9 Noteworthy Things I Learned From a Year of Counting My Macros

It wasn’t an anniversary marked on my calendar, like a birth or a wedding.

It was just a note in my journal, noting my weight and my measurements and the day that I started counting my macros, and it was a year ago. Weird. How could a year go by with a guiding nutritional concept in my life, and I didn’t even really notice? If this had been the Zone or strict Paleo or Weight Watchers or just any plain old starvation “diet” I would have been marking off those days on the calendar like it was a release date and the gates were about to spring open. (“Here you go, Prisoner Darsh! Good luck in the real world!”)

But, nope. It was just another day. And that’s why it was special.

See, counting my macros didn’t freak me out. It didn’t isolate me. It didn’t make me feel bad about myself or what I look like or who I am. But counting my macros did make me feel strong and like I could live my life in control of my food intake without interrupting my life or drastically changing it.

And, so I wanted to share 9 Things I Learned From a Year of Counting My Macros: 

1.) A Crockpot of Shredded Chicken Saved Me More Often Than Jesus

Okay, not really, but you get what I’m saying. When I was hungry and ready to eat anything in my kitchen, having a container of pre-cooked chicken saved me from making many a bad decision. It not only saved that meal, but maybe my whole day, sometimes my whole week. (The slippery slope is very slippery.) Ditto for a pot of taco ground beef or a plate of grilled pork chops.

Food prep was my friend. Sure, it’s not the most fun but it helped to do it, do it, do it. (The repetition is important there.) I’m not a queen at food prep (like my incredibly lean and strong training partner, Adriana), but this much I know: when I took that time to meal plan and food prep, everything got easier and my choices got better.

2.) Counting My Macros Was Like Balancing My Checkbook. It Worked Best When I Counted It All

If you only count the good stuff or you only count some of the days, you might only get some of the results you want. For me, I found macro counting worked best if I counted everything, including that Chinese food lunch that I wasn’t planning on, but it was a rainy day and my son had just finished his track meet and he asked if we could hang out on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat Chinese food. Those are the kind of things you say “Yes” to with your teenager, not “Well, I’ll eat my lettuce leaves and 5 almonds with some raw goat meat while you enjoy that Won Ton Soup and Szechuan Chicken, Honey.”  bite it write it

It worked because I could enter almost any food into My Fitness Pal, assess what I’d done to my plan for the day, and then get back on track. Counting it all ensured (for me) that I might have one unplanned meal but then I got back quick for the next planned one. It helped me to only lose a caboose sometimes, and not derail the entire train.

Like this piece of great advice someone gave to me: “If you bite it, write it.”

 3.) Eating The Same Things Wasn’t Boring—It Was My Secret Weapon

Routine can be your friend in some respects. I like to set up a standard breakfast, then rotate through great lunch and dinner options. So, six days per week you can find me eating three scrambled eggs and a cinnamon-raisin English muffin with a pat of Kerry Gold butter for breakfast. I just swipe right on My Fitness Pal to add my breakfast, and proceed with the rest of my day from a smooth start.

4.) Going to the Gym Remained Fun While Counting My Macros

I’m a gym junkie, and I love to lift heavy. Previously, while trying other plans like the Zone or strict Paleo, I found myself hungry, irritated and distracted while working out. Sometimes, I found myself feeling weak, too. Maybe I didn’t finesse those plans as well, but I found that while counting my macros, I could time carbs around my workouts and feel strong.

Also, all my lifts increased while counting my macros. Nothing decreased. (And I’m 50 years old, so this is no minor accomplishment.) Sure, I was following a dedicated (and wonderful) training program during this year, so that was a major factor as well. Still, I loved being able to follow a nutrition plan and feel like I was becoming more of myself, not less.

5.) The Scale Went Up and Down, But the Measuring Tape Always Moved In a Direction I Liked

At first, I ignored my scale. I didn’t want to weigh in. The measuring tape became my best friend. But, eventually, I learned that the scale didn’t have to be my enemy. It provided a decent piece of information to consistently add to my data. And that number would go down, then up, then down, then up, then down. But I didn’t panic. It never went above where I started. Did that number go down a lot? No (more on that in the next part) but I got stronger, and Hydrostatic Bodyfat Testing (the “Dunk Tank”) confirmed that I was gaining muscle and losing fat. And that’s a double win.

6.) When I Stopped Counting, My Body Stopped Changing

During this year, I fell off the macro wagon several times. I would track for a few months, then not track. Track again, then stop tracking. And my results (or lack of) fell right in line with when I counted and when I didn’t.

When I counted my macros, the measuring tape would show less mass, but when I was on a counting hiatus, it was like my body went into a permanent freeze. I didn’t gain, but my set point was set. As soon as I resumed macro counting, things started moving again. Now I’m back on a serious bout of tracking and my body is changing again.

7.) I Could Go Out to Dinner with Friends, and Not Panic or Feel Guilty or Set Myself Back

How many times have you been on some sort of nutritional plan and you’re doing great, then friends ask you to meet for dinner and you panic? Your mind starts racing. What are you going to select from the menu? How will you count this? Will you have to ask for your food to be prepared in a certain manner? Will the waiter and the people at your table roll their eyes? Or worse, will you end up ordering something that wrecks your plan and sets you back to the start of whatever you’re doing? I’ve been there and thought all those thoughts.

But I didn’t stress when I was counting my macros. I could have dessert if I wanted it. Even a beer. But I made sure everything went into my food log. And then I got back quickly and hit my next meal according to my plan.

8.) I Didn’t Cry as Much

I’ll be honest: the Zone makes me cry. I know it’s a great plan for some people, but I am not one of those people. I didn’t mind starving myself during the day, but then I would hit 8pm and have no blocks left to eat, yet still have to stay up for a few hours of work—and that would make me sad. Working is hard enough, but working on a rumbling stomach at night crushed me. Counting my macros helped me to better regulate my day and my emotions.

9.) I Was Happy and Felt Like a Normal Person

Now, I know I’m not so normal to begin with (none of us are) but most of us still have this need to belong at some level, and eating differently from your peers and/or family can feel isolating. Nutrition can be as much of a mental game as a physical one. I struggle with feeling like I’m depriving myself or punishing myself. But I didn’t feel that way while counting my macros.

I think one of the important components of success to any nutritional program is building in some points for psychological relief—a pressure relief valve of sorts. We all do this in different ways (perhaps) or we might end up abandoning a program. But in a year of counting my macros, I found enough small psychological relief points that I never felt like I was depriving or punishing myself. I felt happy and normal. It was awesome!

Now that it’s been a year of counting my macros, I have only one regret: that I stopped tracking at points. I wish I had been more consistent all the time. But you know what? What’s done is done. There’s no point in beating myself up. I’m back on track and I’m looking forward to learning more in this next year of tracking my macros!

If you would like some help with your Nutrition, Crux has several offering to help set you up for success!   

This article originally appeared on http://www.eattoperform.com/ Lisbeth Darsh is the author of "The Functional Fitness Coloring & Activity Book for Adults", "Strong Starts in the Mind" and "Live Like That." She blogs regularly at Words With Lisbeth.