A Field Guide for Improving Your Nutrition


If you want to change your weight, there is really only one thing that matters. Calories. Eat more, gain. Eat less, lose. While exercise has a endless benefits, at the end of the day, if you want to change the way you look, it mostly comes down to nutrition.

Counting macros is counting calories on steroids.

By controlling macronutrients you also control calories. One gram of a carb equals four calories. Same for protein. A gram of fat is nine calories.

By aiming for a specific macronutrient ratio, you impact body composition in addition to weight. For example, you can maintain and even build muscle while losing fat.

While everyone will have a different sweet spot, most people will at least start at a 40-30-30 ratio of carbs, protein and fat calories. For someone eating 2000 calories a day, that means 800 calories are coming from carbs, 600 from protein and 600 from fat. That equates to 200 grams of carbohydrates, 150 grams of protein and 66 grams of fat.

The only methods for losing weight and leaning out that worked for me involved some form of counting macros.

This requires weighing food. Consistency is critical. You have 21 meals a week or 35 if you eat smaller meals and snacks. You can't go off plan more than one or two meals a week, in my experience, if you want to see strong results.

My journey from nutritionally clueless to “clued in” took me about eight years, which in hindsight I find a tad frustrating—not the most productive approach to change.

If I could start over today, knowing what I know now, I think I could condense this learning into 12 months.

At least, the journey has led to sustainable change. Eight years is long enough to fully replace a lot of counterproductive habits with new ones and make them stick.

It started on 4/20/2012 when I quit smoking. I went from a pack of cigarettes a day to zero in one day and it finally stuck. Nine months later, I walked into my first CrossFit gym and was hooked.

Flash forward a few more months and by mid-2013, I was feeling much stronger, but starting to wonder why my body wasn’t looking better.

An Initial Foray Into Nutrition Education

I asked my coach for advice and she recommended looking into the The Zone Diet. I devoured the book over the weekend, got a food scale, and organized my food into baggies for the next week.

A few things happened over the next few months:

  • My knowledge of nutrition skyrocketed because I read more about it and I consumed nutrition labels like candy.
  • I stopped experiencing afternoon slowdowns and energy crashes.
  • I leaned out.

Overall, it was amazing. But, I didn’t have the ever elusive six pack.

One thing I noticed about myself is that I had enough willpower to be “on” 85% of the time, but I had my weaknesses—wine for one and eating out with my now husband.

Between 2014 - 2016, I oscillated a bit, maintaining the general Zone Diet principles but without strictly weighing everything I ate. In late 2016, I injured my knee and while I maintained an active life throughout recovery, I fell off the nutrition bandwagon. I was eating too much food and drinking too much wine.

Experimenting with Nutrition Coaching

On April 2nd, 2017, I decided to make a significant change and started the self-guided version of RP Strength’s Diet Program. This was the first time I counted macros and I appreciated how much more precise it was compared to The Zone Diet.

Here is a great comparison of The Zone Diet and counting macros for the interested.

In three months, I lost 17 pounds, made amazing progress in the gym and was leaner than ever before, but still no six pack. From June to September, I simply maintained. Dieting constantly isn’t great.

At the time, a lot of people I knew in the CrossFit community were using Working Against Gravity (WAG). In September 2017, I decided to try it. Goal: get that damn six pack. In February 2018, I stopped. I did achieve some body composition changes, but still no six pack because I found it really hard to change those final pesky habits that kept me from moving from 85% compliance to 97% compliance.

At this time, I had plateaued in my strength goals and decided to take a break from pure CrossFit and spend more time strength training. In June 2019, I found an amazing coach, Aleks Pavlovic, who I work with remotely (which has transitioned well in COVID-19 shut down times).

With Aleks, my workouts were really different: longer sessions (90 minutes), more steady state cardio and a bigger emphasis on functional bodybuilding.

Nutrition wise, I was practicing the 80/20 rule. I weighed most of my food during the week, but relaxed on weekend dinners.

Even without the elusive 100% nutritional compliance, I achieved visible body composition changes. I’ll never forget November 27th, 2019 when I finally saw abs in the mirror. It took me six months of heavy lifting five to six days per week and solid (but not microscopically managed) nutrition. The changes were remarkable.

It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit and I found myself sheltering in place that I decided to really truly try to hit some very specific physique goals. Four weeks later, I am simultaneously shocked by the results (yay for abs!) and by how hard it is to go the last leg of this specific journey (extremely hard).

To put the effort in perspective, I eat five meals per day, seven days per week or 140 meals over the last month. During that time, I have gone “off plan” for four of those meals. In other words, I have been nutritionally compliant with my lean out macronutrients 97% of the time.

I am thrilled with the progress; however, I share this last story because it’s important to be deliberate about setting goals and knowing what it takes to reach them. There is also a difference between living a healthy life and achieving extreme physique goals. You can do the former without the latter.

Whatever your goals, if you are considering embarking on a nutritional journey of your own, remember that the number one key to success is consistency, not perfection. Progress is slow and not always linear and that is ok.

A Field Guide for Developing Better Nutrition

From my vantage point today, I look back and see a path from where I was in 2012 to where I am in 2020 and can plot a plan to get there much faster. If I could go back in time, I would tell 2012 Evy to proceed as follows.

Month 1 - 2

Read a couple of books or take some online classes to improve nutritional knowledge such as:

Buy a food scale and experiment with food tracking using an app like MyFitnessPal.

Start strength training.

Month 3 - 5

Commit to tracking macros for three months.

Work with a personal nutrition coach, service or use one of the many free macro calculators to set a goal.

Continue with strength training.

Read more about nutrition.

Months 6-8

Enter maintenance mode and practice lazy macros.

Keep strength training.

Months 9-12

Commit to tracking macros strictly for another three months to either gain muscle or lean out, whichever suits your goals.

While one year might seem like a long time, it's significantly shorter than the eight years it took me to meander my way through.

Enjoy the Process & Have Fun

Our society is full of people who want to make changes to the way they fuel their body. Yet, everything seems set up to prevent that change: nutrition is riddled with false information, grocery stores are packed with crap, marketing (my own profession...) has confused the hell out of everyone, and nutritionally-sound convenient food is scarce.

Not to mention, habit change is excruciatingly hard.

My biggest frustration is doing something without a purpose, or worse yet, trying to achieve a goal, but going about it inefficiently. Which is why I spend a lot of time learning as much as I can about nutrition and fitness.

I approach this process as if I were a professional athlete because I see life as a sport and I want to stay in the game as long as possible.

The Pleasant Box is my home gym and where I share what I'm learning about nutrition and fitness. It's my happy place.

Evy Lyons

I treat life like a professional sport and train like an athlete so I can stay in the game as long as possible and hopefully inspire more women to join the fun.