I have to start this blog with a disclaimer that going into macro counting I got a coach, who runs an amazing and informative support group. I got to be exposed to all of the questions people have about it, whether they have a fitness/nutrition background or not. Though I had some understanding of the value of tracking macros, I also had a negative image of what that entailed. I have mostly been exposed to tracking macros through social media, so I was basically seeing fitness professionals showing all of the insanely unhealthy, processed concoctions they were making that fit their macros. On that note, I think balance is important in a healthy/fit lifestyle. To me that means enjoying dessert, or something savory occasionally, but not expecting to eat processed food or lava cake EVERYDAY for most meals and be HEALTHY. It is all about balance. I cannot stress enough how much I believe in balance. To me, that also means not obsessing over food. Now that I have rambled, here is my experience with counting macros.
I consider myself an “intuitive” eater. I spent years dieting, and calorie counting, and I just hate spending my energy on that. I began following a Paleo diet a few years back, and I am definitely not strictly Paleo, but it taught me to eat real food and listen to my hunger cues. Eating Paleo also shifted my view of food from “good” or “bad” (read: off limits) to food is fuel. I enjoyed finding food to fuel my workouts and ensure longevity.
Coming into macros was a little different for me because the focus was only on the macronutrients of food (carbs, fats, protein) and not as much on the micronutrients. I began counting macros to ensure I was getting the proper nutrition for marathon training. I did not want to gain an abundance of weight, but more importantly, I wanted to really focus on getting the most out of my runs with the proper fuel.
Through following the macro plan set out for me, I mostly maintained my weight and was able to enjoy some stuff that I normally would not eat as often since it was devoid of micronutrients. This also forced me to really increase my carbs and find a lot of nutrient dense carbs to keep me fueled and full. It also made me aware of how much protein I was consuming, which was definitely more than I needed. I always love finding new ways to be aware of what you are feeding your body, without becoming too obsessive about it.
I think a lot of people get too obsessive – meaning it can still lead to some disordered eating behavior, especially in people who already have a poor relationship with food (which isn’t that uncommon in our society). The rule of thumb I was given when I began was to stay within +/- 5 grams with no “cheats” (meaning not going above or below that) for the first week. I struggled with lowering my fats (this was a huge energy source for me having been mostly paleo before) & my proteins, and getting in ENOUGH carbs. Once I figured out how to get in the appropriate ratio of each macronutrient it felt decently easy to follow because I am a creature of habit. Some days though, I was just hungry so I went a little over my macros. For me, that was OK because my goal was performance, and I am a huge fan of listening to your body. I just found that some people would FREAK OUT if they were going over their macros or felt truly hungry but did not want to go over their macros.
I also found that, like anything, without doing the proper research this way of life can lead to extremes. In this case, eating tons of junk. The goal in any health approach, should be balance. Though this can show people how to fit dessert or “treats” into their life, some people get too extreme. Fueling your body is the most important aspect of balance, meaning that 90% of the time it is best to feed your body with real food because your micronutrients are relevant. It is important to enjoy yourself and not be restrictive, so “eating clean” 100% of the time is not balanced. Especially if you enjoy something outside clean eating. Again, it all becomes too obsessive.
I was not a fan of how irrelevant micronutrients are within the macro counting community. Again, I believe in balance and fueling your body. I hate the terms “cheat” meals and “treats”. I am not cheating on anything, I am just not 100% fueling my body when I have something like chips. That does not mean they cannot be consumed ever, it is just important not to let your diet be completely devoid of nutrients.
Lastly, I found macro counting to be very time consuming, especially in the beginning. I already have a pretty full plate and I hate taking the time to track every morsel of food that I consume. It really detracts from the eating out experience if you are too consumed with it. I would prefer to focus on protein and produce when I go out, and 1 sugar (i.e. bread OR pasta OR alcohol OR dessert). There are resources out there for tracking your fro-yo and eating out, and again, I think this can lead to really consuming, obsessive behavior.
My coach shared an analogy with us that I think was really valuable, and if everyone approaches it this way, macro counting can be super useful:
“When you make a cake for the time, you have to weigh out the butter and oil and the perfect amount of vanilla extract in order to get that perfect blend that makes your cake EXACTLY the way you want it. After you make that cake 400 times, you begin not even bothering with the measuring cups because you know what it looks like.
Macros and our bodies are the same way. We use these tools to LEARN what our bodies need so that we can reach a goal. After counting for days and months and years, you know what that looks like and it’s no longer necessary to be crazy with counting any longer, but it’s also a journey and you can’t expect to make a cake without measuring cups the first time you make the cake.”
For me personally, tracking my macros served its purpose for race training, but after I finish my race, I will probably go back to intuitive eating. After much research though, I have been experimenting on my husband, and it has been beneficial for him to just be more aware of what he is eating and how it affects his health. He is steadily moving in the directions of his goals, so it is definitely eye opening.
Counting macros seems to be a really good transitional tool. It definitely helps you to be more aware of the composition of ALL food (not just “clean” & “cheat” food) and how those macros are utilized. If you are someone who obsessively eats clean food and does not enjoy ANYTHING outside that realm because you think it will blow your progress, I think tracking macros can be beneficial. If you are someone who responds well to structure, or you strictly count calories, I think it would be beneficial. If you have an obsessive personality I think macros is definitely not for you.