Tracking Macros – Is It Healthy?

Tracking macros seems to be the popular thing to do now-a-days.  All of the fitness influencers are doing it and it looks like a great tool to utilize to get results. But is it healthy?  Personally, I think “healthy” is a relatively subjective term so I’m going to start by telling you my experience with tracking macros and my personal opinion on if it’s healthy or not.

It all started my freshman year of college, wayyyy back in 2008, when I started to gain the dreaded Freshman 15. If you don’t know what the Freshman 15 is, it’s the weight you gain your first year of college because of the all-you-can-eat dorm food buffet, late night munchies, excessive drinking, etc.  According to Urban Dictionary, it’s “When a first year college student (usually a female) eats a ton, and precedes to sit on her a** and gain 15 lbs.”  While I didn’t drink alcohol my first semester of college, I stopped working out and probably ate a little too much of the french fries, ice cream and pizza from the dining hall.  I quickly realized that my clothes did not fit like they used to and I had gained some weight.

This came as a surprise to me since I had never really worried about my weight before.  Prior to college, I worked out regularly and ate pretty healthy.  I was on multiple sports teams including track & field, volleyball & cross country.  My mom cooked my family dinner most nights and my lunches consisted of turkey sandwiches and snacks such as granola bars and string cheese.  I was always thin growing up and didn’t think much about what I ate until I started noticing I was gaining weight in college.

I didn’t know much about health or nutrition at this time except what I read in magazines.  So, of course, that’s the advice I followed (spoiler alert: at it was horrible advice).  I read in some magazine (probably Seventeen) that I should eat 1,200 calories to lose weight so that’s what I did.  I wrote down what I ate and googled how many calories were in each food, often times estimating the amount of calories since much of it was eaten at the dining hall. (This was before I had a smartphone so I didn’t even know apps like MyFitnessPal existed.)  I ate 1,200 calories like the magazine told me to, started running 3 miles 2-3 times a week, and it worked! I lost the weight I gained and even more than that.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t realize that 1,200 calories was significantly under-eating for my height, weight and physical activity.  I was tired all the time, anemic, and could not sustain eating so little for that much longer.  That summer, I stopped counting calories, ate a lot and gained the weight back plus some.

A lot of things happened over the next year which lead me to start binge eating and gain 20+ lbs.  I wanted to lose some weight again but didn’t want to go back to eating 1,200 calories like before.  I did a lot of research online and started to learn what it actually looked like to have a healthy, balanced diet.  There was lots of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and complex carbs.  I tried to eat healthy but still found myself binging on ice cream, cookies and crackers all too often.  Years later, I learned about tracking macros, downloaded MyFitnessPal and imputed everything I ate into it.  While it was helpful to see what I was eating and how little protein I actually ate, I started to realize that I would choose less healthy alternatives because they fit my macros better.  For example, I would choose protein chips over an apple because I needed more protein to hit my goal and the carbs in the apple would make me go over my carb goal for the day.  For me, I realized that tracking macros is a great tool but now I always choose micro-nutrient foods over foods that hit my macros.

This long story finally leads me to the topic of this post: is tracking macros healthy?  Personally, I think it can be IF you do it right.  Tracking macros can be a great way to learn what you’re eating and if you need to more fats, carbs or protein BUT just because you’ve hit your macros for the day doesn’t mean you’re healthy.  You can eat 1,800 calories in candy, chips, protein powder and PopTarts but you’d be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals to be a healthy individual.

Overall, I think people are placing too high importance on macros and not enough importance on micros.  If you want to count macros, go for it, just make sure that a majority of the sources you’re getting your food from are also micro-nutrient dense. 🙂

I’d love to hear your thoughts down below and/or what your experience is!

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