Nutrition Wars: Macro Tracking Vs Intuitive Eating

Do you have fat loss or muscle gaining goals? Do you often get frustrated trying to understand how to best follow your body composition goals or performance goals? Learning about what works for YOU is part of the fitness journey. Our bodies are complex machines and figuring out how we work  is a process which means its going to take time through trial and error. Intuitive eating and macro tracking are two different yet BOTH important strategies on building sustainability. You’ll likely  be flip flopping between the two throughout different stages of your life. In my opinion, to understand how to intuitively eat you first need to learn how to macro track. Macro tracking provides an educational experience.

Lets learn the pro and cons of both…

Macro Tracking

Depending on someone’s psychological relationship with food I like to start having people track their macros (carbs, fat, protein) right away, which combined equal your entire caloric intake for the day.

1 gram of carbohydrate 4 calories
1 gram of fat 9 calories
1 gram of protein 4 calories

Trendy/fad diets like Keto, Atkins, Paleo, Whole 30, Weight Watchers, etc can often omit an entire macro or have very limited food choices—making peace with foods and building a good relationship is important. I generally like for people to stray away from named diets as avoiding entire foods just generally doesn’t build adherence or a good educational experience for the long haul of things…just more confusion and psychologically building bad relationship with foods (omitting “bad” foods or an entire macro) There is no such thing as good or bad food, but there is such thing as a good or bad diet. 

The pros of macro tracking is the self control, accountability, and structure you have which become foundational in learning about your nutritional lifestyle. Coming from mindlessly eating to being mindful of what you’re eating through tracking allows you to understand how much or how little you’re eating which becomes important for body composition goals and eating enough to fuel your performance in the gym.  You’ll grow to understand portion sizes and nutrient content. You know the exact numbers that you’re consuming and this data helps plan ahead with what you’re eating and helps build a timeline for particular events you might have like getting into that wedding dress in 6 months. Macro tracking is also great tool understand your energy requirements and is the most reliable way to get to your goal.

The con’s to this is that weighting and tacking your food can sometimes cause negative behaviors psychologically by over obsessing, isolating yourself, and food binges. Yet if you think about it anything can be negative or disordered if you over do it…like checking your phone 100 times a day for example. Logging every single thing that goes in your mouth and using a food scale to weigh your food every single day for the rest of your life isn’t always realistic.

Intuitive Eating 

In my opinion, Intuitive eating needs to be learned through macro tracking first. Again this helps you understand portion sizes and nutrient content so gives a good educational experience when following an IE approach. The bases of IE is to exactly  eat the amount of food your body requires, nothing more, nothing less.

Intuitive eating doesn’t require weighing everything you put into your mouth, logging your food or daily macro intake. This approach is focused on unstructured eating, allowing for more flexibility and really focusing on internal cues on hunger and fullness. Here is a chart to follow:

Hunger scale from 1-10…1 Being insanely hungry and 10 being beyond full.

  1. BEYOND HUNGRY: You may have a headache. You can’t concentrate and feel dizzy. You may have trouble with coordination. You are totally out of energy and need to lie down. This may happen during a very restrictive diet.
  2. You can’t seem to tolerate anything. You’re irritable and cranky and very hungry, with little energy. You may even feel nauseous. You are at the stage of being famished.
  3. The urge to eat is strong. You are feeling an emptiness in your stomach. Your coordination begins to wane.
  4. You start to think about food. Your body is giving you the signal that you might want to eat. You are a little hungry.
  5. Your body has enough fuel to keep it going and is physically and psychologically just starting to feel satisfied.
  6. You’re fully at the point of satisfaction.
  7. You’re past the point of satisfaction, yet you can still “find room” for a little more. Your body says “no” and your mind says “yes” to a few more bites.
  8. You are actually starting to hurt. Maybe you shouldn’t have had more, but it tasted so good. Or, did you get caught up in the eating-is-the-thing-to-do syndrome because all of the activity was centered around food?
  9. The after-effects feel really uncomfortable. Maybe you didn’t eat all day to leave room for this meal and you feel heavy, tired, and bloated. You no longer feel like socializing; you’d rather be by yourself or go to bed. Did you miss out on the socializing because you felt focused on the food?
  10. BEYOND FULL: This is a typical Thanksgiving Dinner feeling – you are physically miserable, don’t want to or can’t move, and feel like you never want to look at food again.

The problem is that instead of following your intuition you’ll follow your cravings and addictions. Instead of eating when you’re hungry, you’re eating when you’re bored, in a bad mental state (emotional eating), or eating out for fun because of the social setting you’re in. If you don’t have self control is very easy to over eat when your body is already full.  It’s a challenge for IE to work if you have no idea how much you’re consuming initially. 

What this all boils down to is finding what works best for you through proper education of your own body. Give yourself three months to build habits and write down what you like and didn’t like about the protocol you followed. From there, keep on fine tuning. Only you will understand what works best for you and this will take experimenting. If this still sounds really confusing or you much rather have guidance I would recommend hiring a nutrition coach to help you get started.

Related article: “Adherence: The Key to Improving Fat loss”