“Counting Macros” has become the new buzzword in nutrition.
“Macros” – short for macronutrients – are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These three nutrients make up the building blocks of life. Every metabolic process requires each macro to carry on its function. I can usually tell a nutrition trend is gaining popularity when companies begin to sprout up around the practice. Working Against Gravity, Renaissance Periodization, and IIFYM are a few examples of companies made famous by blowing up your Instagram feed with amazing before/after photos and testimonials.
I used to be a huge proponent of the Paleo Diet.
It seems reasonable enough. Eat whole foods that came from the ground or ate something that came from the ground. Avoid things that cause inflammation. Choose high quality meats and produce. Sounds like a recipe for a pretty healthy diet, right?
But then it turned into a thing.
We got Paleo Brownies, Paleo Cocktails, and bacon-wrapped everything. Paleo went from a reasonable whole food diet to a weird brand. Everyone got hung up on whether or not certain grains existed in the Paleolithic era. Calories didn’t matter because… well… Paleo.
We did a podcast chatting about Paleo – specifically how so many people actually gained weight by doing it. http://tonosradio.com/podcast/gaining-weight-paleo/
Paleo didn’t work for several reasons.
First, Paleo quit working because it became a “thing.” It became a way for us to label foods good and bad. Secondly, it quit working because its adherents ignored two simple principles: Thermodynamics – No matter how “clean” your diet, calories matter. Macronutrients – interpreting Paleo as “eat meat and fat” typically meant decreased workout performance and high calorie counts.
Much like Paleo, the new Macro craze addresses some very real issues. You absolutely need a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You should eat calories that support your activity level but not excess body fat. You should not eliminate any of the three macronutrients. People that are able to do so and see favorable results (see: Ketogenic Diet) are in the genetic minority (read: NOT YOU). I’m a huge fan of understanding and tracking your macros, but…
Don’t make it a thing.
Anytime we make reasonable eating a brand, it goes to shit. I cringe when I hear someone say “I’m doing ____ (WAG, IIFYM, RP Diet, whatever).” Don’t get me wrong – these companies provide responsible, evidence-based nutrition advice and templates. But, the moment you start “doing ____”, you’ve just entered diet territory.
A diet is for a period of time. Nutrition is a lifelong practice.
My hope is that everyone moves beyond “I’m doing ____” to “I will use food for its intended purpose in a consistent, sustainable manner.”
If you need to drop a few hundred bucks to have accountability, by all means give yourself some buy-in. If you don’t need the accountability factor, I’ll save you some cash (or you can mail me $100):
- The majority of your meals should be vegetables
- Eat adequate protein at every meal – 1 gram per pound of lean mass is a good launching off point.
- Eat enough carbohydrates to support your activity level – roughly 1/4 of your plate.
- Eat enough healthy fat to support your mood and sleep (roughly the size of your thumb per meal).
That’s about it. No need to buy a food scale or obsessively measure out every single meal of the week. Chill out and find something sustainable.
There are absolutely instances where you should seek the assistance of a professional.
If you’re experiencing mood and hormonal issues, rapid weight gain/loss, or you feel you need individually-tailored programs seek out the guidance of professionals. If you feel you have some emotional attachments to your diet behaviors, an internet “macro” template won’t help you.
Yes – you should absolutely keep an eye on your macros. But don’t turn counting macros into a “thing.” As soon as it becomes a diet or a brand, you’ll fail. Your dietary choices should feel like they’re a natural and effortless part of your daily routine. After all, results from your diet don’t come in weeks – they come in years.