"How strict do I need to be to make the progress towards my goal?"
That is a frequent question that I receive from clients and it sparked the desire to write a new post. One of the better aspects of a flexible dieting approach is that you really can decide how strict you want to be based upon realistic goal setting. For someone that is a Crossfit Games level athlete, or even if you're looking to make progress as fast as possible the answer to the question is "Pretty freaking strict." Measuring almost all of your meals and hitting your macros within 3-5 grams daily will produce the desired results as quickly as possible. At the same time, a lot of really good progress can be made with smart decision making and visual estimation of portion sizes and. Whats important to recognize is that progress is not a linear relationship to effort. Dropping the last 5-10 pounds can be 10X as hard as losing the first 30-40.
The two questions that you need to ask yourself are:
- Does my goal actually require 99.9% precision or can I achieve it with 80% accuracy
- Does my current place in life allow for me to be 99.9% accurate?
Even for those people that answer the first question "YES", there are going to be periods of time when its just not possible. Whether its the holidays, having to do a lot of travel for work, wedding season, hitting your macros exactly AND eating a micronutrient dense diet is going to be a lot harder. During these phases, taking more of an 80/20% approach is much more realistic and way less stressful. What is critical is to align your goals with the reality of the situation and then to be mentally OK with it. Don't put yourself in a situation where you are estimating caloric intake and then get upset when progress isn't as fast as when you used to measure every meal. At some point, life will settle down and you can back to the higher level of precision. Also, I think its incredibly important to recognize the inherent value in a looser macro period, where you can go out to dinner with friends, relax on vacation or enjoy an extra glass of wine with loved ones. I promise, no real friend in your life defines you by having a 6-pack or by being a certain weight on the scale. Expecting to spend the rest of your life eating weighed and measured meals is just as unrealistic as eating donuts all day and expecting to lose weight.
Ultimately you are in control of your goals AND your actions, align them and then make peace with the decision.