Counting Macros vs. Clean Eating

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Clean Eating

Before I jump into counting macros, lets take a trip backwards down memory lane.  In January of 2016, I started this journey to get my health back.  I had a baby and I was NOT one of those people who bounced right back.  My son was a year and a half and I still was holding onto an extra 20 pounds (if not more).  I was SO tired.  It felt like I had taken Nyquil every morning. 

I dragged myself through each day barely keeping up with life.  When you are down in that hole of fatigue and unhealthiness, it feels impossible to get out because you simply don’t have the energy to start climbing back up.  I didn’t have the time to meal plan, grocery shop, meal prep, workout, work, sleep, and take care of my son who was (and still is) a tornado.  It all seemed like too much and I was completely overwhelmed.  So like any overwhelming task, the only way to get started is to break it down into baby steps and take one step at a time. 

Meal Planning:

I found two online websites that helped me with this (see below).  I ended up using Plan To Eat since I started using it first and had developed quite a large database of recipes that I had “pinned”.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “planning is everything” before.  I do agree to some extent, however sometimes it’s just not possible and time is incredibly limited. Keep reading and I’ll share my meal prep rhythm with you that has allowed for flexibility as well as decreased time planning and cooking.  The applications listed below are my game plan in which I make audibles all the time.

Real Plans:

Real Plans might be easier for people with less time because it already has populated recipes tailored to your needs.  For example, if you want to eat Paleo with no nightshades you just let the application know and all the recipes it will build for your week will comply with your needs.  It creates a grocery list and has a bunch of other cool features. 

Real Plans : https://realplans.com/

Plan To Eat:

Plan To Eat lets you “pin” recipes from other websites and it will allow you to build any recipes into your week.  You just drag and drop what you want to eat into a weekly calendar and it’ll gather your grocery list for you.  I ended up using Plan To Eat at first since I had a ton of recipes pinned from Pinterest.  I’m not going to lie… it took me almost a month to plan one week.  I have NO clue why or how it took that long, but it did.  After I got going, I would plan my next week on Monday, grocery shop on Thursday, meal prep on Saturday and then start over again on Monday.  It was just a matter of getting into a rhythm

Plan to Eat: https://www.plantoeat.com/

Grocery shopping:

OK, so this sounds simple.  Go to the grocery store, buy stuff, cook it.  BUT I am one of those all or nothing types of people to my detriment.  How could I just decide to make myself a healthier person and buy foods full of chemicals.  I am also a huge animal advocate.  So grocery shopping required research.  Research equals time suck.

Protein:

I tried to be a vegan once and I felt awful.  Now I just make sure I source my proteins from farms that treat their animals good.  With that being said, I found a local farm that has great farming practices and humane treatment of the animals.  The chickens are pastured and eat bugs, the pigs roam around in the forest, the beef is grass fed and most importantly their “processing” practices are humane.  The chicken is reasonably priced.  I go once a month and buy a TON of chicken, turkey, eggs and a little bit of beef and put it in our chest freezer. 

Here are a few of the farms in my area (northern Virginia) that I like to use:

http://www.fieldsofathenryfarm.com/

http://www.whiffletreefarmva.com/

http://www.chicamarun.com/

http://honeybrookfarms.com/

http://www.rainbowacresfarm.com/

Vegetables:

For the vegetables, I go to our local farmer’s market when they are in season.  Can I just say I LOVE going to the Farmer’s Market?  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  I love looking at all the tents and the goods being offered from local hard-working people.  Whatever I can’t get at the farm or farmer’s market, I get at the local grocery store.  Above I was complaining about my lack of time, however buying my meat once a month actual freed up more time during the weeks and I was just buying the perishables each week.  I would focus on only buying the dirty dozen fruits and veggies organic, the rest would be conventional.

Food Prep:

When I first started, I was taking almost the entire Saturday to food prep.  It wasn’t sustainable and I was getting burnt out.  So I started to find efficiencies where I could.  Now, I can get all my meals ready in about 1-2 hours.  I rely heavily on my instant pot, crockpot and the Sous Vide I borrow from my Mom. 

  • Proteins:

    I make a bunch of proteins that I can turn into different meals throughout the week.  About 2lbs of chicken is tossed in the crockpot and then shredded.  I grill 2lbs of chicken breast.  Lastly, I cut up about 1lb of the chicken into cubes and bake it or grill it on skewers (which I later add to curries or salads).  I grill lots of shrimp.  I cook about 2lbs of ground turkey in a skillet and add clean taco seasoning.  This is more than enough protein for my whole family to get through the week.  Once a week we also have salmon.  I cook salmon in a sous vide and then just keep the plastic pouches in the fridge.  Once we are ready to eat the salmon I sear it in a skillet to warm it and it tastes amazing.

  • Veggies:

    Roasting veggies seems to be the easiest way to prep.  I cut up a bunch of sweet potatoes into cubes and put them in the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes (or until they are fork tender).  The same thing is done with carrots, butternut squash, Brussels’s sprouts and broccoli.  Cauliflower is riced and cooked up (I use this as a base for curries and stir fries). 

  • Sauces

    Sauces can make all the difference between yummy food and bland food.  I found that I can take a protein, veggies and a sauce and turn it into an amazing satisfying clean meal.  When I say sauces, I’m referring to clean sour cream, chimichurri sauce, clean pesto, clean ranch, salsas, hot sauces, buffalo sauces, dressings, hollandaise…. I sound like bubba gump with shrimp right now, but I could honestly keep going and going.  This is where I make my weeks different and interesting since I typically stick to the same proteins and veggies each week and just change out the sauces.

Eating throughout the week:

Now that I have a ton of building blocks, it is super easy to just throw it together throughout the week.  I’ll take grilled cubed chicken and mix it with pesto and roll it up in a collard green leaf for lunch.  Throw some cubed sweet potatoes in a skillet and fry an egg on top or add some shredded chicken and some melted almond butter.  Put some shredded chicken with some clean mayo onto of a salad with a clean creamy dressing.  Make Chicken Tikka Masala and throw it over a bed of cauliflower rice…. once again, I could keep going and going. 

I can’t believe I’m putting this image on the inter-web…. difference between January 2016 and May 2017

 

Counting Macros

Counting macros is where my world got tipped upside down.  I had a lot of success just eating clean and working out.  However, my strength was not increasing as much as I would like and my gut was still hanging onto some fat.  I started a program called Brute Strength in conjunction with Crossfit.  The beauty of Brute Strength was I could do it in my garage during my lunch break or before/after work.  I saved time by cutting out driving time.  My husband and I bought barbells, weights and some other essentials as Christmas presents to each other one year.  You can find cheap workout equipment being sold all the time on Facebook yard sale sites and Craigslist.  I have to say having a place to workout at home is priceless to us.  I do miss working out with people and I get my “social working out fix” by going into Crossfit 2-3x a week. 

Working Against Gravity

Now that I was in a groove of working out again, I was starting to feel run-down a bit.  I stumbled upon a  company called Working Against Gravity which seems to be a sister company to Brute Strength.  They provide nutrition coaching using the flexible dieting while counting macros philosophy.  This basically allows you food freedom in the sense that you can continue to gain strength and get lean while still enjoying a glass of wine or a snickers bar here and there. I decided to give it a try. 

I was assigned a coach after answering a bunch of questions about myself.  My coach assigned me with my first macros (protein, carb and fat grams to hit each day) and told me each week I had to send progress pics, a spreadsheet with my macros each day and I had to do one MISS (moderate intensity steady state) workout burning 200 calories each week.  My macros were different for the days I worked out (which only includes Crossfit and weight lifting, cardio workouts did not count as a workout day).  Each week my coach would review the data I submitted and based on my progress, she would either keep my macros the same or change them.  As you can see from the chart below, I would have ups and downs but my overall trajectory was down!  The first part of the line where it’s less zig-zaggy was when I was just eating clean and not weighing myself as much.  The second part of the line where it gets all squiggly is my weekly weigh-ins after I started counting macros. 

 

Weight Chart after counting macros

Macro Realizations:

I immediately realized two things; I was not eating enough protein and I was eating too much fat.  It took me several weeks to figure out the game of macro tetris before I started hitting my numbers somewhat consistently (I’m not sure I ever had a perfect week yet). I would completely mess up the weeks I went on vacation or sometimes when I was just tired of counting, but I have stuck with it.  I’ve definitely seen strength gains and have leaned.  This combination helped me do things I never thought I’d do, like climb a peg board, get chest to bar pull ups consistently and I’m so close to getting my first strict muscle up. 

Here is the thing… when I started counting macros, I started to sacrifice the quality of my food.  When I was eating clean, I once tried a certain popular protein bar and immediately could taste the chemicals used to make the bar macro friendly.  I swore I would never eat them.  Now I am eating one or two a day.  My son even wants to eat them.  I’ll give him a clean Larabar instead and he only wants the yucky one I’m eating!  They make me feel gross.

I also started eating greek yogurt since it has tons of protein, but I know after doing Whole30 that my body does NOT like dairy.  I always feel foggy and gross after eating it.  So why do I keep eating it?!  I told my coach I was going to start counting macros AND eating clean.  I need to do what is best for me and my health.  Everyone is different.  Some people can tolerate dairy great, I’m just not one of those people.

Counting Macros and Clean Eating

Counting macros while eating clean is the next step in my journey.  I will allow myself some food freedom, but for the most part I only want unprocessed whole foods going into my belly.  I will also be using a protein powder.  I’m using one of the cleanest brands I can find.  Honestly, it tastes a little like chalk, but I’d rather that than the way my body feels when I eat a whole bunch of artificial sweeteners.  I am going to create all the clean recipes I eat and show the macros for each serving.  This combination will hopefully push me over the finish line and into maintenance mode. 

I don’t think counting macros is for everyone.  I’m insanely OCD and I actually like tracking and counting, so it works for me.  I love it.  It helps me stay on track.  I’m one of those people who will mess up one meal, then say “eff it” and eat crappy the whole day, the day turns into a week and then I stay I’ll start fresh on Monday and an unhealthy cycle is born.  Counting macros lets me eat bad for a meal and then get right back on track and still hit my numbers for the day.  For some people, weighing food and counting macros might make them go crazy and that is completely fine too.  To each their own!

Right now, my macros are as follows:

Workout Day: Protein/Carb/Fat 130/205/56

Non-workout Day: 130/185/56

Refeed: 130/270/56 (Mmmm, I’m so excited for all the carbs!)

 

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