Before and after pictures of Coach Mel after counting calories and macros for 3 weeks.

Do I Really Need to Count Calories and Macros?

Mindful eating Tips wrap-up

For the past three weeks I’ve been bringing you mindful eating tips, 9 in total. I hope you have put some of those tips into action and are seeing some positive results. I started that series after I did some training with a nutritionist, we went way more in depth than just mindful eating, we spoke a lot about macros. Today, I will bring you my results after 3 weeks of counting macros. Let’s start with the basics.

What are macros and what does it mean to “count your macros”?

Macronutrients, or macros as they are often referred to, are the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins found in foods. Each macro has a number of calories associated with it. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, protein has 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. So, without getting too technical, everything you eat has calories which are then put into these three categories. Counting calories for weight loss has been around for ages, and yes, a calorie deficit diet (calories in less calories out equals a negative number) does work but let’s take it one step further and count our macros as well. 

My 3-week experience

For the past three weeks, I have made the following changes. First, I started practicing mindful eating. I made a conscious decision about everything I ate and often found myself reading labels when there was a choice to be made. The other thing I did was I started counting my macros. I had counted calories before but never macros. The photos above tell the story, and while there is not a dramatic change I will tell you I lost 5 pounds (and you know I rarely use a scale) but I also lost inches (I did not measure but by the photos and how my clothes are fitting I can tell). I also had more than one person ask me if I was “doing something different” because they could see a difference… YES, I was counting my macros.

How do you count macros and what should your goal be?

Today’s age of technology has made counting your macros pretty easy. I use the free version of an app called Lose It, the My Fitness Pal app also has the ability to track your macros. You log your food and the app does the rest. Most apps make it as easy as possible, they allow you to scan the barcode of the foods you are eating (just verify that the information is correct). If you do not have a barcode to scan then you search for the food and pick what seems to match the closest, it’s ok if it is not 100% perfect, something is better than nothing.

I will start this part by stating clearly that I am NOT a nutritionist or a dietitian, this is information that I learned during the seminar I mentioned earlier. The macro breakdown that was suggested for “general wellness”, which is what I am using, is 40% carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein. The number of calories you should be at is around 1,800 – 2,000 per day (again this depends on various factors). Using an app for tracking will also calculate your daily calories, I will warn you, however, sometimes they tend to be on the low side. Too low is just as bad as too high and that is where speaking with a professional can be helpful.

Here’s what I learned from counting my macros

  • I had NO idea that I was not getting nearly enough protein, most days I struggled to hit the 30% mark. Here are some examples of my daily macros.

Coach Mel's LoseIt app macro results for March 21 and 24.
  • Tracking not only made me make better choices but it made me pay attention to labels and portions a lot more than I was. I counted the number of pretzels I ate, and yes it was enough to stop at one serving.

  • I made better decisions about snacking, I’d have a piece of lunch meat with cheese instead of chips because I knew my carbs were high and my protein was low.

  • I have measuring cups and measuring spoons nearby all the time, I even leave some in containers for ease, so I know I am eating the right amount.

  • It’s not that hard to do. Thanks to the apps and the ability to scan barcodes it was pretty easy to track my food. Out of the 3 weeks, there was only one day I did not track, I had gone to a St. Patrick’s party and did a lot of picking so I did not try to recreate that day’s food.

  • I did not deprive myself of treats. I made sure having a treat didn’t throw my macros too far out of whack. I made other decisions throughout the day that got me back on track and kept me in a reasonable calorie range.

  • I still ate pizza, I still had my oatmeal, I made some changes to help get more protein, and stopped MINDLESS eating!

Where should you start?

The seminar I took was with Pamela M. Nisevich Bede. Pam is a nutrition expert, dietitian, and consultant specializing in the areas of sports nutrition, weight management, and pediatrics. She also works with Abbott’s ZonePerfect Nutrition. They have a very simple macro calculator on their website, along with loads of other great information. This link will bring you to their calculator. It’s a great place to start.

Don’t let counting macros ruin your day

I will finish up with this warning, don’t let this ruin your day or completely over take your every thought. Stay focused and remember we are striving for 80/20 not to be perfect and hit your macros every single day or meal, it’s all about learning. Learn what works for you, be more aware of the food you are eating, and let it guide you to being a healthier you. Stressing about it is NOT going to help.   Each time you log something look at the macros, take a look at where you stand for the day, and think about what you will eat next.

Let’s go back to the original question, do I really have to count calories and macros? My answer is a question, is what you are currently doing working? If not then maybe it’s time to give something else a try. We all want to be healthy BEFORE we NEED to be healthy but it may take some effort to get there.

Oh, one last thing for those of you who are thinking, “well she exercises all day of course she lost 5 lbs”.  First, I do not exercise all day, it is my job, just like any other physical job. And it only worked because I ate mindfully, tracked my macros, and paid attention to labels and serving sizes. I struggle too, I have to track to stay on task, just because I teach fitness does not mean I am exempt from struggles.

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