In the past, we’ve taken an honest look at some of the more popular diets floating around out there. Regular readers will remember that the CICO diet is fine, but not effective on its own, and the 80/20 diet isn’t so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. Today, we’re turning our gaze toward the classic macro diet.

Counting your macros, as it’s sometimes known, is essentially a more extreme version of counting your calories. The macro diet is just keeping track of the amount of macros you eat in a day and making sure it falls within your goal. By doing so, you can lose weight, gain weight, or maintain it, depending on what you’re going for. This is partially why it’s also sometimes called “the flexible diet.”

What Are Macros?

Macros is short for macronutrients, the nutrients that are essential to your body running smoothly. There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fats. Yup, fats are an important factor in any healthy diet. That doesn’t mean you should go eat a spoonful of lard. First, that’s gross. Second, it contains a lot of the wrong kind of fat. You want healthy, unsaturated fats. These are some of the fats we’ve discussed in our Brain Foods articles. Healthy fats also make you feel fuller, which helps keep you from overeating.

Also, despite what some diets may have you believe, carbs are good for you, too. Carbs are essential for fueling your body. And don’t forget protein. Protein is important for building and repairing muscle in your body.

With macro dieting, foods are grouped by the primary macro they contain.

With macro dieting, foods are grouped by the primary macro they contain. Good sources of proteins to aim for are lean meats, like chicken and fish, eggs, and nuts are also good to have. For carbs, you’ll want to have leafy greens, whole grains, and root vegetables. Healthy fats are largely found in healthy oils, like olive or coconut oil, nuts, and avocados.

How Do You Measure Your Macro Needs?

When deciding what to numbers aim for, your goals largely depend on what you want to achieve — weight loss, gain, or maintenance. One of the easiest ways to start figuring out your macro needs is to find out how many calories you need in a day.

The quickest way to get a ballpark number for this is to use a calorie calculator. For example, let’s say you’re a 65-year-old 5’2”, 130-pound female, who is lightly active. To lose a little over 4 pounds a month, you would need to consume about 1,149 calories per day, according to one calorie calculator.

One popular macro ratio for fat loss is 40 to 50 percent protein, 10 to 30 percent carbs, and 30 to 40 percent fat

Once you find your caloric goal, it’s time to find your macro ratio. One popular macro ratio for fat loss is 40 to 50 percent protein, 10 to 30 percent carbs, and 30 to 40 percent fat. We’ll go down the middle of the road for these numbers and say you’re aiming for 45 percent protein, 20 percent carbs, and 35 percent fat. Going back to our example, some simple math then tells us you’ll need to consume 517.05 calories from protein, 229.8 calories from carbs, 402.15 calories from fat a day.

So, for our example above, you’d need 129.3 grams of protein, 57.5 grams of carbs, and 44.7 grams of fat per day to start losing weight.

Roughly speaking, one gram of protein is four calories, one gram of carbs is four calories, and one gram of fat is nine calories. So, you’d need 129.3 grams of protein, 57.5 grams of carbs, and 44.7 grams of fat per day to start losing weight. Whew, that’s a lot of math!

Counting Your Macros

How do you actually count the macros of what you eat? Much like how you’d count calories, check the labels on the package. The Nutrition Facts will include counts for all three macronutrients. To make it even easier, try using a calorie counting app, like MyFitnessPal. Not only will these kinds of apps count your calories, they’ll add up your nutrients, like your macros, to simplify the counting process.

Are There Any Weaknesses?

Probably the biggest issue with macro diet is that it has no real rules. It’s flexible, which can be great, but offers little guidance. There are even different macronutrient ratios depending on what you’re looking for and who you ask. This leaves plenty of room for human error. You have to choose a ratio. You have to set your numeric goals. You have to count your macros. It can be easy to miscalculate something along the way.

Instead of just counting the calories, you need to know and track three extra numbers — your proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Since there are no rules, like cutting certain foods or focusing on eating others, the macro diet is less simplistic than your average diet, which means you need to pay more attention to what you eat. Instead of just counting the calories, you need to know and track three extra numbers — your proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Sometimes, finding those numbers and keeping them straight can be hard, especially since most foods have all three. This can sometimes make the diet a bit difficult to manage.

Furthermore, focusing too much on macros can cause some people to ignore micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, which can be important in their own rights. To avoid getting tunnel vision, make sure you’re eating balanced, healthy foods, and not just trying to hit your numbers.

The Benefits of Counting Macros

Counting macros is an effective diet because it’s not a “diet.” It’s changing your focus to eating healthier and eating less.

Much like the CICO diet, macro counting does work, to an extent. That’s because focusing on your macronutrients helps you pay attention to things like portion size, caloric intake, and making healthier choices. In other words, the CICO diet and macro counting are important to losing weight because they promote healthy eating habits. As we point out in our analysis of the 80/20 diet, an effective diet isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. After all, maintaining a healthy diet is key to weight loss.

Also like the 80/20 diet, counting your macros to lose weight is flexible. You can eat what you want, so long as you hit your goals. The goals can even be flexible, so as long you aren’t consistently going over. In a sense, one of the weaknesses from earlier is also a strength. This “diet” isn’t one-size-fits-all. You can even tweak your ratios as you go. This is a big reason why different people suggest different ratios and different goals. Everyone’s body is different.

Counting macros is an effective diet because it’s not a “diet.” It’s changing your focus to eating healthier and eating less.

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One of the big lessons we’ve learned so far, from our looks into various diets, is that weight loss doesn’t come from excluding one magic item. There is no magic bullet for health. Instead, a healthy diet comes from making changes to your lifestyle and making healthier choices. It may not be as catchy as “cut out all (insert “bad” ingredient),” but if you give it a real go, counting your macros can be a potent health strategy for you!