A member of my fitness group asked a really great question a little while back about her diet in regards to her weight-loss efforts. She asked: “Calories or macros?”
This is a great question! The answer can vary though, based on your goals and your current relationship with food. I say that last part because it’s extremely detrimental to suggest counting calories/macros to someone who has obsessive tendencies with food, to the point of letting it interfere with their daily lives.
So I ask you to analyze the following information and understand that what benefits one person may harm another. Choose what is aligns best with your personal goals and lifestyle.
Calorie-tracking is kind of the old school method for tracking food intake. It’s true that weight loss comes from burning more calories than you consume. But it’s just as important to focus on where those calories are coming from if you truly care about your health.
This is where macros come into play. Your macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fats (and fiber too if you want to count that). Each gram of fat is nine calories, while protein and carbohydrates (including fiber) are four calories per gram.
It’s a widespread notion that macro-counting is just a bunch of meathead bros eating piles of donuts because “it fits their macros” (aka IIFYM). This kind of message is BS. While these bro dieters may appear to be the perfect picture of fitness while devouring massive quantities of sweets and carbs, they’re likely withholding one or more following facts:
- they work out for impossibly long hours/intensities that are unsustainable in the long term for most people
- they’re consuming massive quantities of lean meats, vegetables, and fruits and just not telling you because it’s “boring” OR
- they have horrific health levels (totally possible even with a six pack)
The most successful macro-counters know that consuming a big portion of their macros from fresh, nutrient-dense foods is important for good health (see my post on nutrient-dense foods vs. calorie-dense foods). But they also aren’t afraid to eat some calorie-dense foods daily for balance. This includes all the gluten and sugars, butter and bacon, coffee creamers, cookies and ice cream, all of it. They measure their intake as well as their lifestyle allows. For some, it means weighing and measuring everything. For other’s it just means including large portions of protein and vegetables at every meal. They may choose to eyeball serving sizes and pay attention to hunger and cravings signals. I am learning to do this last method intuitively.
If you feel comfortable with learning about your macros, then feel free to track them and learn from your intake. But don’t obsess! If you find that you tend to feel things like obsession or fear over the thought of counting (or even not counting) macros or calories… don’t do it.
It may be more beneficial to keep a photo diary of the foods you’ve eaten. Or instead of counting all of your macros every day, focus first on getting enough protein. Establish adequate protein consumption as a good habit before moving on to your other macros (I like to recommend this method to most people who want to establish better eating habits).
My rule of thumb is that when you record data related to food intake you should feel educated and empowered, and never fearful, guilty, or obsessive.
Do you feel negative associations with recording your food intake but still want to improve your eating habits? You might want to look into some books on intuitive eating to help you establish a better relationship with food.
Some helpful links: