Is it just me, or has this year truly flown by?! I cannot believe that January 1, 2022 is only 30 days away!! This also means that it’s check-in day!
I have to admit that heading into this day, I didn’t expect much progress (luckily, consistency paid off). I took off and headed to Bama to spend time with my family for Thanksgiving, and we all know how the holidays can be. They tend to cause some disruption to our routines, which then often result in overeating and/or skipping workouts. Because I know these things, I tried to lean into the week being somewhat prepared. I planned my stops along the drive and worked in some egg white bites from Starbucks, along with a protein shake and pre-made green smoothie for lunch. I also packed a bag of food to take with me which included quick oats, 90-second rice packs, protein powder for shakes, Pop Corner chips, avocados, mixed nuts, and canned tuna. I also took a cold pack that included pre-made smoothies for the week.
While I did stick to my macros most of the time while away, I did allow myself anything my heart desired on Thanksgiving Day. I even had a piece of my mama’s butter-gooey cake that I simply cannot resist. My mama and step-dad don’t drink, so choosing a dessert over wine wasn’t a dilemma (just as I tell my clients, it’s best to choose one over the over).
Typically, when at home, I eat about 5-6 times each day. When away, I will usually have 3-4 larger meals which prevents so much time spent in the kitchen, and allows me a bit more flexibility. There is no right or wrong approach to how how many meals a person should consume each day, it all comes down to one’s schedule and preferences. For example, I typically opt for meals that consist of about 300-350 calories (give or take a bit) that are extremely nutrient dense, meaning meals that are lower in calories, but full of vitamins and minerals (for example, lots of vegetables, extra lean proteins, and healthy fats), where as when away from home and dining out more often, I will choose heartier meals made up of around 500-600 calories, that may be not so nutrient dense, like a beef burger and a potato. This approach allows me to go out to dinner with family and friends and choose a satisfying meal that will still accommodate my caloric and macro totals.
While on the subject of macros and meal flexibility, I want to offer some helpful information. The terms “flexible dieting” and “if it fits your macros” are things people often hear when looking to lose weight (or gain muscle, etc.). Unfortunately, there is a lot of information floating around on the web that can cause confusion and uncertainty.
Counting macros (macronutrients) means that a person has a set amount of carbs, protein and fat to consume each day. Macros are determined by what your body needs to support essential bodily functions. The reason for this approach is because some people tend to eat a lot more of one macronutrient, and not enough of another. Macro counting ensures that you consume the recommended balance of all three macros to accommodate your goals and daily activity. The “if it fits your macros” rule is simply that the foods you eat must fit within your macros, no foods are off limits. In other words, it doesn’t matter where those grams of carbohydrates, fat, or protein are coming from, as long as they add up to your recommended total grams by the end of the day. This is why flexible dieting is so appealing, you are free to eat whatever foods you like as long as they fit into your daily macronutrient totals, no matter if those foods are broccoli or bacon.
Unfortunately, when using this flexible approach, many people don’t take into consideration the healthfulness of a food, or important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. So although it may result in weight loss for some, it can still be an unhealthy diet if followers choose highly processed foods over whole foods that offer more nutrition. For example, majority of your fat grams may be coming from animal sources such as cheese and meats (saturated fats) rather than foods rich in healthy fats such as avocados or nuts which provide nutrients like Omega-3s, fiber, and potassium. By solely counting macros, you may have inadequate consumption of several essential vitamins and minerals, which can ultimately lead to deficiencies, and/or other health problems. It’s important to remember that not all calories are created equal: 400 calories of bacon does not provide the same nutrients or volume of food as 400 calories of salmon mixed with vegetables, which means you may need much more food to feel satisfied. When it comes to health, food quality truly matters. A diet that provides a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fats is a better choice nutritionally than fried or junk foods…even if they fit your macros. While macro counting does provide benefits, solely focusing on macros may overshadow the most important aspect of nutrition – nourishment.
Secondly, while macro counting provides awareness to how much you’re eating, the constant measuring and tracking may create some excessively strict habits, and could even promote disordered eating for some. You may not feel comfortable eating out at restaurants with friends or family over the holidays if you’re constantly worried about how you’re going to measure your food or know the macronutrient breakdown of a meal. If you are mentally preoccupied with dietary choices, to the point it’s negatively impacting your mental health, social life, and relationships, this ‘healthy way of eating’ is no longer healthy. You may also feel guilty if you don’t hit your macro goals for the day, creating more restrictions the following day. This unnecessary guilt that comes from food choices will impact you more psychologically than it will physically. Believe me, I know!
Ultimately, counting macros absolutely works for some people, it provides structure in eating specific amounts and it’s a helpful method when trying to understand portion sizes and the makeup of meals. However, proper nutrition also needs to embrace nourishment, and extends far beyond just macronutrient distribution. You can be hitting your macro numbers every single day, but that doesn’t equate to health.
So, in closing, flexible dieting and macro-counting can absolutely be a wonderful approach, and one I typically go-to when helping clients understand portion sizes and what macro percentages best accommodate their lifestyle and activity level, but ultimately, first and foremost over anything else, the foods you eat and what their made of is far more important than how much you eat. For optimal health both mentally and physically, it is best to look at the whole picture beyond just macros; finding a balance that allows you to consume foods you enjoy while emphasizing healthy meal patterns. Before jumping into any approach, it is best to work with an educated nutritionist who can guide you along your nutrition journey to help you develop the best plan that will allow you to meet your goals while taking into consideration your nutritional needs. Find someone that will create for you a nutrient dense meal plan that will accommodate your needs specifically, making certain that you are getting adequate vitamin and mineral intake, all the while, still encouraging dinners out with family and friends.