Tracking macros is a great tool to achieve body composition goals, but it can be mentally very tasking. I can understand, that you have enough of tracking, weighing and measuring everything in your life and you are afraid of having to do this forever. Relax. No, you probably don’t have to track macros for the rest of your life, there are varying degrees of freedom regarding your nutrition. Intrigued? Read on!
Level 1: Weigh and measure everything
This level is about control and education. You try your best to weight, track and log everything with as much accuracy as possible. You eliminate as many unknown variables such as eating outside from your life as possible.
What seems to be extreme and restrictive is often necessary for nutritional awareness. You learn which foods are rich in protein. Which foods are more satiating than others? Which foods are so energy dense that they are virtually impossible to fit into your macros? What actually are macros and why are they important? You learn to estimate what you are eating: take a food out, guess the weight, put it on the scale and see how close you are. Over time you will get good at this and graduate to Level 2. But until then, be precise with your tracking.
In my personal opinion everybody should learn these basics to build a solid foundation that allows you more wiggle-room later on. This level should be a tool you use for a certain goal (like losing body fat) and not be a permanent way of life. Even as a competitive bodybuilder you may want to take days, week or even months off from it, especially in your off-sesason. It is restrictive and may cause problems with relationship to food. On the other hand, some people actually enjoy the level of control and accuracy and are happy to stay at this level. The type of mindset determines if it is the case for you.
Level 2: Weigh and measure most foods
This level gives you quite a lot of freedom, so you better have mastered Level 1 and now have a very good understanding of food in general. Level 2 allows you to eat certain “safe” foods without weighing, but still logging in your tracking app. You just eyeball. Foods that are considered “unsafe” still have to be weighed and tracked like in Level 1.
What foods are “safe”? Well, this is individual, but usually very lean protein sources, veggies and fruits are okay to eyeball. Very energy dense foods like fatty protein sources, sweets, added fats and nuts are simply too dangerous to eyeball. If you underestimate your apple in the morining by 50g, you are wrong by 25kcal or so. If you misjudge your peanut butter by 20g, you overconsume an incredible 130kcal! I think you can see how quickly things add up with energy dense foods, so be accurate and honest with them.
This level is adequate for people who still have a goal to reach, but are quite experienced and built a good nutritional education foundation (Level 1 is so important!).
Level 3: Track food but don’t weigh and measure
You still track your food (and beverages, of course) but you estimate everything. This can even be done at the end of the day, as you often don’t have a certain calorie target that you chase.
The more whole foods you eat the easier this level will be. The more treats, snacks, and processed food you eat, the harder this level will be. Again, having a sound nutritional foundation is important. Healthy choices and good habits already have to be in place to make this level work. Tracking your food serves to keep you accountable and to give you some feedback at the end of the day. It also still give you the possibility to “adjust” macros and calories depending on your goals.
Level 4: Track yourself not your food
You forgo the food tracking and only track body measurements to have feedback how you respond to your lifestyle.
As you can imagine, this is a level of freedom makes it necessary to have all the healthy habits and food choices perfectly in place. You have to be very experienced to have a feeling what you can allow yourself to eat and what not. A lot of work has to be put in to achieve this.
Only tracking body measurements means that you have to not be obsessed by those measurements. If you still freak out about daily bodyweight fluctuations, this level of freedom is probably too much for you, as you overemphasize these measurements. Gained one kilo overnight? Oh no, I am fat (No, you are not)! Make sure you are at peace with your body before attempting this level. If you are not subjected to big weight fluctutations or if you know your body wery well you can even reduce the weigh-ins gradually until reaching the next level.
Level 5: Track Nothing
This level is the ultimate freedom: you track nothing! No food weighing, no tracking, not taking body measurements. Freedom.
This amount of freedom is applicable for two very different kind of persons: Either you are a very advanced individual who is perfectly in touch with his hunger, satiety and body image (congratulations), or you are somebody who feels uncomfortable with the idea of tracking and taking measurements.
These people are usually better served by a non-weightloss approach to coaching, that focuses on building better habits, educating on nutrition, enjoying exercise and building a healthy relationship with the body.
I love progression and seeing these five levels, you probably want to achieve Level 5 as soon as possible, but don’t hurry this process. Even better, forget about the levels. You don’t have to aim for a certain level to “be better”. Do what has to be done. The levels are only there to give you an overview what options there are out there. Staying at Level 1 or 2 for the rest of your life is fine, if it is what you need and what you like. No problem. These are just tools and you can switch between them according to your needs and your current lifestyle.
I hope this blog post helped you make the right decision. If you have any questions regarding tracking, macros or lifestyle, post them in the comments. If you are shy, send me a direct message. Until then, stay strong and eat well!