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  • Writer's picturehannaholsson

My Opinion on Macros

As a holistic nutritionist who strongly believes in philosophically approaching food as traditionally as possible, I don’t love macros. I recognize that they do have their place, like if you’re experimenting to understand where you stand nutritionally or to see what your current diet is providing you. Counting macros is a tool we can use to illuminate any imbalances there may be. Macros are great for understanding portion sizes - yes, 2 cups of pistachios is unfortunately too many. Macro counting can also be used if you’re preparing for a bodybuilding show and need to get your body fat below 5% (not ideal, FYI).

A study from UCLA concluded that men and women who participated in a calorie-restricted weight loss program actually gained significantly more weight over a two-year period than those who had not participated in any program at all. 62% of American adults are overweight or obese. About half of the adult population has reported that they have attempted to lose weight in the last year. If counting calories worked, wouldn't the 45 million Americans who report being on some sort of diet be getting results by now? There are so many factors that play into this and I could happily go down this research rabbit hole forever (and I plan to!), but I am only going to touch on a few points here.

Counting macros is typically inaccurate.

No two humans are the same, and every person is unique when it comes to their ability to extract the nutrients from food they ingest. Nutrition labels can be very inaccurate, because companies just use standardized equations to estimate the nutritional quanitites in their products. Tracking macros is often inaccurate, unless you weight every morsel of food + cooking oil on a calibrated scale. There are also a variety of differences in nutrient content depending on a food's seasonality and ripeness. The government's recommended daily allowances (RDA) of nutrients are actually based on the lowest levels necessary for survival, not for optimal health.

Macros can lead to less fat consumption.

When we focus on counting macros, we often eat less fat since it is more calorically dense, and let's be real... we want to fit as many bites of food into that restricted calorie window as possible! Contrary to the popular diet fads from the 80's and 90's and currently popularized by the keto craze, dietary fats are absolutely essential to achieving robust health and optimal wellbeing. Fats require very little digestive energy to metabolize.They provide the building blocks for our cells and act as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and K that are essential for skeletal formation. Fats are necessary for proper production of the various hormones, neurotransmitters, and chemical processes that regulate virtually every process in our bodies.

Macro counting can also lead to disordered, obsessive eating habits.

Focusing on numbers turns eating a meal into a chore - if you don’t want to finish all of your sweet potato, you shouldn’t be torn between your fitness pal and what your body is trying to tell you. Our bodies are not machines, and we cannot treat them as such by thinking we can just eat according to numbers. The human body is extremely complex and all of us are unique. The latest science shows that we only understand about 150 of the 26,000+ biochemical components of the food we eat, so to think we know everything about food is simply not accurate.

What if we pretended to live 200 years ago, when calories didn’t exist and people just ate food? No confusion, no weird emotions, no guilt. Ancient civilizations revolved their entire lives around food: growing it, harvesting it, preserving it, and ensuring they had enough to survive at all times. Food traditions have been passed from generation to generation because our ancestors figured out what methods of food preparation work well for our bodies (sauerkraut, anyone?) and which ones don't (like all of my attempted pumpkin bread recipes that will never be passed down to my grandchildren because they didn't turn out well). Food is a necessary part of life and should be nourishing to our bodies and souls - not stressful.

There are pros and cons to counting macros, and there can definitely be benefits to occasionally tracking them to see what your current diet is providing you. But instead of tracking macros, I love the idea of simply tracking what foods that are consumed and how you feel before/after: fullness, energy levels, and if you have any digestive symptoms like bloating or gas. I believe that the best way to ensure optimal wellness (and weight loss) is by choosing nutrient-dense foods, avoiding processed junk food, and balancing the gut flora.


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