How to Stay Within Your Carb Limit (Even if Tracking Macros Isn’t Your Thing)

Does the idea of religiously entering every morsel of food you eat into a diet app so you can “hit your macros” make you say, “What the … ?”.

It’s not because you’re lazy, not serious, or unmotivated. It’s because you refuse to give up your deeply held values about food.

You believe that food is:

  • an act of self care, it’s nourishment for your body
  • spent with the people you love most
  • a part of celebrating life’s special moments.

And you refuse to tarnish these cherished moments with forced, unnatural data food entries, or stressful thoughts of “Did I do this right?” and “I went over (or under), now what?”.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You don’t have to obsessively track to get results.

But you do need to be mindful of what you eat by learning a few basics, and picking up a few tricks. 

1. Listen to Captain Obvious

Captain Obvious can be annoying, especially when he points out, you know, the obvious?

But it pays to listen to him sometimes.

“Whole Grain Honey Nut Cheerios has sugar listed as its 2nd ingredient,” said Captain Obvious. And a mere ¾ cup of it has 22 grams of carbs, so if you’re trying to stay around 20 grams per day, this alone puts you over the top,” he concludes.

Here’s what made his list of the top offenders to avoid:

  • grains (even “whole” grains)
  • rice
  • cereals
  • flour
  • cornstarch
  • breads, breading, tortillas, wraps
  • cornmeal
  • pastas
  • muffins
  • bagels
  • crackers
  • chips 
2. Know the power of veggies

Don’t skimp on your veggies just because you’re on a carb budget.

Why? Fiber.

Fiber helps you lose weight because:

a) It slows down digestion. This keeps insulin (the fat-storing hormone) from rising too much while you eat, which means you store less fat when you eat.

b) It triggers a process in the gut that produces short-chain fatty acids. These also suppress insulin, which also means you store less fat when you eat.

c) It makes the food you eat travel through your gut faster. This stimulates peptide YY (a satiety hormone), which means you get full faster and you eat less without trying.

That said, there are vegetables you should stay away from because they’re too starchy for fat loss:

  • beans (pinto, lima, black)
  • carrots
  • corn
  • parsnips
  • peas
  • potatoes, fries
  • yam

But that’s a very short list compared to:

a) The liberal amount of leafy greens you can eat (i.e. lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, etc.). It’s hard to overeat on them, so indulge without worry. If it’s leafy – eat it.

b) Low-carb veggies that likely include your favorites, below is a list of some popular ones. What’s a good amount? Make a fist with your hand. Visualize this much as one good serving.

  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • green beans
  • mushrooms
  • peppers
  • pumpkin
  • zucchini 
3. Be food label savvy

Instead of learning how to “hit your macros” perfectly, learn how to choose foods wisely.

Duke University Medical Center Lifestyle Medicine Clinic has a few tips on how to make good food choices by reading food labels.

a) Avoid foods that have sugar listed as one of the first 5 ingredients.

b) Carb counts per serving must be:

  • 1-2g or less for meat and dairy
  • 1-2g or less for condiments, i.e. salad dressing, relish, sauces
  • 5g or less for vegetables (subtract fiber from total carb count) 
4. Tune in to your body, not the app

Instead of worrying about how much you should eat so you don’t go over your carb limit, learn how to recognize your body’s satiety signals.

Your body knows when you’ve had enough, and it will tell you.

 a) Before you eat, ask yourself:

  • Am I really hungry?
  • Do I need food, or am I bored, stressed, or do I need something else?

If your answer is yes, eating is not only okay – it’s required.

If your answer is no, try not to fulfill that need with food. Try to take a walk, call a friend, or perhaps it’s time stop procrastinating on that thing (do that).

 b) Sit down

Simply sit your bum on a dining table chair while you eat.

Easier said than done especially when you’re the family cook, family server, and you wait on little children who want some water (or spill their food) as soon as you decide to sit down, right?

But try. Sit and join them around the table as best as you can.

Standing, walking, or “eating on the go” makes you overeat because you fail to notice how much you’ve already eaten.

 c) Unplug while you eat

  • Your phone. Put it on silent, airplane mode, or in another room.
  • Your laptop. Don’t work, check your email, or browse on Facebook while you eat.
  • Your TV. Turn it off.

These distractions take away from you tasting and fully enjoying your food, and it makes you mindlessly overeat without you knowing.

 d) Slow down

How is it that we’ve forgotten how to simply breathe, and yet mastered the art of inhaling our food?

Your body’s satiety signals need around 20 minutes to kick in. It’s that familiar “I’m full” feeling.

It’s not that you miss the signal, you just get it too late.

By the time you do, at that point you’ve eaten too fast (and inevitably too much) your hormones didn’t even get the chance to make it in time to tell you that you’ve had enough.

  • Try chewing your food a few more times before you swallow.
  • Practice putting your utensils down in between a few bites.
  • Enjoy your food, savor it, and pay attention to the taste and flavors.

If you want a 2nd serving, that’s okay… just remember to check in.

  1. How long has it been since you had that first bite?
  2. Wait a little.
  3. Then, decide if you’re still hungry. 
Playing the long game

Keeping your carbs low is critical to fat loss.

But if it means altering your ways to a point that’s radically different from who you are – then it’s likely doomed to fail.

You can make it work by making this way of eating fit you and your lifestyle instead of the other way around.

Many people have successfully lost weight on a low carb-high fat diet without tracking what they eat to the exact gram and percentage of their macros.

You can:

  • get savvy at recognizing sugar and starch, especially those that hide
  • make better carb choices
  • tune in to your own body’s self-regulating mechanisms.

It takes practice, yes.

But you already know “quick-fixes” don’t work.

Those who win are those that stay the course and play the long game – and it’s the only game in town you’re willing to play.


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