I started counting macros November 1st of 2016, and quickly— I was obsessed! It was right after this trip to Italy, which I’m sure played into my extra burst of motivation to do something new. Two weeks of pasta can take a toll. But it’s been a game-changer. It’s just made me look at food so differently and it feels like such a sustainable way to hit and maintain my fitness goals. And that feeling of sustainability is EVERYTHING– Do you know how much more productive I am when I’m not thinking or stressing about what and how much and when I should eat?!
That’s misleading because I’ll always think about the next time I eat and what it’s going to be, let’s be real… but now I have this perfect formula for my day so the STRESS and emotion is taken out. Legwork yes. But stress no. A totally worthy trade. Let’s move on.
This was my experience:
For about five years (minus a pregnancy) I’d been using intermittent fasting to help me maintain my weight and health. I’d really liked it for the most part. I would fast twice a week for 24 hours. Anyone who hadn’t done it would respond like that was crazy and impossible… NOW I AGREE!! But at the time it worked for me and made me feel good and like I could always keep my week in check without having to obsess every day about what I ate. I love to cook and eat— and I love all the carbs and treats. Let’s just get that out in the open.
But in the summer of 2016, I had a gallbladder issue and the doctor told me that fasting could have been a contributing factor. Since I kept my gallbladder, I decided maybe I should find a new “plan”… that catered to this new little problem. A friend introduced me to macro-counting (which I’d heard about but never had the slightest clue what it referred to.. anybody else?) She’d used a coach and insisted I go that route so I gave in! Which was really unlike me. I’d always thought: Of course I have tons of room for improvement, but I know how to do it, I just don’t always WANT to do it. I know I should be sticking to lean protein and veggies and limiting my carbs, and cutting out sugars and processed foods. I know I shouldn’t be eating a giant bowl of ice cream every night or baking weekly batches of cookies. I know I should be having my burgers wrapped in lettuce instead of white butter-topped homemade buns… er… maybe I should stop eating so many burgers?
But I didn’t want to. It wasn’t worth it to me– is what I’d decided. That extreme level of commitment it took to be a little leaner or fitter was out of my realm. And that meant I was more balanced. So there.
Except here is something I’ve learned about myself. I’m not balanced dang it. I think about food a lot. And I DO care if I feel gross and overfed or wake up feeling like I really took two steps back. And if that happens a few times in a week, I could feel so angry at myself and frustrated and then I’d feel like I should do something extreme… But I wouldn’t because I don’t do well at extremes, and then I’d feel like a failure all the more!
But anyway— I gave in to peer pressure and hired Amber from Biceps after Babies and was so glad I did. I LOVED USING AMBER! I felt like she just genuinely knew her stuff and was such a steady voice of reason if I was ever frustrated with the scale etc. And maybe mostly it was just kind of a game changer to be accountable to someone. Also, I wanted to know that if I was going to put in this much legwork, I had my goals lined up right. There are online calculators out there but naturally they just won’t be as customized, but I know people who have had success using them.
I used Amber for 12 weeks. I thought for sure I’d only use her for 6 to get the hang of it but then I couldn’t bare to let her go. I shared my goals with her and she gave me a custom set of macros – (macronutrient goals: how many grams of Carbs, Fat, and Protein I should eat in a day. Essentially it’s a step farther than counting your calories… which I used to think was nuts.) My goal was to hit them all within five grams. NOT to just stay below them. I think mentally this was one of the best things for me. Food was fuel– a good thing– not a habit you have to kick and something you try to BEAT and resist all day. Less wasn’t always better, I just wanted to hit MY goal for cutting a few pounds. That made it doable, and generally just a really positive experience for me, so I actually had no desire to cheat. Something about making it so mathematical took the emotion out of it so there was almost never that same sinking feeling of deprivation that comes with dieting. I skipped tracking on Thanksgiving day and once around Christmas and was anxious to get back to it the next day. I was instantly seeing subtle results and I loved waking up every morning knowing I had a plan and hadn’t set myself back the night before. It felt like this amazing, doable formula. And it could be MY food. I could build burgers and tacos and even pizzas without having to pretend lettuce was bread or a tortilla because it’s not. I could create meals I still loved and craved, as long as I hit the right combinations of everything each day and didn’t blow my carbs or fat on things that weren’t valuable enough. I was a little hungry in the beginning because that’s what supposed to happen if you’re eating less than you burn. And you’ve got to eat less than you burn if you want to shed a few right?
I’m off track.
My goal? I just wanted to lose five pounds. That would put me at a weight where I felt great, it was also the lowest weight I’d ever been as an adult. So I certainly wasn’t thinking beyond that.
THE BEST PART!
For me once Amber had me at my goal weight, we started increasing my carbs and fat each week and shockingly, I kept losing weight! I got lower than I thought I even wanted to (I can’t believe I just wrote that) while eating what felt like more than I used to… like 2400 calories by the end! Once I started gaining a little bit, we knew we’d found my maintenance. Where I wasn’t eating in a deficit (for cutting) or in a surplus (for bulking.) I settled in at a macro breakdown that adds up to around 2200 calories a day, and a weight that I’m happy with as I try to build more muscle… and I feel like I’m eating a ton! And I never have to think, “I guess I don’t need ice cream tonight, I’ll be good…” because I WANT to hit my macros and keep my body fueled for my workouts. So if I’ve planned for my nightly treat, you better believe I’m gonna eat it. And the scale won’t even know it tomorrow. It’s amazing.
YES SOMETIMES IT WAS HARD
Did I mention my start date? November 1st… right as the holidays rolled in. What was I thinking!?
Ok so I did feel like that occasionally at the beginning for sure. Especially when I’d peruse the Costco Christmas treat isles and I just wanted to cry seeing all the chocolates that just wouldn’t “fit my macros.” I felt annoyed at all of the girls who boasted donuts and pop tarts as part of IIFYM (if it fits your macros). ???? HOW is a scoop of peanut butter on top of everything she eats fitting her macros when I don’t have enough fat for a cheese stick?? Sure I could have a chocolate… even lots, but I was now aware of all of the other food I’d have to give up if I did that (assuming I wanted to hit my goals). And that just wasn’t worth it. I dreamt of having all the chocolate sitting in jars around my kitchen and just grabbing them nonchalantly because “it’s the holidays! I deserve it”… but it’s my budget and my goals. And that’s the magic with macro counting. It just keeps you totally honest with yourself.
If we were saving for a new house (that I really wanted!) and had a specific budget that allowed us to reach our down payment goal within six months, sure I might want to be like, “I deserve a new pair of shoes, I need to feel cute on a date night. It’s for the sake of my marriage. (?)” etc… but the bottom line is, if you really have a well planned out budget and you know and trust the end result of sticking to it, YOU get to decide what you value most. The shoes or the house. Yes you can have both… maybe you give into a splurge here and there and get the house a little behind schedule and maybe that’s worth it to you. Maybe you budget in the shoes and shave off some clothes for the kids (you’re awful). But once you KNOW exactly what it will take to hit your goal…. what you can’t do is pretend to be blind to the fact that the more you spend, the slower you’ll get there. And the key is making that budget realistic so you don’t just throw it out the window in frustration.
Was that analogy worth it? I don’t know. But it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post and remember how I maybe should have hired a therapist? But I didn’t and sometimes I think this kind of typing with all of my fingers instead of my thumbs is therapeutic. Thanks. 😉
Yes it’s crazy at first and there is a huge learning curve as you figure out My Fitness Pal and how to weigh everything and how you like your day divided, and how to ever get to the table while your family is still eating, and where the macros are worth it and where they aren’t. You might be used to eating a lot of food early in the day, and find you hit your macro goals too early in the evening at first and THAT’S depressing if you’re still hungry right? Or maybe you’re not a night-time eater so that’s perfect. (But you’re weird.) OR you might be like me, so afraid of running out and going to bed hungry and crying OR… throwing in the towel and taking down a gallon of dreyers….. that you hoard your macros through the day at first to make sure you’ve got plenty of room for a dinner you haven’t fully calculated yet or snacks you might want after the kids are in bed. (might – ha.) In the beginning, occasionally I’d go really light during the day to be able to eat a whole personal Blaze Pizza at night with my family etc. (Because who wants half a pizza?) And of course my huge bowl of ice cream. (Have I mentioned I pre-log my dessert before anything else. It will always fit my macros. Always.)
Either way, these early kinks work their way out and it gets so much smoother and easier. And then it really can be such a freeing feeling.
Whole foods are best. Ice cream isn’t nutrient dense. Micronutrients matter too. Eat your veggies! All of this seems to me like it goes without saying. You’ll feel better and fuller on whole, nutritious foods. And I really admire people who eat super clean all the time! Of course if I was was one of them, I would probably be so much healthier and shinier and my teeth would probably be whiter and my hair longer and more luscious with less pony-tail breakage … my house would probably be cleaner.
But for now, I love good, real, food with plenty of micronutrients and vitamins… and also plenty of flavor. And I love bread! I approach meals with some new mindful substitutions and choices that make them fit my day better … and I love that I can enjoy treats without guilt and gain.
Macros for the win.