Counting calories or macros is useful for learning about nutrition, but it shouldn’t be forever.
A top nutrition coach told Insider how you can transition from tracking to eating intuitively.
Start small by not tracking one day a week and gradually increase from there.
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Whether you’re counting calories or tracking macros (protein, carbs, and fat), logging your food can be an educational tool that helps people fuel their fitness better, improve their relationship with food, or change their bodies.
It isn’t for everyone, and can become obsessive so you need to be self-aware, but for many people, food-tracking is a useful way to learn about portion sizes and the makeup of different foods, and it’s a tool you can come back to for brief periods when you need to.
If you’ve been counting your calories or macros for a while, you’ll likely grow tired of weighing and measuring your food and may want to transition to a more intuitive way of eating. But doing so can be a daunting concept, often prompting fear around forgetting everything you’ve learned.
That needn’t be the case though.
Dr. Mike Molloy, a nutrition coach who works with professional athletes and the founder of nutrition coaching business M2 Performance Nutrition, told Insider how you can gradually move away from tracking your food with a healthy mindset.
Take what you’ve learned about portion size
When clients first come to Molloy and his team, they initially suggest a period of macro-tracking, which means aiming to eat a certain amount of carbs, protein, and fat (and as a result, a certain amount of calories) every day or week.
“Weighing and measuring your food helps you learn what’s in different types of foods,” Molloy said. “You may be shocked to realize how much fat there is in lamb, or to find out that your cup of coffee has 350 calories in it. It can be an eye-opening experience.”
But once you’ve learned what’s in your food, you can scale back the use of food scales and measuring cups, and eat more intuitively because you know what a balanced plate of food and the right portion sizes look like.
“You know you should have a piece of protein roughly the size of your fist, a couple of handfuls of vegetables, a fat source about the size of your thumb, or whatever is right for how active you are, but you don’t need that food scale to tell you what is the appropriate amount of food any more,” Molloy said.
This is called eye-balling your food, and is actually somewhat different from what some nutrition experts say is true intuitive eating, which, as Insider’s Gabby Landsverk reported, is based on how your body feels.
Molloy suggests using a mix of both strategies: taking what you’ve learned about portion size through tracking your food, and listening to your body’s internal cues.
“Listening to your body and recognizing when you’re satiated and can stop eating is a much more sustainable approach long-term,” Molloy said.
Start by not tracking one day a week and work up
If you’re nervous about moving away from calorie-counting, it might be wise to ease yourself out of it by starting small.
For one day a week, don’t measure, weigh, or track your food, but try and stick to healthy portion sizes and balanced meals. Once you get comfortable with that, increase to two and so on.
Although doing this at the weekend may seem like a good idea, it’s generally recommended to choose a weekday where it’ll be easier to eat “normally” and stay on track.
If you’re worried about not having any structure, consider following the “three plates two snacks” principle recommended by fat loss coach and personal trainer Jordan Syatt, which essentially means eating three meals, each of which can fit on one plate, and two snacks, each of which can fit in the palm of your hand, every day.
Calorie or macro counting is a tool you can always come back to for brief periods when you want to reset, reach a specific goal, or remind yourself what a portion should look like. And it can fit into your life in whatever way works for you.
Even as a nutrition coach, Molloy still tracks his food once every two weeks or so.
“I don’t track my macros most of the time, but maybe once every two weeks I will break out a food scale simply to reset my internal food scale and idea of what a portion looks like,” he said. “I love food, I am not afraid to eat. But what I assume is 150 grams of chicken can easily balloon to 250 grams without me noticing it.”
Molloy continued: “So by measuring occasionally it’s not affecting my mental health or my relationship with food, it’s not causing me any anxiety, but it reminds me how much I should be eating – otherwise I will eat more than I naturally intend to. It’s just a one day re-calibration.”
Read the original article on Insider