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What Is a Macro Diet?

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established wellness, lifestyle, travel and love writer, editor and content strategist in New York City. Her work has appeared on SELF, Prevention, AskMen, Refinery29 and dozens of other sites. When she's...

How to find out if a macro diet is right for you

Take a quick gander through your Instagram feed and you’ll be bombarded with healthy-eating quick tips, gorgeous — but fruitful — food porn and plenty of advice on how to clean up your diet. While it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon, before you do more than double-tap on an image and actually hop on the bandwagon or sign up for a program, doing your research is essential. Not only do you want to make sure it’s smart for your particular lifestyle, but you want to know how it works, what it promises and what it entails.

The latest interesting trend to keep a pulse on is a macro diet. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s the right choice for you, let these registered dietitians and experts give you the dish.

What is a macro diet?

Dr. Tania Dempsey from Armonk Integrative Medicine explains that a macro diet takes the emphasis off calories and instead, prioritizes the proportion of proteins, fats and carbs, which are known as macros, hence the name. “The premise is that by eating the right ratio of these macronutrients, you will lose weight or build muscle or whatever your goal is,” she says. “Macro diets assume that you need more protein and carbohydrates and both in fairly equal proportions, but fats to a lesser extent.” A common ratio, according to Dempsey is 40-to-40-to-20, which is broken down to 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbs and 20 percent fat. In meal form, this might look like a small steak (protein), some olive oil (fat) and some vegetables or rice (carbohydrates).

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Why are macro diets trendy?

The idea of eating the right size proportions of various food groups isn’t newsworthy, but the rise in chitchat about this diet is because so many CrossFitters, bodybuilders and models are praising its results according to Dempsey. “These people stand by the diet because of two main concepts: There is some room for allowing nonoptimal foods as long as the ratios of the macros remain in a good range and there are apps that make following macros fairly easy,” she explains.

Another reason macro diets are getting lip service is because of the lifestyle and the food choices they encourage. As nutritionist, yoga teacher and author, Keri Gans explains, “A macro diet promotes locally grown foods, which is good for our environment. And the foods consumed are closest to their original state and minimally processed. This diet also goes beyond just a list of foods to eat or not eat, but tries to encourage overall balance in one’s life.”

What are the benefits?

Just like your mother will say yes to that summer dress you want to wear and your sister will shake her head in disgust, every diet poses its own set of pros and cons. Overall, experts can agree there are some perks to a macro diet.

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They bring awareness to portion control

Especially when you’re traveling during the summer or you’re running from a workout to work to happy hour, it can be tempting to just grab-and-go whatever is easiest. However, registered dietitian Shannon A. Garcia says a macro diet will help you begin taking note of just how much you’re eating day-in and day-out. “There’s nothing like only having 45 grams of fat a day to make you realize that your 2 tablespoons of peanut butter just checked the box for 16 grams or about one-third of your daily fat allotment,” Garcia explains. “Recognizing portion sizes and the nutrition in the foods we’re eating is important to achieving a healthy lifestyle.”

It promotes a healthy lifestyle

Ever go days without a visit to the bathroom for No. 2? Or find yourself getting sick each and every single time someone in the office coughs in your general vicinity? By adopting a macro diet, you’ll strengthen your overall health from top to bottom. “Since it is packed with whole grains and vegetables, the diet is very high in fiber, which helps with satiety and bowel regularity and may promote heart health. And because it contains antioxidants, it may strengthen your immune system too,” Gans says.

And though macros refer to what’s on your dinner plate, the overall lifestyle of those who swear by this type of eating is based on exercise. When you put the two together, you will see a shift in your habits pretty swiftly.

It boosts your metabolism

The million-dollar question that’s easy to answer and tough to follow? When you eat well and sweat it out regularly, you will likely start shedding a few. That’s why doctor of nutrition Roger E. Adams says for those looking to lose unwanted weight, a macro diet is promising. “A macro-type diet may give you better energy and boost your metabolism by avoiding blood sugar spikes or lulls common with restrictive dieting or overconsumption of single macronutrients. This diet can also help keep you from overeating. And since the macro diet is based on consuming all macronutrients, your diet gets healthier as you learn to incorporate more whole foods like fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods,” he explains.

What are some downfalls?

Sounds good, right? But depending on how much commitment you’re willing to put into your diet and how quickly you get distracted from meal-planning and carb-counting, you might get more stressed than fit by the macro diet. If you’re thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, make sure you’re aware of some roadblockers you might encounter.

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It’s narrowly focused and not specifically "healthy"

While a macro diet will help you understand the ratio of carbs, proteins and fat in your meals, Garcia notes that there’s little attention given to micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, which are also equally important. More so, the diet also gives perhaps a little too much leeway in what you’re eating. “The diet doesn’t necessarily promote nutrient-rich, healthy foods. Instead, whatever fits within one’s carb, protein, fat allotment is fair game — even if that means cookies,” Garcia says. “As a result, people might choose less healthy options and miss out on important nutrients like choline, a key nutrient for promoting metabolism and supporting a healthy liver throughout life.”

You might get bored

If you’re new to meal-planning and checking labels and portions, you might find getting started overwhelming. But once you figure out what you like to eat — and what doesn’t break the rules of macro — then you might stick to those foods over and over again. Adams says this makes it easy for macro dieters to start to yawn at their meals instead of enjoying them. “A common pitfall with macro diets is they can become repetitive or boring. People have the tendency to eat the same types of foods. This can lead to boredom or the diet gives you an unsatisfied feeling. When this happens, we often cheat on our diets or go a different direction with our eating,” he notes.

You can get lost in numbers — instead of nutrition

Ever try to weigh and calculate just how big that piece of salmon is? Or if you put one slice too many of avocado on your salad? Computing ratios is not always easy and clinical nutritionist Tara Coleman says it can lead to some overly fastidious behavior. “With any sort of tracking, people can get lost in the details and become obsessive. Oftentimes, macro diets look at the day as a whole rather than meals. This can lead people to loading up on macros at certain meals and leaving them absent at other meals. Or they can supplement unnecessarily to hit certain numbers. Ultimately, this can be an unbalanced way of eating,” she says.

It can be restrictive to your social life

Want to go out with your pals and celebrate your bestie’s promotion? Or just had a stressful day and you’d rather skip the gym? A macro diet says no coffee and no booze, making it difficult to live beyond your favorite workout class and kitchen. Gans says that if you enjoy dining out and going out, it might be difficult to follow a macro diet to a T.

The bottom line

If you want to try a macro diet, there’s no harm — but also, don’t give yourself a hard time if you can’t stick to it 24/7. Instead, let the diet be a way to guide your habits without making you anxious about every little detail of consumption. “When on a macro diet, it’s important to plan your meals a week at a time. This helps prevent the diet from becoming too repetitive or boring as you can see when you are eating too many of the same items,” Adams says. “A macro diet will change as you change. If you are exercising more now than in the recent past, for example, your macros will need to change too. It isn’t a static diet; rather one that is as dynamic as you.

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