from carbs, 20% from protein and 30% from fats. Exactly what those suggested grams will depend on your long term goals. (For example, these days I am going for macros goals of 170 grams of carbs, 70 grams of fat and 125 grams of protein every day! When I started, that number was skewed to give me more carbs.) However… Your best resource is a certified nutritionist who can help you establish long-term goals that will work for YOU and you weight loss journey. If you are looking for a quick answer (which I don’t recommend) you can try an online macros calculator. You can use the one I have linked or do a quick Google and find a number of different formulas. If you use My Fitness Pal, I believe they also have a macronutrient default they suggest.

The hands down BEST thing you can do to get your macronutrient plan going is to consult with a nutritionist. Here is why this is helpful. They…

  1. Know that food is a science and they get all the intricacies that average folks, like you and me, are probably not taking into consideration.
  2. Take into consideration your current weight and activity level in ways that are more detailed and accurate then a website can without talking to you.
  3. Help you develop a LONG TERM plan that takes into account adjusting your macros as needed. For example, for the first two months of my Greater At 40 journey, Blake had me eating more carbs every day. This was so I didn’t feel I was depriving myself of things I was used to eating and would make a more natural adjustment. A few months in, he lowered my carb intake. (I started out at 200 grams per day and now I am at 170 grams.)

This being said you have lots of choices. You can find a nutritionist near you by asking your doctor or friends or any trusted sources you may have. If that doesn’t work, do some Google searching! TALK TO THESE NUTRITIONISTS BEFORE YOU WORK WITH THEM! Make sure they understand you. Make sure they understand your long-term goals. Make sure they know that you are interested in long term, slow and sustainable health that includes weight loss. Make sure you feel comfortable with them!!

Or you can… USE MY TRAINER! If you have been following my fitness and weight loss journey, you already know Blake Elarbee. He’s also a certified nutritionist and has a BS and a bunch of experience and training! In addition to working with clients here in Los Angeles, he is able to do nutritional consulting with folks anywhere in the US virtually, online and through phone and text message. Working with Blake gives you access to a completely personalized macro plan tailored to your needs and direct access to reach him via text and email for food questions and support! This means if you have a question, he’ll answer you within reasonable real time to help you make choices that work for you!

 

blake elarbee, nutritional coach

Do you have questions for me? Chime in below; I’d love to hear from you!

For more information read…

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/iifym-and-flexible-nutrition-interview-with-dr-layne-norton.html
http://bonfirehealth.com/micronutrients-macronutrients-food-breakdown
http://vitals.lifehacker.com/count-macronutrients-instead-of-calories-for-better-die-1706873465
http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/measuring-your-macros-a-visual-guide.html
https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting
https://healthyeater.com/out-of-a-macro