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Eating on A Macro Budget

Macro budget does not mean large amounts of money; it is the budget of macro nutrients you have every day. A macro budget is flexible dieting that gives the freedom of eating healthy.

Flexible dieting, also known as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), is an eating style with a rapidly growing following, and for good reason. I say eating style rather than diet because Flexible Dieting is all about being able to eat what you choose, rather than limiting your options. I’ve discussed it in past articles, but in case you’re unfamiliar, the premise is that you have a daily target of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) that you eat within, and as long as you do that, you can choose any food you like. And it works remarkably well for most adherents because it’s so easy to adhere. Being able to regularly incorporate foods you’d normally have off limits makes it a very easy eating style to sustain, but as I discussed in my last article on the topic, whether or not the diet is healthy depends on the kinds of foods you choose to eat day in and day out. It presents a rare situation where an effective diet for your body composition goals may not be a healthy diet, and it’s exactly that reason that I urge clients to view macro tracking in a different light; as a nutrient budget.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of working within a budget. We have budgets when buying groceries, buying a new car, or planning a vacation. Flexible Dieting fits this analogy well because the foods someone is most likely to treat themselves to are expensive within their daily macronutrient budget. Want a slice of cake? That’s going to cost you a lot of carbs and fat, so you may wind up having a small salad for dinner! In this way, flexible dieting uses the oldest weight-loss trick in the book; portion control. Eat a lot now, and you’ll have to pay for it later to balance your budget. This makes the diet highly effective as well as highly sustainable because you can indulge in that treat you want, or go to that restaurant with your friends later, guilt free. The sticking point I always come back to is making it healthier. The important concept that gets missed here because of the focus on treats is nutrients.

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Now, let’s say instead of trying to budget in lots of tasty treats, we turn that concept on its head and try to budget in as much nutrition as we possibly can. For example, think of the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber you get from a bowl of plain cereal with almond milk for breakfast. Now take that same allotment of macros for breakfast, but instead get them in the form of a green smoothie that has blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, flax seeds, spinach and almond milk. Both meals have the same macronutrient breakdown, but guess which one has more nutrition?

That’s nutrient budgeting in action. Take the concept of flexible dieting with its daily macronutrient targets, and now constantly analyze your food choices by asking yourself: ‘How can I get more nutrition for these macros?’. This simple addition can dramatically enhance the nutrient density of your daily diet because when you’re always making switches like green smoothies instead of cereal, or brown rice instead of rice noodles, it can have a dramatic impact on your overall diet. Suddenly you’re maxing out your vitamin, mineral, fiber, and antioxidant intake. You’re sleeping better, you have more energy, you’re recovering more quickly from the gym, and you’re reducing your risk for a whole host of health problems later in life. Like portion control, the concept of nutrient density isn’t new, but applying it to the context of a dietary budget adds an effective new spin that may help it work for you.

And, of course, adopting this eating style still allows you all the flexibility that is inherent in flexible dieting. You can still budget in that food you’re craving, or have dinner at your parents’ house without having to stress too much about what’s on the menu. The difference is, for all the rest of the time you’re not just budgeting in treats, you’re asking yourself: “How can I maximize my nutrient return on my macro investment?”, because that is an investment that will pay plenty of dividends as time goes by!

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