When used correctly, food tracking tools like MyFitnessPal, or Lose It can help you to reach your physique and/or performance goals (or troubleshoot why you aren't reaching them). For EM2WL fam, these tools are also useful to ensure that you're eating enough calories, and getting in enough of the micro/macronutrients that tend to left behind when dieting. But even the most “accurate” of these tools leaves room for a margin of error.
For many, this margin becomes the focus, rather than the original reason they began tracking: the overall trend/big picture. Once focused on minutiae, tracking food can become a slippery slope, leading to obsession for so many people. Ironically, overly-obsessing about the numbers actually makes success harder to achieve.
Perfection when tracking can be hard to get away from. Getting wrapped up in the numbers can lead to an obsession with ALL numbers needing to be perfect. This includes numbers from your Fitbit, heart rate monitor, cardio machines, your body fat %, your scale number etc. ALL numbers are estimations and come with a large degree of variability, so learn how things work in the real world, rather than relying solely on how they should work on paper. It's not about you being perfect, it's about being consistent.
Use tracking tools responsibly, AND hit your goals – #likeaboss
There are ways to track without being obsessive. Start by tracking what you are already eating for a 1-2 week period and change nothing. This let's you see whether you are maintaining, gaining or losing weight. Then a decision can be made for your next course of action. Tracking allows you to see any patterns that might be taking shape in your habits. This can include not eating breakfast or eating too much at a certain time of day.
When you know your baseline, check our online calculator to find your TDEE level. Then you can see if this number needs to be higher or lower than what you are currently consuming. If your number is lower than your TDEE, consider diving into a metabolism reset. If the number is higher than it should be, then your reduction in calories is lower than maybe you thought it should be. (More food FTW!!)
For most, this approach takes away a lot of the obsessive tracking tendencies. It's much easier to focus on the small changes needed to increase or decrease your caloric level, without getting obsessed by the numbers. Tracking allows you to have an understanding of what kinds of food you like and what will help you reach your macro goals.
Regardless of where you start, tracking can be a very powerful tool in your fat loss efforts. When used as a tool and not as a crutch, you will be able to move away from tracking all together and enjoy your life tracker free.
A food tracker can be a powerful weight loss tool. When used correctly, it can give you a ton of data about your eating patterns and caloric intakes. For many, tracking food can mean the difference between eating enough calories and eating the right kinds of calories. However, the ultimate goal for the majority of #crushers is to be able to live and eat without the aid of a food tracker.
Intuitive eating vs. Food tracker
The goal to stop tracking comes with an important caveat. You have to actually track your food for a period of time in order to stop tracking later. So for many, this means understanding that if your goal is to stop using a food tracker, then you must be able to perfect intuitive eating, by knowing how your food choices line up each day.
By tracking, this allows you to see each day where your calorie intake actually hits, and where your macros fall in. This allows you to make notes of what you need to eat daily, and how your choices affect your macros for each meal. Paying attention to your daily food habits will set you up for success when the time comes to stop tracking. Your understanding of how to hit that protein goal becomes apparent after you track consistently.
Another good reason for using a food tracker is seeing if there are patterns in your moods and hunger cues. By tracking your moods daily using the notes section of your diary, you will be able to see if there are patterns to certain issues. Things like skipping breakfast causes you to binge eat later in the day. Or a pattern in eating a certain food brings on the bloat or gives you headaches/migraines. These cues can tell you a lot about your eating habits and how to troubleshoot them long after you stop tracking.
Finally, tracking your food allows you to be self aware. It keeps you accountable to your daily required calories, and hitting those macros. Both are necessary for fat loss. It also gives you the stepping stones to make these changes in your food a habit. Habits which need to be solid before you begin intuitive eating.
The goal for everyone is to eventually stop tracking food. But take the steps now to track so your foundation is solid in the future.
Fat loss is a tricky problem for almost everyone. Of course we all want to get rid of unwanted fat on our bodies, but it is not as easy as “eat less, move more.” There is far more to it than that.
Ways to aid successful fat loss
Before you dive into the tweaks needed for this, familiarize yourself with our quick start guide. This will refresh your memory on how to begin your journey and what to expect. One of the main aspects to consider in this is a metabolism reset. This will be your biggest supporter to a successful cut phase.
When the time comes to reduce calories and begin your fat loss phase, cutting requires only a small amount of calories to be removed. We are talking 5-15% from your TDEE. The key is still to be able to eat as much as possible and still have a loss in fat. Following a 4-6 week cut phase, a jump back up to your TDEE level is necessary to remind the body of where maintenance is.
Think about it. If you cut your intake to a specific number, and do nothing more, then your body will adjust to that lower level and that becomes your new “normal.” Then when the plateau hits (which it always does) calories need to be slashed again in order to see a loss. Each step down will cause the metabolism to slow, thus making it harder and harder for fat loss to happen.
Just like your body adjusts to calories going down – it will adjust to calories going up.
By reminding your metabolism where maintenance is, the body continues to burn at the higher caloric level, giving you far more food to eat and still burn for fat loss. Every 4-6 weeks you should take one week off back at TDEE. If you choose to go 8-10 weeks, then a two or more week break is needed.
Biggest thing to remember is this is NOT a quick fix diet! Patience, Consistency and maximum caloric intake are what will help you be successful at fat loss.
Thank you for considering me to share my story with the world or whoever will read.
My story has been full of ups and downs. A lot of trial and error, tears and a lot of frustration. But without that it wouldn't have made me the person that I am today.
I wasn't always a bigger girl growing up. I actually used to get made fun of for being too skinny. But, with time, I ended up putting the weight on and totally losing control of it. I ballooned up to 230+ pounds. My doctor told me I was getting close to being pre-diabetic. So I knew right there and then I had to do something about it.
And this is where the frustration began.
I started off doing weight watchers, and then moving to Curves, and then joining a local gym which I was not happy at. Didn't help that I had no idea what I was doing. At that point in time I was frustrated with seeing no progress and decided just to give up. I was sad and depressed. Avoided looking in the mirror and was disgusted having to shop in the plus size in all the stores. Nothing that I used to wear fit. Started wearing men's clothes because it would hide a lot of my shame.
Then in 2012 a Snap Fitness opened up down the street from me which ended up saving my life and kick started my love of fitness. I started going everyday nearly two or three hours and eating very little. About 1200 calories a day. Yup got caught up in that cycle. Sure I lost weight. And before I knew it I was under 200 lbs. Took me a few years to go from a size 24 to a size 12 but had been logging my food with myfitnesspal since 2011.
Then the nasty bought of plateaus hit.
I found eatmore2weighless through the forums on myfitnesspal and started to apply it to my daily routine. I knew that with the amount of work that I was doing that I was just simply not eating enough. For a few years I went back and forth from eating 1200 calories to 1700 calories. If I didn't see the pounds move then I would cut cut cut.
Which brings me to a couple months ago (April 2016) when after all the frustrations finally piled up I said to myself that I'm going to start eating more especially with doing heavy lifting 4 to 5 days a week. Looking at progress pics I can see myself leaning out and toning up even though I'm the same weight as I was in September 2015. I've gained a lot of self confidence over the years and have done a lot of reading and research that I feel confident enough to take a personal training course so I can help others on their journey.
I don't know where I would be right now if I didn't find EM2WL. I look forward to see where this journey takes me.
Read more of Crystal's journey here.
If you are like most people, you have probably lived through this cycle at least once, but even more likely, you have lived it over and over: You wake up one day, go to get ready for work, pull on your favorite pants and can’t get them buttoned. Well, you can, but let’s just say, it’s not pretty! Can you say muffin top?? You vow right then and there to start your “diet” again. No more fast food, no more chips, no more cheese, no more cookies, no more pizza, no more than 1,200 calories a day. In fact, you are so serious, you are even going to cut out chocolate *gasp*.
You wake up early the next morning and make an egg white omelet with spinach (hold the cheese) portion out your carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes for lunch, and you head out for a jog. This time, you are so committed to this new lifestyle that you even sign up take a high impact step aerobics class after work, just to burn off some more calories. If you can keep your food calories at 1,200, and then burn off 600 calories in that one hour aerobics class, well that knocks your net calorie intake to 600 for the day. Then, add in the burn from your morning jog and surely the pounds will just fly off you! Score!!
Well, your new “diet” goes well for a day or two, maybe even a week, but then the cravings begin… Soon they become all encompassing. Every waking moment is spent thinking about those precious 1,200 calories, and how you are going to allocate them to survive another day. You begin to dream about food 24/7. You feel like throwing in the towel, but no … you stand strong. For a while. Then soon, everything crumbles. As you are driving home from work you pull into the closest drive-thru and order enough food for a family of four. Two meals are gone by the time you get home, and the other two follow shortly thereafter.
The next day continues in much the same way. I mean, you already blew your diet, so what is the point in forcing yourself to eat egg whites, spinach and carrot sticks today? You skip the morning jog and hop in the car and head off to Dunkin Donuts. The box of 6 donuts doesn’t even live to make it to the office…
So, these binges may be different for every person. They may last for a day, a week, or even longer. They may involve fast food and donuts, or maybe peanut M&Ms and pizza. The outcomes may vary widely, but the causes are probably strikingly similar, and they almost always will involve restriction….
The good news is, there is something we can do to help control or even eliminate these binge cycles. The even better news is that these issues are addressed by some of the core beliefs of Eat More 2 Weigh Less.
The primary cause for binging involves restriction … restriction of both calories and specific foods.
When we start a new diet, we often start by dropping our calories to a rock-bottom level. I mean, the less we eat, the faster we will lose, no? This can be a true recipe for disaster. Dropping your calories too low, and taking an overly aggressive cut, will result in cravings that will soon become overpowering. You can use willpower for a while to overcome these feelings, but eventually your willpower will run out and these cravings will win. Those cravings are much like a slingshot. You can use willpower to avoid the temptation to eat for just so long (as the slingshot is pulled back further and further), but once it gets to maximum tension, it’s all over… The rock is propelled through the air, and then it’s just you and the fridge. And, trust me, it won’t be pretty!
Overly restricting your caloric intake and taking too steep of a deficit is one of the quickest ways to cause a binge. Your body (and brain) will fight against you tooth and nail. The good news is that Eat More 2 Weigh Less addresses this issue by promoting that we eat at only a small deficit from our TDEE. By keeping this deficit small, it is often possible to reduce or even eliminate some of these cravings that result in binges.
So what to do if you are experiencing these binge cycles as the result of eating too little? Find out what your TDEE is and simply gradually start increasing your intake until you are eating either at or slightly below your TDEE, based on your goals. Most people will find that once they are adequately fueling their bodies and eating closer to maintenance calories that they feel more in control. They feel satiated and no longer have that constant gnawing in their bellies that reminds them that they are starving (literally) 24/7.
Another common cause for binges involves restricting certain foods or even entire food groups. Now certainly if you have a medical reason to avoid certain foods, then by all means, do what you need to do for your health. But, if you are eliminating specific foods from your diet simply because you feel as though they are “off limits” or “bad,” then you may want to reconsider. When you completely eliminate certain foods from your diet because you think they are “bad,” then over time the desire to eat these foods will become overwhelming.
With EM2WL, no foods are considered to be “off limits.” In fact, we encourage everyone to enjoy eating a well-balanced diet, complete with treats! Now, is this an invitation to eat cookies and ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as long as it is within your calorie goals? Absolutely not. EM2WL recommends that everyone monitor their macros (using a tool like My Fitness Pal) and set them at 40% Carbs/30% Protein/ 30% Fats. Eating healthfully and concentrating on eating whole, unprocessed foods is certainly going to be best for one’s health, but that does not mean that there is no room for treats! Concentrate on hitting that 30% protein macro each and every day. Make that a priority. If you do that, the other two macros will often just naturally fall into place. Once that protein macro is met, if there is room for waffles, a donut, dinner out at your favorite restaurant, or chocolate, then enjoy! As long as it fits within your caloric and macro goals for the day, it’s all good! You will most likely find that once certain foods are no longer considered “off limits”, and you are able to enjoy them in moderation that those intense cravings will subside… Remember, the fastest way to feel like you absolutely have to have something is to be told that you cannot have it… (Think of a little toddler being told to not absolutely not touch something. We all know how that ends up! :- )
If you are one of those people that feels as though if you have one bite of a food that you have previously considered off limits that you will lose all control and have it turn into an all-out binge, remember this: once you are eating closer to your TDEE or maintenance calories, those feelings will not be so strong. If you try to enjoy one cookie or a piece of chocolate while eating at a steep caloric deficit, then yes, it will be very hard to resist the temptation to eat more, simply because your body is craving more calories. However, if you are properly fueling your body and eating at only a small deficit, then those urges will not be as strong, because you will not be ravenously hungry. Adding back in previously prohibited foods will be much easier once you are well on your way to eating more. Adding them back in while still restricting calories may be a like playing with fire…
If you are still feeling a bit out of control, and still not “safe” around those tempting foods, here are a few things to try that may be helpful:
○ Don’t keep those tempting foods in the house. Yes, it’s okay to have them (in moderation and if they fit within your caloric and macro goals), but it may be necessary to not have them in your kitchen cabinet. If you are going to splurge on a treat, try eating it at a restaurant (or an ice cream or frozen yogurt parlor). Order your serving, enjoy, and then leave … not taking the temptation with you.
○ If you do bring foods into your home and fear losing control with them late at night, only buy a small quantity, and enjoy it in its entirety, not leaving any leftovers for later temptation. If you want to indulge in some chocolate, pick out the best quality in a size that fits your goals and enjoy it guilt-free. By limiting the package size, once it’s gone, it’s gone…
○ Try finding “healthier” alternatives to your trigger foods. If it’s ice cream you crave, try experimenting with other dessert options. My personal favorite is one cup of Greek yogurt with ½ scoop protein powder stirred in (I love peanut butter cookie flavored Protizyme) topped with one cup frozen berries, slivered almonds (or try pecans or walnuts) and a spoonful of dark chocolate chips. It makes a huge bowl and the fiber in the berries will keep you full, as will the protein (from both the yogurt and the protein powder) and it even helps you reach that protein macro!
If it’s pizza that you are craving, maybe try making your own. You can buy whole wheat pizza dough in many stores (check the deli or freezer sections) and top it with flavorful cheeses (parmesan and feta are great choices) and grilled vegetables (think onions, asparagus, mushrooms, yellow or zucchini squash). Add some meat if you like and enjoy! By using high quality, flavorful cheeses, you can use less and get a huge flavor punch for less calories. The veggies are very filling and will help you reach that fiber macro. Plus, you get to eat pizza!
Craving a sandwich? Try replacing the mayo with hummus or smashed avocado with a touch of lemon and salt. Want some chips? Try sweet potato chips or make your own kale chips in the oven with some olive oil and sea salt. Standing at the check-out line at the grocery store and feel like grabbing a candy bar? Reach for a protein bar instead.
You can have tons of yummy foods in your diet, just try to make some small tweaks to make those choices a bit healthier. You may find that you can satisfy those cravings while at the same time you are able to reach your macro goals.
Binges are generally caused by restriction. If you can avoid restriction, you can often stop those binges.
○ Overly restricting your caloric intake and taking too steep of a deficit is one of the quickest ways to cause a binge. Eat closer to your TDEE or maintenance calories and you may find that those urges are greatly decreased. On the other hand, starve your body and those cravings will become so strong that eventually no amount of willpower will be able to overcome them.
○ Restricting or eliminating specific foods or food groups can tend to make them even more enticing. Once you are eating closer to your TDEE, allow yourself to indulge on a previously “off limits” treat (in moderation) and work them into your daily or weekly goals. Just knowing that you can have those treats somehow takes away some of their “power”….
If you think you have an eating disorder, then certainly seek professional counseling, but if you are just stuck in a rut of repeated “falling off the wagon” caused by severe caloric restriction, then perhaps some of these tips will work for you and help you gain some control over your life and your food.
I’ve always been on a diet. I’m sure that’s not quite the case but I can’t remember NOT thinking about food in terms of “fat vs skinny” and “bad vs good.” When I was probably around 10 my mom and I went on The Beet and Ice Cream Diet. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. For the record, it has taken about 25 years for me to eat another beet… I also recall that around this time I was actually being paid to lose weight, and I was absolutely thrilled when I got the flu. All this before the age of 12, and that set me up nicely for high school years marked by food anxiety, laxative abuse, binging and purging, cardio sessions that were literally hours long at a time, and most significantly, an extended bout with anorexia in which at the last weigh-in I remember I was 102 on my 5’9’’ frame. (I definitely want to say that eating disorders are never about food per se – there are underlying issues generally centering around feelings of control – but a childhood fraught with food anxieties can create an environment quite conducive to using eating disorders as an outlet for working through those issues.)
Fast forward a bit and I finally had a relatively normal relationship with food. I was a healthy weight (about 135 – 145, I never owned a scale) and ate like a “normal” person: I ate when I was hungry, I ate healthily but indulged when I wanted, and I ran and did yoga when time permitted because it felt good to move. I felt I looked ok but was never happy with the way I looked. And I even made peace with that. I felt with my ED background I was probably never going to have a good sense of what I looked like and regardless, I was probably never going to be happy about it. Uplifting huh? Resigning oneself to a lifetime of meh?
Fast forward a bit more and a more sedentary, office-sitting lifestyle meant I gained a few more pounds. I couldn’t even say what my weight was but I’m going to guess between 155 and 165. I decided to get fit. Bring on the cardio! I began running and doing Insanity, counting calories, the whole deal. I even threw some weight training in there, but I was not lifting heavy enough nor was I eating to support any sort of positive muscle gains. With cardio of 1 hour plus daily (with long runs of 2 hours or so once a week), calories down to between 1500 and 1700 (with a once per week cheat of 1900 – 2000, I’m shaking my head typing this), and carbs shunned like the devil, I got down to 149. For a nanosecond. It was great to see that “14” at the beginning of my scale number. And guess what. I still didn’t like how I looked, I felt like I was moving through mud every day, it didn’t last. The weight just seemed to start piling back on. Restricting or not, running or not, nothing seemed to slow down the weight gain.
At this point I started doing some research and decided that ok, scale weight, who cares. I just want to look good and feel better. I discovered the New Rules of Lifting for Women and began lifting heavy and eating at what I thought would be maintenance. The scale was not kind but I felt like I had no choice; nothing else was working so at least I was putting on some muscle. Around this time I also found EM2WL, and Kiki, Lucia, and Anitra really helped me confirm that I was on the right path and I officially undertook a reset.
The reset was kind of awful, not gonna lie. I felt like a big bag of squishy water. Very sausage-esque, and oh it was summer by the way. I tried to concentrate on the fact that my lifts were going up, I was seeing some muscle pop through on rare occasion J, and that I was getting healthier. I stuck through the reset for the 12 weeks, not counting my NROLFW start, and then moved to the cut phase. My start-of-cut weigh-in in September 2013 was 172, but truthfully I may have gotten higher during reset – I stayed off the scale completely during the 12 weeks because I knew it would be a huge deterrent. The reason I am guessing the scale was higher at some point is because my weight (judged from pictures and clothes) seemed to level out and even drop a little bit towards the end of the reset. This, coupled with the fact that I realized I actually was not looking forward to cutting at all, told me I was ready to cut. Irony is a cruel mistress.
The scale was very slow to start moving on that first cut. Pretty much nothing happened until December after an initial 3 lb water weight drop over 2 weeks or so. Yes, 3 months of nothing happening! Then by 3/31/14 I was at 162. By 6/30/14, 158 and at 9/30/14, 157.8. The dreaded plateau. I had been taking breaks throughout but knew I was cutting for a long time; I decided to give it a little more of a chance and evaluate. Well, at 11/30/14 I was at 157.2 AND measurements weren’t going down so I said to hell with this. Maintenance break. I ate at maintenance until 1/18/15 and stayed the same weight. I even ate a little above during that time. Then I resumed a cut, taking 2 week long breaks during 2 months and found myself at 150.4. Yes, 7 lbs came off just like that, and that has never ever ever been the case for me.
That was about 3 weeks ago. I evaluate my progress on a monthly basis, so next week we’ll see what the data tells me. I’d like to drop a little bit more fat but you know what? I actually finally kind of like the way I look. I look way better than when I reached that cardio/low cal/low carb 149. Way better. I have muscle now. I’m definitely stronger and happier. Oh, and I can eat. I can maintain at almost 1000 calories more than those old days and while I am pretty active outside of work, I’m not a slave to the treadmill anymore. I lift, I run probably once per week, I spin, I yoga. I do whatever I feel like because it makes me feel good and because now my goals are skill-related (doing a pullup, hitting a bench PR, achieving that yoga pose), not because I have to reach a certain calorie burn.
So that’s my story. Here are some takeaways.
1. Reset sucks but it’s necessary. If you think you can skimp on it you are just setting yourself up for a more drawn out frustration.
2. The cut part is slow. It took a long time to get moving. (And the cut part sucks too, lol. When it does suck that's when you know you are ready to cut.)
3. When it gets too slow after a while, don't fight it. Take a break. Your body will win this one so might as well play along. That long break worked for me. I think with a tough plateau, a week or 2 weeks isn't going to cut it. I'm thinking you need to break for much longer.
4. You must lift weights if you want to change how you look and support a healthier metabolism.
5. Not being focused on the scale but progress in the gym (faster run times, bigger lifts, accomplishing or working on certain bodyweight exercises) also helped me. It’s a mindset shift but once I managed to believe in it, I think the aesthetics are coming more naturally and with less stress.
6. Speaking of the scale, only pay attention to what it has to say IF you are also taking pictures, taking measurements, and using clothes to measure progress. By itself it is a glorified paperweight.
7. Working on controlling stress, or rather my reaction to it, has helped immensely.
8. Did I mention lifting weights? Heavy weights?
Having said that, I’m still a work in process. And I always will be, and not because I’m broken but because I will continue to grow. So far I’ve worked hard to free myself from The Beet and Ice Cream Diet mentality, and it feels good. I don’t have all the answers and many times need to take my own advice. I know me enough to know this will probably continue. I also know me enough to know that I will stumble. I will have setbacks. And I will have victories. I’m going to do my best to keep my head and know that I will sometimes need someone to knock some sense into me. And all of that is ok. Because there are 2 days a year you can’t control – yesterday and tomorrow. That leaves today, and today, I’m just going to do my best and try to have fun doing it.