How To Find Macro-Friendly Foods

In a perfect world, where I was the perfect specimen of health and wellness, my diet would consist of one hundred percent organic, whole foods. I do wish I was at that point mentally, because physically I’m sure I would feel amazing! However, at this present moment, I’m more of what you might call a “practical eater”.

When it came to my weight loss in the past, I had a very all or nothing mindset. I always assumed if my diet wasn’t consisting of completely healthy, “good” foods, that I could never make much progress. Although working my way toward better overall health and nutrition is of course the ultimate goal, I was so relieved to find, that I could still make progress toward my physical goals, img_1360while eating foods that didn’t make me feel like I was depriving myself of all of the delicious processed treats this western world has to offer. For me personally, finding the right balance of vegetables and whole foods, with some processed, convenient treats mixed in has been the way I’ve made this process more of a lifestyle , instead of a diet. Finding brands with the ingredients that best fit your macros, is key to helping you fit in those fun foods and treats.

One common question I hear is, “How do you find macro-friendly foods?” Honestly, that’s a tricky question, because ALL foods can be “macro-friendly”, depending on which foods you pair them with for the day. But this week, I’ll explain the things I look for on a nutrition label, and how you can find the brands that taste the best, and fit the best with your macros.

Decoding the Nutrition Label

Lucky for us, in this day and age, we have magical apps like My Fitness Pal, that can help us track our food, calories, and macros for the day.img_1729 I honestly can’t imagine how body builders did it back in the day, before smartphones and computers. But knowing how to read the nutrition label while you’re at the grocery store, is still important when you’re buying ingredients to fit into your meal plan. There’s a ton of information we can learn from the nutrition label, but when I’m at the store, the main things I look for are: serving size, total calories, protein, carbs, fat, and fiber.

Comparing the Labels

So finding the brands, that have the most “macro-friendly” ingredients, is simply about comparing the labels. When you really start looking, it’s amazing how different brands, of the same types of food, can differ so much on their macronutrients. So let’s look at some examples of things you might see:

Example 1: Protein Pancakes

If you know me at all, you know that I love me some Kodiak Cakes! There was a period of probably 3 months or so, that I ate pancakes twice a day, every day. Pumpkin Spice for breakfast, and dark chocolate for an after dinner dessert. So I was curious when I saw another brand of protein pancakes pop up on the shelf, img_1730next to my beloved Kodiak Cakes. So I took a look at the label, and compared. It’s important to always check the serving size first, to make sure you’re comparing the same amount. These two pancake mixes had the same serving size of 1/2 cup. Next I check the total calories. The Krusteaz pancakes have 220 calories per 1/2 cup, while the Kodiak Cakes are 190 for the same amount. Next, I look at the protein. When it comes to protein, the one with the highest amount wins. Kodiak Cakes wins again! Next I’ll check the carbs, and for me, the lower number wins here. Kodiak Cakes is 3 for 3, with 8g less carbs per serving than the Krusteaz. Both brands have equal amounts of total fat. img_1731The last thing that sold me on the Kodiak Cakes, is the fiber. It contains 5g of fiber per serving, while the Krusteaz mix only contains 1g. So although both of these brands of protein pancakes, could fit into your macros, depending on your taste preference, the Kodiak Cakes are the most “macro-friendly”, because they have the highest amount of protein and fiber, and the lowest amount of carbs.

Example 2: Barbecue Sauce

It’s crazy how much the macros of some sauces and dressings can vary. One example of this is good ‘ol Barbecue Sauce.

 

A good thing to remember is, the sweeter the sauce, usually means, the higher the carbs. Two sauces that we sometimes buy in our house, are Sweet Baby Ray’s, and Stubb’s spicy barbecue. They also are the same serving size, and neither one of them contain protein. The things you want to pay attention to with sauces, are going to mainly be total calories, carbs, and sugar. Because of the sweetness in the Sweet Baby Ray’s, it not only packs in twice the amount of calories per serving, but also 10g more carbs, and 9g more sugar. Just like with the pancakes, you could make either brand work into your macros if you really wanted to, but the Stubb’s spicy barbecue would be easier to work into your day, than the Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Thank God For Technology

Technology makes it so much easier to not have to track all of our food, macronutrients, and micronutrients throughout the day. Using My Fitness Pal to plan my meals has been a huge part of my weight loss success, and it makes it so much easier to calculate all of the things I eat in a day. The main things I pay attention to in My Fitness Pal, are my total calories, protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. The only other things that I try not to get wild with are my sugar and sodium intake. I try to keep those numbers within the daily recommended amounts, because I know when I don’t, that I can feel sluggish or bloated.

Finding a Balance

While the goal is to keep progressing, and working my way toward a heavier emphasis on more whole foods and green vegetables, it is comforting knowing that I can still have some processed treats mixed in, and still reach my physique goals. img_1737Flexible Dieting is about finding the balance that works best for you, both physically and mentally. Flexible Dieting is not all about finding ways to eat junk and still lose weight. There are advantages and disadvantages to eating on either end of the spectrum. A diet comprised of mostly clean, whole foods, allows you to eat a higher volume of food if that’s what you need to feel satisfied. However, if fitting in some sugary processed things helps you stick with your diet long term, then you can do that as well, but the total amount of food you eat might be slightly less. Personally, I prefer to have a mixture of both. It helps me to not feel deprived, and to have a lot of variety and convenience in my meal plans.

I hope you will take the time, to find what works best for you. You are totally capable of losing weight and feeling better when you just decide you want to and find a way. This is all about finding something sustainable for you, that you could see yourself doing years down the road. I hope that helps you kind of see how I compare different brands, and how I have compiled a list of go to ingredients over the course of my weight loss journey. As always, feel free to reach out to me here or on Instagram, @mommytracksmacros if you have any more questions!

The Ever Elusive “Lifestyle Change”

What the heck does that even mean, “Lifestyle change?” Every legitimate fitness person ever, typically preaches the same general message when it comes to weight loss. These 2 simple words, are repeated over and over in top tips and tricks, magazine articles, and interviews…lifestyle change.

Two years ago, if you had asked me what lifestyle change meant, this is what I pictured: Everyday, for the rest of my life, I must wake up and do at least 15 minutes of morning yoga and meditation. img_1661.jpgNext, I will float into the kitchen, and whip up an Instagram worthy Acai bowl, complete with fresh slices of kiwi and perfectly placed strips of chia seeds. After I’ve nourished my body with a bounty of fruits and vegetables, I will go on a brief 6 mile run. I’ll be wearing a perfectly matched outfit, and I’ll end my run, looking like a goddess. Then, I will make my way home to stuff my face full of kale, quinoa, and green juice. I’ll have to repeat this routine day in, and day out for the rest of my life.  A perfect specimen of health and fitness.

It honestly sounded exhausting! I spent my days taking Levi to school with greasy hair, a newborn attached to me 24/7, pumping, sleeping, eating, and watching TV. I felt like it took everything in me, to just get through the week.IMG_8004 Between work and family, I was totally drained, and the only thing that the aforementioned lifestyle seemed like to me, was more work. I had no visions whatsoever of spending my mornings in the gym and my days eating steamed broccoli and boiled chicken. But I knew that I did have to start getting some of the weight off, if only to have more energy. I could still remember what my body had felt like at 150 lbs. That was the lowest weight I had been able to achieve after taking Phentermine, and even though I was far from healthy, just being at a lower weight, I remembered that I physically felt better.

That’s what I was trying to get back to, but this time, I really couldn’t muster the energy to go nuts from day one. I knew I wanted to do flexible dietingeventually, because I had dabbled in it before I had gained all of my weight back. A friend had made me a meal plan years before, but I knew in order to make long term progress, I was going to need to learn how to do it for myself. That being said, when I first started my weight loss journey, I wasn’t quite ready for flexible dieting yet. I needed to take it slow. I had a lot on my plate, and I felt like going hardcore right from the start, was just setting myself up for failure.

Taking Baby Steps

There were certain habits that I knew would have to change. Common sense things, that would need to be adjusted, if I wanted to reach my goal. One of those things was sweet tea. Whenever I would eat at a restaurant, when the waitress asked me what I wanted to drink, it was almost like a reflex. I couldn’t help it! Asking me what I wanted to drink, was like asking me my name. Auto response: Sweet Tea. I finally realized, that by drinking Sweet Tea with every meal, I was adding hundreds of calories into my day. Those were calories that I could’ve been eating that would’ve actually filled me up. I knew that was a pretty obvious habit that I would need to change. I knew I could still have it sometimes, like with a “cheat meal”. I just couldn’t have it all the time, and reach my goals.

One of the next things I did, was to start planning my meals ahead of time. Actually making a grocery list, doing meal prep, and eating the foods that were on my plan. This was a huge adjustment for me, img_0319-1and this was something I started practicing before I was actually tracking macros. I still couldn’t wrap my brain around macros, but I was just getting into the habit of doing meal prep and actually eating what I intended to. I had to practice every day. I had to practice NOT finishing my kid’s food that they left on their plate, not nibbling on their goldfish crackers, and not picking at all of the treats left around at work.

Looking at how I was eating before, it’s easy to see how these small changes alone, helped me to start seeing progress. I started losing weight, little by little. As my weight began to drop, I started to want more. If I had been able to see results from these small changes, I wanted to see what I was capable of when I really dialed in my food, and I started going to the gym.

That’s when I started really learning how to track my macros, and I decided that I would start working out at Planet Fitness. I knew several people who worked out there, and they all loved it. And let’s be honest, it was cheap and involved very little commitment, so if I flaked out again like I usually did, no harm no foul! I truly felt like this time was different though.

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My Free Planet Fitness T-shirt, size small!

I really wanted to stick with it and see it all the way through. I was so sure, that I walked straight into that Planet Fitness at just over 200 pounds, and asked for a size small t-shirt. That girl working the desk and I, both knew that I wasn’t a small. But I knew I intended to be!

I started out doing the 30 minute workout at Planet Fitness, stalking other gym-goers to see what machines they used, and how they used them. Then I moved onto doing a workout plan from Jamie Eason, and eventually put together my own workout routines based on which exercises I enjoyed the most for each muscle group, and what I felt were the most effective. Eventually I switched to a larger gym that offered childcare, because after working out at Planet Fitness for a year, I knew that this was a habit I wanted to continue, and I wanted to be able to go without having to find someone to watch Tyson while I went.

Stacking Habits

As the weeks went on, and I kept stacking one new habit on top of the next, eventually those small changes here and there, have amounted to some big results. So here’s the part of the blog where I throw in a weird example. Hear me out!

When I was preparing to go back to work after maternity leave, I knew I was going to need to start pumping, so that I would have enough milk to send with Tyson on the days that I worked. I hadn’t made it very far into breastfeeding with Levi, so this time I was determined to make it work. So when Tyson was about 3 weeks old, I started pumping after each of his feedings. Day one of pumping began. I awkwardly strapped in, went into full dairy cow mode, and patiently waited. After 20 minutes, I looked down to inspect the fruits of my labor…one measly ounce. Not one ounce from each boob…one ounce total. This was not going to be easy. I was determined though, and stuck with it, pumping after each of his feedings for the rest of the day. The next time was the same, one ounce. Each time I pumped, I only was able to get one stinking ounce. But I kept adding ounce on ounce, until the end of the day I had one whole 4 ounce bottle. It seemed like it was going to take forever to get any kind of stash going! I kept with it though, and even though most days I could only pump 1-2 ounces after each feeding, by the time I went back to work a month later, I had 100 ounces in the freezer!

The point is, small things eventually add up to big things! Ounce by ounce, I stored up a good amount of milk, and it was the same with weight loss, I just kept collecting pound after pound making little changes here and there. Tweaking things as I went along, until now I’ve lost a total of 112 pounds.

Two short years later, my daily routine has completely changed from what it used to be, and it happened so gradually, that I didn’t even see it coming! It didn’t happen overnight, it happened one little habit change at a time. Two years ago, my typical morning involved taking Levi to school, taking care of Tyson, and eating and sleeping as much as possible throughout the day.camerarolltempimage That was all I felt like I could handle. Now I routinely hit the gym 3-4 days a week, immediately after taking Levi to school. I get groceries regularly, and meal prep every week. Sometimes, when people congratulate me on all of my hard work, I almost feel like a fraud. Intellectually, I know that losing 112 pounds with diet and exercise is not easy. I know that it takes dedication and discipline to form new habits. But because I did it gradually, and didn’t try to fix every one of my bad habits at the same time, it really doesn’t seem to me like it was all that difficult! I just let myself naturally progress at my own pace, as I craved results more and more. I knew what my ultimate goal was, but this time I wasn’t in a huge rush to get there. I knew scientifically that I would reach my goal in time, I just had to actually give my body the consistent nutrition and time to get there.

Lifestyle Change In a Nutshell

Now if you ask me what does “lifestyle change” mean I would explain it like this: It’s not about eating perfectly, or spending hours everyday in the gym for the rest of your life. It’s about forming new maintainable habits that support the body and life that you want to have outside of your fitness routine. Lifestyle change is about finding a balance between reaching your health and fitness goals, while still living your life.

How you truly change your lifestyle, is just by stacking one new habit on top of the next. You get there by continuing to build and add on new goals. Pushing a little farther and a little farther, as you feel like you’re ready for a new challenge. Now that I’m at a point where weight loss isn’t necessarily the goal anymore, I can continue to make progress with new goals.

My new goals, are continuing to share my story and hopefully help others, to keep pushing myself with my level of fitness, to keep adding in more whole foods and vegetables into my day, and to get my Personal Training and Nutritionist certifications. Outside of fitness, my goals are to continue using my new body to experience life with my family. Enjoying days at the pool, trips to the beach, and hiking with my husband, and being able to fully enjoy those experiences without my body holding me back, because that’s what true lifestyle change is all about.

What Do You Mean, “Tracking Macros”?

Still to this day, when I’m asked, “How did you lose the weight?” There’s always this awkward pause, before I attempt to explain. I have a really hard time either simplifying it too much, or making it sound too complicated, because I think either extreme, too easy or too hard, can make it seem impossible. img_8079So there’s the anticipation building pause, and then I either say, “diet and exercise,” or, “tracking my macros.” The former to me sounds like condescending bull crap, and the latter, I feel, sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language. Maybe if I say it louder they’ll understand? I TRACKED MY MACROS!

In a lot of my previous posts, I’ve talked about how important mindset can be while you’re trying to lose weight. I can’t stress enough how much this can make or break your attempts at weight loss, but I also want to delve a little deeper and attempt to explain the theory behind tracking macros and flexible dieting without the awkward inhale, pause, “Um”.  I guess I should make a disclaimer here, I am not a nutritionist, just a regular gal who consumes a lot of nutrition information because it really interests me. So I’ll try the best I can to explain and simplify what I’ve learned and share it with you. However, I am not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. Okay, I said it!

What are “Macros”?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Calories, pesky calories. Calories in versus calories out, the basis for any weight loss attempt and every diet under the sun. But what the heck is a calorie actually? A calorie is basically how much energy is in a given food. It’s how much energy is required to raise 1g of water through 1 degree celsius. But I like to just think of it as, how much energy that food is providing to your body. How that actual number is determined, is by adding up the “macros” of that particular food. Macro is just a trendy gym rat way of saying macronutrients. As I’m typing this post, macronutrients is seriously underlined in that squiggly red spellcheck line, which lets me know that even my computer thinks I have no idea what I’m talking about. Anyhoo, there are three main macronutrients that are used to calculate how many calories are in a food: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. img_7804Each one of these “macros” has a certain number of calories per gram, and when you add them all together, you know how many calories are in the food, thus letting you know how much energy your body is getting from that food, and how much you should hate yourself after eating it.

When you’re losing weight, especially if you have a large amount of weight to lose, you can lose weight simply by being in a calorie deficit, or eating fewer calories than you burn. So why all the hoopla about macros? The hoopla, is because while it is true you can lose weight by just being in a deficit, learning how to track your macros is a great way of training yourself to eat a more balanced diet, and to really change your body composition. So while in theory, you could eat only a few donuts for any entire week and lose weight, tracking your macros helps you create a more balanced diet, so that all of your calories are not consisting of only a couple of the macronutrients and you can maximize the volume or amount of food you’re eating. Yay! More Food! When I don’t actively use macros to balance my diet, the majority of my calories tend to come from carbohydrates and fat, with very little protein. I think this is pretty typical these days for the Standard American Diet, but it’s not the best for reshaping your body.

Protein

Protein now makes up the largest portion of my diet. I know protein can be somewhat of a controversial thing as far as the amount we actually need or can digest, but I think everybody agrees we do need it. Protein is very important when you’re losing weight, because it helps your body retain the muscle that you have. It’s very hard to actually build muscle while you’re eating in a calorie deficit, which is why when body builders are trying to gain muscle they actually go into a “bulking” phase where they’re eating at a calorie range above their maintenance calories. But when losing weight, you at least want to try to retain the muscle you have, by eating an adequate amount of protein, because muscle is what turns you into a fat burning machine! img_8074When you’re in a calorie deficit, eating too little protein can cause your body to eventually start burning muscle for fuel along with carbs and fat. Which is why someone can be within a normal body weight range, but still have a high percentage of body fat. Focusing on body composition and lowering your body fat percentage, is what gives you the “toned” look that so many people are going for. All of the crunches and lunges in the world aren’t going to make you look “toned” if there’s that pesky layer of body fat still covering the muscle. So if protein is what supports and repairs my muscles, and my muscles are what actually give me the shape that I want…give me all the protein! Great sources of protein are things like chicken, fish, lean beef, turkey, pork tenderloin, eggs, protein shakes, protein bars, etc.

Carbohydrates

If the amount of protein we consume is controversial in the world of macros, carbs take it to a whole other level. Carbs are our bodies primary source of energy. When our body stores carbs in our liver, they’re referred to as glycogen. So if you’re eating carbs, when you start exercising, your body is going to burn through the stored up glycogen first, before it moves on to body fat and muscle.img_8075 The theory behind low carb diets, is that since your body doesn’t have as much stored glycogen to burn through first  (example: ketosis, or the “keto” diet), you can start burning body fat quicker. Sometimes this can also mean you feel like crap and have no energy, especially during your workouts. I’m not against low carb diets, I just haven’t found that I’ve needed to lower my carbs especially low up to this point, so I plan to keep eating them until I hit a plateau and then maybe consider gradually lowering them to see if I can get things moving again. I talked about my theory behind keeping tools like this for later in a previous blog post. So when I’m looking to add carbs to my meals, I go for things like rice, potatoes, some starchy vegetables like corn, granola or protein bars, crackers, tortillas, etc.

Fats

Fats. What an ugly word. Fats. img_8076Back in the day fats got a bad rap. Fat free, reduced fat, low-fat. Nobody likes fat, but we do still need some. Fats are important, especially for women, because they can really impact our hormones, skin, hair, etc. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on fats, but when I’m looking to add more fats to my meal plan, I usually go for things like avocado, olive oil, or cheese. Glorious Cheese.

Putting it All Together

I hope this gives you a broad overview of macronutrients and what each one of them does for your body and the theory behind tracking them. Many diet plans simply eliminate one macronutrient (usually carbs or fat), and slap a shiny new name on the book. Atkins, South Beach, Glycemic Index, Keto. They just remove a macronutrient and call it new earth-shattering science. The balance of all of the macronutrients is one of the many things I love about flexible dieting. No food group is off-limits, you just have to find a way of eating the correct portions so that you’re eating the optimal balance of all of them.

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October 2016 to March 2018

Tracking macros and flexible dieting really aren’t that complicated once you get the hang of it and start making a list of meals you like. However, I do think it’s interesting to know the theory behind flexible dieting and what macros actually are. Fingers crossed that this somewhat makes sense and I didn’t totally botch it! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! I’ll answer them to the best of my non-nutritionist, but avid googler abilities! Now if only I can find a way to say all of this in a short three to five word response that is neither idiotically simple or pretentiously complex!

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What in the World is Flexible Dieting?

Oh man. The things we put ourselves through to lose weight. I feel like we’ve all been guilty of wanting the quick fix. That instant gratification of taking a pill, drinking a tea, or getting a shot, and magically our body fat melts off and we see that weight drop consistently day after day.

The problem is, these things we do to ourselves, even if they work in the short term, don’t last. We get to the end of the challenge, end of the program, or end of the bottle, and we don’t know what to do next. So we just slowly go back to doing what we know. We eat whatever, and do whatever, until we feel so crappy that we’re searching around like crazy looking for the next miracle. And there we are, back in the cycle. I know this, because I’ve done exactly this. Over, and over, and over.

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Size 20 to Size 6

So after the birth of my second son, Tyson, I knew I had to do something. I was 247 pounds when he was born, and on my 5’5” frame, it was quickly taking a toll on me. I was overweight, I had a newborn who didn’t sleep through the night, I was breastfeeding, pumping, and working full time. All while taking care of the other three men of the house. I was exhausted. I felt like complete crap. I had created this life that I couldn’t keep up with, I believe, because of what I had done to my body. I had lost a significant amount of weight before, so I knew what it felt like to be a “normal” body weight. And then I gained it all back, plus a few extra. I knew to feel better, I had to get back to that.

I knew it was going to take a while, but having lost and gained back a significant amount of weight before and blowing it, I was going to make sure this time that I put in the work to never have to do it again. I wanted to learn how to eat, realistically. I didn’t want my success resting on anything except my knowledge, the foods I ate, and my hard work. I absolutely refused to spend anymore money on fads, gimmicks, or pills. I wanted to do it in what I considered to be the real way, no shortcuts.

So here’s where flexible dieting comes in. First it’s important to know that while it is called flexible dieting, it’s not a diet. This is a method. A method of teaching yourself how to eat a balanced diet. Eating the correct ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs to meet your body composition goals. This method works if you’re trying to lose body fat, gain muscle, or just maintain your weight. It’s not a meal plan, it teaches you how to create your own meal plan.img_6931 It teaches you how to realistically eat to change your body, and to not feel deprived in the process. It can seem overwhelming at first, especially when we’re all so used to the instant gratification of someone giving us an exact list of do’s and don’ts. I promise though, if you take a breath, invest in your knowledge, and figure this out, you’ll be so grateful you did. You don’t have to know everything about it day 1! This is a learning process! Take messy action and just get the ball rolling. My Fitness Pal is a great place to start figuring out what makes up a food.

Cheat meals are included! For my purposes though I would rather refer to them as mental sanity meals. Haha. I’m not “cheating”, because those meals are part of the plan, not a slip from it. There are scientific reasons for the MSM too, but the big reason for them, for me personally, is just to have a mental break. Having the “will power” to keep this going, is a lot easier when you break it up into chunks. 3 days on plan, 1 MSM, 2 more days on plan, 1 MSM. You get it? It’s not “falling off the wagon” if they’re part of the plan. Just go back to eating that meal prepped food the next day.

I get told a lot, “I wish I had your will power”. Will power is a lot easier when it’s a few days at a time, and you’re working in your favorite foods as part of the plan. I don’t feel like I have a ton of will power. I just learned a system that doesn’t make me feel deprived while still giving me the results I want. And it didn’t cost me a penny! Please feel free to follow me on Instagram @mommytracksmacros where I post daily motivation and tips about flexible dieting and what it takes to stay in the weight loss mindset. img_7711

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