Counting macros vs. intuitive eating
One of the great, never ending debates amongst those looking to improve their nutrition, is whether counting macros or eating intuitively works best. As always, it depends.
This means you track your daily intake of the three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In order to do so, food is weighed, then logged in a tracker such as MyFitnessPal. The calories and macro contents are then added to your daily total.
For example, if you are eating chicken for dinner, you weigh the portion and log it, along with whatever else you have in that meal. More complex meals, for example, stir-frys, need to have each ingredient tracked individually.
The calorie and each macronutrient targets set each day depend on a number of factors. Your training goals, your training experience, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and daily activity level and more.
This style of eating is based on listening to your body’s hunger signals and eating appropriately. By building a more mindful approach to food and eating, you try to become more in tune with what you need. Not nearly as hippy-dippy as it may sound, this is simply a way of relearning when you are hungry or full and eating appropriately.
With this style of eating, you have to be more aware of hunger cues and satiety cues so you don’t overeat.
For some people calculating macronutrients is second nature while others find it to be time-consuming and stressful/ boring. On the other hand, many people have success with intuitively listening to cues that signal when they are either hungry or full, and others struggle to be mindful with their eating.
On the other hand, many people have success with a more intuitive approach, listening to cues that signal when they are either hungry or full, and others struggle to be mindful with their eating.
The macro method
Counting macros can be useful for those who are trying to get really lean. Entering a physique competition, for example, requires a much lower body fat percentage than is typically sustainable. To get there, a much more focused nutritional approach is needed, and tracking can give that.
It can be great for those who wish to lose weight by more conscientiously regulating their diet or maybe just like to track numbers. It can be a useful tool for those who want to become more aware of their macronutrient intake. I sometimes find that new clients have some eye-opening moments when they track for the first time, particularly in their protein intake.
The disadvantage of counting macros is the risk of becoming too focused on numbers and losing sight of the big picture. It can become too all-consuming. If you find yourself scrutinising every single thing you eat, you might want to take a break from counting macros.
The point of this nutritional approach is to enable you to meet your goals, not become a source of stress.
The habit based method
The intuitive eating approach is great for those who want to develop a healthier relationship with food and good nutrition. Think of it as a maintenance mode for your nutritional approach, still great for losing weight but less rigid than counting everything.
Intuitive eating is a nutritional philosophy that focusses on internal cues of hunger and fullness and building habits that focus on health as well as enjoyment. This can be a much more relaxed way of eating for many people. In many cases ending the cycle of fad diets and yoyoing weight.
This way of eating changes how you think about food and hunger. By being more aware of your body’s signals and building good habits around food, you gain flexibility and reduce stress.
A 2014 study review evaluated 20 different peer-reviewed intuitive eating studies to examine the physical and psychological effects of these programs. It found that participants who were encouraged to eat intuitively were able to change unhealthy weight control behaviours, improve metabolic fitness, increase body satisfaction, and decrease psychological distress. More recently, Precision Nutritions Procoach habit based system was subject to 3 peer reviewed studies all showing significant results in weight loss, body composition improvements and more.
At the end of the day, the best approach is simply the one that you can follow consistently. There is no one size fits all method. As with many diet and training ideas, your best bet is to try different approaches to see what works best for you.