“Macros” is short for “macronutrients,” which include carbohydrates, fats and protein. So when people say they are counting their macros, this means they are counting how many of each macronutrient they are consuming each day. Many health experts and enthusiasts believe counting macros is the key to seeing muscle definition and weight loss, while others completely disagree. This probably leaves you wondering, “Should I or shouldn’t I be counting my macros?” Let’s look at both sides of this question.
Why You Shouldn’t Count Your Macros
It stops you from listening to your body.
Our body is way smarter than we think and it knows what it needs; we just have to listen to it. I believe eating intuitively is more important than trying to hit certain macros each day, as our body’s needs change day to day. For example, depending on our activity levels, our bodies may need more or less of certain macronutrient. Eating intuitively allows us to tune into what our body is telling us it needs rather restricting or depriving ourselves from eating certain foods. When we learn to eat this way, we build a healthier relationship with food as well as see better results in the long run.
It stops you from focusing on the quality of your foods.
When people count their macros, it can sometimes cause them to become more concerned about quantity than quality. What do I mean? They care more about the carbs, fats and protein a certain food contains and couldn’t care less where those carbs, fats and protein are coming from. They eat foods that have the “right” macros but don’t focus on the quality of ingredients. Let’s say someone’s macros call for more protein and less carbs in their diet. If presented with two snack options, this person may choose a low-carb, processed protein bar over a big bowl of fresh fruit because it “fits” their macros better—when in reality, their body would process and utilize the bowl of fruit so much more effectively even though it contains more carbs.
Macro goals vary per person.
Every person and every body is different. There is no one-diet-fits-all approach to better nutrition. Each of our bodies has different metabolisms, digestive systems, hormone levels, gut health, genetics and activity levels that all have different needs. While one person may be able to metabolize fat easily and find success eating a high-fat diet, others may not be able to digest fats as easily and fats should be limited in their diet. While someone else may have a fast metabolism and thrive on carbohydrates, someone else may have imbalanced hormones and need to control their carb intake. So, I don’t believe there are set macros every person should be eating. I think there is a good place to start and you can then adjust from there. Each person will see different results and need to adjust accordingly. Just because one person lost a drastic amount of weight through a certain macros doesn’t automatically mean you will see the same results. You can tune into Coffee & Kettlebells episode 50: What Diet Is Best for You? to learn about the signs and symptoms for a diet that isn’t working and how to determine which diet is right for you.
It can create an unhealthy obsession.
Counting macros is a tool that helps us learn about nutrition and get back on track. It’s great to use from time to time when needed, but when done long-term, it can turn into an unhealthy obsession. This unhealthy obsession can lead to you to miss out on fun times with your friends and family. It can lead you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and with your body. It can lead to an unhealthy mindset and cause you to feel guilty or beat yourself up when you go over your macros. It can lead you to use exercise as punishment for food you ate. And it can lead to much bigger issues, like eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Life is all about balance, and the same goes with eating healthy. You want to develop healthy habits that make you feel energized, happy and empowered. When counting macros stops you from experiencing these things, it’s no longer a healthy tool in your toolbox.
Why You Should Count Your Macros
You learn what foods are actually healthy.
Counting macros is a great tool to have in your toolbox when you are learning to eat healthier. Many of us may think we are eating healthy, but when we start to track the food we are consuming, we may realize what we are actually consuming is far from healthy. This makes counting macros helpful for learning what foods are healthy and what foods aren’t healthy at all for those who are just dipping their feet into the health and fitness world.
Let’s take yogurt for an example. Yogurt can be both extremely healthy and extremely unhealthy, depending on the type you buy. From counting your macros, you may learn that the yogurt you are eating is packed with sugar, which you would have never realized otherwise. This teaches you to become more aware of the ingredients in your food and read food labels to find the cleanest option of yogurt to ensure it fits your macros.
You learn actual portion sizes.
Another amazing reason I think counting macros is great is because it teaches us proper portion sizes. We might be eating healthy foods, but eating way more than the actual portion size. For instance, before counting macros, we may have just poured oatmeal in a bowl and not thought twice about it. It’s just oatmeal, right? Through counting macros, we’ll realize that pouring it into a bowl without measuring it can cause us to consume two or three times the actual portion size. Instead, we get into the habit of measuring out ½ cup of oatmeal, which is one serving size.
You learn how to structure your meals.
Having oatmeal for breakfast is completely healthy, and so is eating a quinoa bowl for lunch, brown rice pasta for dinner and a granola bar for a snack. All are healthy, yes, but to eat all of that in one day may not be. Counting macros helps you become aware of how much of each macronutrient you need each day and how to properly structure your meals to ensure you aren’t over- or under-consuming a specific macronutrient. You’ll figure out how to build a balanced meal and what foods work best for you at each meal.
It holds you accountable.
When we are just starting to eat healthy, counting macros holds us accountable for the food choices we make on a daily basis. We aren’t as likely to indulge when we know we have to calculate it into our macros. The same goes for those who are already on a health and fitness journey but need help getting back on track. If you fell off the wagon, maybe over a holiday or on vacation, counting macros can help motivate you and hold you accountable for eating healthier again.