- I tried counting my macros — carbs, proteins, and fats — for a week.
- I struggled to meet my macro goals because it was difficult to find the right foods.
- I felt macro counting could lead me to have an unhealthy relationship with food.
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When the coronavirus pandemic started a year ago, I stopped going to the gym, picked up unhealthy eating habits, and ultimately put on a few pounds.
I’m not alone. According to the University of California, San Francisco, adults in the US gained an average half-pound every 10 days during the pandemic thanks to stress eating and reduced exercise.
So I’m not surprised to see my social media these days filled with people embarking on
journeys as the end of the pandemic is in sight. While some are turning to rigid exercise routines, I’ve also been seeing one major trend emerge: macro counting.
After speaking with a couple of dietitians, I decided to give macro counting a try for a week and found it near impossible to do.
What is macro counting and how do you do it?
“Macro” stands for three macronutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The three macros are the main suppliers of energy in your diet and tracking them can influence your weight.
Counting macros is a lot like counting calories, but the practice takes it one step further. Instead of just counting how many calories a certain food has, you’re also counting how many of those calories are from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Therefore it can be considered more beneficial than calorie counting because it’s looking at the nutritional makeup of those calories.
Before starting the diet, you choose a calorie limit for the day, and then you break the calorie count into three percentages that represent your goals for each macronutrient.
Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian and author of “Gentle Nutrition,” said macro counting is basically “micromanaging your diet by counting your calories in a regimented way.” She also said people who have been tracking their macros have seen quick weight loss.
However, Hartley added that there is no research that proves macro counting will help you sustain weight loss. She also warned me that macro counting is difficult to maintain every day because it requires a lot of time and effort. The practice is best suited for elite-level athletes who need to pay extra attention to their diets, she said.
Heeding her warning, I started counting my macronutrients anyway.
I turned to an app, MyFitnessPal, to help me keep track of my macros
The first step was to find out what my calorie goal should be for each day. Nutritionist Andy Bellatti told me one of the quickest ways to figure that out is to use a free app called MyFitnessPal.
After downloading the app, I had to answer a few questions, including my height, weight, my fitness and health goals, and my exercise regimen. Based on the information I provided, MyFitnessPal told me I should be consuming 2,270 calories per day.
From there, I was surprised to learn there was no set standard for what percentage of macronutrients should come from people’s daily calories. Instead, you have to calculate your own percentages based on your personal goals.
Bellatti recommended going with a basic formula for me. Of my daily calories, 55% (275 grams per day) should be carbohydrates, 20% (32 grams per day) should be fats, and 25% (86 grams per day) should be proteins.
Using MyFitnessPal, I was able to plug in these goals and then add in each meal every day. It would then calculate my macros for the day.
For the first couple of days, I paid attention to my usual macros intake
To learn where I needed to improve, I didn’t change my diet on the first two days. On day one, I had oatmeal for breakfast, a turkey sandwich with chips for lunch, and chicken stir fry with rice for dinner. I also made myself a quick quesadilla as a snack between lunch and dinner.
For that day, my calories were 59% carbs, 23% fats, and 18% protein. On the second day, I ate similar meals, but my protein percentage was even lower.
That means on a typical day, I am usually consuming more carbs and fats than I should be and not enough protein. When I took a step back to adjust my diet for macro counting, I realized I needed to reduce my carb intake and increase my protein intake.
From there, I attempted to adjust my diet to fit my macros
The next day, I did a $100 grocery haul, buying more vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I also purchased chicken breasts, turkey cold cuts, and salmon to up my protein intake.
On one workday, for example, I ate oatmeal with a banana and blueberries. At lunchtime, I made myself a turkey wrap in a spinach tortilla, and for dinner, I enjoyed salmon with a side of broccoli and couscous.
For me, this was a healthy and well-balanced day of eating. However, I was still off on all my macros. At the end of the day, my carbs came in at 45%, fats at 32%, and proteins at 23%. Although I was finally getting closer to the protein goals, I was way off on my goal for fats.
This became a trend during the week. For example, on the fifth day, I was over my carbohydrate and fat intake for the entire day by lunchtime. All I had eaten was my morning oatmeal and two scrambled eggs for lunch. By dinner, my carbs — which reached 35% — had leveled out but my fats — which skyrocketed toward 36% — were still way over the goal.
It became increasingly clear that it would be impossible to get all three just right. I could not meet any of the macro goals, and I became very frustrated.
I did not meet my daily goals once in seven days
Even after adjusting my diet, I could never get it quite right. When one macro count was over, another one would be under. Then it would flip flop the next day.
Bellatti said I did not need to meet all three goals every day. Instead, I needed to get as close as possible with a margin of 5 to 10 grams for each macronutrient. While some days I did manage that margin, other days I was still way off.
According to Hartley, this is one of the major challenges of this practice.
“When I work with people who have tried macro counting, they are often eating a lot of the same thing because it’s so difficult to plan out a day that fits their macros,” Hartley said. “When they find something that fits the bill, they just do it over and over and over again. You’re really missing out on the variety of normal eating.”
One day during the week, I canceled dinner plans with a friend because I felt like I couldn’t control my macros at a restaurant like I would be able to if I cooked the meal myself. Overall, my options felt very limited.
Beyond just choosing what to eat, it was also difficult to decide how much to eat. In the MyFitnessPal app, I had to note if the banana I ate was large or medium because the size difference would affect my macros.
In other words, I had to keep track of every single thing I was putting in my body. If a sandwich had mayo or mustard on it, I couldn’t simply note I had a turkey sandwich because it wouldn’t include the macros from the condiments. Then the question was: How much of the condiments were on the sandwich?
Eventually, meeting my macro goals became a source of stress for me throughout the week.
In my opinion, counting macros could lead to a problematic lifestyle
Several times throughout the week, I felt overwhelmed. At times, I even felt defeated because I wasn’t reaching my macro goals. I could already feel myself obsessing over the percentages, the grams, and the calorie count.
It got to the point where I was labeling each meal as a success or a failure. I was no longer enjoying meals that I would have typically loved if they didn’t fit in my macros. As someone who loves eating and enjoys a great meal, this was one of the most alarming side effects of the diet for me.
Hartley said, in some cases, strict diets that require a lot of counting can actually trigger disordered eating.
“Health is a lot more than food, nutrition, and fitness,” Hartley said. “Macro counting can have a massive effect on one’s quality of life. When I work with people who have macro counted in the past, they spent their Sundays in tears, trying to plan out a day that would fit within their goals.”
Counting macros turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. I went into this week hoping to lose some weight, but I saw and felt no real changes in my body. Of course, I only tried it for a week, but I know if I wanted to see some real results on this diet, I would have to put a significant chunk of time and effort into creating a meal plan that would fit my macros.
Between finding the right foods to fit within my goals and the mental health side effects, I will not continue this process and would not recommend it to someone else.
Although macro counting has made me much more conscious about what I put in my body, I can see myself paying a great price down the road.
Instead, I will focus on eating a well-balanced diet that I enjoy to shed those extra pandemic pounds.