Disclaimer: this blog post series is about how to perform macro/calorie counting as part of a habit-based approach towards losing weight. For some people, even with drastically differences between conventional calorie tracking approaches and this one, logging food and counting calories can still be problematic. If you don’t think you will be able to perform these methods without feeling restricted and inclined to engage in aggressive dieting practices, please DO NOT use them.
Related post: Mastering Your Macros for Faster Fat Loss (Part 1)
In Phase 1 Step 1 of the Macros Mastery process you collected lots of info…
You have your food logs and you have some data on your calorie intake.
You have some idea of your starting point in regards to weight/body composition.
How do you start using that info in a way other than declaring “this proves I that I need to stop eating all dessert foods overnight and try to eat smaller portions across the board!”
Before you can start setting goals to guide your action plan, there’s still another step to the assessment phase.
It’s time to take all of the raw information from Phase 1 Step 1 and turn it into more profound insights.
If you haven’t read part 1 yet, now would be the ideal time.
Macros Mastery Phase 1 (Assessment) Phase Step 2 – Analysis.
Component A) Determine Your Average Calorie Intake and Your Range of Calorie Intake.
Take the total estimated calories eaten in a given timeframe (such as one or two weeks) and divide by the number of days. That gives you your average.
Example: 36,890 estimated calories over 2 weeks. Divided by 14 days = average of 2,635 estimated calories per day.
Then, identify the lowest calorie day and the highest calorie days to find your range of calorie intake.
You could even get more detailed with this by noting your X highest calorie days and X lowest calorie days.
For example, the days where you ate the lowest number of calories might have been 1,400 and 1,500 respectively.
And your highest days might have been 2,800 and 3,200 respectively.
This will give you a sense for how much variability your diet has and clue you into where exactly you might try to influence your calories downward.
Component B) Determine Your Average Macronutrient Range and Your Range of Macronutrient Intake.
Repeat the process above for averages and ranges for your daily macronutrient intake.
If you eat 100 grams of fat per day on average, that’s very helpful information.
If half of the time, you eat 50 grams per day and the other half of the time, you eat 150 grams per day, that’s even more helpful.
*Optional* Component C) Compare Calorie Data to Weight Data.
If you can, it could help to get an idea of how your average estimated calorie intake is correlated with your weight. This will help to manage your expectations as you go through this process.
For example, if your weight has stayed exactly the same for the past several months and your estimated calorie intake is 2,500 per day, it’s safe to say that you would need to get your calories down to an estimated 2,250 per day to start losing 2 lbs per month.
If on the other hand, you’ve been gaining 1 lb per month, you could have the reasonable expectation that you would need to reduce your calories by approximately 100 per day just to stop gaining. And then an even greater reduction to start seeing losses.
If you’ve only been weighing yourself for less than 1 month, that info will help you to get a sense for long-term weight loss as you continue this process. But it won’t tell you very much right now. I would probably just assume that you’re maintaining your weight, and therefore will need to provoke at least a 250 calorie reduction to start seeing steady losses.
You may have noticed that I have yet to make a single reference to using apps or mathematical formulas to estimate calorie needs. I’ll use those sometimes, but in general, I don’t find them to be helpful.
If you estimate you’re eating X calories and you’re maintaining your weight at X calories, we know that an estimated X calories maintains your weight. And less than X is needed to lead to weight loss.
After the Assessment Phase, you have the Review Phase.
No need to wait until another post. Let’s bang that out right now 🙂
Phase 2 – The Review Phase
Phase 1 Step 2 and phase 2 merge together seamlessly.
In this phase, you start to identify different benchmarks that could be essential for you to get your calories lower without provoking excessive hunger.
Phase 1 was primarily about outcome goals. Identifying the starting point for your weight/body composition so you can know when you’re moving in the right direction. And establishing some expectations for what may need to happen to your calorie intake to your desired weight range.
Phase 2 is primarily about performance goals.
Performance goals for the context of weight loss are what I refer to as “behavioral benchmarks”. They’re snapshots of your habits are large, and are (ideally) quickly impacted by the new habits that you practice.
For example, if you have the outcome goal to be able to bench press 20 lbs more than you do now, you would need to get to the gym X days a week.
But getting to the gym those X days isn’t 100% within your control. On the other hand, getting your workout clothes ready-to-go the night before IS 100% in your control.
By having a performance goal (frequency of getting to the gym), you now have something you can directly measure to test the effectiveness of your process goal/habit (the gym bag prep).
You won’t know for months whether prepping the gym bag helped you to build strength at the gym. But you’ll know really quickly whether it helped you to go the gym more often.
In the Macros Mastery process, you already have a performance goal in place.
Just like you would know that your gym bag prep habit worked by whether it impacted your workout frequency, you will know that your nutrition habits work by impacting your average calorie intake.
This is the main way that this process differs from how most people approach calorie counting methods.
You don’t want to make a particular calorie target your daily focus. You want to craft daily habits that ‘naturally’ influence your calorie intake.
Estimated calorie intake is the primary performance goal. That’s the main one to look at over time. But you can go further than that.
Using the info you gathered from Phase 1, you can start crafting very specific performance goals that will give you a more directed focus than simply total calories.
Some examples of more specific performance goals…
Example #1: average calorie intake of 2,800 per day with a calorie range of 1,800 to 3,600.
The problem: looking at your hunger and satiety-related notes, it looks like excessive hunger was responsible for binge eating on several nights.
The performance goal: binge less often and/or binge smaller.
Example #2: Fat grams and percentage of calories from fat varying widely per day. Average intake of 100 grams per day with a range of 50-150 grams per day.
The problem: Looking at your hunger and satiety-related notes in comparison to your calorie-based food journaling, it appears that on days that you got 70 grams from fat in comparison to lesser amounts, you had significantly less hunger. In contrast, no significant further reductions in hunger with fat grams above 70 per day.
The performance goal: reduce the number of days per week where you eat more than 70 grams of fat.
Example #3: average daily protein intake of 70 grams, with half of the days at 50 grams or fewer.
The problem: Looking at your hunger and satiety-related notes, you have found a clear correlation between low protein intake and being too hungry between meals. Further insult to injury, your calorie-based logs show that when you eat less protein, you eat more total calories.
Performance goal: 90 grams of protein or more 5 days per week (or more).
Deciding on your performance goal is an essential step for changing your eating habits in order to lose weight.
The more info you have on your current eating habits, the better you will be at setting realistic and helpful performance goals.
But it’s not enough to have a performance goal.
Without a daily action plan, a performance goal is just a nice thought. Wishful thinking.
In the next (and final) part of this series, you will learn how to tie this whole process together by creating daily (or near-daily) habits to turn all of your goals into a reality.
Note: I borrow the distinction of outcome goals vs performance goals vs process goals from Todd Herman and his program “The 90-Day Year”.