Okay, so you’re ready to start counting your food intake. But should you count calories or macronutrients? Wait - what the heck is a macronutrient?
Full transparency: as a nutritionist, I want all people, at some point, to be able to experience freedom from counting their food intake. I want people to experience and understand what “intuitive eating” looks and feels like, and know how to plan their plate to have a nourishing meal or snack.
However, I realize that getting to a point where intuitive eating in fact becomes “intuitive”, means counting calories or macros. These ways of eating also become essential if you have certain goals to hit, or live an extremely active lifestyle and need to ensure you are eating enough to sustain it.
Let’s review the pros and cons of both:
Counting calories definitely has its place, however it’s not the gold standard of weight loss anymore.
If you are just starting out on a weight loss program, counting calories may be beneficial for you to actually understand how much you are putting in your body.
Why I don’t like just calorie counting? While you might have a quantifiable number between a bag of chips and a carrot, it doesn’t take into account the nutritional value. A small bag of plain Lay’s Potato Chips are around 160 calories, and a banana is 100 calories. There may only be a 60 calorie difference, however, bananas contain next to zero fat, but a lot more vitamins and minerals than said bag of chips.
Counting macros mean that you keep track of your macronutrient intake during the day: carbohydrates, fats, protein. This can be helpful for people who:
- Don’t know what types of food they eat during the day
- Are following a specific diet (especially ketogenic or vegan)
- Are an athlete or lead an active lifestyle
- Dealing with a serious illness or autoimmune condition
Counting macros gives you a better picture of foods you are eating, and how they are used within your body. Looking to bulk up? Increase your protein. Have a big race coming up, adding more carbohydrates to your plan can help. Trying the ketogenic diet? Tracking all of your macros can ensure you enter ketosis, faster.
My preference is to count your macros - however, I also want you to be aware of the types of each food you choose. Sure you may have some carbohydrates left, but rather than stuff your face with some ice cream, I’d rather you choose fruit or starchy vegetables.
By counting macros, you become more aware of what a “balanced” plate can look like. So if you decide to stop counting one day, you’re better set to be more aware of how to build a healthy meal.