Counting macros for weight loss is a flexible way to eat foods you love, and still reach your weight loss goals. Here’s how to count macros!
If you are trying to lose weight, there certainly aren’t a lack of diet plans for you to choose from. Most of these diets, however, involve relying on restriction and deprivation — eliminating certain foods, or even entire food groups from your life. Restriction and deprivation can certainly help you lose weight in the short term. However, for most, severe restriction results in failure and frustration. (read my weight loss story here)
Maybe you have experienced this before. You have awesome intentions when you start a new weight loss plan. For example, let’s say your new diet plan is one that severely limits carbohydrates. You are doing great sticking to your plan, and you lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. Then, someone brings doughnuts into your workplace. The doughnuts are sitting in your breakroom — almost summoning you from your desk. You can’t stop thinking about them, because you haven’t had one in so long. You finally break down and indulge.
This indulgence causes a domino effect. You feel as if you have blown your whole program. You either binge, or you spend several days severely eating off your plan. Now, you are back at square one, and you are having a hard time finding the motivation to get on your plan again. And, this whole downward spiral began with one doughnut.
But, what if there were no “good” or “bad” foods? What if you could eat the types of foods you like, indulge some of those cravings, and still achieve your health goals? This idea is the promise of the Flexible Diet, also known as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). Flexible dieting follows the belief that there are no miracle foods for losing weight — just macronutrient ratios.
Quite simply, when you eat the foods you like, balance your macronutrients properly, and moderately restrict your calories, a little dieting “magic” happens. You ease the psychological load of restriction — or, quiet that doughnut monster within. Your cravings are kept at bay, and you are able to lose weight. Counting macros becomes a source of liberation rather than a restriction.
How do you achieve this dieting “magic” you might ask? First, let’s talk a little about macronutrients or macros. Macros are a type of food required in large amounts in the body. Macros are divided into fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These nutrients provide your body with energy (calories), and serve a lot of other important functions to maintain your health.
How many calories are in each macronutrient?
Here is a little information about the calorie composition in the various macronutrients, and roughly how much your body needs a day to function at its best:
- Carbohydrates. These provide 4 calories per gram
- Protein. These also provide 4 calories per gram, 10-35% of total daily cal.
- Fat. These are highest in calories and provide 9 calories per gram
How many calories and macros do I need to lose weight?
With flexible dieting, you first want to calculate your calories that will help you lose weight. (see my article on counting calories here). In order to lose 2 pound per week, reducing your calories to 500 calories per day would be necessary. You first need to track for a week to asses your current intake, in order to know what your calorie limit will be when you reduce that by 500 calories. (use the calorie estimating calculator here)
After you know your calorie intake, then you can set a macronutrient goal. With flexible dieting, you are going to work on your energy balance — or, the relationship between the amount you eat (your calories or energy), and the amount of energy you burn throughout your day. In order to lose weight, you need to consume less energy than you expend.
Flexible dieting gives you a personalized target of calories, macros, and fiber to consume each day. We will talk about fiber a little more later on. As long as you stay within these personal numbers, you are free to select the foods you want to eat.
You can easily calculate this energy ratio in apps like myfitnesspal.com. These calculations take into account your weight, height, current activity level, and overall fitness goals. You can then create an eating regimen that works within your lifestyle. For example, if you want a doughnut once a week, it’s no problem. You just have to adjust the rest of your daily intake around this treat.
For my goals, I like to keep my macros at 40% carbs (carbs for fueling a workout), 40% protein (protein for building muscle), and 20% fat (fat for hormone balance). You can see my 1500 calorie meal plan here that is broken down into 40/40/20. This gives me 150 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbs, and 40 grams of fat.
You can adjust your macro ranges depending on your lifestyle and how much weight you want to lose. For example, if you are looking to shed a significant amount of weight, you might want to consider eating on the lower end of the recommended carb range. Someone who is super active, however, may want to choose to be on the higher end of the carb range, because they are expending so much energy. (check out this easy tool to calculate your macro targets here)
Flexible dieters should also be aware of how much fiber they consume. Fiber is not a macronutrient. It is a type of carbohydrate the body can’t digest. Fiber is vital for moving waste throughout our bodies, and promoting regular bowel movements. Fiber also encourages a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for overall health. Women should aim for approximately 25 grams of fiber per day.
Let’s take a closer look at why flexible dieting is effective. When you eat something, your body doesn’t judge whether the food is “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Your body simply goes to work breaking the food down and processing the macronutrients.
When you understand the energy ratio in your body, you can see why you can still gain weight by eating too many “clean” or “healthy” foods. Conversely, you could still lose weight by eating foods considered “unhealthy,” if there is an energy deficit.
However, a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to achieving great health and minimizing cravings and appetite. When you want to maximize your overall health and longevity, you want to get the majority of your energy (cal.) (80-90%) from quality foods like lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy oils. Quality foods do a better job at satiating your appetite as well.
The Pro’s and Cons of flexible dieting (IIFYM)
Let’s talk about the pros of the flexible diet, and then we will talk about a few of the cons. A flexible diet is designed around your lifestyle which makes this plan sustainable for you. Weight loss is achieved when you are able to maintain a calorie deficit over a sustained period of time. Long term compliance is the key to losing weight.
A flexible lifestyle allows you to live life on your terms — going out to eat with friends, indulging in occasional treats, and eating the foods you like. When you do have a lapse in your program, it’s easy to return to your new lifestyle.
Eating a wide range of foods is encouraged on IIFYM, and it enables you to consume all of the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients your body needs for good health. By focusing on your macronutrients rather than eating certain foods, you can achieve your goals while still enjoying your life.
The main disadvantage of IIFYM is the need to keep track of and measure all your macros, which can be a little tedious. However, once you get used to balancing your nutritional requirements with an active lifestyle, you can be more flexible with this practice. You will soon learn how to be mindful of your portions, and balance your proteins, carbs, and fat in relation to your goal. The rate at which you lose weight may be a little slower than with one of the more restrictive diet plans touted today, but it is more likely to be long term weight loss.
Here are a few tips for getting started with IIFYM:
- Download an app like myfitnesspal.com to determine your macronutrient and calorie requirements.
- Drink at least two to three liters of water per day.
- Aim to get 80-90% of your food intake from quality foods.
- Look at the menu ahead of time when planning to eat at a restaurant. Make a plan for yourself.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if you go off your plan. Pick yourself up and move on.
Hopefully, this gave you a good understanding of flexible eating or IIFYM. This lifestyle can be a healthy way for you to lose weight, and eat all the delicious foods you enjoy. Remember, the more you restrict yourself from foods you love, the more you will obsess about them and eventually cave in. Flexible eating and counting macros is about achieving your health goals in a realistic manner. You shouldn’t have to give up your lifestyle, or the food you love, to achieve your goals.
Calculate My Macros for Weight Loss
Macro CalculatorThe macro calculator is first flexible dieting tool of its kind. We developed it to be the most comprehensive and easy to use fitness calculator for people following the diet. The macro calculator takes the guess work out of dieting. All you have to do is enter your details, select your goals and retrieve your macros. We have added a few options in step 3 for those of you that like to manipulate your protein and fats. Scroll down to get started with the Macro Calculator now!
Text Book 10%
1.15 grams per lb. of body weight
1.25 grams per lb. of body weight
Custom grams per lb. of body weight
.40 grams per lb. of body weight
.45 grams per lb. of body weight
Custom grams per lb. of body weight
|GRAMS per day||280.3||0||0||0 - 0||1121|
|GRAMS per meal||93.4||0||0||0 - 0||374|