These days you would be hard pressed not to run across a post on Instagram or Facebook about tracking macros and calories. Usually the post portrays a woman with a six pack and promises that you can eat whatever you want and get that body. Before I get started on my rant let me make myself clear. I am a nutrition coach and I do use macros for a specific reason with my clients but I am also frustrated at some of the messages that these posts can send when taken out of context. I am a fan of macro tracking from a scientific standpoint and think it is an amazing teaching tool for people who are new to paying attention to what they eat but I do believe that it can turn into an obsession and cause the beginning of a potentially unhealthy relationship with food.

For those who are new to this topic, tracking macros means that someone keeps track of their calories and more specifically, the amount of carbs, fat, and protein they consume. Does it work? Hell yes it works! I am not someone who does not believe in the process or the science or I wouldn’t use it with my clients. If done properly I believe that teaching someone how much they need to be eating based on some biomarkers, lifestyle, profession, activity level, etc. can be an extremely helpful experience.

For instance, one of my recent clients trains at Orangetheory Fitness Gainesville about 4-5 days a week. She wanted to make sure she was properly fueling for this and her life in general. I had her track her food intake for a week so I could see where she was in terms of her food intake. In doing so, we found that she was not eating nearly enough. From there we put her on a reverse diet where we built her up to maintenance calories and then eventually did a small cut to get her to some aesthetic goals she also had. In the end she had more energy, performed better in the gym, slept like a baby, and even lost a few pounds with some nice abs to show for it. Now, she knows what she needs to fuel and thrive and feel her best and has slowly started pulling away from tracking to focus more on intuitive eating and listening to her body. In this case, macro tracking served its intended purpose.

Unfortunately sometimes things do not go that smoothly with tracking your calories and food intake. It starts out with good intentions and a client will see success only to find that he or she is suddenly obsessed with food and is unable to relax or even enjoy social situations involving food, “I’m sorry, I cannot eat that cake because it does not fit my macros”. While I totally understand if someone might need to be at a certain body fat percentage before a big show, I think it is more important to try to heal your relationship with food before putting yourself in such a rigid restrictive mindset. We all know what happens when we restrict right? We cut all kinds of foods out, lose weight, and then we rebound because we want what we have forbidden ourselves from enjoying. Not a fun place to be. Let’s go over the pros and cons of tracking…

Pros of tracking calories/macros:

1. Accountability – it is a great tool to make sure you are fueling properly and eating the right amounts of carbs, protein, and fats that your body requires.

2. Teaching Tool – for beginners it is an amazing way to teach someone how to eat the right amount and types of food for their specific needs especially if there is a specific goal that someone has (ie. prepping for a bikini competition).

3. Intuitive Eating – it is a very helpful step 1 for someone who has a goal to learn how to eat intuitively. It allows someone to learn to fully trust that it will be ok if they eat the foods they crave.

Cons of tracking calories/macros

1. Longevity – it is not something that anyone really wants to do for the rest of their lives. Who wants to have to track every bite they put into their mouths forever? Not me! It gets tedious and takes the fun out of social situations involving food as well and leads to binges and guilt feelings in the long run.

2. Obsession – tracking can cause an unhealthy obsession around food and lead to restriction and then bingeing if someone does not have a healthy relationship with food going in.

3. Lack of balance – so much of what is out there related to macro tracking focuses on the theory that “if it fits your macros” you can eat it. This does not take into account the micronutrients that your body needs. We can fit all kinds of non-whole foods into our macros but we will likely feel like complete shit without eating whole foods 80-90% of the time.

Tracking macros can be healthy or unhealthy depending upon who you are but the most important thing is that before we start any plan or any sort of change in our nutrition, we need to make sure our mindset is where it needs to be in order to see lasting success. Starting a diet or changing your nutrition will end up back at ground zero without first starting with your relationship with food.

If you struggle with restriction and bingeing, excluding certain foods because they are “bad”, or you have tried every diet in the book only to fluctuate back to your beginning weight or higher, it is time to first consider getting help to improve your relationship with food. Books like Intuitive Eating, Health At Every Size, and The Fuck It Diet are great places to start and there are many therapists that help with this issue as well. So, before you decide to start tracking macros make sure your mind is right otherwise it will be like putting a bandaid on an open wound that needs stitches my friend. Happy eating!