The Do's & Don't's of Counting Macros
Health trends come in and out of style just as fashion trends do. What was once considered a naive, old school of thought becomes the latest topic of study, and suddenly everyone is hopping back on the diet fad as quickly as they're pulling on their mom's mom jeans.
It may seem like counting macros is a new thing, but its been around before-- and gone out of style before. And that's because its not a sustainable way to live your life. Will it work? Sure, at first. But long term, not so much. In short, it guides you to focus on the wrong things, and it's creating an overly-conscious relationship with food. That said, we don't want to just pretend macros mean diddly squat. After all, they are the three required macronutrients for proper bodily function. So let's dive a little deeper into this controversy, shall we?
What are Macros, and what is the 'Macro Diet' about?
As mentioned, macronutrients are essential for your body to survive. While every body is different, and every body may need more or less of these certain nutrients, it is undebatable fact that protein, fat, and--yes-- carbohydrates are absolutely vital for everyone.
Carbs are the body's most natural source of energy; the body looks to carbs first to fuel daily activity, workouts, brain function, regulate the nervous system, etc. Carbs come in natural forms through whole fruits and vegetables (particularly starchy veggies) that serve as our main source of fiber, as well as grains. Carbs are fantastic for you-- and did I mention necessary?-- and should not be restricted long term. These healthy carbs are not to be confused with processed carbs, which include things like white bread, most cereals, granolas, and snack bars as well as typical junk foods like chips and cookies. And don't be fooled by things labeled sugar-free/fat-free/gluten-free/dairy-free/vegan etc-- these are often just as bad if not worse! So always check INGREDIENTS over anything else.
Protein is definitely the most over-hyped macronutrient. While protein is necessary to help repair and build muscle tissue, there is hardly a need to get excessive. If you think about it, there have been no known cases of protein deficiencies-- at least not in any case where there aren't a myriad of other health problems as well. As long as your diet contains an abundance of various plant foods (cruciferous greens, root vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds) then you will be getting plentyyy of protein. In fact, going overboard on protein can cause a number of health issues, including constipation, indigestion, kidney and liver malfunction, chronic fatigue, to name a few. Protein is important, no question, but its all about balance.
Fats are your best friend. They help keep you warm, keep your hormones from rollercoastering out of control, keep your hair thick and shiny, keep your skin glowy-- it's like your best gal pal and aesthetician made an edible baby! Maybe that's a stretch...but you know what I'm getting at. Healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds are amazingly beneficial, and help to ease digestion, reduce inflammation, regulate hormones, and keep you feeling full between meals. What you want to avoid are foods heavy in saturated fats, such as fats from animal products and dairy, as well as highly processed vegetable oils (canola, safflower, and corn).
So when it comes to counting macros, this is where things get sticky for people. Ultimately, it depends on where you are in your health journey. If you're struggling with your diet, can't seem to lose weight or feeling overall sluggish and suspect that nutrition is the issue, then starting to keep a food diary is a great way to be more mindful of what you're putting into your machine of a body. You can use tools like MyFitnessPal to see what you should aim for and where you're averaging in terms of macros per day, so you can start to get an idea of what eat food is contributing to your overall intake. That said...
... I do not recommend going crazy with this and trying to meet your percentages or grams perfectly. I simply suggest tracking your diet initially so that you can be confident enough in yourself to make healthy choices in the long term without having to rely on the app. The problem I'm seeing with this #IIFYM (thats "If It Fits Your Macros") trend is three-fold:
1) people getting overly obsessed with tracking their food-- this leads to a compulsive, restrictive mindset, and it's not healthy nor will it lead to long term sustainability of your fitness goals. It also takes all the fun out of eating!! Food is a wonderful, joyful part of life, so why in the hell does anybody want to partner that with the MATH?! I may be a food nerd but not that kind of nerd :P
2) People come to rely on their trackers so heavily that they don't ever get to the point where they trust themselves or their intuition to eat healthily. So even if they see results, they have no idea how to get to a place where they can actually live their life without having to think about food 24/7.
3) people only looking at the numbers and not the quality of the food itself-- you don't want to fall into this trap of eating unhealthy, processed foods but thinking you're in the clear because, oh look-- I stayed under my daily carb intake because i'm allowed 125g but there's only 25g in oreos! The numbers don't mean shit if the food, itself, is shit.
So to sum it up,
I can't say I'm an advocate of thoroughly counting macros, as I don't believe that there is a magical ratio that you must hit every day in order to see results and if you don't then you may as well have a cheesecake. Sounds like ridiculous logic, right? But think about it-- this is how people "fall off the wagon." Rather, I don't think there should be any wagon to begin with. I believe in cultivating your intuition and getting familiar with what you're eating so that you can make healthier choices, know how you feel when you eat them, and be able to rely on your own good judgement to live that care-free lifestyle we're all after. This is how you ultimately establish long term results without even trying. Now doesn't that sound nice?