Counting macros. IIFYM. Macro plans. Personalized macros.
Have you heard about it? Is it just my Pinterest and Facebook ad feed or do you also see an advertisement for counting macros or personalized macros every time you look at your computer?
It’s usually accompanied by some fitness model with sculpted abs. She looks lean. She looks strong. She looks fierce. She may also be holding a dumbbell in one hand and a burger in the other. Food freedom at its finest, she promises.
Gone are the days of starving yourself or eating boring food to look like her. You really can eat anything–I mean anything–and still get the long sculpted muscles you desire. After years, decades, of gulping shakes, chicken breasts and egg whites, we are now promised that we can eat pancakes covered in peanut butter, almost any food from a fast-food or chain restaurant (and your eating out guide will be included in the $47 package—it’s a $97 bonus added on if you purchase now!) and even doughnuts! Yes! Doughnuts from an (always affiliate linked) protein doughnut company which will mail a bakers dozen of magical high protein doughnuts directly to your door (use my discount code at checkout!).
A few years ago, and as my two children were going from toddlers to pre-schoolers, I was introduced to the concept of counting macros or IIFYM. It may have been YouTube first. Twenty-something bikini models were filming full–days-of-eating and I was hooked.
They filmed themselves waking in some loft apartment, usually close to a beach, fixing coffee with a tablespoon of sugar-free creamer and a breakfast of a no-carb pancake (made by mixing protein powder with egg whites). With long pointed fingernails, they showed how they effortlessly swiped to add that tablespoon to their My Fitness Pal account on their phone and weighed the protein power to the gram. Then they’d show some video montage of them lifting heavy weights in a gym with their friends before heading to Chipotle where they’d order everything on the side and weigh each ingredient on a portable food scale. And then they’d chow down.
So much food going down these lean, fit bikini models.
An afternoon protein-rich snack and dinner would similarly be filmed. The day would culminate in them meeting their macro-counting bikini-model friends at a frozen yogurt shop where they would, once again, pull out their portable food scales and weigh every ounce of yogurt and M&M topping.
See, with IIFYM you can be a bikini model and eat M&Ms — exactly 12 M&M. No more. No less. Twelve. The grams of the perfect dozen M&Ms had been memorized and imputed into My Fitness Pal accounts earlier that day and these women obviously knew what they were doing.
And then they’d give the disclaimer that their macros were theirs and worked for their bodies and if I wanted macros for me, I could send payment to them and they’ll be in touch right away.
Oh I was in. I wanted frozen yogurt and protein pancakes. I wanted 12 M&Ms. I wanted those abs.
So I researched. I studied. I found online calculators and I paid for personalized macro plans.
I ordered protein powders, bars, protein pancake mixes, and jugs of flavored egg whites. I became proficient in using My Fitness Pal and my food scale. I prepped baked chicken and learned to portion out exactly 113 grams of COOKED chicken (let’s just settle this cooked vs. uncooked debate once and for all) with a side of sweet potatoes, broccoli and 2 tsp.( exactly 9.1 grams worth) of coconut oil in 5 Pyrex dishes for my workweek lunches. I studied online nutritional information of several restaurants and knew all of the places I could get grilled chicken breast.
On the plus side, I think that I was able to eat more, nutritionally dense foods. There were times I was downright full. Also, it made me be more aware of the macronutrients of foods, focusing on protein and trying to reach a threshold amount, versus limiting overall calories. But the downside was….
Sometimes, on a hungry day, I’d blow through my macros by like 4:00. But mostly, it f’d with my mind and took over my life.
This is my experience so no-one needs to get their Gymshark leggings in a wad over this. You like your macro plan? Good for you. This is my experience.
I spent all of my time planning and researching and calculating and recalculating and looking foods up on line and watching YouTube video vlogs and buying protein foods. I watched the scale go up a pound and feel bloated and down two pounds and then up 2 pounds and then down three pounds.
Mostly it was the needing to know the macro counts and weight in grams of every bite. Like my Weight Watcher days, I stopped wanting to attend a spontaneous lunch out with a co-workers. Non-chain restaurants or dinner with my husband or friends scared me and I found myself happy when my husband worked late through dinner–it was easier on my own.
My goal every day was to hit my protein goal and come within 5 grams of my carbohydrate and fat grams and it was like, that was all my brain could handle.
I found the extra protein left me feeling bloated and I was sometimes forcing myself to eat. Other days, the macros were not enough and I was hungry, eating a bit more and then trying to work out more the next day. Often, I found myself at the end of the day needing to eat 30 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fat, looking at my refrigerator and thinking what the hell am I supposed to eat?
My husband was working late. I was home alone with two small children and trying to measure out the ingredients for yet another egg white omelet to the gram. I was alone. I was lonely. No one was offering to meet me at a frozen yogurt shop with a food scale and 12 M&Ms.
My body physically didn’t feel well and yet I ignored it because the “expert macro coach” or calculator obviously must know more about my body’s chemistry and needs.
Maybe the worst part was that despite all of that effort, I hadn’t lost any weight. My weight just went up and down and up and down with not an ab to be seen.
The real kicker though came on a Sunday afternoon when my husband said, let’s take the kids to the park and grab dinner afterwards. Grab dinner? Grab dinner where? I can’t just grab dinner, I ‘explained.’ Where are we going? I need to know NOW (i.e., at 1:00 in the afternoon) where we are going so that I can look all nutritional information up online, calculate and plan.
Why wasn’t he supporting my fitness and health goals? Didn’t he understand? I can’t just grab dinner. Where? Where are we going? I demanded.
Um, Pei Wei, he replied before he hurried to get away from me.
Okay, Pei Wei. I can handle Pei Wei as I sat down to google “Pei Wei Nutritional Information.” I got this. If I get the chopped chicken salad with no dressing, that will give me 22 grams of protein but leave me enough carbs to split an order of pot stickers. But what if he wants to get edamame? Crap. Okay, if he orders the edamame, I’ll have half and then cut out the graham cracker I was going to have on my greek yogurt tonight.
I think at this point one of my children called for me and I shushed them. Mommy was calculating. I’ll look at your art later.
We got to the park and while there, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with my beautiful family, I kept calculating and recalculating those damn potstickers and edamame. Is the salad going to even be any good if it doesn’t have dressing?? I don’t care. The macros fit. The salad is going down no matter what.
So off we went for our pleasant family day at the park.
The woman in the picture is thinking:
(A) I love being at the park with my two beautiful children;
(B) I wonder what I can do to make the world a better place for my two beautiful children; or
(C) If I have a chopped chicken salad and dip my fork in the dressing and then have one pot sticker and seven pods of edamame, how many chocolate chips can I still put on my Dannon Greek yogurt tonight?
Answer: (C). Bonus points for you if you were able to answer that she would be able to have 8 regular sized chocolate morsels or 20 mini. If that’s the case, you are obviously a macro counter. If you’re wondering why she didn’t just bring her food scale to Pei Wei to weigh the edamame, you can exit this post right now, proceed to Instagram and enter contests to win a case of protein pudding.
And then the unimaginable occurred.
Pei Wei was closed.
And my husband, obviously not understanding the gravity of the situation, said, well let’s go to Panera.
Just like that, he said, let’s go to Panera. Like, oh let’s just take a walk or renovate the kitchen or have another baby.
Panera? I haven’t looked up Panera! I don’t know what to get at Panera. I don’t have enough carbs left. How can I do Panera?
I reached for my phone as my husband started inching towards the strip mall down the street. I was frantically trying to look up Panera’s macros but, Uhgh!, I didn’t have a good enough signal.
We walked in, me with a toddler on one hip, my mom bag thrown over a shoulder, and a phone in the other hand as I was frantically trying to use a thumb to find Panera’s public Wi-Fi signal. I found myself being shuffled through a line and immediately confronted by a smiling expectant teen boy calling me Ma’am and asking what I wanted.
What I wanted? What I wanted was macro information. Macros. Yes, I know I could have asked for a brochure with a list of every item available with a corresponding chart telling me how many calories, grams of fat and milligrams of cholesterol, but I felt the pressure to answer immediately as my husband was scouting for a table and a family of 5 behind me was ready to order as soon as I was ready.
So I did what I always did in a restaurant ever since I had started down my dieting journey in my Weight Watchers days. I ordered a plain garden salad, with grilled chicken, dressing on the side, hold everything. It was the safest bet. Dry grilled chicken. Dry salad. Dip your fork in the non-fat dressing. Avoid anything creamy. Order a diet coke and that will help curb the hunger.
I don’t think I even enjoyed the salad and dry chicken. Panera’s salads are not meant to be ordered dry, dressing-less, cheese-less, or otherwise adorned. But that old fear of eating out, eating off plan, eating without knowledge was back. I was mad. I was a little bitter. I was hungry and I was eyeing the discarded crust of my son’s grilled cheese.
As I sat there, I saw my family. I thought about the experience I should have been enjoying and yet was missing out on. And then I noticed my daughter, experimentally dipping her apple slices in milk. She might have been a bit too young at this moment to notice her mother’s plate or wonder what was going on, but how long would that last? When would she start to notice the same way I once noticed my own mother’s Slim Fast shakes and Nutrisystem boxes. I was dieting. No matter how you cut it or how many grams of protein I was allotted, or what kind of protein stuffed breakfast sandwich I could make the next day to show on Instagram, I was dieting. The old behaviors were back.
I’m not trying to get on a soap box and preach to everyone that macro counting is bad. I’ll tell you right now I’m still incredibly skilled with My Fitness Pal and regularly track how my intake is lining up. I play with the numbers a little, I take notice of them, notice how they make me feel, notice what makes me hungrier, notice how they affect my current body goals. Sure, I generally (emphasis on generally) track what I’m eating when I can. But what I am done with is having some outside source, be it a website calculator, a coach, an Instagram macro counting account, or an app tell me or limit me to what I should eat on any given day.
Macro counting has a huge following and it’s not hard to find pictures of incredibly fit looking women showing off abs and large bowls of oatmeal covered in peanut butter and a side of colorful berries, protein bars and deli wraps. They brag about not cutting out any food groups, how it cured their food obsession and eating disorders, fuel their muscle building workouts and how they think of it as a little game, sort of like Tetris on an app.
That might be their experience. I totally get it. But for me, it caused exactly the opposite. Macro counting or IIFYM caused food obsession more than any other diet had. That was my experience.
I’ve also explored some of those accounts which promote macro counting with offers of coaching while showing pictures of large deli-style sandwiches and bowls of protein ice cream. I’ve heard one popular macro coach tell a client who had similar concerns about eating out with her husband that she could just drink water instead of eating and just eat when she got home. Having food at a restaurant was just a thought, she explained. Another showed how when she purchased the large deli sandwich, she would immediately go home, take the sandwich apart to separately weigh every ingredient and component separately because God forbid the Subway boy put 2.8 oz of turkey in the ‘wich instead of the promised 3.
But they eat carbs!
If that works for them, that’s fine. My days of ordering water when I’m hungry on date night are over.
I have rules that I follow. They are rules that, with experimentation, work for me, my lifestyle, my goals and my particular tastes. My rules are specific to me and work for me because I came up with them…for me. Yep, I personally have cut out a food group and it has worked wonders for me. Mentally, physically, socially. Wonders. I don’t consider it restriction. I personally consider having just water on date night with my husband restriction. To each her own.
My rules do NOT include:
- Just drinking water at a restaurant when I’m hungry or being afraid to eat food just because I do not know the nutritional value at that moment in time
- Weighing my food in front of my daughter
- Looking to a coach, social media commenter or anyone else to validate my choices based on what they think I should eat, not eat or not write about.
Once I made these decisions, made my rules, and learned to follow my rules, that’s when I saw results manifest in my physical appearance, results that have not waivered for over three years now. I lost a good 10-12 pounds once I stopped that traditional IIFYM routine and since learning to follow my rules, and have stayed within 2 pounds of my current weight. No yo-yo. No fluctuations. No so called cuts, reverses, bulks, staggered calories, low or high carb days or whatever. Just consistency and peace.
This is what I help my clients do. I don’t give my clients my rules. I don’t give them macros or meal plans. I don’t teach them to do Keto or low carb or tell them they can’t eat Keto or low carb or cut out a food group of trigger food or hell, count macros. I don’t try to make them feel bad if they know deep down inside that a certain food or food group doesn’t work with their body. I don’t tell them they have to cut out a food group. I don’t set caloric limits. I also don’t tell them that they CAN’T track calories. Nope, I don’t tell them what to do.
Keto , Carnivore, Plant-Based, Tracking, Intuitive, Paleo, Whole 30, Points, Macros, Total Carbs, Net-Carbs, High Protein, Low Protein, High Fat, Low Fat, Intermittent Fasting, OMAD…..
All of those words above have one thing in common. They come with rules and it’s usually someone else’s rules. Someone else’s rules means dieting. Are you tired of dieting according to someone else’s rules? You can do any of those “way of eating” listed above while still following your rules. That’s what I help my clients do.
If you’re done with chronically dieting, working out and trying to follow someone else’s program, but you still want results, let’s talk about following your rules.