A Glimpse Into My Meal Planning Mind

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I truly can’t say thank you enough, for the amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from so many of you in regards to my weight loss journey and now my blog. I  hope that I’ve been able to inspire even just one person, to see that you’re important enough, and that you’re worth making whatever changes are necessary to feel great. I know it can seem like an uphill climb and a lot of trouble, but I hope I’ve been able to show you that it’s possible to do this in a way that’s sustainable, and effective. It’s possible to see this all the way through, and to feel the confidence and sense of accomplishment that comes from crushing this huge goal. Deciding you want to change is a great first step. The next step, is to start experimenting, and finding a style of eating that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle, long-term.

So let’s say you’ve been following me for a bit, and you’ve decided you want to give flexible dieting a whirl. Awesome! I truly don’t feel like flexible dieting is actually a “diet”, it’s more a style of eating that teaches you about portion control and how to eat a more balanced diet. Planning my meals ahead, has been a huge part of my success with this style of eating. However, I know from experience and from numerous other women that have come to me with questions, that meal planning can be overwhelming in the beginning.

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Meal Prep Day: Pork tenderloin, rice, broccoli with cheese

When you’re first starting out, think of meal planning as a labor of love that will set you up for success for the week. The point of flexible dieting, isn’t to meticulously obsess over every gram of food that goes into your mouth. For me, this is a way of teaching myself what appropriate portions should look like, with the goal being to eventually move into eating more intuitively. I have had a life time of bad eating habits. Flexible dieting to me, is taking the time that’s necessary to learn balance and better habits.

This week I thought it might be helpful to someone starting out, if I kind of go through my process each week, when I’m planning out my meals. I’ll try to reverse engineer my thought process so it makes as much sense as possible! Just know that as time goes on and you find meals you like, as you start to learn portions, and what makes up each food..it starts to become second nature and the hardest part about it will be figuring out what you’re craving each week.

Looking Ahead

I have always prided myself on being a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of gal. I’m not much on planning ahead, and I tend to be a procrastinator. So one of the hardest new habits I had to form, was looking ahead at my week. When I start planning out my meals, I look at which days I work first. Because I work 12 hour shifts, I know I’m not cooking, or going to the gym on those days. Next I see what nights we have baseball practice or games. Do we have doctor’s appointments, hair cuts, or anything else out of the norm? My next priority after all of those other things, is when can I go to the grocery store, and when can I cook my food? Even if my week is so jam-packed that there’s no way I’m making it to the gym (which normally doesn’t happen, as I’m not that exciting), I know that at the bare minimum, if I can get my food prepared for the week, I’ll still make progress.

Start With The Staples

Next, I start plugging foods into My Fitness Pal. There are several food tracking apps out there, but I have always used My Fitness Pal, so I’ll use it to explain. This is going to sound ridiculous coming from me, but I actually don’t like tracking my food.

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Spaghetti Squash Chicken Marsala

I’m not good at entering in my foods everyday. So instead of just saying screw it, I enter in one full day of eating, once a week. I meal prep the food I need for that plan, and eat those meals until it’s time for my next “cheat meal”, or until it’s time to make a new meal plan. Doing it this way just helps me to not have to really think about it the rest of the week, or track my food everyday. If you like more variety, or have more time to cook food fresh each day, then you can do that as well. It’s truly about finding a schedule that works best for you. The first things I always enter in, are my “staple foods”. These are foods that I know I’m going to eat every day. No matter what my other meals are, I know I’m always going to drink a protein shake, and I always eat some sort of barimg_1360 for one of my snacks. Once I have those in, I just start working around them to complete my day of eating. I typically work in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks in between meals. I love me some snacks!

Down to The Nitty-Gritty

On to breakfast. I’ve been eating this way for quite a while now, and I’ve been able to find a few different breakfasts that I rotate through, that are easy to make, taste good reheated, and that I know I’ll actually want to eat when I’m tired and hungry. For me, my breakfasts are usually some sort of egg scramble, or Kodiak Cakes pancakes. If you haven’t tried Kodiak Cakes yet, I definitely recommend you jump on it!

Now I just have to figure out lunch, dinner, and one more snack. Lunch and dinner are usually interchangeable, and I have the same criteria as breakfast. I want something that tastes good reheated or is easy to make fresh, and it has to be something that I’ll actually want to eat for a few days in a row until my scheduled MSM. I try to also think of things that I can easily pack for lunch on the days I work.

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Buffalo Chicken Flatbread

Over time, I have made a list in my phone of “go to” meals, that are meals that have worked well for me, so that I can refer back to them if ever I’m drawing a blank when trying to figure out what to make. Whenever I figure out what type of meal I want to make, I usually start by entering in the protein. Chicken, lean ground turkey, pork tenderloin, fish, or any lean meats are great options. So for example, this week for dinner, I had buffalo chicken flatbread. So when entering in my meal, I start with the chicken. For women, a good starting amount is 4 ounces. Next, I can either scan the bar code on the greek yogurt ranch I used for the base, or search for the brand manually. I do the same thing for the Flat Out flatbread. I typically don’t enter in things like spinach, green onions, or the Frank’s Red Hot buffalo sauce I used. I don’t fret too much about foods with very low caloric values. I’m not trying to be in a bikini show, and they aren’t going to make that much of a difference for me. Keep in mind, starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, or carrots, do have more calories and carbs and would need to be accounted for. Also fruits like bananas, or oranges that can be higher in carbs would need to be added in.

Now I just need one more snack. Snacks can be whatever you like that fit your numbers. However, one thing that helps me, is to pick one sweet snack, and one more salty snack like crackers and a baby bell cheese wedge. That way, no matter what I’m craving throughout the day, I have something to satisfy me.

Crunching The Numbers

So we’ve got all of our food for the day plugged in, now it’s time to see where we’re at with the numbers. If you don’t know what your macros should be starting out, it can be kind of confusing because different websites can give you different numbers. When I started, I used a calculator online that I’ll link here. Then you can go into the goals section under settings in My Fitness Pal, and change your macronutrient goals to those numbers.

When you get all of your food entered in for the day, you can scroll down to the very bottom of your daily food diary, and click on the black nutrition button. Under nutrition, you’ll find sections for calories, nutrients, and macros. For me, the most helpful section is the nutrients section. Here I can see not only my daily goals, but how many grams per macronutrient I still have to work with. I’m using my numbers as an example, just keep in mind that my macros are calculated based on my height, current weight, age, and activity level…and your numbers will be different and specific to you.

I’m not a major stickler for the numbers, I just try to get them in the ball park. Protein, carbs, and fats, are my main concern. However, I do try to not go crazy with sodium or sugar, and I try to get the daily recommended amount of fiber. Word to the wise, fiber may be something that seems insignificant, but when you’re eating a higher amount of protein and not as many carbs as you normally would, fiber becomes very important. I won’t get graphic…just make sure you’re paying attention to your fiber. Your intestines will thank you!

Making Adjustments

The easiest way I can think to teach you how to make adjustments if you’re over or under on a macronutrients, is to just give examples. So let’s say you’ve entered all of your food. For breakfast you’ve decided on a protein shake,

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Pork Carnitas Burrito Bowl

and an egg scramble with turkey bacon and cheese. For lunch you’re having pork tenderloin, potatoes, and green beans. For dinner: a chicken burrito bowl with 1 cup of rice, sour cream, cheese, pico, and salsa. For one snack you want a protein bar, and for the other one, some fruit and a string cheese.

So you get everything in, but now see that you’re over on your amount of carbs for the day. Breakfast didn’t have that many carbs, but we can take carbs from lunch with the potatoes, or we can decrease the amount of rice in our burrito bowl. Or if we’re low on carbs, we can add more.

If we’re over or under on protein, the easiest thing to adjust is the meat, so adding or taking away pork tenderloin with lunch, or chicken with dinner. It’s the same with fat, we can take away one of the egg yolks with breakfast and add in more egg whites, or adjust the cheese or sour cream. It’s just like working a little puzzle to get the numbers in the ball park. Once you get them close, you can check the pie chart under the macros section if you wish.img_1527 Just like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Eventually you’ll start to compile a list of “go to” meals, and planning out your meals will get a lot faster.

Pulling It Together

Now all you have to do is get the groceries, make the food, and eat the food! If groceries shopping isn’t your favorite thing, Kroger and many other grocery stores now offer online ordering, and it will rock your world. Most of the time, I’ll still go into the store to shop, but if I’m ever really busy or short on time, it’s amazing.

As far as meal prep, I try to keep it as simple as possible. Lately I’ve been wearing out my InstantPot, but typically I’ll make one crock pot meal, and one meal that I have to make on the stove top or in the oven so that I can multitask. Meal prepping can seem like a chore at first, but it truly saves me so much time and money throughout the week…and also helps me stay on track with my eating. When I know I already have food prepared at home, that fits my macros and will get me closer to my goals, I’m much less likely to make poor impulse decisions about what to eat.

I hope that gives you kind of a broad overview of how I make my meal plans each week. I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but just know that taking the time to learn proper portions and what is actually making up your food can be life-changing. I just tried to remind myself of how much time I had spent learning bad habits and gaining weight, and to remember that it’s going to take some time to learn better habits and lose the weight. However, it truly is amazing how simply adjusting your macronutrient intake can drastically transform your body over time.

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Applewood Bacon Turkey Tenderloin with green beans and string cheese.

I truly enjoy eating this way, which is how I’ve been able to keep doing it for so long. It’s like a little game or puzzle that I figure out each week, to keep working towards my goals and see what I’m capable of achieving. They don’t call it flexible dieting for nothin’! It really can cater to your personal preferences and eating habits. If you’re a person who prefers eating a larger volume of food, eating more whole foods can allow you to eat bigger portions. If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, there is also room to fit those things in as well. Personally, I prefer a balance of both. I feel my best physically, when the majority of my foods are whole, clean foods. But I also know, that mentally I’ll eventually feel deprived if I don’t fit a few processed sweets like protein bars or chocolate pancakes into my day!

Figuring out your preferences, what works best with your body, and the strategies that are going to make this something sustainable for you long-term are key! I hope this has answered some questions about meal planning and crunching the numbers, but always feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions that I may have forgotten to cover! Just take comfort in knowing, that even if it takes some experimenting and practice to figure this out, just the fact that you’re paying attention to what you’re putting in your body, means you’re already making huge strides in the right direction!

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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