Home / Achieve Fitness Blog / Approaching Nutrition: Calorie Counting, Food Groups, Macros Tracking- What’s Worked and What Hasn’t (for me!)

Approaching Nutrition: Calorie Counting, Food Groups, Macros Tracking- What’s Worked and What Hasn’t (for me!)

       Growing up a year-round athlete, I never thought twice about what I ate because my metabolism essentially worked like an incinerator. Then, when I went away to college and retired my sneakers and cleats (or so I thought), I started to think a bit more about what I was eating. Pair my fear of the “freshman fifteen” with my nutrition classes, and in no time did I become obsessed with all things food and nutrition.

         Not long after I began taking my intro to nutrition did I start frantically tracking every calorie, every day. From black coffee to mixed dishes, I made sure every calorie was accounted for. Now, there were definitely some benefits to tracking my calories in the beginning. First of all, tracking my calories allowed me to get an idea as to how much food I was actually eating. Additionally, simply the recording of my food made me more cautious of what I was eating. Sure, it made me think twice about my second helping of food, but ironically enough, it often lead me to eating more pre-packed food because I could just scan the barcode for the calories, rather than having to measure or estimate how much I was eating. Calorie counting is also a pretty flawed system for a few reasons. First, packaged food can be up to 20% inaccurate regarding the contents of the food. Additionally, every person processes food differently, so person A and person B might consume the exact same amount of food and calories, but the amount of energy extracted from that food can be totally different between those people! Calorie counting also disrupted my intuitive eating- even if I was still hungry I would stop eating if I felt like I was taking in too many calories. Overall, calorie counting can be great to give you an idea as to how much you’re currently eating each day, and the act alone of writing down your food can help steer you toward better choices. For me, however, after a while calorie counting just became more mentally draining than anything, and of all the food tracking methods, it’s the one that will likely provide the least accuracy.

       After a few years of on and off calorie counting, I decided it was too time consuming and that I felt like I needed a better way to track what I was eating. Fortunate to be learning from some incredible dietitians in the classroom, I learned about the concept of food group tracking. Essentially, based on activity level and calorie needs, you break off your needs of different food groups: grains/starchy-vegetables, lean protein, oils, dairy, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, and elective calories. I loved the fact that I was looking at an entire spectrum of food, rather than just overall calorie intake. As someone who was eating pretty healthy, I of course had no trouble meeting my needs for fruits, vegetables, and protein. But this method helped me realize where there was some room for improvement, like with my whole grains and dairy intake. The elective calorie section also helped remind myself that there is room for fats and desserts in my diet- it didn’t have to always be broccoli and chicken breast for every meal! After a while, I had a strong idea as to how much of each food group I needed and what I was eating throughout the day, so while I loved this tracking method, I did feel as though I outgrew it after a while.

       I heard about macro counting as I started to explore the fitness industry more serious. For those of you who don’t understand macro counting (don’t worry- I didn’t either at first!), essentially it’s a way of tracking your food, but instead of doing it by calories, you track the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat instead. When I first heard about it, it seemed like a crazy amount of work. However, after I figured out how much of each macro I needed and had a general idea as to how many of each macro was in my favorite foods, it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought. Now, personally I am one of those crazy people who could eat the same foods every day and be totally content, so macro tracking was much easier for me because I didn’t vary my diet a ton. I also used RP templates that broke down my macros for me, which was super helpful. One problem I did have with the RP templates is that they recommended I ate six meals a day, which just simply wasn’t manageable as a full time college student who was also working 20 hours a week. It also became tough because sometimes it would be time for another meal but I was also still full from my last meal! Overall, I like having a general idea of my macros, but I also value the flexibility of eating when I feel hungry.

        Overall, I think there are pros and cons to all of these methods. I am glad I tried them all because each helped me learn what worked and what didn’t for me personally, and that differs from person to person. If food tracking is something you’re interested in, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try a few weeks of one way, and if it works, great! But if it doesn’t, know that there’s always another method to try. And at some point, you might even outgrow the act of recording or tracking food, and that is totally fine! Not every method works for every person, and not everyone wants or needs to track his or her food. Experiment, be flexible, and know that simply trying to find what is best for you is a victory in and of itself!


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