One question that repeatedly comes to us is, “How precise do I need to be with my numbers?” The answer is deceptively simple. It depends.
Tracking macros accurately is looked at from two sides. Weighing food, and hitting numbers.
How precise do I need to be when weighing what I eat? Well, what are your goals? If you are in the middle of reverse for your off-season vs in the middle of a cut 2 weeks out from a show, the answer will be different. First and foremost, weigh and track everything you eat. There are no “free” foods. Track vegetables and lettuce, and condiments. We have had clients eat 5 packs of sugar free gum a day, or drink a few gallons of diet soda. Believe it or not, it adds up. Another really important aspect of this is being able to trend what your body is doing and start to recognize patterns. Some people do honestly bloat from diet soda. Others are extremely salt sensitive with regards to weight, and still others don’t handle certain vegetables well. Soy Sauce has minimal macros, but if you didn’t enter it, you would never know you ate 8000 mg of sodium and be left wondering why you retained some fluid the next day.
The more precise you can be, the better, but don’t go crazy. I prefer grams over ounces, but if you are using ounces, try to accurate to the tenth place. 2 is very different from 2.9, but if your scale measures only whole ounces, you won’t catch this. Don’t start dealing with tenths of grams. It’s an irrelevant scale for what we are doing.
Always go with weight over volume. If 5 people measure a cup of flour, all will weigh different amounts and have different macros. If 5 people measure 100 g of flour, we have repeatable, trackable input that will be consistent.
Keep in mind what you weighing. What is the calorie density of the food? Being off by 10 grams when weighing a high-volume food, something like spinach or strawberries, is very different than being 10 grams off with butter or oil.
Spot check things like bagels. Oftentimes, they are 10-20% heavier than the nutrition label serving size. To check, divide the weight of the bagel by serving weight on the label. This is now easy to track, since you can just enter that as the number of servings in your tracking app.
You may see the term loose tracking. This is not a “cheat” meal.
With things that you can’t weigh but have info for (like a fast food meal) I usually will enter it as 1.1 servings. This will give you a cushion for a lot of the variation from store to store, taco to taco.
A surefire way to go insane is to try to hit your numbers on the dot, every day. In a perfect world, sure. It rarely works out like that. In order to avoid this, we tend to give clients a 5-10 gram range depending on goals, size, etc. It also helps mentally to increase adherence and bring out the flexibility. 50-55 grams of fat is a much more reasonable goal than 52.5 grams. Adherence and compliance are key. You will have better success being 90% accurate 90% of the time than being 100% accurate half the time, and not tracking the other half because you are so stressed out over hitting your numbers! If you do over eat and blow your numbers or have some meal that you can’t be exact about, enter it still. We had a client that had a very difficult time with not binging. His binging was intentionally self-destructive, even eating foods that he didn’t like. He would never track these days. We finally convinced him to track a few binges. Xxxxxxx Remember, untracked days are much worse than days when you track and overeat.
Think about lucky charms. The serving size is in total grams, not this much cereal and this much marshmallow. There is variation built into nutrition labels. Your steak is not marbled exactly like the one the USDA used when calculating macros. The big take home here is to be reasonable and honest with yourself. You get out what you put in. If you are loose tracking meals, not weighing foods, and getting in the next ball park over with your numbers, don’t be shocked if the results are slow to come. Results will come from repeated small efforts over time, not one day of hitting your numbers on the dot and then overnight success. Likewise, if you are so stressed about your numbers that you eat the same 3 things meal after meal, you won’t enjoy the freedom and flexibility that makes flexible dieting a sustainable success.
Be as accurate as you can, but remember to be flexible!
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