I remember the first time I started counting calories.
It was during my final year in college, when a trainer at the gym I had been attending for almost a year, suggested I sign up for a physique competition.
So excited was I, that he thought what I had accomplished so far [weight loss, albeit unintentionally] could compete with the athletes I saw around the gym, that I immediately said “yea sign me up!”. That was until he told me I needed to go on a diet of lean meats, vegetables, very little starch, no sugar, salt or junk foods.
My uneducated self at the time, while weary, thought on some level it made sense, after all how else did the lean and ripped women walking around the gym get that way. So yes I experimented with what he suggested…for all of two days!
On day three I knew I would not survive it and rather than quit, did my own research. Turned out that while such measures were employed by some, for a greenhorn like myself, was way too drastic.
Enter calorie and macronutrient (macro) counting.
While I started doing it in preparation for that first competition, it eventually became the main way I would manage my diet for years to follow.
And even though my nutrition knowledge improved over the years, I still aimed to eat a certain amount of food based on a predetermined set of numbers (i.e. macros – protein, fats and carbohydrates).
For all intents and purposes, it worked.
When I needed to get bodybuilding competition ready, it worked. Photoshoot coming up? Adjusting my macros worked. When I wanted to maintain my ‘fit and trim’ look after I quit competing, it worked. When I needed to keep my food portions in check, it worked.
Until it stopped working.
Instead of staying lean, my weight went up.
Instead of having control over my cravings and food intake, I was overeating and feeling a mess whenever I couldn’t stick to the ‘plan’ .
Social outings with my husband and/or friends became a source of anxiety, and sometimes contention if where we went couldn’t work with my diet .
Even when I relaxed the rules and decided not to sweat the small stuff, the idea of not tracking made me slightly nervous.
I was struggling to make my life – which was rapidly changing – fit into the process of counting macros that I consistently missed the signs that something needed to change.
So after 10+ years of counting macros, I quit cold turkey four months ago.
Best. Decision. Ever!
As a way to monitor what we eat over any given period, counting calories or macronutrients IS a good tool for measuring that progress, and it works.
The only way you’ll know if it is for you, is to give it a try, dogma and vilification on the internet aside.
You can jump into it, and learn as you go and I would actually recommend it for those who truly want to get a handle on their portion control but only IF they are ready and willing to do so.
For the vast majority though, who are either trying to minimize their risk of prevalent lifestyle diseases or make current eating habits healthier even as life changes happen, here are three reasons why you might want to reconsider counting calories or macros, at least initially.
You feel disconnected from your body.
For your body to respond the way you need it to, you first have to get on the same wavelength. Often times we are so busy trying to beat our bodies into submission that we miss the subtle signs being sent that suggest there is a disconnect.
So the body will do what it was designed to do, survive and to hell with what you’re forcing it to do.
Getting sick often? That’s a sign.
Low energy no matter how much coffee or energy drinks you consumer? Another sign.
Tired no matter how much sleep you get? You got it. That’s a big ole “hey there! You need to stop, look and listen to me!”
If you are unable to put those pieces together, then time may be better spent exploring what your body is trying to say before taking on macro counting.
Try this instead: Start a journal documenting ways your body may be communicating with you. Make notes on things like sleep, mood, hunger levels, calmness, energy levels, how your skin feels and looks, stomach issues if any etc.
You struggle in your current environment.
We are products of our environment, and often times make decisions influenced largely by what is going on around us.
If you currently struggle to make or adhere to any kind of healthy nutrition decisions due to a stressful, negative or toxic environment, you may be better served addressing the source(s) of stress either by removing yourself from it or changing it.
This is not usually an easy task nor one which can happen at the drop of hat, but it requires being ready, willing and able to, and long before attempting to add another level of stress (figuring out calories and macro totals), that comes with macro counting.
Try this instead: Before a meal or snack, put your hand on your stomach, close your eyes and take a breath – two for good measure- in and out. Then open your eyes and check in with what’s and who’s around you. Do you feel calm, safe, supported and happy or do you feel stressed, anxious and alone. How can you change that in that moment? The answer is your first step to moving forward.
Portion control is foreign or new to you.
You’ve heard before, and maybe time and time again, that portion control is essential if you want to change your body and your health. While on the one hand it is crucial to the process of weight and health management, on the other hand, doing so requires an awareness of current eating patterns and habits.
And since it’s not something we’re taught early on to be mindful of, we miss any inkling of the habits we create. So changing them will take work. If you aren’t ready to do that, that’s ok. You’ll know when you are. But if you even want to make just the slightest change, you can consider improving the quality side of things before attempting to cut or change quantities.
Try these instead: Add veggies to half your plate first before putting anything else on your plate. Choose baked, grilled, broiled or steamed foods over fried, battered and gravied proteins and meats. Swap out salty chips and candy for fruit, nuts and seeds as the daily snack. Drinking a glass of water for every glass of alcohol or sweetened drink.
Understand that whether you choose to count macros or not, your overall health is impacted by more than what you eat. Also know that while you can work on one thing at a time, it won’t be in isolation. Your mindset, your surroundings, your relationships, your physical health all influence how you get to experience your life.
How do you want to live it?