Counting Macros vs. Intuitive Eating: Aren’t we missing the bigger picture?

At the moment, I feel that the fitness world on Instagram is divided – there are those who count macros and there are those who eat intuitively. Both groups of people lull me into a false sense of security that everyone is more aware of food and nutrition than they actually are. I lose count of the amount of times people outside of my Instagram fitness bubble look at me stunned when I turn down a banana or an orange juice. ‘But it’s fruit?!’ Even at the gym, the discussion of specific nutrients leaves some people with confused looks on their faces. It is easy to forget how uninformed most people are about what they eat.

I dislike the nutrition labels on US foods and feel that some of the proposed FDA changes are for the better and some are for the worse. With the general population knowing as little as they do about nutrition, I feel that the simpler the nutrition labels can be, the more beneficial they will be in educating and informing the consumer. I obviously pay a great deal of attention to nutrition labels, but I only look at about a third of the information on there – the rest I don’t even glance at. All I am interested in is ingredients, calories, carbohydates, fat, fibre, protein and sodium. (I only pay attention to sodium because I dislike salty tastes, so if it is high in sodium, chances are, I won’t like it!) The rest of the information that is currently on there seems to be out-dated fad information. For example, the ‘calories from fat’ information probably stemmed from the time, about 10 years ago, that fat was the enemy and low fat diets were all the rage. One of the proposed FDA label changes now is to add ‘added sugars’ onto the label, co-inciding with the current anti-sugar hype. Give it 5 years and no-one will be interested and it will be another irrelevant aspect to the nutrition label.

I get asked a lot about my philosophies and protocols on nutrition, both on and offline. For me, I can’t imagine not tracking macros. It works for me, both mentally and physically. It enables me to pursue two of my passions (cooking and eating….yes, eating is definitely a passion) and it has enabled me to progress. It is as much of a part of my life as getting dressed. I don’t even consider not tracking macros. But, I do understand that it isn’t for everyone. I personally could not eat intuitively. I have a large appetite and would be forever worrying whether I had eaten too much. The ‘intuition’ would go out the window and I would let the unknown quantities of my food rule my head, filling me with obsession. For other people, I know they find intuitive eating liberating as they don’t have to weigh food or input/calculate anything. 

I have heard a lot recently that tracking macros is a diet, not a lifestyle. I think it can be both. As with any nutrition protocol, there are those people who are very familiar with it and there are loads who aren’t. To me, it is a lifestyle, but for a newbie, it may seem like a diet. Weighing food is exactly what you would do if you were baking a cake, it is not irrational, ludricrous behavior. Instead of the motive being achieving a perfect bake, weighing everything enables true flexible dieters to make progress and live sustainably. I am so familiar with it now, that it probably only adds an extra 15 minutes into my day. 15 minutes to enable me to live healthily and happily? I’d call that bang for my buck.

I have also heard a lot recently that there is a wealth more to nutrition than counting macros and I whole-heartedly agree. Flexible dieting is heavily glamorized online and perceptions seem to be that it is all about fitting in as much junk as possible and taking photos of it. For me, fitting in junk was a key step in my relationship with food. From struggling with binge eating for several years, the novelty that I could fit in junk and not gain weight was a key initial step in me achieving a more mentally balanced state. Now, I eat junk in small quantities but most of the time, I don’t want to eat it. I enjoy eating the fresh, crunchy textures of fruits and vegetables and there are few things that give me as much pleasure as cooking up delicious meals for the week. I love experimenting with flavors and different ingredients and am always happy (although teased for it!) bringing my Tupperware pots into work. Why would I want to pay multi-billion dollar companies for mediocre (at best) food, when I can do it better, cheaper and healthier myself?

I never claim to be a nutrition expert. I am not qualified and don’t pretend to be. I am always learning and feel my knowledge barely scratches the surface of all there is to know. I am also definitely not anti-intuitive eating, for some, it is the perfect approach for their lifestyle. But intuitive eating comes with the premise that you know both what you should be eating as well as understanding many complex aspects of nutrition. Forcing the idea that intuitive eating is the only ‘balanced’ way to approach living healthily is therefore very heavily skewed towards people submerged in the health and fitness industry. I think it is easy for online fitness communities to appear representative of society, but, they are very definitely representing only a very small minority of people. For most people, both counting macros and intuitive eating are completely redundant. So instead of throwing out blanket statements that one way of approaching nutrition is the only way of living, shouldn’t us folk who are passionate about nutrition understand that it is not a one size fits all? Shouldn’t we be spending less time trying to compartmentalize nutrition into boxes? And shouldn’t we be encouraging people who don’t live and breathe this to try new foods, cook more and understand exactly what they put in their mouth? 

-Benchpressingbaubles, x


2 thoughts on “Counting Macros vs. Intuitive Eating: Aren’t we missing the bigger picture?

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