Have you ever tried counting macros for weight loss? I have, and I was really impressed with the results, both with weight loss and the self-knowledge I gained from tracking food for a few weeks. It's definitely worth a try.
What Does it Mean to Count Macros?
Macros (macronutrients) are simply fats, protein, and carbs. Most foods have a combination of all 3, but typically there’s one overriding macro (ie, bread is almost entirely carbs, but has some protein and a little fat). If you have no idea how many grams of protein are in a 5-ounce chicken breast or how many carbs are in a 1/2 cup of broccoli, I strongly urge you to learn how to count macros on a macro calculator like LoseIt! or MyFitnessPal if only for a week or two until you get a sense of how much you're eating. Once you know it, you can pretty much trust yourself to figure out your own diet for the rest of your life.
Related: Paleo macros: Making the adjustment to eating higher fat
Why Count Macros at All?
That's a great question! Counting macros is basically an advanced practice of counting calories. The only difference is that you're not just looking at your total caloric intake, but you're also looking at the specific foods you're eating and choosing them according to your goals and preferences. Here's two different examples of macros that are designed for very different people:
- Person A is an 18 year old guy who wants to build muscle and isn't interested in losing weight. Therefore he will need a high number of total calories, specifically carbs and protein and less fat because they help build and repair muscles after a workout. He would want to eat 14 to 16 x his current body weight in calories. So if he's 150lbs, x 14 + 2100 calories per day (mostly carbs and protein).
- Person B is a 130lb, 40-year old woman who is looking to lose fat and just "tone up" a bit. She only has time to workout 3 times per week, has a desk job, so she sits a lot and she doesn't want to lift weights. Her preferred workout is yoga and walking. Because she's not very active, she might want to start at 11 x her body weight and see how that goes. She may also want to have a higher number of calories from fat, a moderate number of calories from protein and a smaller number of carbs because she doesn't need them. Most sedentary people eat far too many carbs and overall calories. So 130lbs x 11 = 1430 total calories.
As you can see, it all depends on who you are, where you're starting from and what your goals are. Preference is also important. If you're someone who loves to eat meat but wants to lose weight, you'll probably want to stick to a high-protein, low carb and moderate fat diet. But if you prefer fat, you can prioritize that as well, and just eat moderate amounts of protein and fewer carbs. The key is to not over do the carbs if you're trying to lose fat.
Related Post: Why counting macros is better than following a meal plan or diet.
Does counting macros mean you have to eat low carb?
No! Losing fat in your 40s when you're not very active is why you want to eat low(ish) carb. Counting macros just helps you keep track of it all! Also, keep in mind, I'm not saying no-carb. Healthy veggies are the best thing you can eat because they aren't high in calories or carbs. What you want to stay away from is breads, cereals, most packaged, sugary foods, and even potatoes, grains and beans.
How to Count Macros for Weight Loss?
A quick rule of thumb for folks who want to lose weight is to set their total calories between 11 and 13 x their current body weight, then break their macros down from there.
I have a very specific formula and process that I teach in my Macros Made Easy Program, but you can also hire coaches to figure out your macro ratio for you. It depends on your goals and whether or not you plan to train while you track. All of this is outlined in my program, but it's also something I can help you with in my coaching groups.
A quick tip about macro counting & calories
If fat loss is your goal, it's best to optimize protein and non-starchy vegetables, while eating moderate healthy fats and low-to-no processed carbs. I know that may sound like common sense, but it's not common practice.
I also get a lot of readers asking me whether a high protein or high fat diet will work for them, and my question back to them is - have you tried tracking it? The only way to know if a diet is right for you is to commit to tracking macros.
The process of tracking macros is agnostic across most diets. That means, in order to know if you're truly eating keto, low carb or high protein, you MUST track your food intake and know how many macronutrients you're actually eating.
That's why I love the process of macro counting. It's a data-driven process that takes the emotion and guesswork out of weight loss.
Related: 7 BEST fitness and wellness apps to track your health journey
Where to Start Counting Macros for Weight Loss?
Start by finding a balance of macros that works for you, but if you're a woman over 40 that's not an athlete, you're going to find faster results by choosing non-starchy, veggie-based carbs and avoiding things like bread, muffins, cookies, potatoes and the like (for a while) and stick with green or brightly colored veggies instead.
A good rule of thumb is anything that's naturally white (like bread, pasta, rice, noodles and potatoes) should be avoided if possible. Instead, load up on veggies, healthy proteins, dairy (if you can tolerate it) and some fruit. Fats like coconut and olive oil, fatty fish and avocados are awesome choices as well.
Related post: Macros for fat loss: How to balance fats, proteins and carbs
Why is Counting Macros effective for weight loss?
I love this approach to weight loss because it trains you to understand portion size and calorie density. In other words, once you start counting exactly how many calories of fat are in a tablespoon of nut butter, you'll start being more judicious with your portion size. You'll start to know what's worth eating and what's not. You'll also come to understand your own body and what it needs most - proteins or fats.
The beauty of this method is that you don't have to do it forever. There will come a point where you will know exactly what you can get away with in terms of calories and macro balance by just looking at food.
That's why counting macros is better than meal plans; because blindly following a meal plan or diet won't help you build self-awareness around what foods work for you and what don't. I love counting macros because it's building a healthy habit that will keep you lean and healthy for life!
Want to learn more? My program Macros Made Easy is perfect for anyone who has the goal of losing weight while eating the foods they love.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and ADHD Coach. As the founder of The Fit Habit, she shares ADHD-friendly self-care, food & fitness inspiration, along with practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.
Great info Caren! I'm curious how my macros would add up.
Thanks Jill!! It's an interesting practice to see what your macros come out to. But I"m a geek that way 🙂
Great article, but you are one of the few sites i've seen that tell to put the fats at 50% why is that?
Thanks for the comment. Raising healthy fats while lowering starchy carbs in the context of one's overall diet is in line with more recent scientific data about weight gain and nutrition. If you're interested, I'd recommend looking up the work of Dr. Peter Atea. He has a great website with lots of info. I also recommend reading the book Why Women Need Fat (although the author's name escapes me right now). Good luck with your exploration!
When you do the math for 50% is supposed to be 40%, to come out to that many set calories for fat.
Thanks Ash!! I appreciate you pointing that out to me. Fixed now.
Great article! I always love reading about macros, and I certainly learned some new things from this one. So glad to have stumbled upon your website!
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