why macro counting isn’t for everyone

Hi friends! How are you? Hope you’re enjoying the morning. We’re hanging out before P’s music class, and I’m excited to teach barre later today.

This post deals with nutrition and dieting strategies; if you think it may be a triggering or uncomfortable subject, please skip this post. For today, I thought we could talk about a popular eating strategy, and one that I’ve loosely followed for years: macro counting. I mentioned in a recent post that I don’t think it’s for everyone and received quite a few questions asking why. I want to start off by saying that I’m NOT a Registered Dietitian. I’m a Certified Personal Trainer and Weight Loss Specialist, but my scope of practice is to give ideas of healthy foods and recipes. I cannot give specific quantities or portion sizes, and if you need help with nutrition, I highly recommend seeking out the experience of a local RD. If you need help finding one, let me know! Please keep this in mind, and remember that the best eating strategy for each unique individual is going to look different across the board. 

Macro counting isn't a good idea for everyone--it works well for some, but others do better without it. Here are the reasons other options might work better for you. | fitnessista.com

My history with macro counting:

Back in the day, like way, way back in the day, I counted calories. It was one of the things that helped me lose 40 lbs. during college and keep off the weight. Over time, I transitioned from diet foods to whole foods. Somewhere along the way, I learned about macro counting, which is like an amped-up version of calorie counting. You track your carbs, fat and protein grams each day, and try to keep each set within a specified ratio. The ratios can vary depending on your goals.

When I first discovered macro counting, I liked it. As someone who dabbled in vegetarianism (and had been pescatarian for years), I didn’t do a great job getting enough protein with my meals. Tracking macros helped remind me to get in more protein, but the full version of macro counting was a little too intense for me. (This was before My Fitness Pal existed, which calculates everything for you.) For that reason, I stopped tracking the specific numbers, and simply started tracking the quantities of each type of food I was eating. (I go into more detail in my book, with the precise method that I followed. Each food was quickly jotted down as an “F,” “C,” or “P.”) It took the math work out of macro counting, and gave me a general idea of how I wanted to fuel. This is something I’ve done on and off, and still support this idea if you have super specific nutrition and fitness goals. 

My casual macro counting worked well for me, and NOT counting my macros has worked equally well, if not better. I can’t remember the last time I consistently tracked my macros, and think the last time may have been when we were still in San Diego. It works well for some people who thrive on structure and are looking to accomplish precise fitness goals, but it’s not always the best method. 

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Here are some of the reasons why macro counting isn’t a good idea for everyone:

It can take the fun out of food. I feel like anything that turns eating into a math project isn’t extremely sustainable for the long term. This is a huge reason why I made macro counting a lot more lax when I was following it; I like food too much. There was no way I was going to go out with friends or on a date night and think about the macros of what I was eating.

Thomasville date night

I know there’s a lot of fat in my cheese board and that’s a-ok with me haha. I do think that lax macro counting helped me to remember to include quality protein in my meals. Now, I just make a mental note to get in protein and produce (eat like a PRO) throughout the day.

When you’re tracking macros or calories, I feel like it can hinder your ability to eat intuitively. I know that in my calorie counting days, if I realized I was low towards the end of the day, I’d eat a giant bowl of cereal to make up for it, even if I wasn’t hungry. If I was hungrier that day, I felt like a “failure” for going over a certain amount each day (though I know now that this isn’t true!). Live and learn, eh?

Macro counting overly simplifies food when there is so much more to consider. Let’s just say that a cup of sweet potatoes drizzled with almond butter has the same macro count as a brownie. Even though these numbers are the same, we’re failing to consider the hormonal and physiological effects of choosing the sweet potatoes. Our immune system, hormones, energy levels, and digestion will be completely different. I’m not saying, “Don’t eat the brownie” (because we all need brownies in our life) but that the sweet potato will provide positive nutritional benefits that the brownie doesn’t have. 

Sweet potato brownies 5

(You can have the best of both worlds with sweet potato brownies.)

No specific diet strategy is going to work for EVERYONE. Some people thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet, while others are more energized with meat consumption. Depending on your activity levels and lean muscle mass, you may need more carbs, protein or fat than someone else your age and weight. Some people like tracking meals and calories and it works well for them, while for others, it feels like a food prison. You really have to do what you enjoy, and fuel yourself in a way that energizes you and makes you feel good. Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and eating the things you crave in moderate amounts seem like such simple strategies. It turns out that simple doesn’t always mean “easy.” It really is a bit of a learning process, and my eats have changed so.much over time. 

So, tell me friends: do you track macros or anything similar? Or do you go with the flow and stick with an intuitive style of eating?

xoxo

Gina

A post about moderation

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40 Comments

  1. Kailey on October 16, 2017 at 6:58 am

    Thank you for this!
    I haven’t missed a day on MyFitnessPal in five years, and I feel like I’m stuck. I’m terrified to let the tracking go but it’s become an obsession even though I know eating intuitively would be so much better. Any suggestions?!

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      i would go cold turkey for a day or so! maybe add everything into my fitness pal at the END of the day and see how you feel compared to your numbers. once you get used to that, try skipping it for a few days and see how it affects things

      • Kailey on October 16, 2017 at 4:12 pm

        Thanks so much!

  2. Bethany on October 16, 2017 at 7:12 am

    I like macro and calorie counting can me good for short periods of time here and there. It is good knowledge and a reminder of how much or how little we are eating. I even purchased a scale a few months ago to see if I was over or under estimating my meats. Turns out I was underestimating by an ounce or two.

  3. Cassie on October 16, 2017 at 7:30 am

    I try to be easy about it but I’ve struggled with getting enough protein especially earlier in the day when I’m trying for no meat and the little one wants to play cars with me rather than help me cook another meal. Ha.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      i have to cook when they’re sleeping or distracted haha

  4. Melissa on October 16, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Good post. Macro counting seems like the latest trend all the healthy living bloggers are jumping on. Last year it was Paleo, this year macros. Healthy eating shouldn’t involve rules, restrictions, and obsessive counting!

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      yessssss

  5. Wendy on October 16, 2017 at 8:57 am

    I have had very good success with Calorie counting and Macro counting using My Fitness Pal. But I got to a point where it almost became obsessive trying to find a balance and lose weight. I have a hormone imbalance and no matter how good I did with tracking, I would still have crazy swings with gaining and losing weight weekly so I threw in the towel and stopped tracking. I proceeded to gain 25lbs in 2 months. I have spent the last 2 months eating extremely clean (pretty close to no processed foods at all) and the weight is slowly coming off (12lbs in 2 months). There is a real freedom in not having to track what I am eating and just eating when I am hungry. I think the key is to remember that we are changing and just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work now. Our habits have to evolve to fit where we are currently.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      i totally agree <3
      love what you said about evolving, too. things change over time, especially with hormones as you mentioned, and something that worked before might not be a good choice now

  6. Traci | The Petite Chef on October 16, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Macro counting is intriguing and definitely right in certain situations for a limited time (necessary weight loss or gain). As someone mostly maintaining my weight, I find it to be too burdensome and takes the joy out of eating. I’m sure it could be eye-opening to do a count every once in a while to make sure that I’m mostly on target, so I’d be open to doing that – but as for every day, I’m all about intuitive eating! 🙂

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      yes, i think checking in every now and again is a great idea. for example, i’m pretty cure my current tablespoon of almond butter is like 3 tablespoons 😉

  7. Karly on October 16, 2017 at 9:06 am

    The positive side of macro counting is learning portion sizes, whats really in food you are eating, and also sometimes when you are over/ under eating. Of course it has its positives and negatives! Ive learned alot from it but also sometimes it can be hard to let go! You have to find a happy balance that works for you.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      that is so so true

  8. Amy on October 16, 2017 at 9:23 am

    This is really interesting. I enjoy hearing about how healthy eating has evolved over the years for you, and interesting to think about how healthy eating has changed with the help of apps.

    As a long time reader, I have noticed you regularly add the “trigger warning” disclaimer on posts that might be difficult for some readers. I think that is a very respectful approach. Did you have experience with a negative body image or disordered eating while you were in your early stages of dieting or as your body has changed over the years?

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      thank you so much for reading for so long <3
      back in the blog beginning, i started writing about diets i'd tried and instantly got a lot of comments and emails from readers who were currently suffering from an eating disorder, or had recovered from one, and said they found it triggering. it wasn't something i'd considered and i was so thankful they pointed it out to me. since then, i've tried to add a disclaimer when i think it's applicable.
      while i don't think i had disordered eating (because i had good intentions, and a lot of the things i did/tried were based off things i read in magazines or books), i definitely think i did some weird stuff back in the day haha. i think as far as body image goes, we all struggle to some extent. i'm a lot happier in my skin than i was 10 years ago, but a lot of that came from ignoring sources of pure negativity, and also becoming a mama 😉

      • Amy on October 16, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        I love it – what a great response. Thanks for sharing, it is always great to hear healthy perspectives on body image!

  9. Janice on October 16, 2017 at 9:36 am

    This is a great post for me that came at just the right time. Like others have mentioned I feel I benefit from macro counting, or even tracking my steps, once in a while to check in on my baseline stats. But if I do it for more than a few days I start to become obsessive about it, and that is not good.

    What does work for me is the PRO solution you mentioned where I try to include quality produce and protein with each meal (most of the time). I also find a food scale helpful. A lot of my meals are packed to go so using a scale at times to keep my portion sizes in check is something I find helpful.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      yes, i love the idea to check in every now and again and see how you’re doing
      so glad the PRO method is working for you 🙂
      happy monday, friend!

  10. Emily @ Pizza & Pull-Ups on October 16, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Great post, there are so many strategies out there, and no real one size fits all answer.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      amen to that!

  11. Shannon on October 16, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Very interesting! I have been thinking about macro counting, though I struggle with keeping track of all the numbers. I definitely need to focus on the protein and produce, because as soon as I get stressed at work all the food I eat seems to be white :/

    What probiotics are you taking these days? I have never taken one but I am thinking about it because I get yogurt-ed out from time to time.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      i feel ya on that!
      currently taking the garden of life probiotics from thrive market but have silver fern on the way. i’ve heard a lot of great things about that one so i’m excited to try it

  12. Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious on October 16, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Great post lady! I think another negative is the obsessive behavior that calorie or macro counting can have on a person. Those things may work for awhile, but as women age there’s more to the equation than numbers. Several of my clients over 40 are frustrated about that and realizing their hormone health plays a bigger role than the numbers on an app.

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      that is such an excellent and valid point

  13. Rebecca on October 16, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve been struggling to count macros, but I agree that it takes the fun out of food! I couldn’t do it for long because I hated measuring every dang thing and stressing out about meeting my goals every day. I felt like a failure in many ways, but I really appreciate your post. I totally agree with you!

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      <3

  14. Jenny Contant on October 16, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Great post! Macro counting can be very informative but also weakens your intuitive eating skills in my opinion.

    I recently read a great analogy for this in a Runners World article that quoted coach Steve Magness as saying that running with GPS “slackens the bond between perception and action.”

    I think it’s the same for macro counting, which seems to similarly slacken the bond between perception and action. Instead of eating more or less based on your satiety, you do it based on a macro count that can’t possibly account for the subtleties of what your body needs. If you rely on macros for too long, you become unable to detect the differences between boredom and real hunger, perfect satiety and feeling overly full, etc. This makes it impossible to maintain your weight using your own intuition until you relearn these skills.

    I tracked macros for a long time and had to work hard to relearn how to eat intuitively. These days if I ever want to know how my macros are lining up, I’ll track at the end of the day — never in the middle of the day — so that my eating decisions aren’t influenced by the numbers. Then I can adjust my eating the next day if things seem off track (i.e., not enough protein).

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      thank you for sharing that analogy. so true!

  15. Virjinia Harp on October 16, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    I really liked your explanation. Tracking everything is way too restrictive for me but learning the concept of macros and just adjusting my proteins has really helped me see changes. I agree that with activity level, there are a bunch of different factors. I like to lean toward eating intuitively while spot checking occasionally to make sure I’m eating enough!

    • Fitnessista on October 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      i think that’s a super smart way to do it

  16. Sarah Katherine Wyland on October 16, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I agree with so much of this! I actually “fired” my nutrition coach because working with macros and checking in weekly was screwing with my head. I do a mix of calorie counting and macro tracking that works for me, but I struggle big time to get enough protein – and I eat SO MUCH PROTEIN.

  17. Kelli @ Hungry Hobby on October 16, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I’ve written so many posts about this topic but not macro counting specifically. I loved your simplistic view in your book and as you explained it! I coach macros for people that want them but I don’t use them myself. I mean I’m conscious of macros in a meal and like you try to hit the protein and produce bucket as much as possible. I typically tend to take an intuitive eating style. I now know that if I have a carb heavy weekend (like the bachelorette party I just went too) my body will start craving nutrients and it did! I don’t have to feel like I have to put myself in a bootcamp my body just starts craving the good stuff!

  18. Jennifer on October 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    You made some great points. Especially about intuitive eating. It made me think of my friend who use to count her macros. She power lifts so she was going for a high protein to fat/carbs ratio. It was so high that it really messed up her digestion. But she did listen to her body, increased her fat and carbs, and improved her digestion issues.

  19. Fiona @ Get Fit Fiona on October 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    I love this post. While I know it’s been a good thing for a lot of people, like you said, no one way of eating is right for everyone.

  20. Kara on October 16, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I used to be obsessed with counting calories. Then started doing your hiit workouts & hot yoga & lost weight without dieting. Then I got pregnant & obviously wasn’t dieting. Followed by breastfeeding (which I’m still doing a bit but thinking of stopping as she’s 16 months & she’s not taking much from me anymore). So basically I haven’t dieted in 2plus years. I’m starting to gain weight now that I’m not breastfeeding as much & it’s got me so upset that I’m stress eating-which obviously doesn’t help ha! Do you have any advice for those of us who are coming off breastfeeding & need to reconfigure our dietary needs? I’m thinking maybe macros might be fun to check out for a finite period of time. Also, I’d love to see a post with examples of your eating like a PRO philosophy. Thanks for always encouraging Gina!

  21. Jessie R on October 17, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    I went through many of the same stages as you did back in the day. I counted calories in college after gaining the freshman 20 and tried veganism for a year and realized it wasn’t okay for me (soy allergies made it extra challenging). I eat healthy foods that make me feel good and some not so healthy things too :). I stopped weighing myself over a year ago, because I know I’m healthy. Now if my pants stop fitting, I’ll make some changes… but they have been the same size for several year now :).

    You do you friends, don’t follow any plan that doesn’t make you feel good.

  22. Kathleen on October 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    I think you’ve made so many good points here. There is no one diet fits all. What works for someone may not necessarily work for someone else. I feel like lately, everybody is tracking macros and it’s the thing to do. So it’s nice to hear your opinions on it! I’ve never “dieted” or tracked calories or macros. I try to eat healthy, but I also indulge here and there!

  23. Trista Slowik on October 21, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Excellent post. I’ve considered MC for a while but with a history of an eating disorder and obsessive tendencies towards food, I’ve stayed away. This is the first post on macro counting that didn’t make me feel guilty for not doing it, but also intrigued me to use possibly when I’m hitting my fitness goals hard in the coming months. Thanks for the wise words.

  24. Shayna Rodriguez on October 24, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    I tried macro counting for about a month to slim down and fuel progress at the gym, and because all my friends were doing it if I’m being honest with myself. I loved feeling more energized and losing a few pounds, but it was not worth the massive amount of work and obsessing over food. I’m so glad you posted this. I feel like this attitude needs to be applied to every eating style/diet. Paleo/primal/counting macros/veganism, etc. isn’t for everyone and I’m tired of getting blasted with messages saying otherwise. Thank you for your practical, “you do you” approach to health and wellness. You’re a breath of fresh air!

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