Moving Beyond Macros
by Emma Bond
We have run 3 successful nutrition challenges here at CFR, all based on macro tracking. While tracking is a great tool for 6 weeks, we care MORE about the learning that takes place during the challenge. Our athletes walk away with a greater knowledge of what macronutrients are, how they are important for certain functions of the body, and most often, my favorite realization of … “I need THAT much protein in my diet?!”
Yes… protein slays.
But, what’s most important, and what tracking macros often doesn’t teach you, is how to have a long-term, sustainable relationship with food. We start our challenges with the caveat that macro tracking is NOT sustainable for MOST people long-term. There is a difference between “short-term challenges/goals” and “long-term sustainable habits.” The 6-week challenge can jump start some of those habits, but for some of you (even if you don’t want to admit it), you might have already undone your progress from the challenge, and now you’re even more frustrated than before (yeah, I’ve been there too).
Also you may be thinking, “Emma, you track your macros long-term, why are you writing this?” Well, because in addition to tracking, I also make sure I am practicing the most important teachings of our challenges:
- Eating QUALITY foods, filled with micronutrients, vitamins, pro/prebiotics – all important for daily function and gut health
- Paying ATTENTION to my fullness and hunger cues
- Eating MINDFULLY
- Giving myself the ABILITY to track loosely
Often, when people track, they throw these teachings out the window. These teachings should be mastered BEFORE you begin to use tracking as a method to reach your goals. And, I’m going to break them down for you right now.
Eating Quality Foods
Picture this: your name is Jimmy and you’ve been tracking for 4 months now. When you go to the grocery store, you read every nutrition label before you buy something. You look at the macro breakdown: 8f/42c/10p, and think “not bad… win!” You never pay attention to the ingredients because these macros make for the PERFECT snack. Guess what? Those are the exact macros on a Pepperoni Lean Hot Pocket. A meal filled with … well, I’ll let you look at the ingredient list….
Why should you care? Well, when we eat foods that are filled with chemicals, additives, refined carbs, ingredients you can’t even pronounce or count with your fingers AND toes… we’re not only missing out on vitamins, nutrients, and fiber that help fill and fuel us, but we’re missing out on nutrients that aid in gut health, causing it to be unbalanced.
Healthy balance of gut bacteria = better digestion, stronger immune system, regulation of mood and level of body fat, reduced inflammation and so much more.
Paying Attention to Hunger and Fullness Cues
When tracking macros, I see many people worrying about hitting their daily numbers with 100% accuracy. Your food becomes nothing more than a NUMBER.. And you know you have to hit that before the clock turns 12, or else… (you turn into a giant pumpkin!).
In the case of Jimmy: It’s 8PM on Monday and you are absolutely STARVING, but you can’t eat because you’ve already hit your macros. You go to bed hungry, and most likely, really sad. Your body wants fuel – something, ANYTHING, and your growling stomach is a sign. Fast forward to 8PM on Tuesday. You had a really busy day and you were barely able to find time to eat. You just forced down a HUGE dinner, but you still have 5f/60c/20p left. The thought of putting any more food in your mouth makes you feel like, well, you’ll turn into an actual giant pumpkin.
Does this sound familiar?
If so, your adherence to tracking is causing you to forget to listen to your hunger and fullness cues. Think about it, when was the last time you stopped eating when you felt 80% full? Or allowed yourself to eat a little bit more because you weren’t satisfied and still hungry? Unless you’re trying to bulk (think Hugh Jackman and Chris Evans on their superhero diets), you should not be so focused on hitting your daily macros that you have to force feed yourself when you’re not feeling hungry.
This one is my favorites because it can be the root of many issues (e.g. not losing weight, regaining lost weight, constant stress, etc.) and oftentimes, people aren’t even aware of the way they actually chew and consume food.
Ask yourself this: When was the last time you sat down for a meal, and took more than 15 minutes to eat it? Did you put your fork down between bites? Did you chew enough each bite to actually break down the food to a mush (like making a smoothie in your mouth)? Did you turn off any distractions while you ate (no phone, no TV)? When was the last time you really focused on the food you were eating… it’s flavors, how it tasted, it’s texture?
When you eat slowly and mindfully, you are better able to recognize your hunger cues (see how everything is tying in here?), eat less but feel more satisfied, experience the food more fully (you can enjoy the food twice/three times as long!) and digest the food better. Not to mention it can be beneficial to relationships with family and friends as you’re now using this time to slow down, be present and not distracted.
When we’re focused on getting our macros in and getting them in quick because food = a number, we tend to forget about these very powerful tactics.
Okay, you’re going to be Jimmy one last time, and we’re going back to your first day of tracking: You JUST started tracking, your MyFitnessPal app is downloaded, food scale ready, and you are officially excited to be a shredded anabolic freak. Macros = key to success. For the first 4 days you hit your macros SPOT on. Like, within 1 gram of each.. You’re feeling good. But a week goes by and this becomes harder and harder… you’re busy and life gets in the way. You immediately feel like a failure and get frustrated. You start realizing that tracking macros is HARD. “WTF!? I need to measure all of my meats and grains raw, and then cook them and then measure them AGAIN to be 100% accurate?” you yell to your cat. “Forget it!” And you gradually quit.
Remember, your body expends different amounts of energy everyday, and your body doesn’t work on a 24 hour clock. Hell, it doesn’t even know what day it is. Some days you’ll be hungrier than other days. Respect and accept that.
Long story short – you don’t have to be perfect when you track your macros. And if you think you do, then you’re most likely setting yourself up for failure. Because tracking that accurately 24/7 is hard, it’s unsustainable, and I hate to break it to you, it’s still not even 100% accurate.
Give yourself the ability to track loosely: eyeball things like a cup of rice. Track up until dinner, keep your remaining macros in the back of your mind, but still go out and enjoy a meal that doesn’t have the macros listed on it (well, when this pandemic ends, anyway). Because you’re in this for the long haul, right?
I’ll leave you with this: If you’re someone who’s been tracking for over 1-2 months consistently with the same macros, I want you to try this exercise:
Hop on the scale tomorrow morning and take a picture of yourself (shirtless). Then for 1 week, don’t track anything. After 7 days, hop back on the scale, compare your pictures – look at what has changed.
Chances are, you won’t see any substantial changes. That’s because after 1-2 months of consistently tracking, you already KNOW approximately what to eat to hit your macros.
If you find this experiment absolutely terrifying (“I cannot live without my food scale!!”), or during this one week you went off the rails because you didn’t have “accountability from an app”, chances are tracking is covering up some deeper issues you may have with food. And if that’s the case, I’d be happy to help you take the small steps needed in order to have a healthier relationship with not only the foods you’re eating, but with yourself. Remember, eat quality foods, pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, eat mindfully, and track loosely. If you need help, please reach out to me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!