Why I stopped counting macros (and count blessings instead)
Not going to lie, I had a hard time figuring out where to start this blog post. When it comes to nutrition, it’s so much easier for me to write about things that I’ve learned rather than my own experience with those things, though I know how helpful, validating, and reassuring it can be to read people’s personal accounts of their own nutrition journeys.
So today I wanted to write something pretty different from what I normally do and tell you about my honest experience with balancing and counting macros and why I no longer do it.
I’ve been aware of macronutrients and the fact that I should be eating a specific ratio (according to the fitness and nutrition “experts” I read in magazines and books) since my early teens. I was always a very active teenager. Though I didn’t participate in organized sports very often, I always had an interest in fitness and working out. Even in high school I remember a running joke among my friends being that I could never go to parties with them because I had to work out. Working out was definitely one of my favourite hobbies, and for the past ten years or so I’ve generally maintained a workout schedule of doing some form of exercise at least five days a week. As someone with a lot of energy naturally, that’s just what works for me.
Awareness of nutrition, macronutrients, and counting calories naturally goes hand-in-hand for fitness geeks like me. From a pretty young age (probably around age 14) I always kept that in the back of my mind- not that I was ever tracking obsessively at that point. Yet.
In the first half of my fitness journey, from approximately age 13 to 20, I generally followed the same macronutrient balance that most Women’s Health (my personal bible during my teenage years) books and magazines and other resources geared towards women and fitness told you to follow; approximately 50% carbs, 20% protein, and 30% fat. I was mindful of these numbers without being rigid. As someone who just liked numbers and quantification, I genuinely enjoyed knowing how much of each thing I was eating and whether or not I was “on track”.
As I grew up and learned more about nutrition from personal research as well as during my time in school studying to be a holistic nutritionist, everything got so much more complicated. Before I started my holistic nutrition program, I had this idea that I’d emerge on the other side with ALL the answers, especially pertaining to me and how and what and when I should be eating to fully optimize my health (whatever that means). Boy, was I mistaken! Don’t get me wrong, I learned so much while I was in school, but the topic of counting macros in particular remained a grey area.
Much to my dismay, everything seemed to get so much more muddy during my time studying to be a holistic nutritionist! In one course, it would seem that a high healthy-fat diet with moderate carbs was the way to go to improve digestive health. In the next course, an almost keto diet would be hailed as the best way to eat- this time to improve cognitive function. The course after that would have me believing a traditional foods diet, low in protein and high in carbs and monounsaturated fats like olive oil was the best way to stay young and boost vitality. In my sports nutrition course, a low fat, high protein, high carb diet was what you wanted to follow to be healthy and lean. It really was enough to make your head spin. My macros changed almost on a weekly basis as I tried to keep up with each course and the new information I was learning.
For a long time during and after my nutrition program, I honestly felt a little queasy at the thought of a client asking me what the ideal macronutrient ratios should be. Shouldn’t you know this? You’re a nutrition consultant after all! The truth was, I had no idea how I was supposed to be eating, let alone someone else!
In the hopes of determining once and for all what my ideal macronutrient ratio is, I went the genomic testing route and paid for a third party company to analyze my 23andMe data to tell me what percentages of protein, carbs, and fat I should be eating for my unique constitution. Up until I received these results, I had been on a paleo-style eating protocol which is naturally higher in fats (about 65% of total calories), quite low in net carbs (about 15%), and moderate in protein (20%). Then I received my results, which told me I should be eating 15% fat, 40% protein, and 55% carbs. WHAT?! I was so confused. I felt so good on the “diet” I was following, did this mean I had to completely change it?
I tried it for a while, but found that eating only 15% fat was basically impossible. So back to the paleo diet I went. I didn’t always feel amazing eating this way, but it was what I thought was the most nutrient dense way of eating- loads of high-fiber veggies, lots of lean organic and naturally-raised animal protein, and a good amount of fats like avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. I felt guilty eating grains, legumes, dairy, and higher sugar foods, which were a no-no on the primal plate. Though there is definitely a lot of variety when you’re eating paleo, it can still feel really restrictive when you’re out for dinner or eating at someone else’s home.
A few months ago, I got sick and tired of the restriction. I decided enough is enough and, for the first time in a very long time, I decided to make a conscious effort to not count macros. In a way, I had a conversation with my body and set an intention to listen to what my body needs and wants, and to let that guide me in making food choices. I tried for a long time to control my diet based on knowledge and everything I learned prior to and during nutrition school. Now, I was resolving to instead let my intuition guide me. As a person who likes rules, I maintained a few: 1. eat when you’re hungry 2. stop when you’re full 3. if you’re craving something that you know is really not good for you (a donut or two for example) wait ten minutes before indulging to see if it was really something I needed or if it was just to fill a void.
Guess what? I feel so much healthier now. I really believe my body is grateful that my mind is no longer bypassing the information it is giving me to eat in a way that just looks good on paper. For the past few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to NOT count (even though I have an uncanny ability to rattle off the calories/protein/fat/carb content of a lot of foods) and I feel amazing. Sure, my diet is probably less nutritionally dense compared to how it used to be when I was following a paleo style of eating. I indulge in homemade wheat tortillas, cream cheese, and granola whenever I feel like it- foods that I would guilt-trip myself if I gave into eating them before. I also still eat a ton of greens and fiber-rich veggies. Most importantly, eating certain types of food doesn’t make me feel guilty anymore.
Science is now showing us that our physical health and longevity is most linked to emotional health markers like connectedness in the community, feeling a sense of overall purpose in life, and happiness levels, rather than this or that particular diet. I think this is key for people to understand -especially people like me who have some obsessive tendencies when it comes to tracking macros or calories or just dieting in general. I believe our bodies have an innate wisdom and know what we need to be our best selves. We just need to let ourselves listen!
PS- This is just my personal experience with counting macros. Please know that if you’ve found a system that works for you, that’s amazing and you should continue to follow it as long as it continues to work for you 😊