Demystifying Macro Counting
Have you ever thought about counting macros, or plan on starting in 2021? Read this today.
If you've never thought about it and are in general triggered by diet culture, skip this. Your mental health is more important. Please note that I completely understand how detrimental diet culture is to society - In fact, I loathe it. I am in no way trying to further it’s agenda.
One of the reasons that I loathe diet culture is because it revolves so heavily on seemingly exclusive information. Nonetheless, twelve weeks ago I decided to try the one thing that seemed the most out of reach - i.e., the most intimidating diet/lifestyle in FitFam culture - I tried counting macros.
I am no expert! That said, in the past 16 years I’ve done Paleo, Whole 30, Prolon Mimic-Fasting, Intermittent Fasting, and for the past five years I’ve avoided carbohydrates in general. Each of these worked to varying degrees and for different reasons. Now, as a mom of two toddler-boys, my commitment to dieting and exercise has gone through an ebb and flow if you will. One day I would be convinced that my body just looked differently post-pregnancies, and the next day I would become so frustrated I would try and revisit old diets, with little to no success. One thing was certain, I needed to try something new.
In the past twelve weeks I counted macros. If you can relate to my experience at all, a mom frustrated with the scale and in need of an overall kick-start, you’ll appreciate my journey below. Included in this article are the steps I took to achieve my weight loss goal. I’ve included a PROS and CONS list, and a quick guide towards the bottom.
First things first,
I found a macro-coach named Dennis Spadaro, through a friend, and he calculated what I should be eating based on several factors. Here is a simple calculation I found on Healthline.com. I used a coach because I’m terrible at math, and I wasn’t sure how to add exercise into my equation. Try it on your own if you’re math savvy:
Men: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
After you solve this you should have, a macronutrient goal that looks like this: an x amount of carbohydrates, x amount of fats, and x amount of proteins, totaling a certain amount of calories for the day. Plug these numbers into MyFitnessPal.com and use the macro-breakdown to track and count.
These are the questions that Spadaro asked me when we started that made all of the difference between having a coach and not:
What do you want? What are your goals? What have you been doing? What makes you feel full?
I had two goals going in - leaning out, and meeting specific fitness milestones, such as a pull up, yoga crow pose and clap push ups. I was confident in my progress at the gym, but I felt "heavy". I was curious about whether or not what I was retaining in weight was just how my body morphed post-babies. Did I really have Diastasis Recti after labor?
Along the way, I was able to ask Spadaro specific questions about food, and he kept me accountable by looking at my food vlog. He gave me alternative brands, options and introduced me to the concept of getting into a “ caloric deficit”. Here is the thing about caloric deficit - it's a lot easier than it seems.
Here is the biggest mistake I was making before counting macros and getting a coach: I was eating the calories I burned during my workout. Simply, don't do that.
“As long as I workout I can eat what I want!” Who hasn't said that? I’ve had to change that way of thinking in the last twelve weeks. Now, being fit is its own reward - the cliché holds.
Because Spadaro had access to my food vlog, he was able to point out the red flags. For instance, the following “snacks” I believed were “healthy” were actually contributing to my inability to lose weight:
Açaí bowls are delicious! I was having fun making one a day.
Chia cups were also a favorite.
Protein shakes are essential post workout - I had one daily.
Açaí and chia in and of themselves are great superfoods - but once I started counting each ingredient I added into the bowls, I was averaging 500-600 calories per bowl, and was not feeling full afterwards.
Protein shakes are important, but for me, also not filling. I’ve been so much happier replacing those with a real meal that includes protein.
So, what makes me feel full? Carbohydrates; pasta, bread and starch.
Usually after these ‘snacks’ I was hungry again within an hour. Because I was calling them snacks, I ate regular portion size at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and never considered that my ‘snacks’ were the reason I wasn’t entering a caloric deficit.
So, what makes me feel full? Carbohydrates; pasta, bread and starch. In the last twelve weeks, I learned that if I had carbs for lunch I wasn’t hungry again until dinner - easy! I did have to switch out pasta brands from this to this. I switched from not having bread to this. The difference has been in how many grams of carbohydrates each contain per serving. These numbers matter when you’re sticking to 75 grams of carbohydrates per day, which is in my personal macronutrients plan.
The good news: twelve weeks in and I did lean out - 15lbs leaner to be exact. Ten of it I lost in eight weeks - the remaining 4-5lbs I lost in the remaining four weeks. I now weigh what I weighed in my twenties - at 40, with two kids.
I could have lost this weight sooner - easily - but for me, one day a week where I don’t count macros (but still try to stay within my regular meals) is an important part of this process. Some people call this the 80/20 rule. Be careful if you're applying this rule - most don’t lose weight because of it. Because I had Spadaro keeping me accountable, however, I was conscious about my ‘free day’ not becoming a ‘free weekend’ or totally glutenous in other words. Because he kept me accountable, my weight stayed around the same or stabilized within a day or two after this ‘free-day’.
After about a month with Spadaro I felt like I had enough information to go it alone, and still achieve my goals. Today, my body’s metabolism is on high alert- again! Just like it was in my twenties. So yes - I’m a fan of counting macros and I highly recommend getting a coach if you’re interested in this at all. Here is the most important thing Spadaro said to me during this process,
“When trying to lose weight look at creating a caloric deficit over seven days that will lead to the targeted amount of calories for the week. Plan for cheats and remember that you’re human. We’re looking for sustainable long term progress. No rushed weight loss, it’s only going to lead to fast weight gained.” - Coach Dennis Spadaro
Today, I reached my weight goal, and sat down immediately to write this article. The demystification of food and it’s macronutrients was achieved. I can finally say I love what I see in the mirror and I’m proud of myself for the struggle and the perseverance that that statement took to write.
Do I have Diastasis Recti? No. I was just holding onto extra weight.
Do I want to be stronger? YES! Pull-ups are still a goal, the crow pose is still a thing, and clap pushups are also still a thing. I will say (ever the pessimist) that somehow when I envisioned myself thinner, I was also taller - so that’s disappointing - but I digress.
Here are my official Pros- and Cons (because I know some of you need a listicle):
Weighing and logging every single meal and snack is not for the faint of heart. This is a ton of work in the beginning, but after a few weeks it feels just like checking your social media- it's just what you do.
Size matters (or portions) - even with fruits and veggies.
Counting cooking oils and butter on my toast. Ugh - you gotta do it though.
Facing emotional eating - and the guilt associated - and saying it’s ok - feels like an impossible statement to make to yourself. There is healing in this process - I promise.
If you don’t already cook/bake this would be a lot harder. One of the reasons for that is that you need certain things like - a scale, measuring cups/measuring spoons/ladles/funnels, etc. You need basics in your pantry like chicken/beef/veggie broth, seasoning, fresh garlic/ginger - you get it. Cooking is a thing. The daily routine of cooking was essential for my success- the pandemic and being home 24/7 also helped.
*The alternative to this is going with a service like Eat Clean Bro. Or one of the many services that deliver portioned meals you can easily enter into your app.
CON: You need to be very comfortable using the MyFitnessPal app. The Fitbit app does not let you count macros.
Learning the essential make-up of my food (favorites and otherwise) has been rewarding. OH! Cauliflower has many grams of carbs?
Having toast and any other foods I want is like - wow! Making comfort food from scratch and then logging it - having only a small portion - is way better than restricting it completely or forcing myself to eat lentil based brownies and calling them desert.
Salt is ok. Seasoning is ok. Sauces are ok. Cheese is ok. It’s all ok. You are ok. Just track it and keep it moving.
Facing emotional eating - and guilt associated- and saying it’s ok. Eat that cookie if it’ll help your mood. Just track it.
This goes back to the question my coach asked - what do you want? I wanted to change my patterns - changing emotional eating was part of that goal. Why am I eating right now? Can I be doing something else instead?
If you already cook - if you already bake - you’re way ahead of the curve.
You’re solving a food-related math problem every day. This might sound like a CON - but I feel smarter after having done it for a few months now. 1/4c, 2/3c, 1/3c, .025c… which one of these chocolate portions will make me look taller on Monday? *jokes
Counting macros is the opposite of misinformed (or uninformed) eating. Not knowing what your food is made of or how much is enough for you personally - is the problem - counting macros fixes that.
Not feeling hungry. I’m not hungry. I feel satiated every single day. I never felt that way with previous diets or attempts to curve or maintain weight.
Here are some quick tips for success:
#1 Get a macro-coach.
It’s worth it. They do the math problem and have way more life experience than google. They also help you maintain accountability, which is important when you’re starting out.
#2 Be prepared to stick this out for six week.
After four weeks my metabolism changed - I felt it. That’s weird - but true.
#3 None of this is perfect.
No one - not a soul - has the perfect program for you.
#4 Get a scale
Get one you love and place it right next to your stove/fridge/plate. You’ll be using it - a lot.
#5 Stop counting your workout
Depending on your goal the quickest way to be in a caloric deficit is to eat according to your macro goal and then workout without entering your workout in the app - boom! Caloric deficit achieved.
#6 Find a friend who’s done it. You’ll have questions along the way.
When I struggled with the idea of not counting my workout as ‘available calories’ my dear friend Dez said,
“The biggest thing is knowing how many calories something is, so your workout won’t actually cancel more than a banana or peanut butter. That reframing has been key! I no longer think, “I worked out today so I can eat this huge meal” - Dez Crisolo
She also said that once I’ve counted macros for a while I can stop counting and start intuitive eating. I can already see how that’s true. It’s the same game - in stages. For instance, once you know what makes you feel full you’re less likely to eat beyond that if you’ve made a conscious effort to count and track for an extended period of time. You won’t know what makes you feel full until you track everything you eat (for a while at least).
I do not plan on counting macros forever. I plan on doing it until I feel comfortable enough to eat intuitively. The struggles I deal with revolve around unlearning so many years of diet-culture (learning to love carbs again), and processing my emotional associations with food. I am not above an acknowledgement that some of this might look like disordered eating. I will say that binge eating, blind eating, and then feeling guilt about either or both was a lot more disordered than actually counting what’s on my plate.
For now, I’ll continue logging, tracking and working out - because it works.
*I'm a happy person in both of these pictures. The red dress was a lot more fun to wear.