If counting macros isn’t for you, you’re probably wondering about alternative approaches to reach your goals. As a dietitian, I always tell my clients that “nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all” approach. So, below, I’ll give you four alternatives.
- Macro tracking is an effective strategy for weight and body composition changes, but if it interferes with your quality of life, it’s time for a different approach.
- Shifting from macro tracking to alternative approaches requires you to trust your body, overcome the fear of weight gain/loss, and let go of the psychological dependence on numerical targets.
- Alternatives to macro tracking include intuitive eating, portion control methods (e.g., hand portion method), meal prepping, and using non-macro counting apps.
When To Consider Alternatives To Tracking Macros?
Macro tracking is an excellent tool for reaching your nutritional goals; however, it’s not for everyone. Macro tracking requires more attention to detail than many are willing or able to dedicate.
If you struggle to stay consistent with tracking your macro intake and find yourself constantly starting over, then it’s time to consider an alternative approach.
Another sign that macro tracking isn’t for you is if you’re obsessing over hitting your macros and feel it’s affecting your quality of life. If you feel your worth is tied to hitting your macros perfectly, it’s time to take a step back from macro-tracking.
Lastly, plugging foods and recipes into a macro-tracking app takes time, so you’ll need a better approach if you don’t have the time or mental energy to dedicate to this task.
The Mindset Shift From Counting Macros To Not Counting Macros
Shifting from counting macros to not counting macros is a significant mindset change. This shift can open doors to a better relationship with food, promoting a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.
However, it can be a challenging shift.
“Food preferences, choices and eating habits are notoriously hard to change as they are a central aspect of people’s lifestyles and their socio-cultural environment.”– Frontiers Journal Of Psychology – Eating Behaviour.
If you have tracked macros for a long time (e.g., months or years), giving up the sense of control may be difficult, but this depends on how rigid you were with your tracking.
If you have taken a more flexible approach to tracking by having untracked days and estimating portion sizes, giving up tracking will be easier. However, if you are a perfectionist who needs to weigh and measure everything you eat, giving it up for a more intuitive approach will be challenging.
There will be a learning curve in understanding how to estimate portions of different foods without relying on precise measurements like food scales or barcodes on food packaging labels and food databases.
It will also require you to adjust the way you think about your food intake, habits, and behaviors. You must learn to trust your body, overcome the fear of weight gain/loss and the psychological dependence on numerical targets, and change your daily habits.
Although taking a step back from tracking can be scary, it’s important to remember that just because you’re giving up tracking doesn’t mean you won’t reach your goals.
4 EASY Ways To Ditch Macros
The top four alternatives to macro tracking are:
1. Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating encourages listening to your body’s signals without strict dietary rules. This eating style means listening to hunger and fullness cues to guide you when you are eating.
An intuitive eating approach is best for those who want to develop a healthy relationship with food and learn to trust their body to tell them when and how much to eat.
One of the most essential aspects of intuitive eating is listening to your cravings and body signals (hunger, fullness, and energy levels) without judgment and eating accordingly.
Intuitive eating still requires you to be aware of food’s nutrient content and calorie density to build satisfying meals and interpret why your body responds a certain way to certain foods. But it provides the freedom to choose based on how you feel and not on set targets.
- Related: Counting Macros vs Keto: Which Is Better For Weight Loss
2. Portion Control
Portion control involves using different “tools” to measure and control portion sizes without detailed tracking, allowing for flexibility in food choices. It is best for those who want some structure without the meticulousness of tracking every nutrient.
The following are the most popular portion control methods:
Hand Portion Size Method
This method involves using your hands to estimate portions and build your meals. One serving of every food group corresponds to different parts of your hands.
- One serving of protein-rich foods (e.g., eggs, fish, and tofu) is one palm-size portion for women and two for men.
- One serving of vegetables (e.g., broccoli, carrots, tomatoes) is one fist-size portion for women and two for men.
- One serving of carb-rich foods (e.g., pasta, rice, and potatoes) is one cupped handful for women and two for men.
- One serving of high-fat foods (e.g., nuts, oil, butter) is one thumb-size portion for women and two for men.
Based on these servings, a meal for a man would be two palm-sized servings of eggs, two cupped-hand servings of potatoes, two fist-sized portions of mixed salad, and two thumb-sized portions of olive oil dressing.
Aim for three daily meals that follow these guidelines to start, and then feel free to make adjustments based on your needs. If you’re hungry between meals, consider adding 1 or 2 snacks or an additional serving of protein and vegetables to your meals.
Balanced Plate Method
This method uses your plate as a rough guide for each meal to estimate portions. Your plate should contain protein, carbs, fruit or vegetables, and fat. General guides suggest to aim for:
- Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with high-quality protein (eggs, chicken breast, tofu, pulses, meat, or fish).
- Fill another quarter of your plate with complex carbs (brown bread, pasta, quinoa, rice, or potatoes).
- Add half a tablespoon (7 grams) maximum with high-fat foods (e.g., plant oils, cream, butter, certain cheeses).
This method is a general healthy eating guide, as individual dietary needs vary.
Like athletes, those who are more physically active may require additional complex carbs to provide energy for workouts. These individuals should use the “Athlete’s Plate” as a portion guide instead, which helps meet sports nutrition recommendations at different training intensities.
Nutrient Portion Containers
Use color-coded containers to manage portions and optimize nutrition. Some containers include gram or ounce markings on them for easy portion control.
They’re compact and color-coded for different food groups (e.g., purple for fruit, green for veggies, yellow for starches, blue for nuts, etc.).
The goal is to fill each container with the corresponding nutrient and eat one serving of each nutrient at each meal. As with the other two portion control methods, you can adjust the number of servings per meal based on how your body responds over time.
3. Meal Prepping
Meal prepping is another strategy to help clients reach their goals. It’s often combined with the portion control method to ensure that the individual gets enough of each nutrient to support their goals.
Often, clients stray from their nutrition plan because healthy food isn’t ready, and they don’t have time to prepare it. By preparing meals in advance, there is no excuse not to eat meals that will help you reach your goals.
Meal prepping will work best for those seeking simplicity and time efficiency because having the same meal for a few days eliminates the need for daily nutrient calculations and reduces daily cooking efforts.
Here’s how to implement this as an alternative:
- Decide on meals for the upcoming days by choosing 1 to 2 options for breakfast, lunch, and supper; ideally, each meal contains a protein, carb, fruit or veg, and fat source.
- Write a list of every food you’ll need to make these meals and head to the store to stock up.
- Prepare each meal and divide them into servings in airtight containers for easy grab-and-go.
- Refrigerate some meals for short-term use and freeze others for later in the week.
Related Article: How to Meal Prep for the Week: 3 Simple Steps
4. Non-Macro Counting Nutrition App
While many macro-tracking apps are available, one that stands out as a potential alternative to macro counting is Noom. Noom emphasizes behavioral coaching and healthy eating habits without the intricacies of detailed macro tracking.
Noom uses a color-coded “traffic light” system to help users choose low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods instead of less nutritious and calorie-rich ones (while sticking to a calorie range).
This app is best for those seeking a more flexible and accessible nutrition and weight loss approach, focusing on sustainable eating habits and behavioral psychology lessons.
Noom has proven to be an effective tool for weight loss and body fat reduction (according to this study) that does not require you to track macros; however, it still emphasizes calorie counting.
Therefore, it could raise the risk of developing an eating disorder in individuals who struggle with perfectionism.
- Check out our Noom Review to learn more.
Can You Still Get Results Without Counting Macros?
You can still achieve results without counting macros because the number one predictor of weight change is your calorie intake, which can be influenced in various ways, not simply through macro counting.
For instance, an individual aiming to lose weight without counting macros could concentrate on making simple food and drink substitutions, such as choosing water over Coke and prepping more steamed or roasted foods instead of fried foods.
Alternatively, someone aiming to gain weight without counting macros might emphasize increasing portion sizes. For instance, they might use three palm-sized servings of carbs at each meal instead of two.
Results depend on consistency, food choices, and understanding of your body’s signals. The best strategy for you is one that aligns with your goals and preferences.
While you might not have the detailed nutrient information of your daily macro intake using the alternatives above, you can effectively see results by changing your eating habits (nutrient balance, nutrient timing, meal structure, meal prepping, correct portion estimation, etc.).
I have seen various cases of clients meticulously tracking macros (and calories) to support them in their weight loss journey, only to come up short.
One client, in particular, sought an alternative to macro counting for a healthier weight and lifestyle after attempting to meet strict macro targets by skipping meals.
Her eating pattern was irregular. On some days, she managed three meals, hitting her macro targets, while on others, she skipped evening meals due to overindulgence in afternoon snacks (birthday cakes, biscuits, and chocolates were readily available at the office).
This erratic cycle left her hungry the next day, fueling guilt about her past choices. This repetitive pattern affected her physical and emotional well-being, making consistency challenging.
Recognizing the need for change, I emphasized plate portion control (with the balanced plate method), meal structure (not skipping her evening meals), and eating more intuitively to let go of the guilt-driven and hunger-inducing patterns.
She started preparing meals at home, limiting office snacking, and changing her eating habits completely, providing structure and eliminating guilt.
In the first few weeks, she felt more satisfied and energized, breaking the cycle of guilt-driven eating. Delighted with her newfound self-control, she occasionally indulged in one or two chocolates at the office without succumbing to the urge for more.
Her journey shows the importance of adopting sustainable practices (alternatives to macro tracking) for long-term success.
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About The Author
Giulia Rossetto is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist. She holds a Masters in Human Nutrition (University of Sheffield, UK) and more recently graduated as a Dietitian (University of Malta). Giulia aims to translate evidence-based science to the public through teaching and writing content. She has worked 4+ years in clinical settings and has also published articles in academic journals. She is into running, swimming and weight lifting, and enjoys spending time in the mountains (she has a soft spot for hiking and skiing in the Italian Dolomites).
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