Let me start by saying I am a Nutritional Therapist. I work with clients on healing their digestion at a foundational level, with an emphasis on health and sustainability. Real food. Quality food. Enough calories. Eating until satiated. No measuring. No counting. Therefore, counting macros to have abs for a short period has never been (and never will be) my forte or cup of tea.
One of my clients recently had a bad experience with counting macros and did this guest piece for me, talking about how it was not right for her. I think it is essential to consider this when trying for that “perfect physical appearance.”
In my opinion, health is always the most important thing. The weight coming off, that is secondary and will come as your body heals.
Here is her experience:
Why Flexible Dieting/Macros Is Not Right For Me
A few months ago, I completed a paleo elimination diet for 30 days to address some digestive health concerns. I eliminated all potentially inflammatory foods and took healing supplements and exercised very little. During this time, I noticed that I had lost some weight, which was a welcome side effect of this nourishing diet!
Shortly after the elimination diet, I came across information about Flexible Dieting on the internet.
The idea is that you or a coach set your daily macronutrient ratios and calorie intake, and you log all of the food you eat in an attempt to “hit your numbers” each day. The successful before and after pictures of people who had used this method was enticing, so I decided to give it a try. I sought the services of a coach who set my macros. I could eat whatever I wanted, as long as it fits into those set macros.
I tried this method for two weeks and noticed some positive things at first.
As someone with a history of binge-eating, I noticed that I was able to eat a small handful of potato chips without binge-eating the entire bag. I also noticed that I had more energy, my brain was sharper, and I was funnier than usual. But after a week of eating this way, I realized that this surge of energy was a strange high from being malnourished, almost like a caffeine buzz on an empty stomach.
And I noticed that I was accidentally, mindlessly eating much more than a small handful of potato chips at a time. I realized that I was so excited about the idea of eating whatever I wanted,
I lost focus on what had helped me stop binge-eating in the first place: real, whole, nutritious foods.
I used the MyFitnessPal app to log my food and to eat pre-packaged processed food with a barcode to scan or nutrition information and serving sizes on the label are the most convenient foods to eat on a flexible nutrition diet. Otherwise, you need to weigh and measure all of the food you eat. This weighing is problematic for anyone with a history of an eating disorder or a tendency to obsessive behavior.
Another issue I had with this diet was the small amount of calories my coach suggested that I consume.
Here is my breakdown prescribed by my Coach:
Fat: 40-50g (approximately – I don’t remember the exact number)
The basal metabolic rate is the number of calories one would burn in a day at complete rest.
My basal metabolic rate is 1,374 calories. That BMR is the number of calories that I would need to exist each day. That is more than the calorie intake suggested by the coach, who set my numbers with the knowledge that I was Crossfitting, spinning, and walking regularly! That is not enough food for me. I also found that the allowed fat intake was so low that I barely had enough fat to cook my vegetables. And everyone knows that fat makes vegetables extra delicious.
I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which is associated with insulin resistance.
My blood sugar spikes and drops drastically when I eat too many carbohydrates at one time, especially processed, refined carbohydrates. I’ve noticed over time that my body prefers more fat over carbohydrates as a fuel source.
Fat helps the body process carbohydrates better. The macronutrient amounts set for me were higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat than I was comfortable with. This sent my body through a rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and drops.
Because I wasn’t focusing on real, whole, nourishing foods, I was getting far fewer nutrients than in my previous diet.
And the decrease in fat intake made it difficult for my body to absorb the few fat-soluble nutrients I was consuming. I felt malnourished. I felt shaky and alert, but fatigued at the same time, like that caffeine buzz on an empty stomach I mentioned before. I found much more hair in my hairbrush in the morning and noticed that my fingernails were peeling rapidly.
My mood was unstable, and my anxiety became out of control. The lack of nourishment was affecting my mental health and my body’s systems. I quickly realized that this way of eating was not for me.
I decided to say goodbye to the turkey bacon and 2-second coconut oil sprays and return to my beloved bacon and ghee.
Within a day, I started to feel better! While tracking nutrients and calories occasionally may be helpful to get a general idea of what you are consuming, the daily measuring and tracking is not right for me and may not be right for everyone.
Here is a quick reference to why flexible dieting may not be all it’s cracked up to be:
- It is not flexible in its numbers depending on varying amounts of exercise from day-to-day
- It lacks focus on whole, real, nutrient-dense foods
- A coach setting your numbers might not be a certified nutritionist and may not know to take any health issues you may have into consideration
- You may not be giving your body enough calories to function at its best
- You may not be giving your body enough fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins
- You may be giving your body too many carbohydrates than it needs which could lead to inflammation
- Real bacon is way better than turkey bacon!
Her insight and body awareness are quite inspiring.
I don’t understand how someone with no nutritional education can prescribe nutrition, but that is common now. Those success stories and before/after pics? I’d like to know what happens after the after? Like when the person actually starts consuming enough calories again?
It worries me that people fall into these quick fix traps, that are never sustainable for health. Some Macro coaches boast about eating GMO filled crappy cereal to get their carbs in. To me, this is not healthy.
Why is macro counting not for ME?
Many advocates of IIFYM pay no attention to food quality.
I see a lot of bragging about eating industrial/factory foods. Yes, you can eat processed food and look good if you are counting your macros. I get that. However, In my opinion, food sourcing and quality is almost everything. I genuinely believe that ignoring food quality, we are destroying our planet and our health.
When you are young and don’t have inflammatory disease processes YET due to leaky gut from years of eating factory foods, it’s easy not to understand this. Food quality matters. It just does. Gut health/gut integrity is everything; well, almost everything (sleep and stress are both high up there).
Unless you’ve had your gallbladder removed, been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, or struggled with joint pain, irritable bowels, fatigue, skin issues, etc., you may not understand. Sometimes even with these and many other conditions, you still won’t understand.
I’m definitely the minority in my thinking. I’m okay with that. If I can change one person’s way of thinking, I have made an impact. The disregard for food quality is probably my biggest issue with this approach.
Obsessing and counting.
I like to eat. I love good food! Eating paleo/primal/ancestral (whatever you call it), makes it easy for me to remain fit and healthy and believe it or not, I DON’T obsess over my food. I love this about my lifestyle. I don’t need or crave packaged foods. It wasn’t always easy, but regaining my health was/is my priority.
Sometimes I follow a more strict paleo or Autoimmune protocol so that I can re-set myself (like I’m currently doing) if I notice I have become more sugar adapted or my autoimmune symptoms flare-up.
That takes a little more thought/fine-tuning. However, counting macros (how many exact grams of proteins, fats, and carbs I consume) every day would create for me a disordered way of thinking and obsession over food—not healthy.
For me, health and sustainability win every time. No diet can beat eating real food!
I completely agree – your friend reminds me of me. Having the same problem with my relationship to food, so far I am doing well with the starts of definite keto. Did the lowcarb wrong before (no surprise) and had bad sideeffects.
Not obsessing over food…. Wish I could do that. However I do admire you a lot. You truly spoke my mind. Thanmd.
I totally agree. That is the concept of my nutritional counselling for my patients. Unfortunately, so many have been fed so much misinformation about diet, weightloss and health and the quick fix promises of the media. that they are not looking for sustainable, they are mostly looking for fast, easy solutions.