I’ve followed both meal plans and counting macros for weight loss, but only one of them didn’t drive me crazy.
What does it mean to count macros?
If you're new to counting macros (or macronutrients), the least you need to know is that it's a practice of counting overall calories broken down into fats, carbs and protein. I go over how to count macros for weight loss in depth right here, but you can also listen to a podcast I recorded on counting macros here.
Meal Plans: Why They're less effective than Macros
Meal plans are very common in the online fitness coaching world. In the past, I’ve been directed to eat rice cakes (hate rice cakes), consume 6 small meals a day (totally undoable in my world) and have broccoli and chicken or fish for dinner every single night. This might work for someone who never leaves the house, or happens to love boiled fish and limp veggies, but it doesn't work for me. like, at all.
Why Meal plans aren’t a good solution.
They’re a food dictation system that will last as long as you're willing to follow the system or until your patience runs out. The most important thing you can ask yourself is whether or not the process is sustainable for the long term. Do you still want be following a meal plan when you're in your 50's, 60's and 70's? Probably not.
Macros build habits and improve decision-making skills
On the other hand, counting macros is awesome because it prepares you to make your own decisions long term. It’s a guideline that you can trust (or adjust) and whatever you wish to eat within the confines of your allotted daily macros is your business. Sure, you can eat junk food as long as it fits in your macros, but that’s not a smart strategy as you’ll end up eating very little, feeling like crap, feeding your cravings and not moving the proverbial scale at all.
OR, you can use your macro allotment to eat good food that you enjoy and leave room for the stuff you LOVE that isn’t going to be found on a fitness meal plan, like waffles and wine.
This is the value of counting macros which is a little more in-depth than just counting calories, but less maniacal than following a rigid food prescription that doesn’t teach you anything about how to figure out how much food works for you, and what your personal macro balance should be.
Meal plans can be great for food inspiration.
I may look at one and say – oh! Here’s something I can make for dinner tonight and then I can use the printed paper as a placemat or write my goals out on the back of it, for it’s not useful for much else.
If you’re curious about how to count macros or figure out what the right balance is for you, you can find the basics here. However, if you really want to immerse yourself in the idea of having a certain set of calories, and a prescribed amount of grams of protein, fats and carbs with no further restriction, then flexible dieting (or counting macros aka #IIFIYM) might just be for you!
Tips for Succeeding on a Macro Diet
- Have something that will help you count your food easily. I recommend MyFitnessPal.com or the LoseIt! app because they're both free.
- Have your meals prepped and portioned every Sunday so that there's no guesswork in terms of what you're eating.
- Pro-tip: Write down the macro breakdown on each meal so you can record it when you're eating it.
- Use stackable meal containers. You have no idea how much this helps me. I love this brand because it's microwave/freezer/dishwasher safe.
- Shop smart for quality food. I'm finding I have better luck buying my food online and having it delivered as it is so much easier to resist junk food! I recommend Thrive Market for lower-cost health food items, but Amazon Fresh works well, too.
- Have patience! This may seem like a lot of work, but it becomes second nature sooner than you think.