Calorie counting may be our weight loss go-to, but it’s not always the most effective way to shed pounds. That’s because chowing down on 100 calories of peanut M&Ms isn’t the same thing as eating 100 calories of broccoli (but you already knew that). Enter the macro diet plan, which skips calorie calculations and focuses on counting macronutrients instead.
Wait, what are macronutrients again? Biology 101 refresher: macronutrients (or macros) are the body’s major source of energy and include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Proponents of the macro diet say that if you get the balance of these guys right, you’ll be better at losing weight, burning fat and building muscle.
So how many macros do I need every day? Your ideal macronutrients intake depends on a few factors, like your basal metabolic rate (basically the minimum amount of calories your body needs to function) and weight goals. Translation? Instead of aiming for the standard 2,000 calories each day, your target might be to eat 40 percent carbohydrates, 35 percent protein and 25 percent fats.
Sounds like a lot of math. Can I try it even if I flunked algebra? While there is some number crunching involved, it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. First, you’ll have to figure out what your target macro ratio is—something a certified nutritionist or online macros calculator can help with. Once you’ve got that part down, you’ll keep track of what you’re eating to make sure you stay within your macros. (Tip: apps like MyFitnessPal will count your carbs, proteins and fats for you.)
What’s in it for me? As far as diets go, this one’s very customizable—in fact, it’s also known as flexible dieting. You don’t cut out any food groups (looking at you, Atkins) and can definitely fit in a chocolate treat or two. “Counting macros can help people become more aware of their intake and portion size,” explains registered dietitian Katie Kissane. “This approach encourages you to choose more wisely, but it also allows you to fit in your favorite foods, as long as it fits in your macronutrient goals.” In other words, this diet lets you have your cake and eat it too (just not the cake and the pizza and the milkshake).
Bottom line: Time poor and can barely work the calculator on your phone? It might not be the diet for you. If, on the other hand, you love analyzing your food choices but aren’t seeing the weight loss results you want from calorie counting, this might be a good fit. Just remember that your macros allowance is like pocket money—don’t blow it all in one place.