“Counting macros? That takes far too much time – there’s no way I’ll be able to do that every day.”
“I’d love to track, but I’m so busy already. Weighing and logging my food just won’t fit into my schedule. I’ll just eat clean instead.”
On the face of it, flexible dieting seems massively time-consuming.
Sure, you have the trade-off that you get to eat more or less whatever you want. You don’t have the luxury of that with a rigid and restrictive diet. However, even the staunchest of flexible dieting advocates can’t argue that it doesn’t take up at least a few precious minutes every single day to weigh out foods, put them into your tracking app, and then manipulate what you’re going to eat to fit your macros.
And that’s what puts so many folks off when starting a flexible diet. Even more disheartening is when people who love the concept, and make the effort to work out their macros start out okay, then struggle to fit everything in and so throw in the towel.
You’ve invested in your physique, your fat loss, and your performance, so here are some science-backed strategies to make logging and tracking a habit so that you will never fall off the flexible dieting wagon.
Do You Have the Time for That?
Let’s think of the things we do every day that takes time, yet we don’t even notice:
- Cleaning your teeth
- Doing hair/make up
- Making coffee
- Eating breakfast
- Watching TV
- Scrolling through Facebook on your phone
- Checking the news headlines
These eight activities take a good 30 to 60 minutes in total and all happen before 9am each weekday morning. Yet, we don’t ever stop to question why we’re doing them, or really complain that they’re chores.
Because they’re habits.
We’re so used to doing them every single day (or at least five days per week, with some leeway at weekends) that we’re accustomed to our routine. We factor in the time taken as just a part of life.
It’s this forming of habits that’s absolutely critical to making flexible dieting work for you.
The Science of 66
You might have heard that it takes 30 days to form a habit. Some say 21 days, and others state that it’s 28. Take an opinion poll though, and you will probably end up with anywhere between 3 and 5 weeks given as the timeframe.
But this is wrong.
A 2009 study from the “European Journal of Social Psychology” found that it actually takes over double this amount of time to fully form a habit.
The average number of days it took for participants to stop thinking of a new activity as an inconvenience which required excess thought power was 66 days.  Therefore, if you go into a diet thinking that you will find things easy within a month, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Due to personality type and propensity toward being accurate and analytical, some dieters will take to tracking macros like ducks to water and have no trouble nailing everything from day one. Others will struggle though.
“If you go into a diet thinking that you will find things easy within a month, you could be setting yourself up for failure”
If that’s you, there’s no need to worry that you’re forever doomed to dieting failure or that tracking, weighing, and measuring will always feel like a huge burden on your time. you will simply need to accept that forming a habit takes longer than 30 days, and you will also need to have the tools in place to make flexible dieting easy and autonomous.
Here are our top 7 strategies to help you form the flexible dieting habit and make hitting your targets a breeze.
1. Estimate Low-Calorie Foods
It might not be all that hardcore to start with simple steps, but it’s by far the best way to make real progress with flexible dieting. In an ideal world, you may weigh everything you eat, and you certainly would if you were doing a contest prep. But the majority of people can get away with a degree of estimation.
Lower-calorie foods, such as green veggies, don’t need to be weighed or measured precisely. Because they’re so low in calories, you can probably just eyeball the serving size and you won’t be too far off. Your estimated 1 cup portion of broccoli may actually be 30 calories one night and 45 the next, but in the grand scheme of things, eyeballing green vegetables speeds things up without slowing down your progress. The same can be applied to other lower-carb, non-starchy vegetables, and even very lean portions of meat or fish, provided you’re pretty good at eyeballing.
2. Focus on Behaviors
We’re so used to concentrating on outcome-based goals, such as lifting a certain amount of weight or getting to a particular number on the scale.
But outcomes don’t happen unless habits are in place. It’s great to want to get your body looking a certain way, but you will only ever get there once your habits are formed and you’re doing everything consistently.
Instead of being fixated on scale weight, body fat, or gym performance, for your first month or two of flexible dieting, put your goal emphasis firmly on tracking. Do that and the results will come without you needing to worry about them.
3. Play Games
Thinking of tracking as a game is a great way to ensure that you stay on course. If you’ve got friends who are getting into flexible dieting too, then see who can log in and track the most days in a row.
Geeky? Maybe. Successful? You bet.
4. Make a Meal Plan
You should never follow a cookie cutter meal plan that you grabbed on a random website or were given by a coach with no mention of macros, but there’s no harm in working out a daily menu that you can roughly stick to. To increase variety, make up two plans that hit your day’s target macros, or perhaps have a variety of options that you can substitute at every meal.
5. Use a Food Company
Don’t want to cook? There’s no shame in that. Within the last few years, plenty of companies have shot up offering healthy macro-friendly meals to suit any flexible dieter’s needs and macros.
While they may be a little pricey, if you can spare the cash, they certainly make tracking a lot easier.
6. Track the Night Before
Many newbie flexible dieters fail to track their food as they eat it. Instead, they tell themselves they’ll enter it when they have more time at the end of the day. More often than not, this results in missed targets or not tracking at all. After discovering that they’ve overshot their targets or can’t be bothered to enter their food, they decide to start fresh tomorrow … only to forget again.
If you don’t feel that you can spare the time to track as you go, plan your macros the evening before. Whether you do it on the bus or train on the way home from work, on the couch watching TV, or as you prep your food, it doesn’t matter—the important thing is that you’re ready.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
7. Prep on the Sabbath
Batch cooking on a Sunday has been a godsend for dieters for decades. Cook up a few different types of protein (chicken, lean ground beef, fat-free ground turkey, or even some fish) and pack it in 4-6 ounce portions in zip lock bags. You can do the same with veggies, and even measure out your protein powder in advance, and take these to work with you.
Protein is the macro most people find hardest to hit, so making sure you have this (and your greens) handy is a surefire success hack.
Carbs and fats are usually easier to come across in the form of fruit, cereal, pretzels and low-fat chips, but if you want to be extra prepared, there’s no reason why you couldn’t pre-cook and measure some rice, pasta, or potatoes as well.
Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you some time to get accustomed to tracking. This is normal, and it can take up to (or even over) 66 days before you become a natural.
Adopt the seven strategies above and you will have everything you need to put flexible dieting on autopilot.