How to Track Macros

Every few years there seems to be a new diet trend that everyone jumps to try out. “You want to lose weight? Just eat low-fat!” “Or maybe high-fat, low carb?” “No, really you should just eat like a caveman.” “Or at least eat like a caveman for 30 days.” “But really, if you just cut out sugar, and don’t eat after 7pm, you will lose weight!”

What's the Secret to Weight Loss

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The novelty of these diet trends makes them tantalizing, but let me tell you a surprisingly simple secret – the way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit over time. That means, you need to consume fewer calories than you use. That’s it! That is the secret. You can lose weight eating low-fat, or Paleo, or Whole30, or no-sugar, or even nothing but Twinkies and Oreos. If you eat fewer calories than your body burns on any of those diets you will lose weight. Crazy, right? It’s true.

For all you skeptics, Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, decided to test this theory. For 10 weeks all he ate was processed Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and sugar cereals. The catch? He only ate those foods, but limited them so that he was still in a caloric deficit. The result? He lost 27 pounds. It is all about science – calories in versus calories out. If all you want to do is lose weight, calculate the number of calories you burn every day, eat 20% less calories and voila, you will lose weight regardless of the quality of food you are putting into your body.

So Why Track Your Macros?

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If losing weight is all about calories in versus calories out why bother with tracking your macros? Because, while being in a caloric deficit will result in weight loss, the quality of weight loss is very different depending on what type of calories you eat.

Instead of just counting calories, knowing how much of each macro to eat results in more fat loss.  Because, while being in a caloric deficit will result in weight loss, the quality of weight loss is very different depending on what type of calories you eat.

What IS A Macro?

Macro is an abbreviation of the word “macronutrient” which is any of the nutritional parts of food that are required in relatively large amounts for good heath: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. When you hear about someone “counting their macros,” though, it usually refers to tracking the amount of carbs, protein, and fat they consume – because those are the macronutrients that provide calories.

IIFYM

This approach to eating is also known as “flexible dieting” or “If It Fits Your Macros” or just simply “IIFYM.” IIFYM, is a method of dieting that revolves around you eating a set number grams of daily carb, protein, and fat each day. It is essentially a form of guided calorie counting.

So then, how does knowing how much of each macronutrient to eat yield better weight loss?

Most people say that they want to “lose weight,” but what they REALLY mean is they want to lose fat. Very few people actually have in their minds that they want to lose muscle or organ tissue or water weight. Those factors also make up weight on the scale, but that’s not what people want to get rid of. They want to decrease the amount of fat on their bodies while also maintaining as much lean muscle as possible. To do that, you need to have a balanced macronutrient intake.

Why is it important to pay attention to your macro intake?

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If your macro intake isn’t balanced, the quality of your weight loss suffers. For example, if you aren’t eating enough protein during a calorie deficit, your body will break down muscles to use for energy. If you aren’t getting enough carbohydrates you can feel weak and unable to perform well during workouts, because carbs are fuel! Lastly, not getting enough fat into your diet can mess with your hormones and make your weight loss stall or make it more difficult for you to put on muscle, because fats increase your growth hormones.  While you can drop weight by counting calories, we aren’t just interested in losing weight.  We want to drop fat and we want a toned, healthy body.  For that, counting calories isn’t enough.  You need to count your macros.

One problem with many diets is that they encourage you to eat fewer calories by cutting out entire food groups. “Don’t eat gluten! Don’t eat sugar! Low carb is best! Only eat clean foods!” All of these diets will tell you that certain foods are off-limits. Some people are able to cut out dairy or grains or sugar 100% and never crave another donut for as long as they live. However, many more people – myself included – shudder at the thought of never being able to eat another bowl of ice cream, or slice of pizza, or fresh baked donut again.

Donuts In contrast, with IIFYM nothing is off-limits. There aren’t “good” and “bad” foods, it’s all just food. Food is made up of certain macronutrients and you have a daily goal of how many of each macronutrient to hit. So if you want ice cream for dessert you can have it! You just have to make sure that you don’t go over your daily allotment of carbs or fat. If you fit it into your macros then it’s not a cheat, it’s not bad – it fits! If it fits your macros you can eat it without any guilt or feeling like you “cheated” on your diet. This is a sustainable way of eating.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard to eat processed junk food all day long and still fit your macros. Most of the food you consume is going to need to be traditionally healthy food like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. 80-90% of the food I eat on a daily basis is nutrient dense “healthy” food. But the beauty of IIFYM is that you can easily make room for the treats that you want AND still hit your weight loss goal.  It’s a moderate, healthy way to approach eating.

Quote Once Started You may be asking yourself, “Does tracking macros take up a lot of time and energy?”  The short answer is yes and no.  I won’t lie.  Because getting an accurate read on your macro intake requires weighing and logging everything you eat, the first couple of weeks can be fairly time intensive. However, after the first 2 weeks or so, it get much easier and faster.  I can log my whole day of eating within a matter of 5 minutes now.  So, no, it is not difficult to do once you get the hang of it.  And for me, once I started seeing the results, the counting and tracking was 100% worth it.

If I have convinced you that IIFYM is a sensible and effective way to lose weight your next question should be,

How do I start?

Ice cream First purchase a food scale so you can weigh your food in grams. It’s really the only purchase you have to make, and it is required. Yes, you can scoop out ½ cup of oatmeal but sometimes that ½ scoop will be 35g and sometimes it may be 60g and that makes a big difference when you are tracking your macros. Weighing your food may seem like a pain at first, but I promise it becomes a habit and it really doesn’t take that much extra time.

Second, start logging what you eat normally. There are many apps to use for this, but the one that I know and love is MyFitnessPal. It’s free and you can use it on any phone or computer and it’s pretty intuitive to use. Try not to change the way you are eating and log your foods for 1 week. You aren’t trying to hit any macros or calories – just learning how to weigh and log foods and getting an idea of how many calories and what ratio of macros you are currently eating.

IIFYM isnt a crash diet Last, calculate your macros. Now, there is a whole science behind setting macros so the easiest way to set your macros accurately is to hire a coach (like me!) to do it for you.  This is especially helpful if you don’t want to mess with finding the numbers for your body, you are not confident in your understanding of macros, or if you are unique in your goals, activity level, or weight loss history. But, if you want to do it for free (I get it! I am a budget-conscious momma myself!) I would start with using an online calculator. I find that the calculator on IIFYM.com is a good place to start. The calculator will ask you about your age and height and exercise routine and will give you a macronutrient breakdown to follow. For many people this will be an accurate breakdown, but if you find that the numbers aren’t working, or if you need more one-on-one help in figuring out how to hit your goals, your best bet will be to hire a coach. I can walk you through everything.

The bottom line for me is living a lifestyle that is maintainable for the long haul. IIFYM isn’t a crash diet. You don’t have to commit to never having another fresh baked cookie ever again.

You can find moderation in eating AND lose fat at the same time. And for me, THAT’S the beauty of IIFYM.