When it comes to nutrition, the first thing most people and many nutrition programs look at is the number of calories you intake. And many take it a step further by measuring not just how many calories, but where each of those calories is coming from, aka “counting macros”.
It IS important to know where your calories are coming from – proteins, carbohydrates or fats – the macronutrients, or “macros” as they are commonly called. Each macronutrient and the percentage of it in your diet plays a different, and important, role in providing energy, promoting recovery, assisting in weight gain or weight loss, and even controls things we don’t necessarily see or notice on the outside like maintaining healthy insulin levels, promoting or reversing chronic, preventable diseases like diabetes, and more.
So yeah, counting macros are an important part of any nutrition plan, but doing so is sort of an advanced step in the process and one that many people jump on board with too quickly. And, like everything, it has it’s pros and cons.
The Role Lifestyle Plays in Reaching Nutrition Goals
When WE talk to people about nutrition, we also put a huge focus on addressing lifestyle factors FIRST – sleep, MICROnutrients (nutrients other than macros), healthy eating habits like not eating in front of a screen and not eating too quickly, managing stress and other things that need to be dialed in before worrying about fine-tuning with counting macros. These things are probably MORE important in building long-lasting nutrition habits that will get you to reaching your goals and not yo-yoing back to wherever you came from in the first place. There are a few reasons these things must be addressed first.
Basic Habits = Lifelong Habits = Success
The first is that they are basic, lifelong habits that you will need to continue for long-term success, even after you are done “dieting”. If you can’t manage these things and keep them under your control, nothing else you do will make a lasting effect. For example, it doesn’t matter what your macro count is if you aren’t getting enough sleep. People who don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis are more likely to be overweight and face other health issues due to higher levels of cortisol among other things . Counting your macros isn’t going to address these problems and becomes a moot point very quickly.
Lifestyle Habits Can Control What We Put in Our Mouths
Lifestyle factors can also affect how hungry we feel or the types of foods we reach for. For example, some people, when stressed, eat more than they should, and oftentimes what they reach for are fatty or sweet foods. And some people forget to eat or don’t feel hungry when they are stressed. Counting macros is great unless you feel too hungry or too full to fulfill your prescribed amount each day, or your life stress causes you to be stressed about your macros and self-sabotage, and that’s when things start to fall apart with the plan.
Another example is cooking at home. There’s a reason for the saying, “the more you cook, the better you look.” People who cook most of their meals find more success with their goals than people who eat out because they know they are putting quality ingredients into their food and they can be more selective about what they cook versus trying to make healthy choices from a not-so-healthy menu. And, when you eat out socially with friends, it’s more likely you will make poor choices as far as food (sharing that appetizer or having a few of your friend’s fries) and, of course alcohol consumption. So if you’re in the habit of eating out for many of your meals, it is going to be especially hard to nearly impossible to maintain momentum toward your goal. Those are just a couple examples but there are many daily factors that can promote or derail a nutrition-based goal.
The Role of Keystone Habits in Reaching Nutrition Goals
The third reason is the idea of building upon “keystone” habits. Keystone habits are habits that, when changed, set off a chain reaction that extends to all aspects of a person’s life because they start a process, that, over time, transforms everything because other habits follow suit. Many lifestyle habits, like eating as a family have been shown to be highly correlated with other good habits like the nitty gritty nutrition ones like following your macro prescription.  But if you don’t have those keystone habits in place, new habits you are trying to instill quickly fall apart.
So you see, although it seems logical, there is much more to a nutrition plan than simply counting macros. In order for you to find success with that step, you must first address the things that will keep you from following your macro prescription. Even people with the “same” body type and goals might not be prescribed the same plan. So before you just hop on the web and calculate your own plan, you should really consider sitting down with a nutrition coach and talking about YOUR goals, lifestyle and the plan that will work for you and that will likely include addressing some lifestyle factors BEFORE the actual amount of food you are consuming.
The topic for this article came from a Facebook Live event that our Invictus Nutrition team hosted. You can check out the whole event here. If you have questions about your nutrition plan or would like to join the Invictus Nutrition Program, please let us know by contacting our coaches, Connor and Jenn.
- Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business.February 2012.
By Michele Vieux from CrossFit Invictus