We talk about “tracking macros” all the time- but what does it mean, and why do I find it so important?
Better yet- why did I stop tracking macros if I recommend it so much?
Why do we track macros?
“Tracking macros” is a fancy way of saying you are logging everything you eat and keeping track of your protein, fat, and carb totals.
As you can see by this graphic, macronutrients are the things in food that contain calories. If a food has 10 grams of protein, that 10 g of protein are always going to equate to 40 calories, because each gram of protein contains 4 calories.
If you’ve ever wondered why someone hasn’t come out with a 100 calorie snack that is packed with 50 grams of protein, that’s why. It’s physically impossible.
Okay, but why would we track these? Why not just count calories?
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I like to use analogies, and I find this one to be very helpful.
In my eyes, counting calories is just like taking a cross-country road trip with no planning. You just get in the car and drive.
You’re going to get there eventually, but the trip will not be as efficient as it could be.
Counting calories alone will help you hit weight goals. A caloric deficit will lead to weight loss, and a caloric surplus will lead to weight gain. But that’s where it starts and ends.
Tracking your macros (your fat, protein, and carbs) takes it one step further.
When you keep track of your macros, you make the journey as efficient and effective as possible based on your goals.
If you plan a cross-country trip ahead of time, you’ll be able to make the most of the drive. You’ll see sights that interest you, eat food you want, stay in great hotels, etc.
Instead of just going from point A to point B, you’re maximizing the trip based on what’s important to you.
That’s what tracking macros does for your weight goals.
If the goal is to lose fat, you want to be in a caloric deficit. But if we assume you also want to hold onto as much muscle as possible to focus on FAT loss- that’s where tracking macros comes into play.
It’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need to do either. You can certainly make progress without tracking your food, especially if you don’t have any specific weight goals.
My experience tracking macros
I can’t give you an exact number, but if I had to estimate, I’d say I tracked macros consistently for about 6 years.
And by consistently, I mean that I rarely took a day off. Of course, there were nights out, holidays, and vacations, and I took some time off tracking for those. But otherwise, I tracked everything I ate.
To be honest, I enjoyed it very much. To me, it was like solving a puzzle every day. I’d eat various foods and try to get as close as I could to hitting the goals I set out for myself.
Over the 6 years or so that I tracked, I didn’t necessarily have specific goals in mind. But tracking macros provided me with quite a few benefits:
- It helped me to establish a baseline understanding of what food consists of. Now, I have a great sense of what I’m consuming when I’m eating out and don’t have nutritional information available to me.
- It led me to know what works best for ME. I experimented with a lot of different macro targets, and I learned what leaves me feeling best.
- I can now estimate portion sizes. From weighing out and measuring my food for years, I can now very easily eyeball my portion sizes and have it be fairly accurate.
- It helped me to understanding flexible dieting. By breaking food down into macros, it shows you very quickly how there truly is no such thing as a “bad” food. One of my favorite things to do is create macro comparisons to illustrate that point!
- It led me here: educating you on not only macros, but nutritional as a whole. It truly helped me set a foundation for my nutriton education.
If tracking macros has been so beneficial for me, why stop?
Why you shouldn’t track macros
When you become accustomed to tracking, it becomes second nature. It’s basically a habit.
For me, it never reached unhealthy levels. But for many, tracking can lead to obsessive behavior.
At the end of the day, tracking macros is a tool.
Just look at exercise as an example. There is no “best” form of exercise, and everybody is different. You may love running, but I despise it. I love powerlifting, but that may not be the route you choose to take.
Much like there are countless ways to approach exercise, there are countless ways to approach nutrition and dieting.
Tracking macros is just one of many tools. An effective tool for me, but that may not be the same for you.
If you’re unsure if tracking macros is right for you, check out this post breaking down why it may NOT be for you.
Tracking macros should not be obsessive
If you can’t enjoy a family party because you’re too preoccupied with the fact that you have no idea what is in the food, it becomes an issue.
Or if you’re asked out on a date and decline because the restaurant doesn’t have nutritional information available, that’s an issue.
Tracking macros should never be a stressor in your life. It’s a tool to help you, not hurt you. If you find it becoming obsessive, I highly recommend you go a different route.
Why I stopped tracking macros, and what I do now
I truly believe that tracking macros is the best thing I did for my health journey.
But I can also confidently say that stopping was the second best thing I did.
November 1st, 2019, I decided to go on a journey I called “No Track November.”
It’s exactly what it sounds like: I stopped tracking macros for the entire month of November. As someone who had consistently tracked for many years, I wanted to prove to everyone else out there that it’s not a danger to stop. In fact, it’s beneficial.
The biggest concern that macro trackers have is that once they stop, they’re suddenly going to lose control of their weight. If they’re not hitting their goals, how will they stay on track?
I didn’t track a single thing I ate for the entire month of November, and I weighed myself every single day as a test.
While my weight fluctuated throughout the month (as it always does) my average weight remained perfectly consistent.
Once the month was over, I didn’t want to go back to tracking macros. Now here we are over a full year later, and I still haven’t tracked macros.
- When I stopped tracking, I started eating more intuitively and mindfully, which is something I had neglected previously. When we track, we tend to only eat to hit our targets, and we stop listening to our body cues.
- We’re creatures of habits and we generally eat the same food each day. Occasionally I’ll log my food to see where I’m at, and my macros & calories are almost always right around the same. I eat very similar meals day in and day out, and that’s the case for most people.
- I never wanted to be reliant on tracking. It is not meant to be something we do forever. Remember I said it’s a tool, and tools are meant for specific jobs. This isn’t a Swiss army knife that you’re going to keep with you at all times for the rest of your life. Use it for a while, put it away, and then you can always come back to it.
- I have no specific weight goals right now. If I ever want to lose or gain a specific amount of weight, I’ll likely turn to tracking. But for now, I have no weight goals, so it’s totally okay if my weight fluctuates a tiny bit. That’s normal!
- I love the freedom I now have. When I go out to eat, I don’t even have to try to estimate the macros or calories. Whereas previously I would be tempted to try to make sure I stayed within my macros, now I live much more freely.
Plus, tracking macros can get really damn time consuming.
Look, if you love tracking macros, please don’t take this as me telling you that you need to stop. You certainly do not!
However, if you’ve been tracking for a while and you have no specific goals in mind, I highly recommend attempting to stop and seeing how it treats you. I gained so much from tracking, but I gained just as much by stopping.
It can be hard to stop. Trust me, I get it. It becomes a habit, and it becomes a part of you. It sounds silly, but it’s true.
I recommend doing what I did: turn it into a challenge. Maybe you don’t want to give up tracking for a full month- that’s okay! Try a week. Or, give up tracking on weekends.
Once you go through a period of time without tracking your food and you realize that you end up in the same exact position, you may very well shift towards stopping all together.
I will absolutely go back to tracking when I need to use it as a tool. But for right now, it is not a tool I need, and I feel much better not using it.
New to tracking macros and still a little bit unsure of what to do? Check out these quick tips: