Tracking every bit of food that goes into your body can be kind of a drag. Luckily, if you're a "lazy clean eater, " you CAN cut corners and still eat healthy.
I hate tracking what I eat. But as I've gotten older, my ability to eat half a dozen apples (It's fruit! It's healthy!) and not feel it has become a thing of the past. These days, I have to pay some kind of attention to what I'm eating. But close attention? That's something I just can't do. I'm lazy. Too lazy to count calories and certainly too lazy to track my macros by the numbers.
Read More: A Surprising Food With Nutrients You Need
Still, macros are what I use to stay on track with my diet. You might have heard of macros before and just assumed they were too much work. On the contrary, there's nothing better suited to the nutritionally lazy person than tracking macros. And you don't have to count up every last gram of fat, protein and carbohydrates to make it work. If you can hit your macros five days out of seven or more, you'll be on target. Unless you're training for competitive athletics, that's going to be close enough for jazz.
The One Time You Can’t Be Lazy
To master your macros, first you have to know what they are: "Macros" is short for "macronutrients," which is basically just a fancy way of saying how many grams of carbs, protein and fat you consume in a given day. There are different theories about how to break down your daily allowances, but since I'm no dietitian I'll leave you to sort that out. I'm of the "tons of fat and protein" school of thought, but you might find that other approaches work better for your philosophy and lifestyle (a low-fat diet, the Zone Diet, Atkins and others).
Regardless of how you look at what you "should" be eating, you're still going to have to do some basic math based on your weight, lifestyle, fitness goals and the amount of calories in each type of macronutrient per gram. If you're as lazy as I am, that's a lot of math.
Read More: How to Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
Fortunately, there's no shortage of macro calculators online that will do virtually all of the work for you. LIVESTRONG's free MyPlate calorie tracker app easily shows you your macros after you track any snack, meal or day of eating. The calculator even takes into account your fitness goals, whether you want to maintain your current weight, bulk up or lose fat. From daily tips to personalized meal plans, this app provides everything you need to reach your goals in one place. It's available on both iOS and Android.
Do Your Research
Once you have your macro info, you might wonder "OK, well, what now?" I know I did. "What now" is taking a look at what you already eat, because chances are good that those are the foods you're going to continue to eat, at least at first. If nothing else, foods that you already consume are going to give you an idea of what these macros look like in the real world.
Read More: A Quick & Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size
It's one thing to hear you're allowed a certain number of grams of fat per day; it's another to know how many slices of bacon that is. So calculate some of your favorite meals — in the portion sizes that you eat — and be honest. There's no judgment here. We're just doing research. How does what you currently eat fit in with your macros? Where are you going over allowances? Where are you coming up short?
Now you're going to have to do a bit of research — but not much, because, again, this is a plan for lazy people. Look around at some healthy meals that will help you to meet your macros. Find foods that you will actually enjoy. If you're eating in a "take your medicine" sort of way, you're always going to have trouble sticking to a plan. However, if you're consuming foods you enjoy, you've got a massive boost helping you to hit your macros.
What you're trying to do here is get a general sense of what is going to fit and what isn't, without having to track every little thing that you eat. When you do this you'll master your macro intake and make informed decisions about when you want to go over your limit. For example, every Friday I eat fish and chips, drink a couple of beers and follow it up with cheesecake. It's a horrible thing to do if I do it every day, but I make the informed choice to break my macros once a week.
Do the Math
The secret to being lazy about your macros for the rest of your life? The heavy lifting here is simply getting acquainted with what foods have what kind of profiles and keeping a rough mental tally throughout the day. And if you're like me, you're a creature of habit: I eat basically the same things every day for breakfast (bacon, eggs and black pudding) and lunch (reduced-sugar baked beans and yet more bacon), while eating something a little different every night for dinner. The more you want to vary your diet, the more research you'll have to do.
Fortunately, for lazy folks, "research" means little more than looking at the back of the package and searching for three important numbers. They are (you guessed it): carbs, fat and protein. The main question you want to ask yourself when doing this basic research is what percentage (roughly) of your daily allowance of each you're eating when you have a single serving. Are you actually going to have a single serving, or is it going to be more like two or three? You can be kind of fuzzy when you're doing your math and keeping track, but you have to be honest about what you're consuming. Err on the side of caution. Do your math in a way that extends you the least amount of credit.
Do Cheat. Please.
One thing about the lazy is that we're not terribly strict when it comes to our macros. But you have to be hitting them at least five days out of the week, otherwise there's no point. Some people solve this issue by having a "cheat day" or even a number of "cheat meals" throughout the week. I prefer the former approach. A cheat day makes things simple. On Fridays, I'm allowed to be a bit of a glutton. Every other day of the week, I eat sensibly.
"A bit of a glutton" is the key phrase here. There's no point in tracking macros for every meal of the week except for one if that meal consists of 16 doughnuts. Don't think of it as a treat for keeping your diet the rest of the week, either. You're not a dog. Food isn't a reward.
Read More: The Art and Science of "Cheat Meals"
What's more, this can lead to cheating throughout the week: "Oh, I've been so good. I deserve to have three slices of chocolate cake." Well, then you deserve the body you'll get from eating all that cake. The point here is that we're lazy, and perfection is for the non-lazy. If you like to have a nice meal out once a week, let yourself indulge when you're indulging. Holding back when you're supposed to be splurging is a recipe for resentment and feeling cheated.
It takes a while to get the lazy program up and running, but once you do you won't be tracking your food religiously. Rather, you'll be paying attention to what you eat, intentional about what you consume and keeping a rough track of what you've eaten throughout the day. A couple of weeks in you'll be on autopilot. What could possibly be lazier than that?
Nicholas Pell is a freelance writer, kettlebell enthusiast, coffee aficionado and lazy clean eater.