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10 Lessons I Learned Counting Macros

Posted by ReganJonesRD
May 02, 2017
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10 lessons one registered dietitian learned about herself trying the popular macro counting diet IIFYM

(This is the Part 3 of a series of posts recounting what it was like to try a popular online macro counting diet. If you haven't read the previous posts, start with Part 1 and then read Part 2.)

~by Regan Jones, RD

If you’ve made it this far reading my experience with 60 days of macro counting and my interview with Emily Field, RD, who are you and why are you such an awesomely devoted reader!?!

J/K — but seriously.

Thanks for taking the time to take all of this in. I know it’s a lot. But if it helps just one person identify with some of the things I’ve learned or one RD identify with some insights for their practice, then these last 5000+ words have been worth it. 

Now, comes the wrap up — the brain dump where I share everything I learned about macro counting and myself in this fun little experiment. And that’s what it’s been… an experiment. Not a randomized controlled clinical trial or even an official case study. This is just me, Regan, sharing what I did, what I learned and hoping it helps someone along the way. If macro counting, flexible dieting and the whole IIFYM scene isn’t for you, no worries. But thank you for letting me do me. 

10 Things Learned from Macro Counting:

1. Macro counting isn’t for lazy eaters. It requires thoughtfulness and a bit of math skills. I’m convinced “-free” diets (going “free” of some food or food group to lose weight) are so popular because they take a lot of the decision making out of choosing foods. “Decision fatigue” is a thing, so for some people, choosing what to eat based solely on what it “isn’t” or “doesn’t have” may seem easier. But it’s not necessarily healthier. With macro counting, you’re choosing foods based on what you’re hungry for and maybe, what macros you have left for the day. This last part is the “math” side of macro counting (and also, the part that would make some intuitive eating advocates cringe. Eating based on a few numbers left over in MyFitnessPal doesn’t exactly feel like letting your body do the guidance. But for me, if I chose well the rest of the day I didn’t really mind a little “boosting” of some additional macros to make everything line up numbers-wise. But that’s me.) 

2. My “hungry” is more than a rumbling in my stomach. I’m not sure where over the last 30 years of dieting I lost touch with many of my hunger cues, but I recaptured them these last 60 days. I’ve always been good “waiting” to eat until I was hungry… or so I thought. I based hunger on that internal rumbling. What I realized these last two months is that I was hungry a lot more of the time than I realized… moments when I would find myself thinking about food, craving sweet/instant energy foods, getting irritable on conference calls. Kylie (who is a strong advocate for Intuitive Eating) shares a good visual on her blog about the spectrum of hunger cues. Interestingly, on her scale “growling” shows up before irritability. I’ve found for me, that’s actually not the case. My deep internal hunger shows up last. So usually once I’m there, I’m well past being a fun person to be around. The reason I discovered this through macro counting is very honestly, based on how much more food I was eating from Day 1, I was eating at times I didn’t *think* I was hungry (i.e. the growling hadn’t started.) But I quickly realized how much better I felt when eating more and more frequently.

3. When you increase your fuel you can absolutely do more with your workouts. You guys know I’m no Crossfitter badass or power lifter wanna-be. I’m just your average 40+ mom with two kids staking out my spot 3 to 4 times per week at BodyPump. Since starting this experiment I’ve been amazed at how much more energy I have throughout my classes. One of the best compliments EVER came earlier this week when another mom in my class told me that I was inspiring her to work harder and try heavier weights, simply because she saw what I was doing. Me… totally un-athletic, not-a-badass Regan. As I’ve said, I know I’m not about to turn into this super-cut muscled up model of a woman. But I do feel stronger and more ready to tackle workouts when I’m not under-eating. You’d be amazed at what a few extra (healthy) calories can do to help fight fatigue.  

4. Eating more and working out feels so much better than eating less and being tired. This needs no further explanation.   

5. I was eating more fat and less carbs/protein than I realized. I’ve talked before about how I don’t have a fat phobia. I believe whole fat dairy can be a part of a healthy diet. I love nuts and avocados. And salmon is one of my favorite foods. But after tracking my macros I realized that I was actually leaning more heavily on high-fat foods (especially high-fat dairy), than I should if I wanted to have a balanced diet. I know some people advocate for ONLY low-fat dairy or ONLY full-fat dairy. What macro counting taught me is that I don’t want to favor either over the other. To maintain a nice ratio where I’m not getting the majority of my calories from fat and skipping out on carbs/protein, I’ve been opting for a combo of fat-free, low-fat and full-fat dairy foods and enjoying a better balance of other foods in my diet. Cheese — I love you, but you can’t be the ONLY thing I eat for snacks each day. 

6. I was drinking wine every day partly because of my hunger. Remember what I said about being cranky on conference calls? Well I was also cranky at about 4:45 p.m. I always thought that meant “Hey… It’s nearly 5 o’clock. I need a drink!” But what I realize now was it’s more like “Hey… It’s nearly 5 o’clock. I need a snack… or better yet, dinner!” As I said in my first post, macro counting is promoted as an “Eat/Drink Whatever You Want” flexible dieting plan. And at least with IIFYM, that includes alcohol. Within their plan they do a good job of explaining, rightfully so, that while drinking alcohol certainly doesn’t help boost your metabolism or promote gains in the gym, it’s not prohibited (Alcohol can have health benefits. Read more about those here). IIFYM instructs clients to account for the alcohol calories by assigning those calories as either carb calories or fat calories or a combo of the two. Remember what I said about math earlier? Case in point — When tracking macros, if you want to drink a 5-ounce glass of red wine and split it between your carbohydrates and fat, you’d estimate 125 calories, divided by 2, which gives you 62.5 calories for carbohydrate and fat respectively. Figuring the grams of each macro based on 4 calories per gram in carbohydrate and 9 calories per gram for fat leaves you with that 1 5-ounce glass of wine accounting for 15 grams of carbohydrate and about 7 grams of fat. That’s basically the equivalent of a piece of white bread with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter. I’m not likely to sit down to 2 or 3 pieces of bread every night with a couple of tablespoons of butter. So why would I drink 2 or 3 glasses of wine night after night? (Aside from the fact that you feel like you need drink after doing that math exercise, of course.) 

7. My meals don’t have to be evenly spread out through the day. I tend to eat a big breakfast and then fly through the day without stopping for a lot of eating breaks. Sure, that may be its own issue, but I’m home alone during the day and working as hard and fast as I can. It’s when I’m eating breakfast in the mornings and eating dinner together as a family at night that I want to spend time enjoying a big meal. And I’ve decided “That’s okay.” That’s what works for me. That’s what makes me happy. My time alone eating doesn’t fill me up emotionally like my time with my family does. So I don’t want to put a ton of time/effort into it. That said, going skimpy on food during the day, means I have some catching up to do at night. Conventional wisdom would tell you this is going to wreak havoc on my metabolism, but during this short experiment it hasn’t. I sometimes think even my own profession has worked so hard to come up with “helpful tricks and tips” that we’ve created a bunch of arbitrary food rules that make people feel like they “have” to eat at certain times and “shouldn’t” eat at others.

8. It doesn’t matter how late I eat. It won’t make me fat. Throw out everything you’ve read on those “get ready for your beach body today” magazine covers. That whole rule of nothing after 6pm hasn’t held a bit of truth for me, or at least not yet. Not that I was dying to be eating after dinner, but I regularly find I haven’t eaten enough protein by the end of the day. And as I just said, I really enjoy the end of the day to sit down with my family for some totally nonproductive, couch potato TV time. I’ve been using that time to round out my protein for the day with a HUGE bowl of Greek yogurt and fruit. Some nights, I’m not eating it until right before I go to sleep. And yet, I haven’t noticed any big jumps in weight that those “Never eat after dark” folks would have you believe. 

9. My sleep sucked and now it’s better. I’m not sure if I can attribute all of this to macro counting because I’ve made a lot of changes this last year that I think have helped my sleep — including quitting coffee and as mentioned earlier, drinking less wine. Those two things alone will help you sleep better if you, too, are suffering from some less than ideal sleep patterns. But what I noticed happened when I started eating more calories is that I’ve been having more vivid dreams through the night and waking up having gone through periods of much deeper sleep. This whole thing is a little difficult to describe objectively, but I can honestly say I’ve been waking up feeling more rested. 

10. There’s a whole world of people out there who want to eat right, exercise more and be healthier. Being an RD who is closed off to that world is my loss, not theirs. I know this last one is a little more philosophical that tactical, but I think it’s worth sharing, especially since I know many of you are RDs yourself. As I said in my first post, I have concerns that we as a profession are sometimes too closed off to the idea that anyone should be giving nutrition advice other than another RD. It’s true that nobody is better qualified or educated to interpret nutrition research and translate it for consumers. But it’s also true that a professional photographer is the person who is most qualified to take pictures of my children and yet, there I am with a camera in my hand every day snapping away. My point is this — there’s a lot more to be gained by meeting people where they are and being a part of the healthy eating conversation online, even if that conversation isn’t always being led by an RD.

Thanks for coming along on this journey to recap and reveal what macro counting looked like for me. I hope you enjoyed it. I would love to hear from you and know more about your struggles with a healthy weight or if you've tried any mainstream diets and how it did or did not work for you.  ~Regan   

10 lessons one RD learned from trying a macro counting diet via @healthyaperture @ReganJonesRD

ReganJonesRD

ReganJonesRD
Regan Jones is the Founding Editor and Sponsorship Director of HealthyAperture and is the author of the QUICK FIX KITCHEN Feature - a collection of recipes that focuses on shortcut cooking without shortcut taste. Her recipes largely focus on baked goods and desserts ranging from gluten free to sugar free to slightly indulgent eats for the entire family, but also include easy everyday recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Jones is a registered dietitian and owner the web's most prominent portfolio of dietitian-owned websites, including HealthyAperture.com, TheRecipeReDux.com, BlogBrulee.com and RDs4Disclosure.org.
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