When it comes to the quest for healthier eating, there are two ways to approach things: quality and quantity, and what’s become abundantly clear to me in this Paleo world is that we have a problem with macros. And blocks. And points. And whatever other made-up-system is used to count and measure food.
The problem with macros (or blocks or points) is multi-faceted and let me just say that it’s possible to do any “diet” or food paradigm poorly. Putting your hand in a bottomless jar of Paleo cookies is no better than snort-laughing and eye-rolling at the thought of vegan cheese on top of a tofurkey sandwich.
The 1st Problem with Macros: Quantity does not equal quality.
Not all foods are created equal. An apple’s better than a Snickers (like, duh) but the problem with macros is that simply counting them doesn’t mean the protein, carbs and fat you’re eating are optimal or even health-promoting. Buttery spread is not better than butter. (If you need more convincing, read Eat the Yolks.) Beans are not better than sweet potato. (Those gorgeous tubers have more micronutrition bang for the carb buck.) And isolated pea protein is not better than a steak from a grass-fed cow. (The amount of processing matters, yo.)
I get it. I used to do Weight Watchers-ish (counting without going to meetings) back in the early 2000s. Tallying up my “points” was a way for me to feel in control—and unbeknownst to me at the time, severely restrict calories—but damned if I didn’t look forward to my Skinny Cow ice cream sammies, my I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray and all kinds of other processed crap. So while I met my daily points, I did it in a way that was pretty horrifying looking back as 2014 Me.
Even if you’re within your macro totals, my question is: Are a majority of the foods you’re selecting whole and unprocessed? Nutrient dense? Anti-inflammatory? Do they promote a healthy hormonal balance? Stable energy levels? Good body composition? Slow and steady fat loss?
If the answers are yes, cool. If you’re meeting your macros or blocks or calories or whosy-whats-its with pints of Ben & Jerry’s and Lean Cuisines, then Houston, we have a problem. (And, you’ve come to the right place to start making positive changes.) 2000 calories of chips does not provide what 2000 calories of quality meat, fresh produce and healthy fats does. For the bajillionth time: Not all foods (or edible things) are created equal.
The 2nd Problem with Macros: Are you still hungry? Yeah, I thought so.
Even if your ducks are in a row with regard to the quality issue, I have to ask: Are you still hungry?
Honestly. Is the amount of food you’re eating leaving you satisfied and nourished, or do you suffer from constant hunger (or even worse, hanger), worrying about when your next meal is or if you’re going to go to bed hungry? In all seriousness, a little hunger now and then is fine, but when it’s your normal state of being, something’s broken.
Mild caloric restriction for the purposes of shifting body composition, whether you meet it through macropointcalories or just eating a little bit less *of the right foods*, should still not leave you with perpetually gnawing hunger.
If you’re not trying to shift body composition but you’re concerned that you need to keep tracking things, continuing to count long-term and ignore your body’s own hard-wired signals of hunger and satiety is doing you a disservice. You’re an adult who shouldn’t have to be chained to a spreadsheet, a food scale, an app or a website to track every morsel that passes your lips.
Ask yourself if your current plan is leaving you not just fed but nourished. Are you surviving or thriving? Even if your numbers are perfect, are you really healthier?
The 3rd Problem with Macros: It Robs Your Freedom
Tracking and counting have their place (like creating a food journal for a nutrition coach or getting rid of portion distortion), but doing it for weeks, months and years on end is not a way to live.
Planning and cooking meals with care, having body composition goals (muscle gain / fat loss) and steering the boat toward food quality is one thing. Let’s call that dedication. Worrying about food, not eating out because you can’t count your macros or figure out blocks and generally feeling like you’re beholden to the numbers is another thing. Let’s call that dysfunction. Even when the intention is good, in practice, things can quickly spiral out of control and leave you disempowered to make the real choices about food that will put you in a truly healthy place—both physically and mentally.
What to Do?
Before sending all the IIFYM folks my way, know that if you’re focusing on food quality in addition to quantifying, you’re doing okay regarding problem #1. But. BUT. You may still be struggling with #2 and / or #3.
Ask yourself the following:
- Why am I counting macropointblocks?
- Am I trying to make some distinct changes in body composition or am I just after overall health?
- Am I truly nourishing my body?
- Am I shoving poor food choices into a shiny looking macropointblock counting system?
- Does this behavior cause me stress?
- Am I really in touch with feelings of hunger and satiety?
- Do I put a premium on food quality?
Only you can know if the answers are telling you to step away from counting macros and blocks and points.