Updated: Mar 11, 2021
Managing your calorie intake is vital for losing fat or gaining muscle. Knowing what ratio of protein, fats, and carbohydrates works best for you can also help to optimise your energy levels. However, it can take up a lot of time and, in the real world, pinning your hopes solely on maths and willpower is rarely successful or sustainable. For many, this approach can feel too restrictive, as if the main goal is to resist food rather than enjoy food; resist calories, resist fats or carbohydrates, resist anything remotely tasty or enjoyable. Willpower is not limitless; if your hopes of success rest on your power to resist, you're in for a rough ride.
Success with any goal requires consistency. The behaviours you adopt to achieve the goal must become habits, and for behaviours to become habits, you must repeat them continuously. Regardless of the goal, if a particular behaviour is unpleasant or unenjoyable, like constantly denying yourself, for example, it's unlikely that you'll repeat it long enough for it ever to become a habit, and then you're back to willpower. So here are a few tips to help you build better habits and avoid the resistance game.
1. Ultimately, you have to enjoy the process, so rather than thinking about avoiding, think about adapting. Focus less on the foods you're supposed to avoid and instead focus on the tasty, nutrient-dense foods you can include. Make a list of all the delicious but nutritious foods you enjoy, the meats and fish, the vegetables, the starchier carbs, and pack those foods in your meal plans. If you love Indian food or Chinese takeaway, find healthy versions online, Youtube is full of quick and easy recipes you can make to satisfy those takeaway taste buds.
2. Don't try to change everything at once. For many people, health tends to be an all or nothing process. They make a mental list of everything they're doing "wrong" and try to change it all in the same week. Instead, start slowly, perhaps by just eating a bit less of what you're already eating, fewer chips with your chicken and chips, for example, or including a bit more of the "good" stuff with the "bad" stuff, like an extra handful of chicken with your chicken and chips. Likewise, don't cut out coffee, fruit juice and alcohol all on the same day; have one less coffee or add a splash of fruit juice to a glass of water or look forward to a glass of wine at the weekend. When it comes to sustainable change, baby steps are far more effective than giant leaps.
3. Replace negative behaviours, like eating too fast, eating until you're stuffed or going back for seconds, with manageable, positive behaviours that don't require bucket loads of willpower. Instead of wolfing your food down in five minutes, eat slowly, it's a great way to avoid over-eating, and you'll enjoy your food more. Instead of eating until you're stuffed, eat to 80% full. You'll control your calorie intake far more effectively, and you'll avoid feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Rather than making a mountain of food at dinner time and then going back for seconds and thirds, make just enough for one serving, or better still make the extra but put it in the fridge and save it for a healthy lunch the following day.
Using these kinds of positive behaviours and building them into habits, rather than taking the restrictive approach, seeing everything as a sacrifice or compromise, will give you a far better chance of sticking to the plan long enough for the calorie and macro tracking to work; because it will work if you can stick to it.