Have you ever tried a new diet, lost weight, jumped for joy, and then gained it all back? Have you ever tried a diet just because it worked for a friend, but it didn’t work for you? Have you ever stuck to a plan so rigidly you went a little crazy and ended up eating 25 Olive Garden breadsticks? Maybe you are doing everything you think is right, but that scale is just not budging! *insert high-pitched angry screams*

The cycle of success, failure, guilt, and starting over is a lot to carry emotionally. How about we set the record straight with a few helpful basics about food once and for all?! As I have recovered from an eating disorder myself, one of my biggest personal goals was to improve my relationship with food. I didn’t want to be afraid of it. I didn’t want it to dictate every move of my life or every MOOD of my life. I can confidently say today that so much of my personal recovery has come simply through educating myself about food and a whole lot of trust in the process!

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*Photo credit: James Patrick (right)

Gosh, it’s hard for me to even believe I was ever that girl on the left. I remember so clearly thinking I had my eating disorder under control when this picture was taken. But c’mon…this picture says it all. I may have been free from my binge/purge behaviors, and even free from starvation, but clearly, the scale still controlled me. CALORIES controlled me!!! Macro counting (in conjunction with carb cycling) truly has FREED me, you guys. “So what is this macro counting thing?” you ask. Simply put, macro counting allows you to take control of your body composition (once and for all), whether you feel you are too big OR too small, WITHOUT deprivation. In my case, I felt too small and wanted to gain…but this same concept has been applied to carb cycling and has worked WONDERS for those needing to lose weight as well.

So let’s talk about food. Whether you are a clean eater, junk eater, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, dairy-free, or gluten-free eater, ALL EDIBLE items are made up of 3 macronutrients: CARBS, FAT, and PROTEIN.

Here’s the downright truth: MOST diets fail because of one simple problem—they are not REALISTIC! It’s nearly impossible for even the STRONGEST OF WILLS to commit to an extreme plan that doesn’t account for real life moments like cake at birthday parties, pizza after baseball games, cotton candy at the carnival, handfuls of goldfish, and eating the remainder of your kids’ mac and cheese. If you completely deprive yourself of these “indulgences” for long periods of time, you will either end up in the crazy house OR in a cycle of binge and guilt. So where is the balance? Can you really reach your fitness goals without starving? YES! It’s time to shift our beliefs in food and how it affects our bodies.

I ALWAYS thought that if I ever wanted to see my abs and have nicely defined legs, I would have to consistently eat a perfectly clean diet (think chicken, brown rice, and broccoli), train 6 days a week, and rarely (if EVER) indulge in my love affair with sugar and baked goods. I told myself, sure… abs are nice, but I love donuts. And pizza. And ice cream. What if I told you that you could have abs AND donuts, pizza, and ice cream. Excited? Yeah, me too. Read on.

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Tracking macros basically means consuming a balanced and appropriate ratio of carbs, proteins, and fats every day. An easy ratio to follow is 40% of your calories coming from carbs, 30% of your calories coming from protein, and 30% of your calories coming from fat. To break it down even further, if you need 1500 calories per day, your TOTAL macro intake for the day will be 150g carbs, 113g protein, and 50g fat. But before you start plugging in those numbers, everyone’s breakdown looks a little different according to your needs and goals. We will get there…hang with me.

It’s like working within a budget. How will you “spend” your macros? To give you an example, I love oatmeal for breakfast! Well, I really love gluten-free lemon cake for breakfast, but let’s use oatmeal (my 2nd fave) as the example. Alright…oatmeal alone is mostly just carbs, so I may add some berries (more carbs), some coconut oil for fat, and a scoop of vanilla protein powder. It’s quick, easy, and delish! This meal comes out to be a total of 29g carbs, 14g fat, and 29g protein. That meal gets deducted from my total for the day, and now I have 121g carbs left, 36g fat left, and 84g protein left!

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Using an app like MyFitnessPal (my favorite) will automatically track these numbers for you when you input your food items into the app. Easy peasy. Now, everyone has different goals, so this ratio doesn’t always translate perfectly across the board. For instance, due to my goals, existing body type, workout routine, and wanting to put on some serious muscle mass, my coach has me eating 55% carbs, 25% protein, and 20% fat every other day, then 68% carbs, 20% protein, and 12% fat the other days. These ratios help me add lean muscle mass to my frame while keeping my body fat low!

So why track macros?

Tracking your macros rather than just calories alone ENSURES that the calories you are taking in go to all the right places in your body. They preserve lean muscle mass and help rid unwanted body fat. That’s the goal! We are so conditioned to jump on that scale in the morning (totally naked, of course, because we need all the help we can get) and jump for joy if the scale goes down. But what if some of that weight loss is muscle mass? Your body just became slightly less efficient at burning body fat. Boooo! So, tracking those macros and being sure that our calories are distributed appropriately can allow us to rest easy and know that weight lost is the weight we WANT to lose—that extra fat jiggle.

What about calories? Do I have to track those too?

NOPE! Crazy enough, 1 gram of carbs always equals 4 calories (yes, whether it’s a gram of sweet potatoes or a gram of white sugar), 1 gram of protein always equals 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat always equals 9 calories. Interesting, right? So, if you are tracking your macros and hitting the same numbers every day, you will also be reaching roughly the same calorie goal each day.

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Can I track my macros AND carb cycle?

YES!! This is just a more DETAILED way to focus on your overall composition and goals. On high carb days, your macro goals may be set to 200g carbs, 120g protein, and 39g of fat, but on your low carb days, maybe you get 125g carbs, 120g protein, and 60g fat. Again, these numbers are just examples, but in short, carb cycling (like in Extreme Transformation) and macro tracking actually work synergistically for maximum results!

The best way to get started on your own is to input your information and goals into a macro calculator, and I’ve got you covered there! Click HERE for an awesome one I found. Then, start tracking using an app like MyFitnessPal. It will take a little while to get the hang of it, but long-lasting and true results are what we are all after, right? Here’s the kicker: Online calculators can be off and not as precisely customized as a plan that comes from a real-life macro coach. The macro coach is going to cost more than “free” online calculators to get started, but it’s the BEST investment I’ve made for my health and fitness EVER. Doing things on my own has proven to have me going in circles, and having a coach has truly been life-changing. For anyone interested, here are links to my own coach’s team…they are amazing, and I trust them with your plan completely:

Pro Physiques, or @theprophysiques on Instagram, or email them at [email protected]

I also LOVE my good friend, Cori Baker…who many of you may already follow. She is incredible, is coached by the same coach I am, and is working wonders with her own clientele. She’s @cori_fit on Instagram, and her site is corifit.com/coaching.

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Did it scare me to hear my coach say I needed to eat WAY more carbs than I was eating? YEP! Did I doubt it would really work for me? YEP! Was I afraid that eating carbs AND lifting weights would make me “bulk up” or gain weight in places I didn’t want to? ABSOLUTELY. What kept me going was the ability to be consistent on a plan, enjoy foods I always thought were on the naughty list (because they fit into my macros), and… drum roll please… THE RESULTS!! I could not have transformed my body the way I have this past year if it wasn’t for understanding HOW macros affect my body composition. I’m happier than ever, not afraid of food (or the scale), NEVER hungry, and flexible with how I eat. It’s a life I wish for everyone!

Now here’s something crazy…MOST people who need to lose weight actually are coached to INCREASE carbs or other macros when they begin following a macro counting plan. Here is my good friend, Kacey Luvi Pearson.

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She increased her macros (and calories by about 500 a day) over the past 6 months with the help of a macro coach and shredded down to this!! Insane, right? True story. And one story I will be featuring in the upcoming months.

Here are some of my favorite MACROS I always keep on hand!

PROTEINS:
grilled chicken
extra-lean ground turkey
eggs/egg whites
Greek yogurt (nonfat, plain)
cottage cheese (low-fat)
protein powder (I use whey, but adjust according to your own food sensitivities)

CARBS:
brown rice
white rice (yes, I said “white,” believe it or not)
sweet potatoes
red potatoes
white potatoes (there’s that “w” word again…I’ll save my why for another post)
KIND granola
Udi’s gluten-free bread
Kodiak Cakes pancake mix (not gluten-free…but was a fave of mine before I pulled gluten. The Power Cakes are high in protein too!)
fruit
cereal (yes, I can eat cereal again!!)
oatmeal
brown rice powder (Quest is the only brand I know of that makes this. Great for shakes and baking gluten-free)

FATS:
flaxseed
olive oil
avocado
cream cheese
shredded cheese
coconut oil/butter
peanut butter

Be happy, healthy, and never go hungry!

Xoxo,

Heidi

Related reading:

Carb Confusion
The Power of Protein
Carb Cycling 101
Heidi-Approved (& Macro-Friendly) Fast Food Picks
Ask the Powells: How Do I Gain Healthy Weight?
The Extreme Cycle | Meal Planning Tips
Eating with Macros: A Day in the Life

*This blog was a collaborative effort with my good friend, and fellow macro counter, Kacey Luvi Pearson. Thanks, Kacey, for lending your experience, and for spending time putting our brains together and pen to paper on this one!