The Macronutrient Psychology

Recently, I posted the macronutrient basics, which you can read here:

Now I want to talk about the mindset behind this. You can have all the knowledge of nutrition, and still be unable to effectively implement this because of your mindset. In fact, this is really common. And I still have to consciously think about this myself. As someone who use to be obese, my mindset is continually requiring refreshing and resetting. Because my body was once much bigger, and I consciously made it become smaller, I have lost homeostatic regulation. My body does not naturally maintain my new weight. I have to consciously do that, with a combination of mindset adjustments and continual nutrition habit adjustments. You might think this sounds tiring - it is! There's a reason long term weight loss for obese people has success rates as low as 5% - maintaining is hard work! But as frustrating as it is, I consider it a worthwhile price to pay for what is essentially a second lease on life.



So, lets get to it, the macronutrient and weight loss mindset (I recommend you review the above mentioned post first):


You don’t HAVE to count calories, but most people trying to lose weight do. This is because estimating quantities of food is very difficult, and trying to eat slightly less than your body actually wants is even more difficult.

A decision you need to make for yourself is:

a)    Count calories every day – enter everything in and adjust to meet the macronutrient ratios
b)    Plan a sample day or several days of eating that meets your macronutrients and calorie goals, write it down, and repeat the same day on a rotation as your standard food so that you don’t have to count every day
c)     Try to intuitively eat at an appropriate calorie and macronutrient level

Making this work long term
When you’ve counted calories for a while, it becomes intuitive what is high fat, what is high carbs, what is high protein. And the beauty in that is that you can make decisions more easily without counting the calories or using an app.

Essentially, what the most logical thing to do, is to have a “default” way of eating that makes you feel good, comes naturally to you, and maintains your weight. For me, that is a small breakfast of a yoghurt or eggs, a medium lunch of meat + veg, and a large dinner of meat/egg/fish + veg. I don’t snack as a general rule of thumb. I eat this way 75% of the time, and the other 25% of the week I eat whatever I want. That’s what I mean by “default” – we all have an autopilot for things we reach for when we aren’t thinking – and we need that autopilot to meet our needs for making us feel good and stopping us gaining weight. That’s the long game in all of this – to find a default way of living that achieves what we want with minimal effort. Obesity arises when our autopilot isn’t meeting our needs – when bad habits have snuck into our autopilot. The autopilot only needs to be good enough 75% of the time to maintain weight  – that in built 25% is our joy in life – our social events, our Friday night pizza, our birthday cake. There’s no place for perfectionism in the long game. This 75% is a key concept.

In the short run
Our bodies crave homeostasis. That means that everything they do is with the aim of staying the same. We have to be wired this way, it’s a survival mechanism. This means our bodies do not want to eat less than what they require to stay exactly the same as they are – it would be dangerous if they did.

Imagine if, effortlessly, you just slowly started eating less because your body wasn’t telling you to eat enough to maintain your weight. You would slowly become malnourished, and you would slowly die.

This exact survival mechanism is why losing weight is hard – our body’s do not want to eat less. It is not natural to eat less – it goes against our basic survival instinct.

So in the short run, we accept doing things we don’t plan to do forever to create a change. This is why the idea of “dieting” came about in the first place. A short term burst of energy to stop us eating so much and lose the weight. The reason it doesn’t work in long term studies is because people haven’t adjusted their autopilot as mentioned above. You don’t have to be as strict as you do while losing weight forever, but some of the changes do need to stick – that’s the 75%. That’s your new autopilot. You need to go about the short term changes (which are often slightly more strict – to overcome our natural drive for homeostasis) in a way that will support the new autopilot.

So throw away your ideas of perfectionism right now. There is no 100%. 100% is dangerous. Short term, while your priority is to lose fat, you can accept 95%, but you must ALWAYS allow yourself at least 5% for living. When you become obsessed with following something to the letter, you’re only indulging the unsustainable part of your brain. Of course perfectionism feels good, again, it’s another survival instinct that it feels good to us to do things right and have positive reinforcement by knowing we did something “perfectly” – but again, it’s working against us in this instance. Aiming for 100% in the short run ruins our long run – because it is very very hard to accept 75% when you’ve been making yourself feel good by hitting 100%.

So even though you CAN eat 100% perfectly to plan for a few weeks, you shouldn't. Because unknowingly, this sets you up to fail later. By ignoring moderation and balance, you're not properly making a new sustainable autopilot. You're not leaving any room for living. When you eventually try to have a treat, your mindset is not prepared to handle this. You're in an all-or-nothing position, so you view one treat as "ruining everything" and suddenly it's all off. How do you stop yourself falling into this trap? Build in that 5% from the beginning. When you're in a short term burst of change-making, by all means go hard 95% of the time, but don't be tempted to make it 100%. Work on your mind at the same time as you do the work on your body.

Questions? Comments? The comment box below is your friend!