Starting a health program and maintaining it over time is worthwhile, but can also feel difficult without the proper tools and support.
I know this firsthand because I’ve been working on my health program steadily for 17 years! One of the easiest ways to gain control of your diet and health is by learning more about your food! It is easy to be tricked by “organic” options in the grocery store which are often full of sugar and high in carbohydrates. The best thing to do is to start counting your macronutrients. Learn how you can control your health with macronutrients below.
Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates in the food we eat.
It is common to measure your macronutrients in grams. At first, knowing how to track macronutrients may be a difficult task, using the Cronometer app (there is a free version that I use) or the website Cronometer to enter your food as a daily food journal is your first step! At the end of the day, you’ll see a bar graph that indicates the total number of fat grams, protein grams, and net carbohydrate grams that you’ve eaten! You’ll also learn the macronutrients (macros) for each individual food that you eat.
When using this macronutrient tracker tool, you may find yourself needing to learn serving sizes. I used Google searches, and references within Cronometer to figure out my serving sizes. Other times, I gave my best guess and kept on learning and entering information! You see, the more I did this, the more I could look at food and identify if my meal had the right amount of protein to help keep me energized and full. I also learned which fruits gave me an energy crash, brain fog, or night sweats. By learning this, I wasn’t as restricted with my diet, because I could plan my foods based on my macronutrient needs! By learning the macronutrients of my food, I increased my knowledge and gained more freedom as well as less frustration with maintaining a healthy whole-food-based diet.
Maintaining healthy eating was only part of the benefit! I also felt better and made better progress on my health program. If this is all new to you and seems overwhelming, start by making a plan to record your food a few days per week.
Here are 3 things to remember when you get started on this new task!
- Getting started is the first step! Set a date to download the app and begin to play with it to figure out how to enter just 1 meal! Success!
- Don’t give up if you don’t use it every day! It takes 21 days of doing the same behavior before it becomes a habit! At first, plan to enter a single meal every day to create a habit. Or plan to enter 3 days per week to get past your learning curve!
- Honesty is the best only policy! You are doing this to teach yourself, so don’t only log your food on a “good” day! Be honest with yourself and learn about all of the foods you eat! It’s an amazing journey! When I first began this, I learned that I could save room to eat a half serving of chocolate-covered almonds if I ate a low carb breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I also learned I could eat eggs and bacon for breakfast (which I enjoy) and I gave up having cereal and trail mix (which I thought were healthy but turned out to be highly refined and high in carbohydrates!) It helped me reduce my quantity without fully giving up the foods I was “addicted” to until I reached the point that I naturally didn’t want sugary foods on a regular basis anymore!
If gathering this macronutrient information is too confusing, then simplify it! First, focus on carbohydrates. Everyone has different carbohydrate goals. In general, most of my adult patients fit into a category of less than 70 grams of carbs per day. Some do better at less than 50 grams or less than 30 grams, but oftentimes people don’t need to go that low. You may notice you need to increase your protein intake to feel full and that is normal! However, most of my patients report being LESS HUNGRY with better energy by simply cutting carbs and without the need to increase fat or protein!
Our metabolism is more stable with fewer carbohydrates and this is why we are less hungry and more energetic.
Carbohydrates affect our insulin and blood glucose more rapidly than proteins and fats. When eating carbs, which digest easily as glucose in our bloodstream, this triggers our pancreas to release insulin so we can utilize the glucose as energy. Too many carbs and snaking can result in high insulin, ready to act and this is a common cause of metabolic dysfunction. (Evidence that supports the prescription of low-carbohydrate high-fat diets: a narrative review.) If you have symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, elevated triglyceride cholesterol, moodiness, problems with digestion or inflammation, you may benefit from a reduced carbohydrate diet. (A 12-week low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet improves metabolic health outcomes over a control diet in a randomised controlled trial with overweight defence force personnel.)
Not all carbs are bad!
Cronometer is a great macronutrient tracker tool because it helps you count “net carbohydrates.” Net carbohydrates are the total amount of carbs, minus the grams of fiber. For example, a banana is low in fiber, with a total carb count of 27 for 1 medium banana. The grams of fiber is 3, so the net carbs are 27-3= 24 net carbohydrate grams. A half-cup of cooked broccoli has 5 total carbs and has 2 grams of fiber, so your net carbs are only 3 grams! If you’re keeping carbs under 70 per day, you can see how learning this helps!
Finally, it’s not always about eating less and reducing! I often find that patients need to increase their fat and protein grams when they have been in the wrong mindset that fat and protein are bad! Fat and protein are not bad fuels! Fat and protein are helpful fuel and sustain our body and energy much longer than carbohydrates! Research also shows that low-fat diets are ineffective for weight loss, where moderate-fat or low carb, high fat does result in weight loss. (Effect of Low-Fat vs. Other Diet Interventions on Long-Term Weight Change in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis) Sometimes it may be difficult to digest fat and protein if the liver and gallbladder are sluggish due to too high consumption of carbohydrates and refined sugars. There is no “one size fits all” approach to diet and health, but counting macronutrients is a good starting point.
If you need help with this, come in for a visit and learn your next step in macronutrient counting to gain control of your health and diet, and most importantly, to develop a sustainable plan. If you are not a patient or know someone who could use help, please share this article with them.
Yours in health and longevity,
Kristen Clore, OTRL, Holistic OT
Master Nutrition Response Practitioner ® & Certified Wellness Coach