Let me first off say that counting macros is NOT for everyone. It can become an obsessive habit and it can be a time-consuming habit if you’re not willing to eat a bit more “plain” and “basic” – but it can be very effective!
I’ve seen a helpful metaphor before that compares tracking food to budgeting. Refusing to track your food in SOME way and expecting big results by making ‘smart choices’ is kind of like refusing to budget and expecting to save money by being ‘money conscious’. Can it work? Sure it can, but why leave it to chance if you’re making the effort anyways.
If left unplanned, you’ll almost always eat (and spend) more than you realize. I can very confidently back up both of these claims from personal experiences. How else do you learn!?
With that being said, have I seen clients track their macros almost perfectly and still not see a ton of results? Most definitely, and there are usually a few explanations to this, but I will make sure to highlight the ones that I think are the most important.
#1 – You Are Filling Your Intake with Poor Food Choices
Personally, as both a coach and someone that has tracked macros for many years, this is my number one issue with the concept. It glorifies that you can “eat what you want” and still see progress, feel great, and have abs. This is so much farther from the truth, but how else do you advertise to potential clients, right? Wrong.
If you can hit your macros with pizza, sugar, and void of any vegetables – wow. This is impressive, but I bet you don’t “feel” as good as you think you should, or look as good as you want to. This is because the quality of foods is so important to your overall progress.
There are a number of known foods that cause inflammation of the body in many people. These include, but are not limited to, dairy, gluten, sugar, eggs, and nuts/seeds. So if a large amount of your diet includes foods in these categories and you are feeling fatigued, bloated, and not seeing the progress you want – it could very largely be due to the types of foods you are eating, not the quantities.
Also, there are these things called micronutrients which include vitamins and minerals. These are found mostly in whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. They are essential to your body functioning optimally, recovering well, and performing well for you on a daily basis (this includes assisting in burning body-fat and maintaining muscle).
#2 – You Are “Guesstimating” Too Often How Much You Are Eating
For those that start tracking for the first time, you can attest to how eye-opening it is to track your food and realize how much you are truly eating! We always like to believe the best of ourselves. We don’t eat THAT badly, we eat salads, we drink water…but what about all of that cheese, croutons, and excessive ranch on the salad? Or the few beers we had after work with co-workers…every day this week?
Do we remember those and how often they happen?
Or maybe you think you’re eating ½ a cup of rice, but it’s actually 2 cups? Or that ¼ serving size of almonds is actually the entire bag?
These things can add up to 100’s of additional calories throughout the day and 1000’s throughout the week. Which can mean that scale isn’t moving in the way we want.
Introduce the food scale! Go back to measuring each thing you eat to hold yourself accountable and realize truly how much we might give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.
#3 – Your Binges Are Neutralizing or Even Out-Weighing Your Deficit.
It’s Saturday afternoon, you kicked butt all week and you even worked out this morning with a brutal partner WOD that caused you to sweat your butt off. Your friends call you up and want to go for dinner tonight, so you join!
You have a couple drinks at dinner and a “sensible” dinner. Then you go out afterwards and have a couple of more drinks, but aren’t even buzzed. Nothing crazy.
You go to do your measurements in the upcoming week and no progress…or maybe your weight is even up a couple of pounds. HOW?!
Well…that night out, that wasn’t THAT bad, was worse than we realize. Restaurant food sadly has a ton of sodium, usually way more fat than we realize, and we tend to under-estimate how many calories we’re actually taking in. And unfortunately, alcohol adds up. Fast.
That night out could set you back a whole week of progress, and if you’re doing that almost every weekend, chances are you probably aren’t seeing a ton of great movement towards your goals.
Like I mentioned, counting macronutrients and tracking your intake can be SUPER helpful and effective, and it CAN provide a lifestyle, but that lifestyle needs to be realistic in terms of balance. Eat real food most of the time. Take in nutrients and vitamins via vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins 80-90% of the time and your body will thank you.
Stop trying to game the system! Your body knows the rules way better than you do.