I've written a ton about my belief in a habit-based approach to eating better. As far as I'm concerned my understanding of behavioral and change psychology is the single biggest influencer of how I coach and instruct clients in my practice.
I think at the end of the day everything comes down to either building new habits or trying to get rid of bad habits.
However I've also written about the pros and cons of both a habit-based nutritional approach and a diet-based approach (here).
Each one comes with it's own unique sets of advantages and disadvantages which means that you really have to fit the approach to the individual not the individual to the approach.
Something I think the majority of coaches in the fitness suck at.
That being said I've personally been using a non-habit focused approach to my nutrition for the last two months.
I refer to this approach as tracking my calories and macros, but I know around the interwebz it's also become known as "flexible dieting" or "If It Fits Your Macros."
This isn't a new skill for me personally as I've tracked my calories and macros for extended periods of time on and off over the last eight years.
The difference though this time around is I've been trying to combine my belief in habits as the long-term answer with the more short-term strategy of tracking my food.
Before I discuss that though let me give you a short overview of "flexible dieting", tell you why I've become somewhat of a fan of it, why think it's a viable option for reaching your goals, especially those centered around changing your physique.
"Flexible Dieting" is, in it's purest form, a strictly quantifiable approach to eating.
It's based on the large body of scientific evidence that shows their are two things that consistently predict the success of a diet protocol - personal adherence and cumulative caloric and macronutrient intake.
When practicing this kind of nutritional approach there are only really two rules:
- No foods are off-limits.
- You have to consistently hit your personal daily caloric and macronutrient target numbers.
It essentially prioritizes eating foods in the correct amounts over eating the supposedly "correct" foods.
And this is why I've begun to become more of a fan of using this approach, especially for those looking for specific physique transformations.
I'm not stating that I think quantity is the only thing that matters and that quality of the food should be ignored, but what I am saying is that even high-quality foods typically considered as "healthy" or "clean" when eaten in excessive amounts cause use to gain weight and unnecessary body fat.
Not to mention when you attempt to attack changing the way you eat through a diet-based approach focusing on quality it requires you to eliminate many of the foods that currently make up your diet forcing you to change the way you cook, plan, and shop for your meals.
"Flexible dieting" though kills both of these problems and barriers because it allows you to continue to eat whatever foods you are currently eating, but works to get you eating the proper amounts of these foods to hit your target daily calories and macronutrients and many times this is enough for you to start seeing results.
The quality discussion then can be had after you get the overeating or under eating problem resolved.
"But Stevan I thought you said that long-term calorie and macronutrient tracking wasn't a long-term, sustainable solution to eating for your health and hotness?"
To tell you the truth I'm not so sure about that opinion anymore, especially when you begin to look at calorie and macronutrient tracking as a habit and educational tool.
That is simply practicing food logging and tracking as a habit first allows you to use a habit-based approach to tackling the "right amount" problem in your diet.
You can decide what "food logging and tracking" will look like for you.
Once you have established this has a consistent, near-daily behavior you can take the next step of adding target numbers for your calories and macronutrients.
Essentially that would be the new habit.
Instead of just "tracking and logging food" you would "eat your target number of daily calories and macronutrients."
Once you tackle that for two or more weeks you could begin to add in more quality food oriented and lifestyle habits to practice such as "establishing a bedtime routine" or "drinking more water."
But beginning the habit-based process with "flexible dieting" you are able to the following:
- Establish a starting point of what your current diet looks like both in quality and quantity.
- "Stop the bleeding." What I mean by this is most people have excess fat and weight because they eat to much. Flexible dieting gets you eating the right amount of food right away so you stop the continued weight gain and begin moving towards the physique you want immediately.
- Prevents the need to change how you cook and shop for meals.
- Increased adherence as you can still enjoy the foods you like without derailing progress.
- Takes the guess work out of deciding what you need to do to see progress to stay motivated in the beginning.
- Makes you a more informed eater and decision maker as you can make better estimates about what foods and the amount of those foods you need to reach your goals.
For all these reasons I have begun to look at tracking your food as not being opposed to a long-term habit-based solution, but potentially the starting point for it.
If this has struck a chord with you and your excited to try this new approach to building a sustainable way of eating for your health and hotness then your probably wondering what the next steps are.
Don't worry I've got you covered.
First things first - you have to start tracking. That is habit numero uno.
How you track is completely up to you, but I'll share how I think it's done best.
Use an electronic food logging application to start tracking. Preferably it's one that goes on your mobile phone. I'm a personal fan of mymacros+ because it allows you to enter personalized calorie and macronutrient targets. But there are many out there just find one you like.
Then don't even worry about targets for two weeks and just practice tracking your food each day. I like to enter what I am planning to eat for the day ahead of time and then adjust it if need be. This prevents me from forgetting to track as the day gets busy.
After you successfully track near-daily for two weeks begin to practice hitting your target macronutrient and calorie numbers. There are a ton of online calculators to give you these target numbers, but you can have access to my calculator by clicking here. Simply enter the information requested in the calculator then select the target calorie and macronutrient range based on your goal and activity level.
Once you have become to nail hitting your target numbers on a consistent basis you can begin to focus more on your ultimate physique goal which requires you to use an outcome-based decision making process. The procedure for this is below:
1. You measure what's happening every 2 weeks after you've begun hitting your target intake numbers. If you're not improving your body comp, you either increase your calories (if you want to gain weight) or decrease your calories (if you want to lose weight).
2. You'll either decrease or increase your daily calorie intake 250kcal for 2 weeks then remeasure.
3. You'll continue to do this until you're moving in the direction of your goals.
I hope I'm not confusing anyone here, but this is part of my evolution as a coach.
I'm trying to find the best way to help you and my clients reach their goals in an efficient and effective manner that they can sustain for the rest of their lives and I think this is another piece to that puzzle.
I still believe that the approach has to be tailored to the individual, but I don't think we have to exclusively separate a habit-based approach from a diet-based approach. I think this is a way they can co-exist in the same plan and compliment each other while doing it.
Feel free to comment if you have any questions.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training