Strategies for When Your Diet Goes Off Track
It happens. Sometimes you just can’t keep track of everything you eat, or you say “f**k it! I’m going to enjoy myself at this BBQ/Wedding/Holiday!” Life gets in the way, and sometimes it should!
You can’t bring your digital scales to the restaurant and start pulling apart the meal they’ve put in front of you. Nor can you ask the waiting staff to bring the packaging out from the back so you can scan the barcodes.
It’s not just at restaurants that tracking gets difficult. Family tend to get offended when you start quizzing them about exactly how they made the lasagne they gave you.
“Was this 5% beef? Did you make the sauce from scratch or was it from a jar? Oh a jar, good! Can I scan it please? Did you give me roughly one quarter? How much cheese?”
On days like this, despite your best efforts to keep a close eye on it, you are going to lose track of your calories and macros.
But don’t do this!
If you’re anything like me, it’s either full-control or NO control!
The days where I begin to lose control can result in the flipping of some kind of switch in my brain.
“F*CK IT! Where’s the ice cream? Ooooh, I’ve been waiting to eat those biscuits, let’s demolish a whole pack!”
Just because I can’t keep it under control, I go nuts. Once I’ve stopped the binge, I feel immense regret as I mentally tot up the damage.
“Shit, I’ve just eaten about 5,500 calories.”
Whether you’re trying to lose fat or gain muscle, that scenario isn’t good.
You have to do your best not to let this happen. It happens to me sometimes, but I’m trying to be better.
What you should do when you can’t keep track
Try to keep the day as normal as possible, so track everything that can be tracked. If you’re at home for some of the meals, weigh everything as normal and input it into myfitnesspal.
If you know you’re going out for dinner later and you’re going to enjoy yourself, then eat a bit less beforehand to give yourself some more leeway.
When it comes to a meal out, do this:
Pick something that is likely to be higher in protein, with easier to estimate calories. The easiest is a steak that comes with a side of vegetables, salad or fries.
It should say on the menu what type and weight of steak it is. You can input that straight into myfitnesspal. 10oz sirloin? Cool, that’s about 285 grams.
You should then be able to guess roughly what weight of fries or chips are on the plate. If you’ve got a side of steamed vegetables like carrots or broccoli you can guess how much that is too. It’s not going to add many calories, so don’t stress about it too much. If it came with a salad, you can ask them to put the dressing on the side. That way you don’t have to eat the dressing and the actual salad will be very low in calories.
If I’m lucky enough that the meal out was like this, then I just continue tracking like normal all day.
What to do when you can’t estimate semi-accurately with confidence:
If I can’t be confident in my estimations (e.g. when eating a meal at my in laws’ house) , then I deliberately OVER estimate calories.
This compensates for things being added to the meal that you can’t see. The meal could be made with 20% beef instead of 5. It could be a jar of sauce with 500 calories per serving. There could be some high fat cheese in that lasagne and a load of butter mixed in!
Other people aren’t going to make food the way you want them to.
That way, you track the worst case scenario. This will allow you to hopefully still be in a calorie deficit if your goal is fat loss, as you’ll have fewer or no calories left after this meal.
I also over-estimate the calories if I’m in a muscle building phase. My approach is to give myself fewer calories on days that I know are going to be near impossible to track. I would rather end up in a calorie deficit for that one day than have too large a surplus.
One day that didn’t contribute to gaining any muscle is better in my eyes than a day that contributed to fat gain.
That’s because any calories above and beyond the surplus you need for bulking WILL get stored as fat. It may have only been 350 calories. On their own, those 350 calories extra are meaningless.
However, the amount of times you have additional calories above the surplus you need all add up, so the frequency with which you do it matters. Every time you do it those extra calories all get added together until it’s not meaningless and you can see the extra fat you’ve gained!
It’s not always 350 calories either. For many, it will be a thousand at a time, or more than that!
Every time your additional calories that you didn’t need for bulking add up to 3,500 (so 10 occasions of 350 calories, or 1 occasion of 3,500 calories) you will gain an extra pound of fat.
This is why I’d rather err on the side of caution on those “unknown” days and end up in a deficit for a day than a huge surplus.
What to do when you know you’ve got a huge calorie intake around the corner
I recently did this for a family BBQ.
My family goes ALL OUT at BBQs. Amazing selection of food, loads of different meats and salads, and all very high quality! It’s unbelievable.
I recently went to one when I was trying to lose fat.
I knew that I could easily consume 2,000 calories in a single meal. Not great for fat loss when that is pretty much my allocation for the entire day.
What did I do?
I consumed almost 2,000 calories in an entire meal (maybe more, I was estimating so I can’t be exact).
My strategy was this:
I ate nothing else all day, apart from a 250 calorie bowl of porridge (made with water so all the calories came from actual porridge, meaning I could eat more of it and be more full). I also had one scoop of protein (also mixed with water to save calories).
The bowl of porridge was my very low calorie, very filling breakfast. This was to keep me from starving before the BBQ – which was mid-afternoon.
I then estimated the calories of everything I put on my plate at the BBQ. Luckily, I know what food my family buy, and I was able to find some of the packaging, so I think I was quite accurate with most of it.
I think the plate of food was about 1,800 calories. I came up a bit short on protein (almost all of one day’s worth on one plate, which is not optimal) so I had a protein shake before bed.
This was lunch – only my second meal of the day, but I didn’t eat again that day. I ate so much in one sitting that I didn’t get hungry the rest of the day anyway! You don’t have to eat by the clock.
I didn’t touch any of the other bits that are around at a BBQ – you know, the beers, crisps, dips, olives etc. You can if you want, just build it into your strategy. I wanted to save calories for the main event!
An alternative approach: Just forget about it and treat it as one day that won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things…
You can also do this:
Just forget about tracking your food for one day!
One day isn’t going to make any difference to your results in the grand scheme of things.
If this genuinely is a one off, then just enjoy yourself.
If you can’t honestly say this is a one-off, then perhaps you need to think a bit harder about how you approach these things if you still want to get results.
Doing this every week IS going to affect your results if you don’t monitor what you’re eating. Doing it once every 2 months will affect your results to a much, much lesser degree.
It’s all a balance! Pursue your goals and get the body you want, but remember to live too.