So, this post is something that I’ve been thinking about writing for a LONG time. When I started this blog late last year, I wanted it to be a mix of things – recipes, knowledge bombs I learn about nutrition and fitness, and also my own thoughts on those topics, on a personal and objective level. The ‘About Me’ section of this blog gives you a pretty good idea of how I got started with my interest in health, nutrition and exercise, so I won’t go delving into my life story here!
But to begin, I wanted to write a post about why I started tracking my macro-nutrient intake, and more importantly, why I stopped. I see a lot of people on social media talking about the concept of ‘macros’ and various ‘macro-splits’, and in contrast to that, there’s definitely been a lot of mentions recently about the idea of ‘intuitive eating’. In general, I just feel like there are so many mixed messages out there about how we ‘should or shouldn’t’ eat – for example, eat carbs vs low/no carb, protein being KING of all other foods, ketogenic vs low fat – its a mess. And along the way, I feel it’s been forgotten that we need to learn to trust our bodies to tell us WHEN we should eat, and WHAT foods leave happily satisfied. As well as that, figuring out HOW to do that seems to be the hardest part for a lot of people. So if you’re someone who has been tracking their macros for whatever duration of time, and you’ve started to feel that it’s become more of a hindrance than a help, keep reading. My reason for writing this post is to share my journey with you!
DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT a demonisation of the concept of ‘tracking macros’, using apps like My Fitness Pal, or anything of the sort. We are all individuals on our own journey, with our own goals, and processes we rely on to get there. I am just writing about my experiences, as part of this blog, because that’s what a blog is for, and because I think we all need a little honesty in a world of social media sometimes. So don’t worry – there’s no judgement here. Just a post about a key stage for me on my road with food and fitness, which may or may not apply to some of you.
First things first. When, and more importantly, WHY did I start tracking my macros?
Well, that’s not really a one-line answer. I had thought about doing it for a short period of time during my final year of medicine, initially because I felt like I was just about maintaining my weight (no intention to lose weight there, just stress and regularly working out combined), and a friend recommended I try tracking my food to see if I was simply fuelling my body well enough each day. Then exam stress ramped up and I kind of forgot about the idea., as I prepared for my finals. Then I started working – happy days! Halfway through my intern year, I joined my current gym beside the hospital I worked in, and that was when I started lifting weights, and really getting into learning about getting stronger. I had always been a cardio-happy girl, playing sports in school and college, and running recreationally. But the world of weight training was virtually unknown to me, and I found I really loved lifting weights. So, to cut a long story short, I started teaching myself about strength training, and you can’t really Google that without falling onto body-building websites that talk about ‘tracking macros’, ‘macro-splits’, ‘cutting’, ‘bulking’, you get the picture. So after getting into the gym culture for about 4-5 months, I downloaded My Fitness Pal, and decided I’d give this macro-tracking thing a go. My main motivation at that stage was to build a little muscle (not that I had a real plan of how to do this of course!), and curiosity too I guess.
The macro ‘splits’ I picked for myself varied based on what I learnt as I went along. I definitely fell into the trap of over-generalising recommendations for this, and I was never really keen on getting a personal trainer to individualise that for me. I also changed hospitals around this time as part of my medical training, and as a result changed gyms. I continued to track macros, and my split varied during this time, but roughly speaking I used a split of 40% of calories from carbohydrates, 40% from protein and 20% from fat. Nothing very drastic, but my diet definitely changed as I learnt more about protein, and started to include a serving of it at each main meal. And I really doubt I ever stuck the 20% calories from fat since I love nut butter and avocado so much! Not that that is a bad thing at all. ANYWAY. I have to say, I found it SO HARD to find any sort of quality website to actually give me an idea of the sort of macro split that’s advised for someone like me who does both resistance and endurance style training, frequently, and so obviously does need to eat quite a bit to maintain weight. Saying that, Podcasts were the exception to that rule – I’m a big fan of Danny Lennon and his Sigma Nutrition Podcasts for self-education about all of this sort of stuff, and I definitely recommend checking his site out. We need more sources like Sigma Nutrition, and less ‘Macro Calculators’ online in my opinion!
So. Why did I STOP tracking macros?
Again, there’s a few reasons for this. Number one – I found I became a bit too lean over the summer. As in, I lost weight. Ironic right? That, genuinely, wasn’t my intention. I read about so many different approaches to diet. There is SO MUCH random information out there that people can’t help but over-generalise and apply to themselves. CONTEXT is so important in this situation – the Food for Fitness Podcasts by Scott Baptie are, by the way, great for giving context to these sorts of topics. Another Podcast thumbs-up from me! But I digress. Basically, I became leaner. While that’s not a crime, the issue was admittedly I was definitely over-focused on ‘having abs’ instead of having a STRONG core. And being brutally honest, although I do maintain that it wasn’t my intention, I definitely was UNDER-EATING carbs. GULP. God, writing this is hard! And yet easier than saying out loud! But there’s no point denying it, I knew by seeing my daily food intake on My Fitness Pal.
So. First reason I started to feeling uneasy about tracking – ironically, I was doing the opposite of maintaining my weight. Second reason – it was becoming less informative and more irritating. There’s no denying that it is a time-consuming process to track macros. And I found it was becoming tiresome. As well as that, you start to learn how many grams of carbs/proteins/fats there are in various foods pretty quickly when you track, and after a few weeks of that, you do find you know already what’s in what you’re eating. That is one of the BENEFITS I believe there is to tracking food intakes – simple education about what is in common foods, which is so hard to reach the general population with.
Last reason I gave up tracking – pure motivation and inspiration to do so. I went to Wellfest in Herbert Park in Dublin in September 2016 for the first time – and for anyone who doesn’t know, Wellfest is basically a weekend long two-day festival held in Dublin, which is a celebration of health, nutrition and all forms of fitness. It is AMAZING – it involves workshops, fitness classes of all varieties, and endless food stalls showcasting both Irish and foreign food brands. The weather was incredible, and it was basically everything I love from a health perspective, in a festival. There’s lots like it in the UK I believe. I wish there were more here! I’m going back in May this year and I can’t wait.
So what does Wellfest have to do with this? Well, I attended (among many brilliant others!) a Girl Gains open group workout, and Q&A talk after. If you don’t know what Girl Gains is, I won’t digress too much here (I recommend quickly Googling their website and Instagram!), but basically it is a movement and business set up by 3 British health bloggers (Zanna Van Djik, Tally Rye, and Victoria Spence), which promotes (broadly speaking – definitely Google the movement!) female health, fitness and nutrition in a balanced empowered way, and does so through social media and events like fitness classes, or motivational talks, etc. At the Wellfest Girl Gains talk, there were plenty of questions answered, but I remember clearly Tally describing her own fitness/nutrition journey, and how she had previously tracked macros to a point of obsession, before just deleting My Fitness Pal one day, and leaving it all to intuition instead.
That just really resonated with me. BIG TIME. As I left Wellfest that day, I kept thinking about it. I pulled out my phone on the train home, and looked at the My Fitness Pal app. I had plans to go out for dinner with my boyfriend’s family that night, which I was really excited for. We were going to an Italian restaurant, and I thought about how I’d have to enter the pizza or pasta or salad or whatever I would order into my phone later, and I just thought – NOPE. Not bothered. Not anymore. What was this app adding to my life at that stage? Nothing. I’m not a body-builder. I’m not on any kind of programme. I just love to workout, and I love food. I strive to achieve fitness goals like increasing my deadlift or squat weight, mastering pull-ups, running a faster 10km, trying out new fitness classes, sure – but my meals need to fuel that, be tasty AF, and nothing more.
So I deleted My Fitness Pal.
And I felt SO FREE. I haven’t downloaded it since. I don’t miss it. To be fair, I am a person who loves learning about nutrition, and I have a very good understanding of what’s in various foods. I can’t help that, nor do I want to. So in a day, I now instead aim to eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full. I LOVE veggies, and I eat LOADS of them everyday simply for that reason. At each meal, I aim to have a serving of protein, carbohydrate and veg – usually half a plate made up of veggies, 1/4 protein and 1/4 carbs, or thereabouts. I always make sure I have carbs and protein after a workout, as that’s what my body needs. I drink a TON of water. I love coffee and herbal tea. I continue to educate myself about fitness, nutrition, and the overall broader heading of lifestyle medicine (i.e. how does how we live affect our health – and how we can make changes to be healthier). I eat my favourite foods pretty much everyday – every type of veg, chicken/fish/eggs/protein powder (yep, post-workout, most days I work), sweet potato/oats/wholegrains, avocados/nut butters/nuts/seeds, dark chocolate – you know these from my recipes I’m sure! And that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe how I now eat intuitively, and the sort of principles I feel ‘intuitive eating’ is based on. Tuning into what makes YOU feel good, what makes YOU perform the best you can, and TASTES the best to you.
So look. I’m not perfect. Life isn’t perfect. Humans aren’t designed to be perfect. But I’m happy continuing on this journey, and how I’ve progressed with it so far. And I hope, if anyone of the above resonates with you, that you in some way find this post helpful. These thoughts have been rolling around in my head since I started to see more and more people talk about ‘Intuitive Eating’, and I just wanted to put them down somewhere they might have a positive impact on someone else who maybe tracks macros or feel they’re becoming a bit obsessive about food, and wants to change that.
And that is where I’ll finish! We all know I go off on tangents a LOT! Rememeber my disclaimer above – I don’t judge or criticise anyone else’s approach to food. We are all unique, with our own story and our own goals in life. I’m just writing about my process with it, because it was a positive change for me. I would love any feedback you want to share on this post – just message or comment at me on Instagram or Twitter (@theirishbalance) or leave a comment below! Enjoy guys.
Ciara 🙂 x