Life, Meals, Workouts

My experience with macro counting/ IIFYM

Okay, disclaimer- this is a topic that I could go on and on about, so I will try my best to keep this concise (edited to add- I lied. This is not concise.)

I want to get more into my personal experience, but I feel like I should give a little “101” level intro first for anyone who’s interested….So this may need to be broken into a couple of posts. (Sorry if you hate this kind of stuff!! Feel free to skip over…I do find this fascinating though! I think in my next life I might actually love a career in the fitness/nutrition realm.)

Online training

So, in 2015, I worked with an online trainer for about 6 months. Meaning, I paid for weekly workout routines (which I then did alone in the gym) and personalized nutrition guidance.

She was originally a registered nurse (woot woot!), a mom to a 5 year old (same age as Asher was approximately at the time, so she totally understood busy mom life), and also a personal trainer/nutrition certified with many years of experience. Oh, and by the way, she was also an IFBB bikini pro competitor. !!

Anyway, I was not exactly trying to “lose weight”, but I wasn’t 100% happy with my body, either. I had a few areas that I wanted to improve on. (In fitness world terms, I wanted to improve my body’s composition. i.e.- stay approximately around same weight, but with less fat/ more muscle. i.e. look better.)

A) Workouts: The workouts were 4-5 strength routines, split up by body part. Most took no more than about 45 minutes. She included links to instructional videos for anything I wasn’t familiar with.

Interestingly, she did NOT prescribe much, or any, cardio at first (besides light walking, for general activity and heart health). This may surprise some people, but endless cardio is actually not necessary to lose weight! (*gasp from the gym treadmill bunnies*.) She told me my main focus for exercise needed to be strength training, hands down, no ifs ands or buts about it.

I’d been more into running at the time, and she actually told me to limit runs to 2x/ week, no more than a few miles each. (Running makes you: a) hungry, causing some people to overeat as a result b) can burn off your muscle/ detract from your strength gains c) doesn’t actually burn that many calories, anyway, so not very efficient or effective for fat loss.)

*SIDE NOTE- I know there are some hard core runners who read this blog. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t run! If you love running, and it makes you feel good, by all means RUN to your heart’s content!! I’m just sharing what she told me.*

I’d been consistently lifting weights on my own for a year or so by then.

(Another note- I learned a lot of what I know by watching YouTube videos, reading (quality) Instagram posts + books+ blog posts about strength training and listening to fitness podcasts. I ended up following/ connecting with some amazing qualified trainers and (PhD level) exercise scientists who were a true wealth of knowledge. I basically researched the heck out of this- I wasn’t born knowing how to lift weights, either.)

Overall I was on the right track there, but my nutrition was definitely holding me back from really seeing full results from my efforts in the gym.

B) Nutrition: Namely, I was eating WAY too many carbs/ sugar/ processed foods, my protein intake was pathetic and my calorie intake was all over the place. Protein is soooooooo important for muscle growth (or even just retention, if you’re not actively trying to gain muscle.)

I needed some help learning how to eat properly to fuel my goals. Even more than that, I needed the accountability of someone monitoring me. (upholder turned obliger?? 🤔)

Macro Basics

My trainer set me up with personalized “macros” (macronutrients).

This just means a prescribed amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate grams to eat each day. (Macros naturally make up all foods. Everything you eat has macronutrients- everything contains some combination of those three things. Check out a nutrition label and you’ll see this.)

The macronutrients then ultimately equal the calorie total of that food.

  • carbs= 4 calories/ gram
  • protein= 4 calories/gram
  • fat= 9 calories/gram

Using my 150 calorie “Simply Nature- Oats and Flax” oatmeal packet as an example, it has:

  • 29 g carbs = (29 g x 4 calories =116 calories)
  • 4 g protein= (4 g x 4 calories= 16 calories
  • 2 g fat= (2 g x 9 calories= 18 calories)
  • TOTAL = 116 + 16 + 18 = 150

There you have it. If you know the macros in something, you can figure out how many calories it contains. It’s really all very simple- just math.

(This whole concept/ “dieting plan” is also known as IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros. The main idea is that you can eat whatever you want! No food is off limits- so long as it fits your macros for the day. Read more here. Many people love the freedom and flexibility it allows. Also, it’s essentially guaranteed to work- it’s literally just a scientific formula. Our bodies are very complex, but they are still just mostly a machine. They can be manipulated pretty manner-of-factly, with the right knowledge (and consistency). It’s just science.)

Caloric deficit

In order to lose fat, you usually have to be in a caloric deficit. At least for a little while. (Caloric deficit= consuming fewer calories than your body expends.)

Important distinction- I hate the term “lose weight”. No one actually cares how much they weigh, per se; what people really want is to lose FAT. Yes, if you’re overweight and you lose fat, you’ll typically lose weight too. But simply losing “weight” should not be the goal. I mean, we could cut off your arm and you’d lose a bunch of weight, but pretty sure that’s not the look you’re going for, right? 😆

BUT. An important but: While in a caloric deficit, you also need to try to simultaneously retain your muscle mass!! (This is where protein and strength training come into play.)

Because if you don’t, what will happen? Your sneaky body will do what it loves to do….it will go after your muscle first. Fat is a stubborn little devil.

So then, you will “lose weight” on the scale, look in the mirror and think- “Huh. Why do I still not look that great?”

And this will be because you still have a lot of your fat, and you’ve simply lost “weight” from either water and/or your muscle mass. And maybe a little bit of fat along for the ride.

My Macros

So, my trainer put me on customized “macros” that equaled 1,500 calories, in hopes that that would put me in a caloric deficit. (Again, my goal really wasn’t to lose weight, but in order to attack these “trouble spots”, I needed be in a deficit at least for a little while, to go after the fat.)

We didn’t know exactly what my maintenance calories were, because I hadn’t been tracking my calories previously. We guesstimated based on what I reported my typical days of meals looked like. 1,500 definitely seemed like it would create a deficit for me as a starting point, at my height and weight.

My prescribed macros were:

  • 127 grams protein
  • 134 grams carbs
  • 50 grams fat
  • (Fiber 28 grams. Not as essential to track, but trying to meet a daily fiber goal ensures that your carb choices are high quality. Getting all your carbs from rice krispie treats might be okay to meet your carb goal, but 0 fiber there. Choose an apple instead for same amount of carbs, but a few grams of fiber. Fiber is also good because it makes food harder for your body to digest, so you burn more calories naturally. Plus a ton of other benefits- too much to get into here! Google it. ;))

*These vary person to person! Never try to base your body’s needs on someone else’s.

I also:

  • drank 1 gallon of water per day
  • took BCAAs (amino acids) mixed in my water for workouts (yummy, these taste good. They also help with muscle growth, decrease soreness/ aid in recovery from workout fatigue.)
  • took 2 fish oil capsules a day
  • took a multivitamin (which I normally do not)
  • took a small amount of creatine supplement on my lifting days, also to aid with muscle growth and recovery

*None of the above, minus the water, is essential. These were just recommendations, to help optimize the process.

My results were shocking. I lost weight/fat at a steady, consistent rate, my measurements all dropped, but at the same time, I looked and felt stronger than ever. By doing all of the above, I was getting rid of pesky fat, but holding onto and even building more muscle. This made me look lean and toned.

I do not normally post pictures of myself in a bikini online, so please forgive me if this is tacky. But this was taken after I’d been lifting/eating well for a while back in 2016 I think, and is a good “after” pic. (FYI- I do not look like this right now! oops/ my bad.) My mom actually took this picture when I wasn’t expecting it (I think I was watching the boys swimming in the ocean) and she sent it to me so I could “look back one day on how fit I used to be when I was young.” HAHAHA! Thanks mom. I have now framed this photo and it’s on the mantle. just kidding.

Argh, okay, I need to stop. This is getting WAY too long!! I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain this all briefly. I suck at keeping things short and to the point. SORRY!!! 😫 Guess this is why I’m a nurse and not a professional blogger. LOL!

I could honestly write a whole book on this topic……and I really want to share more about my personal experiences with this- specifically how I felt while eating and training this way. (hint- amazing!) And some other takeaways. And some sample days of meals! (Another hint- 1,500-1,700 calories of the right foods is SO MUCH FOOD!!!!! I swear, I was constantly eating. And literally never hungry. Yet still making so much progress!) Makes me question, now, why the heck I ever stopped living this way, when it made me feel so good. I blame nachos.

More tomorrow?? Gotta run! Have a great day.

Daily Gratitude:

I am grateful for a huge grocery haul yesterday morning. All this recent reflecting on my diet/ eating habits prompted me to STOCK UP on a ton of good stuff.

If you’re anything like me, it’s oddly fun and fascinating to look at other people’s groceries. So, for any other fellow weirdos, here you go:

nice mix of healthy stuff and, of course, TREATS.

11 thoughts on “My experience with macro counting/ IIFYM”

  1. This is super interesting! I have never tracked my macros before and didn’t know the formula for how grams of different macros translates into calories. I did have to pay close attention to carbs when I was following the gestational diabetes diet during my pregnancies. I was always focused on getting more fat and protein in my diet. Focusing on more fat was such a change from how I normally eat! Like I would never get a whole milk latte but I had one every day during pregnancy and did not gain much weight in the final trimester.

    My diet could definitely be improved upon. I feel like I would need to be in a different stage of life to eat like you did when working with a professional. Otherwise I’m envisioning how Phil would respond… he was a good sport when we had to change our eating habits when I was following the GD diet (and boy did GD have 2 meanings in our house – even though I really never use the swearing version of GD but we thought of my diet as the GD diet quite often…). He was so surprised to lean what was considered a carb – like beans!

    All of your work definitely paid off, though! You look amazing in that bikini photo! So toned and fit! I am one of your running readers. I don’t think I would ever want to give it up or drop it down to 2 short runs/week as I truly love running, especially in my neighborhood as I’m pretty much always running along a lake or creek so I get a lot of mental health benefits from the areas where I run. I DESPISE the dreadmill so I would never log many miles on it and would hate running if that was how I logged my miles. But I do love strength training and have done more of that in the last 10 years and I find it really fun and challenging. Pre-kids, I also found that strength training made me a faster runner. Now I am in a different stage of life and am so so slow compared to pre-kids Lisa. Which again is ok! But I look forward to a time/season of life when I could focus more on workouts/macros/etc.

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  2. This is interesting (even though I have basic understanding) so keep it coming. And I know you love your gym but would love to hear if you have any good Beachbody recs for more lifting/toning vs. cardio. With my current schedule a gym is impossible but I have been thinking I need to focus at least a little bit more on lifting vs. the high amount of cardio I do (mainly T25 cardio bc I like <30 min workouts). Thanks

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    1. First, I’m so glad you commented and that you liked the post! I was worried maybe it would not be of interest to anyone except me. haha.

      For BB recs…Honestly, I have not seen any BB programs that really mimic the type of strength training I’ve found to be most effective. You could try LIIFT4 (though this wasn’t really my fav…) or The Work definitely is challenging and will push you. A lot of it includes a lot of cardio/ HIIT stuff though….but still lots of strength. It’s a TOUGH program though- I thought almost too hard! ha.

      If you aren’t dead set on it being BB, I think in your situation I would really consider trying a monthly group plan from one of the online trainers out there. After I stopped working 1:1 with a trainer, I did online Group Strength Plans for years, until covid shutdowns. The workouts were essentially the same style as my 1:1 workouts. It used to be that you needed to do them in a gym, but now most people offer alternatives for “home” options. They just send you a new plan each month. It’s perfect.

      A few to check out:

      if you have IG, check out northingtonfitnessandnutrition on insta. He is my old trainer’s ex and offers monthly plans for $14.99.

      Another that I’m thinking of signing up to try is at macroswithem.com. Her split sounds great- it’s 2 Leg + Ab days, 1 Chest/Shoulders/ Triceps, 1 Back/ Biceps and 1 Full body day (so 5 workouts per week). She actually does them herself, too, and is in amazing shape. She also has a podcast I’ve been listening to called EmPowered Radio which is very on point with ALL the basics of nutrition/ macro counting/ training stuff. She’s a very down to earth, normal mom. Everything I’ve heard on her podcast sounds spot on accurate. Her monthly plans are $20/month and have either gym OR home option. I’m seriously considering trying them!

      Also there is Sohee Lee who is an amazing resource. A PhD candidate and just a very cool, knowledgeable person. Her site is soheefit.com. She’s been around for a very long time and also has group training monthly options for strength training- for gym or home.

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  3. I can 100% corroborate that running does NOTHING positive for my body/weight/body comp whatsoever. I mean maybe more than zero exercise (but I haven’t done that experiment!). However, I love how I FEEL after I run, as well as impact on mental health. And I like attempting to get faster though lately that feels like a lost cost lol. but I can vouch for having the best cosmetic ‘results’ when I ONLY lifted (80 day obsession!).

    PS: I have no problem limiting carbs BUT limiting fat would be soooo hard for me. i love fat (nuts . . . full fat dairy . . . avocados . . . etc). whenever i count macros I’m reminded of that.

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    1. haha, well at least you can admit it about the running! I was worried I might offend someone with my statements about running, but I really do think it’s true…However, as you’ve said, if it’s enjoyable, that is definitely worth something too. 🙂

      Re: the fats, I like fat too. We are big cheese eaters here in Wisconsin, so, yeah. lol! I can fit quite a lot of fat in though on 50-55 grams a day, for me anyway. And I actually have found a reduced fat cheddar that I honestly love!!! So that is great, bc I seriously just like to eat chunks of cheese. hehe.

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  4. so many good points on this post. muscle gain is so important to look fit and for health. I am amazed how diligent you were (hopefully you are) following trainer’s plan. I’ve never followed anyone’s plan except once when I was training for marathon and followed a running coach plan to the T. mentally it was freeing because I didn’t need to plan or think, but there were days that I just thought I couldn’t do it but actually did it.
    on cardio, I fully agree that cardio/running can burn muscle and not the best way when you want to lean out and build muscle, diet would do better. But I just love the endorphin and the mental break so I guess being fully aware of the consequences, I use it as my mental medicine. I even agree that running marathons are not healthy if one does it for living, but I just love it and need to follow my urge. I think I might retire from marathon after this year’s one and transition to trail running (still running but less stress to the body).
    on diet, I think eating unprocessed food will naturally give you a good macro composition. The carbs and sugar are the devil and are everywhere. I don’t do well with protein though as I prefer vegan meals in general so I try to add protein powder in my breakfast everyday, and tofu/egg for main meals. I am still trying to figure out a eating style that makes me feel good and lead to good biomarkers (lipid and sugar profiles) that is also sustainable.
    I’d be intrigued to see your meals. did your trainer prescribe what to eat? how do you do it with the family/kids? and please do post on instagram. I love seeing how other people fuel.
    and finally you look SO strong in that pic!!! love it! I’m all for strong fit lean bodies. hahaha….

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    1. Unfortunately, I don’t think she is doing 1:1 training anymore as she went back to school…let me email you a few other options though that I know of! Online group training is a great, more cost effective way, too. (You don’t actually have to interact with a group- it’s just not quite as personalized, but overall I think it can be just as effective, unless you need a ton of 1:1 guidance.)

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  5. Ok, I really loved this post, Kae, and I’ll be coming back or more (probably with questions). I’ve been consistently tracking my food intake for a while (2+ years), but just for fun and to have a track record. I am not really trying to lose weight/fat but I am super interested in learning more about macros. Would you mind sharing your starting height/weight as a reference? I am trying to figure out how I would know what my macros should be?

    I am doing a lot of cardio, but have definitely felt/seen a difference ever since I started doing more strength training.

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