Counting Calories (Macros) vs Intuitive Eating: Is it necessary to track your diet? Do you really have to measure out every gram of protein, carbs and fat to make progress toward your fitness goals? Or can intuitive eating provide the same benefits without all the hassle?
After much experience and research, my official answer to that question is maybe. If you are already in a lean state you probably don’t need to track calories and macros because most likely you already have good eating habits. Especially if you have maintained a lean state for a long time and you don’t want to lose fat or gain muscle. Then you’ve basically reached your fitness goals and your nutrition is on point, and you probably don’t need to track your calories or your macros.
So who DOES need to track their diet? Well, if you want to lose weight or gain muscle or improve your health in some other way, then I believe tracking your diet is absolutely essential. There’s a saying in the business world, “What gets measured gets improved” and that’s true in many areas of life: Tracking finances and living on a budget, tracking job performance and identifying areas that need improvement, and many others. But for some reason tracking and monitoring our nutritional intake gets left off the list. What gets measured gets improved, and what does not get measured does not improve. It’s that simple. Without exception, my only clients who did not succeed are those who refused to track their diet.
When I first started working out I progressed quickly for the first few months, then stopped progressing. Why? Looking back it was because my nutrition wasn’t on point. I went a couple years in that state, working hard in the gym but eating whatever I wanted to, before I finally gave up. Then I re-discovered bodybuilding a decade later and learned about the nutritional part of the equation. I learned that what you do in the gym is only 25% of the equation, and the other 75% is proper nutrition and recovery. I started tracking my diet and monitoring my food intake, making sure I was in a calorie surplus and getting enough protein every day. And guess what? I started making progress again!
It’s interesting, there’s kind of an anti-calorie counting movement out there. If you type “calorie counting” in Google or Youtube you’ll find many search results on how to lose weight WITHOUT counting calories. You’ll find tips like using smaller plates and substituting lower calorie foods for higher calorie ones.. now don’t get me wrong, these tips do help. In fact I did a video called “How to cut calories without feeling deprived,” if you’re interested I’ll put the link in the description. These tips can help with food issues BUT there’s no substitute for accurately tracking and monitoring your nutritional intake. ALL of the most successful weight loss programs on the market today include some form of diet tracking and monitoring. Okay, now I want to take a look at calorie counting vs various alternatives, and see how they perform side by side.
- Calorie counting vs intuitive eating. Intuitive eating, as you might guess, is eating by instinct, emotion and reason. Intuitive eating promotes “listening to your body” and paying attention to your body’s hunger and satiety signals, specifically WITHOUT regard to tracking or monitoring your food intake. Here’s the problem with that approach: most of us can’t trust our emotions and appetites to lead us well. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” But here’s the good news: in Christ we can receive a new heart, we can renew our mind, or reprogram our thinking, and bring our intuition, emotion and reason more in line with Truth. To say “calorie counting vs intuitive eating” is creating a false dichotomy; it’s saying you have to choose one or the other. You don’t. In reality, tracking and monitoring your food intake will greatly HELP you bring your intuition, emotion and reason in line with healthier eating habits and meeting your fitness and nutrition goals. It will bring awareness to you, and your heart, regarding where you’re over or under consuming calories, or if you’re eating too much sugar or processed foods, or eating too many carbs or not enough protein… So the winner of “calorie counting vs intuitive eating” is both! Tracking and monitoring your food intake will result in training your body and mind to intuitively eat healthier and more in line with your fitness and nutrition goals.
- Calorie counting vs meal planning. A meal plan involves planning out specific portions of specific foods for every meal in advance. For example a meal plan might have for breakfast: one grapefruit, 2 poached eggs, 2 slices whole grain toast with one pat butter each, one cup low-fat milk, one cup coffee or herbal tea. You’re not supposed to deviate from the plan. So instead of tracking and monitoring your food intake as you go, someone is telling you exactly what to eat to meet your daily nutrition goals. Does it work? Yes? Again saying you must choose one or the other is another misnomer. Meal planning IS calorie and macro tracking in advance. For those clients who prefer to have everything planned out for them, most personal trainers offer meal planning as an option. Again it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both. In the beginning a meal plan might help a new client get in the groove, then later he or she can graduate to diet tracking with a little more freedom. Or you can always do your own meal planning. There is research stating that the more restrictive a diet model, the more difficult it is to adhere to long term, so psychologically most do better with less restriction and more freedom in what to eat from meal to meal.
- Calorie counting vs counting macros. Again another false dichotomy; calories ARE macros, and macros ARE calories. Every calorie counting method I’m aware of also keeps track of macros, meaning how many of those calories are protein, how many are carbs and how many are fat. I suppose if you mean counting calories without regard to macros, then counting macros would obviously be better. But like I said, every diet tracking method I am aware of counts calories AND macros.
Believe it or not there are more calorie counting conflicts out there, like calorie counting vs intermittent fasting, or calorie counting vs exercise, or calorie counting vs healthy eating… But as you can see, most of these, if not all of them, are misnomers and false dichotomies as well. The bottom line is, what gets measured gets improved. Besides, how can you possibly hit your calorie and macro goals each day without keeping track somehow? In all honesty most of us can’t.
So if you are ready to take that next step on your fitness journey, get my free Calorie Calculator Combo. This is a free resource with an online calorie calculator that tells you how many calories you need to eat each day in order to reach your fitness goals. It also comes with a report on the top 5 calorie counting apps, which by-the-way most of those are free too. And it comes with the S&M Glycemic Index Food Guide, with nutritional recommendations and meal planning ideas to help you make better food choices. So if you’re ready to take the next step, you can get all these resources for free, by clicking the link below.
Thanks for reading. God bless you, and I’ll see you next time…