What do you think of when you think of “counting calories?” I’d bet the first words that spring to mind are “annoying,” “nerdy,” and “anal-retentive.” Maybe even “obsessive” or “pain in the ass.” I agree. But here’s the thing. You should count calories anyway…
…but only once and only for 30 days for the most convincing of reasons. It’s the best way to retake control of your eating and, ultimately, help you lose fat and build muscle.
We’re in an era of trendy diets. Some work. Some don’t.
They all have plenty of slick marketing and “influencer” endorsements. There is also a plethora of prominent biohackers pushing the supposed benefits of such diets, which are said to range from faster fat loss to preventing cancer. And why not throw in the ultimate feel-good bonus for virtue-signaling social justice warriors: saving the world by improving the environment?
Great. Wonderful. Fanfuckingtastic. If they work for you, I’m beyond excited for you.
Keto, intermittent fasting, vegan diets, IIFYM, carnivore, paleo, and whatever pops up in 2020 (maybe a kale cleanse?) can all work, and I’ve had clients that have experienced success with all of them.
Still, there is one classic dietary strategy that everyone should do once in their lives: counting calories once for 30 days
Let me begin with a caveat. Counting calories is not a magic cure-all strategy. There are drawbacks and skeptics. The skeptics say:
Not all labels are accurate.
I say: Try to focus instead on the proper and prescribed “serving size” of cereal or peanut butter or whatever. To do otherwise could easily double the portion size and add 300 or more calories.
It takes too much time.
I say: The average person now spends HOURS mindlessly scrolling on social media. Why not carve out 5-10 minutes to write down what you eat? The only reason is “I don’t want to.”
Counting calories triggers an unhealthy relationship with food. You stop seeing the joy and togetherness food can bring and see only protein, carbs, and fats to obsess over.
I say: Understood. If you battle disordered eating, please consult a dietician or nutritionist. I’m not your guy, even though I’m a certified nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition.
But there is one ultra-important lesson counting calories will teach you: awareness.
“What gets measured gets managed,” are the classic words of Peter Drucker, the inventor of modern management theory. The takeaway for fitness professionals (or other business people) is that if you don’t know how much a lead costs and the amount of money a lead brings into your business, you can’t scale intelligently.
In personal finance, gurus talk about the importance of setting a budget and understanding where your money is coming from and where it’s going. If you don’t know these things, you can’t plan intelligently.
In short, you need to build awareness so you can make better, more informed choices.
It’s all so blindingly obvious you have to wonder why the wisdom of making data-driven decisions is lost on us when it comes to dieting and nutrition.
Which leads to some questions:
How can you adjust your fat loss diet if you’re unsure how much you’re eating?
How can you adjust your muscle-building plan if you don’t know how many calories you’re eating each day?
How can you make sure the money you’re spending on supplements is actually addressing a nutritional deficiency if you don’t see where the gaps are in your nutrition in the first place?
In training, how do you know if a workout is working if you’re not tracking your weights to ensure progressive overload?
In all these instances, having tangible information makes your decisions infinitely more informed and more effective.
Here’s what I propose. Take the next 30 days to track what you eat in an app such as myfitnesspal. The awareness you gain in 30 days will be exponentially greater than you’d gain consuming a random assortment of Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and diet blog posts.
You’ll gain awareness of where you can improve based on your current eating. You’ll make dramatically better and more informed choices going forward.
And here’s the payoff: You don’t need to continue tracking after this point.
Truth be told, these days I only track calories when I’m really dialing in my physique for a photo shoot or ramping up calories at the start of a bulk so I can gauge what I need to eat each day.
5 Macro Tracking Secrets For Shredded High Performers
1. Meal prep on Sundays. Grill, bake or broil 2-4 pounds of meat. Roast some veggies. Cook a bag of potatoes and steam some rice. This gives you the component pieces to make dozens of different meals with ease.
2. Eat mostly the same foods. They’ll store in MyFitnesspal (or other apps) and allow you to implement them easily. For the record, I routinely eat tacos and pizza. They’re easy to make healthy with a little planning. Eating foods you love makes this process much more enjoyable.
3. Use measuring cups and spoons, etc. Learning portion sizes is the most important lesson here, particularly in America, where everything is supersized.
4. Do it now. Track calories right around mealtime. If you wait until the evening, you’ll forget.
5. As a bonus, write how you feel when eating. Are you stressed? Anxious? Relaxed? If you notice you’re devouring Doritos when you’re stressed, you’ve found something you need to address: stress management.
Let’s go. You can have results or have excuses. You decide.
Track once for 30 days.
If you never want to do it again, cool. Don’t. If you like it? Great, keep doing it. You’ll probably end up getting in better shape than 99% of people.
Either way, please heed this message:
When it comes to transforming your body and changing your habits, you can only optimize the actions you’re aware of. This is where calorie counting comes in. It gives you the ultimate insight into calorie balance, macronutrient splits, and any gaps in your nutrition.
Ditch the fad diets, at least temporarily. To the extent they work, they work because they restrict food choices. This puts you in a caloric deficit to trigger fat loss.
Instead, track what you’re eating for 30 days. You’ll be able to make more informed choices whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose fat, or heck, even buying supplements.
Once the 30 days is up, do whatever you’d like.
The ten minutes it takes you each day to track will give you the awareness and discipline to improve your eating for the rest of your life. And that, my friend, is priceless.
Would you like more simple strategies to look great naked without living in the gym? Start here.