Ask Keri: I see a lot of people posting about counting macros. What exactly does that mean and will it actually help me lose weight and get lean?
Keri Says: Tracking what you eat can be a helpful tool for weight management, but there isn’t any strong research to suggest that counting macros will offer greater weight-loss results than other calorie-counting diets. The same pitfalls of counting calories also apply to counting macros — it’s tedious, hard to sustain, and ignores food quality. You may know, I’m not a big calorie counting fan.
Unlike some popular diets today, macro counting doesn’t eliminate or demonize a single macronutrient group. Fans of this diet approach argue that it provides flexibility, as you can still enjoy your favorite foods as long as they fit into your macro and calories goals (#IIFYM).
When you’re counting macros, you’re calculating and monitoring how many grams or calories you consume from three macronutrients (aka macros) — carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Specific target numbers will depend on sex, age, physical activity and weight and fitness goals, but the premise is the same — properly portion how much protein, carbs, and fat you eat each day and you’ll achieve your desired weight.
Counting Macros Lacks Evidence
With any form of calorie restriction, you’ll probably see weight-loss at least in the short-term. But, there isn’t evidence to suggest that specifically monitoring macronutrients will provide greater weight-loss benefits. A 2012 meta-analysis of randomized control trials found that both low-carb and low-fat diets produced similar weight-loss results. Similarly, a 2-year clinical trial randomly assigned participants to four different reduced-calorie diets varying in macronutrient composition; however, they did not find any clinically meaningful differences in weight loss.
What macro counting does do is ensure that you’re consuming all three macronutrients — they all play a different and vital role in your health. But you don’t need to count macros to make sure you’re getting enough. What’s easier — just look at your plate! Fill it up with healthy veggies including lots of greens, high quality lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats should be enough to achieve a healthy balance. Just be mindful of those portions.
Counting Macros is Not Sustainable
Counting macros may not offer additional weight-loss benefits when compared to calorie-counting, but it probably will add additional stress. While there are apps and fitness trackers that can help you monitor your macro intake, it still requires a lot of legwork on your part. Calculating, planning, and tracking your macros every day can be time-consuming and difficult to sustain over time. Plus, monitoring your intake can promote an unhealthy obsession with food and induce stress and anxiety. Healthy eating needs to be fun and enjoyable if you’re going to stick with it for the long-haul.
Counting Macros Ignores Food Quality
While this dieting approach takes macronutrients into account, it still ignores essential micronutrients and overall food quality. Eating 100 grams of carbs from bagels, chips, and cookies will not provide the same health benefits as eating 100 grams of carbs from whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. Research shows that quality, not just quantity, matters when it comes to your diet’s impact on your overall health. One randomized controlled trial found that participants gained weight on an ultra-processed diet and lost weight on an unprocessed diet — even though the diets were matched for calories and macronutrients. So what you are putting in your body matters. Not all calories are created equal.
The Bottom Line
There’s nothing magical about this diet approach aside from creating a calorie-deficit and ensuring you’re consuming all three vital macronutrients. And, really, what’s so magical about that? For many, calculating and monitoring macronutrient intake will just cause unnecessary stress and be difficult to maintain.
Rather than putting stress on yourself to track every bite you take, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods and listen to your hunger and fullness queues, which will naturally produce a healthy weight and provide essential nutrients for overall health.