Okay, okay, okay, okay…..I realize this entire post could come across as hypocritical or maybe odd, after my recent posts “singing the praises” of macro tracking.
BUT, I always try to keep this space very open and honest. And the reality is, well- there are a couple realities.
1) As I admitted previously, before now, the last time I’d tracked macros was many years ago. While I am/was confident in my knowledge of the topic, some of the actual experience of doing it was a little fuzzy.
2) There are some definite down-sides to macro tracking! (Maybe?) more down-sides than up-sides, depending on your viewpoint. I cannot fully discuss this topic without being transparent about this.
Now that I’ve been tracking quite consistently for 2 1/2 weeks now, I definitely remember some of the reasons I eventually stopped before. 😉 I’m going to try to not blab on forever about this, so, here we go, in no particular order:
Some bad stuff about tracking macros:
1. Tracking your food is tedious. And it can get old, fast. Weighing food, measuring things out….it can be, frankly, annoying. It can also make you feel…weird/ obsessive/ etc. sometimes.
2. Even though it’s not super “restrictive” (as in, you can eat any foods that you like), the reality is, if you’re trying to be in a caloric deficit, or even maybe maintenance mode, you’re probably going to have to limit and/or restrict a bit in some ways. This just comes with the territory of trying to lose weight/fat.
I do feel like I can eat a LOT of food while counting macros, but it’s not always the exact food I may feel like, in the moment. (Example- all the protein! I might have 150 calories “left” for the day, but perhaps in order to fit what’s left of my totals, they’d need to be all protein. And maybe I just feel like some fruit (carbs) and a piece of cheese (fat). Or a handful of chips. Or whatever. It can be a bit exasperating to be told what you can or cannot eat….by an app.
3. I sometimes take issue with the idea of eating a fixed number of calories per day. Because, in real life, I think we have some days that we simply want (or need) more calories than other days! Our bodies are pretty smart and good at adapting to our activity level and other needs. Animals in the wild do not count calories on their phones.
So, for example, if we say, “over-eat” a bit one day, we may find we naturally restrict a little bit the next day, without even thinking about it. We may not be as hungry! Or vice versa- if we under-eat a tad one day, we will more than likely make up for it over the next couple of days. Over the span of a week or a month, our calorie intake will average out to a pretty flat curve.
This explains why most adults, generally speaking, maintain their weight with little to no effort. And why people don’t really “accidentally” lose weight very often. (Yes, people can and will gain weight slowly over time, due to various reasons, but overall, your body probably hangs out right around its current natural set point without too much direction from you.)
It might not be your preferred weight/ set point! But a majority of adults do hover within 2-5 lbs. of the same weight for long stretches of time. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ever want to lose weight, change your body’s composition or move your set point, but I just mean that people typically will intuitively eat more or less as needed to maintain their weight.) Homeostasis.
When you’re tracking macros, you’re essentially “forcing” your body to be very regimented/ regular with your calorie intake, the same every single day. This isn’t necessarily bad, but I just don’t know that I love the idea of people losing touch with their body’s natural hunger cues.
While tracking macros, it’s not uncommon for me to either eat something when I’m not even hungry (to “hit my macros”) OR feel a bit hungry, but decide to wait to eat so I can spread out my macros according to a pre-planned meal schedule. It just doesn’t seem 100% natural or maybe even healthy to mess with some of these built-in body signals. (Then again, our bodies are wired to want us a little “plump”- with extra storage to stay alive during the cold hard winter. 😉 )
The regularity of very consistent, optimized calorie consumption is great for body composition purposes, yes. If you want to be a bikini model, the whole thing is very effective. 😉 But big picture, I’m not positive that I love that part.
4. Speaking of big picture, tracking macros is simply not sustainable for some (or many) people long term. (*I did state in my previous posts that I personally feel that temporary macro tracking is a great learning tool, OR a way to buckle down and lose some stubborn fat. I personally never advocated for permanent, lifelong macro tracking.)
Because honestly, tracking your food for life??? Would kinda suck. And that bears asking the question- why do something that isn’t sustainable long term?? I think the ultimate goal for most everyone should be (in my opinion) to move toward a form of intuitive, natural eating that both nourishes you AND gets you the overall body composition you desire (or close enough). While eating foods you enjoy!
(*Of course, some people might love the structure of macro tracking- if it works for you long-term without being a burden and/or mental struggle, that’s fine too! I’m using generalizations here.)
What we hear so often in the healthy living articles is true…. what’s really required is a total lifestyle shift, not a temporary “diet”. And yep, this is probably easier said than done for a lot of people- but certainly not impossible. Macro tracking might help some people lay the foundation.
The same idea holds true for exercise. You have to find something that you can see yourself doing for the next 30 years (and is, ideally, pretty effective too!). Work smarter, not harder. 🙂
For me, I definitely feel that 3-4x per week lifting in the gym (45 minutes or so each time), plus 1-2 sessions of cardio (20-30 minute short home workouts), plus some casual walks sprinkled in, is a very sustainable, long term exercise “plan”. I can see this fitting into my life pretty effortlessly for the long haul. If someone said I needed to do Crossfit 6x/week for 90 minutes each time, or that I needed to run 35 miles per week, I’d never stick with it.
It really boils down to this: The best exercise and nutrition plan is the one you will consistently do!!! Consistency trumps almost everything else.
I’m starting to blab (okay, I started to blab 500 words ago), so I think I’ll wrap it up! There are probably other points I’m forgetting. Oh well, I can always write another post. 🤪
Final note! :
I still really do think that macro tracking can serve a (short term) purpose and can be VERY useful for helping people to learn more about nutrition, what foods are made up of and how your body responds to them. It also can be an amazing tool to really optimize your body’s composition, if you should so desire. Unfortunately, I don’t really see tracking as something I want to do forever- even if it IS super effective. I guess when we really get down to it, I choose (lots of/unrestricted) nachos over a “perfect” body. 😉 YOLO. 😂
I am grateful for finally painting my toenails the other night. Sandal season is here, but my feet were NOT ready, at all. 😬
13 thoughts on “Macro tracking: the negative side”
I so appreciate this post and your “real talk” in general. I’ve tracked macros in the past and it did it’s job. I learned a ton and shifted my eating habits. But I completely agree with all of your points about how it is not sustainable long term. I hated having my kids see me weigh food and track it and I hated being on my phone all the time. But I’m grateful for the reminders from you as I’m in a particularly stressful time of life and I need to clean up my eating (and drinking) habits.
You make an excellent point, that I left out- the example for our kids. Mine did ask me several times things like, “Why are you weighing your chicken?” etc….and it felt yucky. I tried to explain it mostly like, “Well, I’m doing a bit of an experiment to learn more about how and how much I’m eating.” But still, I could definitely see how this could be a negative, confusing example of food relationships for kids, if witnessed long term. Probably especially for young girls!!
I appreciate this post, too! There are benefits to tracking and chances are you will see results if you track but for most people it is non sustainable. I think it’s a good way to ‘reset’ and nip some bad habits in the bud. But I had mentioned in a previous comment that I could not see myself tracking my eating through the weight watchers ap FOREVER. Like you said, it gets really fatiguing and it can kind of take the joy out of eating. So I think I’ll always need periods of tracking when I start slipping into bad habits, followed by periods where I mostly eat right. It also depends on what your goal is and how much you are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. My weight goal is pretty realistic/reasonable/not too much of a stretch so that means I don’t need to eat an overly restrictive diet. But if my goal was to have a 6-pack, I would have to eat and move differently.
I also have to factor in the people around me. I do most of the cooking in our house, like 95%. And while Phil is understanding when I am tracking/reining in my eating, if I optimize my meals, it can also take some or a lot of the enjoyment out of meals… But it’s a slippery slope because if I am too permissive in what I eat, then I will pay for it in terms of weight gain. So that’s where the occasional tracking comes into play, at least for me.
Yes for sure. The enjoyment of eating thing is not to be ignored! Ivan is supportive, kind of, of me doing this kind of thing- so long as he thinks it’s temporary. But when we eat out, which as you know, we do quite a bit, he is NOT as patient. We often share meals, or share 1 app + 1 meal, etc…. and he has zero interest in going to a restaurant and then getting a plain grilled chicken salad or something. He is definitely a “rebel” tendency type, and would never be one to do a strict diet of any kind. He often will say things like, “What’s the point? Either way we all are going to get old and die, so you might as well enjoy it while you can.” LOL.
I also love this post. I’ve never counted calories (or tracked macros), but I have been careful with eating habits for years (including Weight Watchers before I even hit my teen years).
I’ve read two “anti-diet” books over the last week and honestly think I need to eat this way for a while. I have learned so many healthy habits from my eating “experiments” over the years and have to trust my body can help guide me. I don’t necessarily crave “bad” food, I’ve just learned to ignore hunger cues or think WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT FOOD. Some days I just really need to eat a lot of food because I’m hunger and/or emotional. And other days I don’t. And I want to stop thinking about food.
It feels hard, though, to eat this way after two decades of being careful. But I restrict (even if I’m eating a lot, but cutting out grains, for instance when I did Whole30 x2)…and then binge (even if not overeating, then adding things back in after Whole 30, for example). And it’s just not sustainable. I don’t want to be yo-yoing like this for the rest of my life. And like you said – it’s not so much about the weight because I naturally have a set point that’s about where I currently am at.
So much to process for me – it has been a lifelong journey with food/body image, but it’s so helpful to get well-rounded posts on this topic which you’ve been providing 🙂
I’m glad you’ve found them helpful! Food for thought, if nothing else. 🙂 I am greatly interested in the nutrition/ fitness world- just an area I enjoy learning about- so it has been fun to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. As a nurse, too, I feel like I sit in a good place to sort of look at the big picture of how health/ fitness/ nutrition and wellbeing all intersect. 🙂 What books did you read? Anything you’d recommend?
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I just finished The F*ck It Diet. I have mixed feelings about the book, but the take-home message is: we all need to eat more food, daily. Forever.
I also read Project Body Love. It was independently published by someone in my local area, but I found it just as good as The F*ck It Diet (which is a much bigger, mainstream book).
I’m processing it all, but mostly think the habits I have in place are good and I need to reframe things mentally so I can relax more around food!
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Big, big advocate for intuitive eating over here! I am lucky to say that I’ve been able to pretty much do just that for all of my life…. I have started tracking food in MFP a few years ago, but more out of curiosity, not to count calories or lose weight. It’s been a bit of an experiment just to learn from the insights.
And I think macro-tracking – as you mentioned – can give you some very useful insights and tools to eat a healthier, more balanced diet and I would like to give it a try for a little while.
But overall, I agree: intuitive eating and listening to your body’s cue should be the main focus.
Unfortunately, I know people who have lost touch with these natural cues through dieting and diet culture and it’s hard to get back to just “listening” to your body.
I totally agree that the caloric intake shouldn’t necessarily be the same every day and that it does even out for most people over the course of a week or month!
Thanks for writing this out. You can be excited and a proponent of something, but also talk about the pitfalls and negative aspects. Well done.
And this is so true:
“The best exercise and nutrition plan is the one you will consistently do!!!” 100% agree!!
I obviously don’t know you in real life, but you appear to be someone who really embodies the “whole package”- overall healthy lifestyle, consistent exercise, but still enjoys good food and doesn’t stress too much about any of it! I think that’s great. Generally speaking, I think I’m the same way- except my diet can sometimes be a little too heavy on non-nutritious foods, which is the big area I’m working on. 🙂
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it’s funny that we forget easily when we stop doing something. I find tracking quite restrictive especially because my daily needs/activities fluctuates, especially with the cycle, so eating more intuitively makes more sense to me. Peter Attia says the dietary framework can be grouped into 3 types: when you eat (how long you eat), what you eat (whether cutting any food or food groups), and how much you eat (calorie restriction). practicing any of these is beneficial for health, but doing all three is difficult. Depending on where I am, I do one of the 3, but never 3 at the same time. In general, eating real food (not processed and no sugar addition), 10-12 hrs a day is what I find more sustainable.
Yet, for someone to get back to good habits, tracking for a short period of time “trains” us to be more mindful, so I think what you are doing is great! by tracking, you realize how many time you were just snacking for the sake of snacking, not really hungry or nutritious.
and fully agree to find a style that is sustainable, thus dietary/exercise is so individual.
Very interesting idea about the 3 areas and never doing all 3 at the same time. That’s a great point. I think, like Lisa said, that tracking for a short time periodically can be a great way to “re-set” every so often. So, not necessary to continue long term, but maybe something to do a few times a year for a week or so, just to keep tabs on it. Maybe like Laura VK suggests time tracking periodically.
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Yes thanks for being real! Tracking macros reminds me of celebrities who have to become super fit for a movie role, like those Marvel ones. I tried to track macros for one meal and and gave up already, so I admire your persistence! If I were a Marvel superhero actor and got paid a million dollars to track macros, I totally would though. Until then I will just eat more vegetables . 😉
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