When I get a new client, often one of the first questions is, “Should I track macros?“.
You know the answer: It depends.
Generalizing obviously doesn’t work all of the time, but I do find that when presented with two options people tend to know if they fall into one camp or the other. In this case: Data/Numbers People or Abstract/Intuitive People. (People do sometimes see the advantages of switching camps for a period of time.)
Data/Numbers People: You are my people. I love to track things. I love to see patterns. I love to look at data, research and evidence. In this camp, we might feel a little nervous about switching from more structure to less structure — although this can be a very positive and enlightening challenge.
Abstract/Intuitive People: For you, thinking about numbers seems more like a chore than a welcome habit. You are pretty in tune with your body and good at identifying what it needs and being present. You are good with visuals and guidelines and fitting them into your life. You might recognize the need for data/tracking if there is an area that you aren’t well informed on. You might be more fun than us data people 🙂
Tracking is an educational tool. If you have no idea whether peanut butter is a protein, fat or carb source (even if you’re an abstract/intuitive person) there might be merit in short-term tracking for the educational value.
If you’re an abstract/intuitive person and you know a fair bit about food and which macronutrient category it falls into, there’s no much reason for you to track.
If you’re a data/numbers person, you’ll probably enjoy tracking for a short to mid-term length of time (a few weeks to a few months) until you’ve tracked many of the meals and foods you normally eat. Then you’ll have the information to reduce or stop tracking and continue on with the information that you gathered.
The two most important things about tracking are:
- Your relationship to tracking
- Your grasp that it will never be accurate
Many people, like those with a history of eating disorders, should not track.
Many people, find tracking helpful and it bears no negative impacts on them mentally.
It’s your job, with the help of a coach, to assess your relationship with tracking and take actions if it becomes unhealthy.
In regards to accuracy, tracking is like the weather forecast. You do the best you can with the information that we have — but it will be less accurate than you’d like.
There’s a ton of reasons for this including the facts that:
- Nutrition labels can round down to the nearest 0 or 5
- Testing can have errors
- Users can input ingredients or food incorrectly
- You can measure something wrong
- How we cook things affects how many calories we can absorb from it
- Your absorption of a food in your GI tract might be more or less than someone else
So you have to be okay with the fact that however you track something is a data point. Our best method is to track things the same way consistently to get a baseline and then make adjustments from there.
Who should think about tracking: A data/numbers person with a healthy relationship to tracking/food who has a specific performance or composition goal that requires them to track or they are curious about increasing their overall food knowledge.
Who should think about not tracking: An abstract/intuitive person, a person with a history of disordered eating, someone who knows a lot about food and doesn’t have a specific performance or body composition goal.
Have you tracked calories or macros before? What parts of it did you find helpful or unhelpful?