Welcome to the third and last installment of our Flexible Dieting for Beginners series. In this blog, we’re going to go over our favorite apps for tracking, the tools needed to be successful, how to properly use a food scale, common mistakes made while tracking, the downsides of tracking, and lastly, how to stop tracking and still maintain progress.
We’ve mentioned a handful of apps in this series, but I wanted to review them in case anyone was trying to figure out which to use.
Our top choice for tracking apps is MacroFactor. Not only is it great for tracking, but it also does an insanely good job of calculating what amount of calories and macros you should be having each week. Now, you can use it without the ‘coaching’ feature and figure out your numbers yourself. However, we truly believe they have the best team behind-the-scenes which lead to constant improvements on their already awesome algorithm.
The coaching part of the app works from two main inputs on the users’ end - daily body weight and food intake. This means, users need to track their weight every day (or as close to it as possible) as well as everything they eat. While this can be tedious at first, it is invaluable and becomes second nature daily quickly. By using these two inputs, the app is able to figure out your exact TDEE (which we go over in this blog post). This saves a TON of time and frustration as you know exactly what you need to eat to hit your goal - whether it’s gaining muscle, maintaining weight, or losing fat.
Lastly, one con of MacroFactor is that there is no free version. However, it’s only $11.99 a month or $71.99 for the year as of the writing of this post. That price pales in comparison to the hundreds of dollars that coaches charge for macro plans so we fully believe it’s worth it. If you want to start with 2 weeks free to try it out, then you can use code STOKED to get started!
Next up is the one that most people are familiar with, which is MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is a great choice if you’re just getting started, especially if you aren’t looking to spend any money (however, we do suggest purchasing the premium version for $9.99/month if you are getting serious about tracking).
MyFitnessPal is very user-friendly, however, it does NOT accurately calculate your calories or macros. If you are looking for this, we suggest MacroFactor. We would also suggest not letting the app subtract/add exercise calories for you as it is incredibly inaccurate. You can turn that feature off in your settings.
The biggest con to MyFitnessPal is that it doesn’t have the science behind it that MacroFactor does, so it’s really up to you to decide when and how to change your calories/macros as your progress begins to stall. This can become a breaking point for people as they will begin to make more emotional decisions when progress isn’t going as fast as they’d like. If this sounds like an issue you might have, then I’d suggest going with MacroFactor instead.
Tracking App: As discussed, either MacroFactor or MyFitnessPal will do the trick
Digital Food Scale: A food scale is the most accurate way to measure your food. Ditch any volume-measuring tools (tablespoons, measuring cups, etc) and switch all measurements to weight on the food scale. If you try and track without using a food scale, you will have a terrible time. Below we will go over how to avoid common mistakes with the food scale so keep reading!
Food Storage Containers (preferably glass): Containers are now your refrigerators’ best friend. You will most likely be doing a fair amount of food prepping to help your nutrition plan run smoothly, so getting quality containers is key. We recommend glass because they hold up longer and are better for the environment.
Body Weight Scale: While body weight isn’t the end-all metric, it can be extremely telling. The biggest mistake people make when utilizing a scale is putting wayyyyyyy too much emphasis on a daily weigh in instead of the weekly trend. Although weighing yourself daily can be intimidating, doing so will get you used to seeing the daily fluctuations, and will allow you to see trends. For instance, say your goal is weight loss and you fluctuate high one or two days a week. That might cause some stress, but when you look at the average of that week, and it’s lower than the average from the week before, your stress will subside and you’ll learn to understand that the daily weigh-ins are just data. We recommend weighing in first thing in the morning, after using the restroom and before eating or drinking anything.
Progress Pictures: As mentioned, the number on the scale isn’t the whole picture.We recommend taking progress pictures once every 2 weeks. Try to take it the same day of the week in the same spot each time. As with weigh-ins, we suggest doing so in the morning after using the restroom and before eating or drinking anything.
Measuring Tape: Measuring can be a huge tool for anyone getting serious because it can tell us a story that the scale can’t. Sometimes, especially when someone is new to lifting, they might be losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time which is amazing. However, they may feel defeated when stepping on the scale because their weight might not reflect the progress they made. Measurements can assure you that you are still making progress whether your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle.
We believe that using a food scale to measure is so beneficial that we decided to add this section to reiterate it. If you do not use a food scale while tracking calories and macros then you will have a very terrible time doing so.
A food scale will teach you what portion sizes actually look like and will keep you accountable.
Take our beloved peanut butter for instance. The spoon on the left has what one serving of peanut butter actually is. However, it isn’t hard to imagine someone scooping the one on the right and thinking that it’s also just one tablespoon. This is why we weigh our food. It only takes 2 or 3 of these common mistakes to totally throw off your progress.
Measuring Food By Volume (spoons, cups, eyeballing) instead of measuring by weight (food scale). Yes, we are mentioning this a third time because we want to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we did! Obviously, you’ll have to guesstimate here and there. The more often you do, though, the more often you are increasing the uncertainty of your measurements. Look again at our peanut butter example to see why!
Bites/Licks/Tastes - Try to stick to the handy “If you bite it, write it” rule as much as you can. It’s easy to let this become a slippery slope which can lead to a ton of frustration when you begin to stop making progress. Small bites and tastes can easily add up to 100 calories or more throughout the day.
Oils/Butters - No, we aren’t telling you not to have oil or butter. We’d hate ourselves too if we told you not to. This is a reminder that if you’re cooking with it in your pan, it should be tracked!
Using the Generic Entry Examples in the tracking apps. Don’t settle for entries listed as just “1 Medium Banana” or “Large Potato”. There’s no common understanding as to how many calories ‘one large potato’ is, so the one you’re eating can be off and lead to a difference of hundreds of calories throughout the week. Weigh your food and use entries with weight attached!
Adding Calories Back For Exercise. One issue we have with MyFitnessPal is that it typically will add back in any calories lost from exercise that day. If you burned 300 calories, it will give you that additional amount to eat that day. There’s two problems with this. The first, is that your activity level is already taken into account when we calculate our calories (whether that was through a TDEE Calculator online or through the equations we listed in our last blog post here.) The second, is that the technology that figures out how many calories you burned during exercise is notoriously inconsistent. To be safe, turn this feature off. For those using MacroFactor, you don’t need to worry about this one since they don’t add any calories back for exercise.
Eating “Hard to Track” Foods Too Often. While Flexible Dieting is awesome because it allows us to be just that - flexible - we have to understand that our tracking still needs consistent accuracy to work for us. Foods that are hard to track are just going to increase the rate of inconsistency in our logging, so it’s best to try and keep them limited. This includes restaurant foods (fast food, takeout, eating in) unless it’s a place that is noted for accurate measurements and macros (like Muscle Maker Grill or any meal prep services like Redefine Meals). Other foods that can be hard to track are things like soups and casseroles that are homemade and require you to mix a lot of ingredients together.
Using Raw Meat Entries But Logging Cooked Meat. On almost every nutrition label for meat, the weight for a serving size is for 4oz of raw meat, not cooked. If you scan the package barcode when tracking, and the food is already cooked, then you will need to divide the cooked amount weighed by 0.75. For example, 5oz of cooked ground turkey on the scale should be logged as 6.6oz of raw ground turkey in the tracking app. (you can disregard this step if the app has a cooked entry for that food - just double check the math to be sure!)
Raw to Cooked = Raw Weight x 0.75
Cooked to Raw = Cooked Weight ÷ 0.75
The Downsides of Tracking Macros
We believe that tracking macros can be beneficial to all goals regarding fitness. However, we understand it isn’t right for every person - especially if you have a history of disordered eating. This doesn’t mean someone who has that sort of history could never track, but we would suggest working with a Registered Dietitian has a history working with people who have an eating disorder.
Focusing so much of your attention to what you eat every day can lead some people to develop orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating) or other disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Again, if this is the case, we suggest finding a Registered Dietitian who works with people with eating disorders. We typically refer members to Tiffany Ma, RD who is based out of NYC but offers virtual coaching, counseling and consulting as well.
On the other end of the healthy eating obsession are those that will use Flexible Dieting to eat as much unhealthy food as possible while sticking to their macros. And while they may find success in weight loss, they are missing out on tons of nutrients from whole foods. Again, we suggest shooting for 80% whole foods at a minimum for a sustainable balance.
How to Stop Tracking Macros While Maintaining Your Progress
After hitting your goal, whatever that may be, you might start to wonder if you need to continue tracking your macros indefinitely. The answer is simple - if you enjoy tracking or are setting a new goal which tracking will assist you in, then keep doing it. If you don’t enjoy it or you don’t have any new goals that it would help with, then it’s a good idea to practice what some may call ‘intuitive eating’ where the goal is to go about eating with the same principles (80% whole foods, 20% fun foods) without tracking.
If you start to feel like you need to track again to hit another goal, then great! Start tracking again. But if not, and you don’t love tracking, then focus on eating nutrient dense foods in portions that work for you and keep it at that!
Well, we’ve reached the end of our Flexible Dieting/Macro Tracking series. If you have any more questions, feel free to talk to one of our coaches and we will be happy to answer!
Again, huge shoutout to The Healthy Consultant for providing the inspiration to this series in regards to formatting, structure and concept.