Disclaimer: As with any big change in lifestyle or diet you should always consult your doctor for whether these changes are appropriate for you and to monitor you throughout the change. The following information is not medical advice and only my experiences with the ketogenic lifestyle.
Once you’ve figured out what your macros are, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do with them. There are 2 options:
- Tracking them and sticking to strict keto; and
- Not tracking them and following lazy keto
I personally recommend that everyone starts out tracking them in order to learn what the real world application of keto looks like. It’s how you’ll learn what foods you can eat and how much of them you can have. There are going to be foods that, on the surface, appear keto friendly. After tracking, you may find they are in fact not. Chicken wings are a great example of this. When I first started, I assumed all chicken wings were keto. Unfortunately, I was wrong! Boneless wings are almost never ok, but even traditional bone-in wings are hit and miss. Some brands/restaurants add breading made of grains and starches making them high in carbs and leaving you confused about why you’ve been kicked out of ketosis. You may think you will be able to tell by looking whether they have carbs or not but unfortunately, you won’t always be able to discern the difference. Many sauces are also loaded with sugar while others have none. By tracking, you learn which chicken wings you can have and which you need to avoid. It also helps you to realize that the 10 chicken wings you’ve been eating all along, is actually much more than 1 serving and greatly impacts your macros. Going straight to lazy keto can sometimes set you up for failure. So when first starting, track! Tracking is not the most fun activity you will find to do with your time. However, even if you hate it, track! Once you’re in ketosis for a while and comfortable with it, then you can make the switch to lazy keto.
Honesty is the best policy
You’re going to want to log everything you eat. Literally. Everything. Including condiments and that innocent bite of fries you snuck off your kids’ plate of food. Having said that, the first rule of thumb here is be honest with yourself. Just because you don’t track/log it, doesn’t mean it didn’t count. 😉 You need to be logging every single thing you eat or drink. Even the smallest bites can add up and affect your macros. When you have a slip up and eat something you know you shouldn’t, log it! It’s the only way you’ll get accurate results at the end of the day. This information will ultimately be useful as you fine tune your macros to your metabolism, lean body mass and genetic makeup. The more accurate data you collect the easier it will be to find your sweet spot as you get more advanced.
Most people think they have an idea of how many calories they’re getting every day, but it can be eye opening when you start tracking. Look at the labels to determine what the portion size is for that particular item. It changes from brand to brand so always check. For convenience items, also check how many servings are in that package. Many times what we think is a single serving package, is actually 2 or more!
Once you’ve figured out the serving size, measure it out. Whether that means using measuring cups or a food scale, measure it! I personally recommend a food scale as it is more accurate than measuring cups. They aren’t terribly expensive either. I got mine for $8 on Amazon. You’ll probably be surprised at the portion sizes you’re used to eating vs the actual portion size of the food for the macros you want. Often it is much smaller than we are used to. Those calories, carbs, protein, and fat add up quickly and can be the difference in whether you’re in ketosis or not. So measuring everything out is important. Especially in the beginning when you’re still learning to manage all the different pieces.
Once you’ve measured out your portions, you need to log your food. Don’t wait until the end of the day to do it. You’ll likely forget something and that will throw your numbers off for the day. Instead, once you’ve finished eating or while your food is still cooking, log it. Doing it in the moment will also help you determine how much you have left for the day. The difference between what your daily macros are and what you’ve eaten already is how much you have remaining. Then at the end of the day, add them all up and see how you’ve done. If you log the information as you go you will also give yourself the ability to mentally map out your food plan for the rest of the day. You can do this several ways…
Do it the old fashioned way with a notebook. Write down everything you’ve eaten along with the portion, calories, carbs, protein and fat of each item. This is the most time consuming way to do it. You’ll have to look up the macros for all the food and add them up yourself. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad way to do it though! It still works. So if that’s the method you want to use, do it! It’s also a good idea to write down the time of day you eat each meal as that can help you visually see patterns for your eating habits. It might point out that every day at a certain time you eat a snack. Ask yourself: “Was I really hungry, just bored or eating out of habit?”
Use a tracking app
There are quite a few options for these and because of that, I’m only going to speak on the ones I’ve personally used.
- MyFitnessPal – This is probably the most popular one. Most people, including myself, have used it in the past for other weight loss programs as well as tracking their fitness and weight. This is the one I personally started with and it does have both positive and negative features.
- The social sharing part is a great motivator for many people.
- It incorporates a way to track not only food but also fitness and weight progress.
- The database is massive which is great for someone wanting to eat a variety of foods.
- The ability to scan barcodes instead of manually entering them is a huge convenience bonus.
- Frequently eaten foods are suggested by the app making tracking easy and quick to accomplish.
- The food database, while massive, can be horribly inaccurate. Anyone can add anything to the database. So you have no way of knowing whether things are actually accurate which can throw you off track very quickly. Many times, people only add the calories and fat so items appear they have no carbs, when in fact they do.
- The macro calculations that MFP gives you are also very different from what you’ll need for a ketogenic lifestyle. You can go in and change them, but I’ve never been able to get them to change to exactly what I need and it’s incredibly complicated to get them to change at all.
- The free version doesn’t track net carbs. There is a premium version you can get, which, last I saw, also doesn’t track net carbs but does track your fiber so you could do the math yourself. That defeats the purpose of having the app in my opinion. It also does not track sugar alcohols at all so if you’re using anything with artificial sweeteners, you’re going to be calculating that yourself as well. At $49.99 per year, its expensive for me to be doing the calculations myself! You can add the words “net carbs” to the item you’re searching, such as “broccoli net carbs” and it will sometimes have information that way, but many items don’t have a net carb listing and those that do aren’t always accurate.
- Keto Diet Tracker* – This is an app that is tailored to keto and is the tracker I use. Since it’s one of my favorites, I’ve done an in depth review on the app, which can be found here. As with anything, it comes with its pros and cons as well.
- The app is tailored to keto so using it with a ketogenic lifestyle is simple.
- It calculates your personalized macro goals based on gender, weight, body fat percentage, activity level and whether you want to lose weight, maintain your weight or gain mass.
- You can input foods easily using the search function or barcode scanner.
- You can create your own meals and recipes for items you eat often.
- You can easily choose items you eat often from a frequently used list as well as a recently used list.
- It calculates net carbs.
- New features include the ability to track your water, exercise, and weight!
- There is a free version, which is the one I started out using to see if I liked it before upgrading to the pro version.
- If you want to save more than 5 foods per day, you have to upgrade to the pro version. I personally started with the free version, loved it, and upgraded to the pro. There are 3 pro options: $2.99 for 1 month, $5.99 for 3 months, or $11.99 for 12 months. This gives you unlimited saved foods and is much cheaper than MFP at $49.99. At only $1 per month or 3 cents per day, the convenience is worth it for me!
Remember, you don’t have to meet your macros perfectly every single day. You can try to be perfect, but that’s not attainable. Going a little over, or being a little under for one day, isn’t going to be the end of the world. Try to get as close as you can, but don’t stress when it’s not perfect.
Tracking your macros is important to being successful with keto. When you’re first starting out, you really should be tracking. Once you get the hang of it, you can transition to what is called lazy keto, which is what I’ll be talking about next time!
* This post contains information about a product I have been financially compensated for. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience and I am a long time user of the app. See my full disclosure here.