If you’ve started tracking your macros and are patiently (or impatiently) waiting for signs of progress, you’re probably wondering how long it takes for results to occur. As a dietitian, I’ll walk you through a realistic timeline and explain why you may not see results as quickly as you’d like.
- Counting macros for weight loss only works if your macro targets add up to a calorie target that puts you in a deficit. You will not lose weight if you are not in a calorie deficit.
- A 5-10% reduction in weight over three months is a healthy and safe target for weight loss if you’re tracking macros.
- If you’re not losing weight (or noticing changes in measurements) after a month, you must re-evaluate your macro targets, food choices, food logging, and lifestyle (e.g., stress, sleep, activity level).
Does Counting Macros REALLY Work For Weight Loss?
Counting macros can be an effective weight loss tool, especially for people with specific performance and body composition goals.
Counting macros helps you lose weight because your macros (protein, carb, and fat targets) add up to a calorie intake that puts you into a deficit (fewer calories than your body needs to maintain weight).
A calorie deficit causes weight loss by forcing the body to burn its resources (preferably fat) for fuel. I recommend a 250-500 calorie deficit.
Taking this a step further and calculating macronutrient targets based on this calorie intake helps optimize your ability to lose fat while retaining muscle and improving or maintaining fitness.
- Use our Body Recomposition Calculator to determine the optimal macro targets to lose weight.
How Long Do You Have To Count Macros To Lose Weight?
The time it takes to see weight loss results with macro counting varies from person to person; however, if you are consistent with your calorie deficit, you can expect changes in your weight or circumference measurements after 1 to 4 weeks.
A safe and realistic weight loss target should be around 0.5-1 pound a week, resulting in 5-10% weight loss over three months.
Three months is the recommended amount of time to spend in a weight loss phase without taking a break; any longer, you may suppress your metabolism and struggle to lose weight in the future.
Calculating Rate Of Loss
You can calculate your rate of weight loss with the following information:
- Baseline weight first thing in the morning, before eating, and after using the bathroom.
- Daily or weekly weigh-ins (under the same conditions)
Using this information, assess your weekly progress to see if you’re within the target of 0.5-1 lb/week.
Here’s how I would calculate this:
Let’s assume my initial weight is 60kg (132 lbs), and I aim to lose 5-10% of that over three months.
5-10% of 60 kg is 3-6 kg (7-13 lbs). If I stay consistent with my weekly rate of loss, I can weigh 54-57 kg (119-125 lbs) after three months.
Therefore, my weekly rate of loss should be between 0.58-1.08 lbs per week.
Factors Influencing Rate Of Loss
In an ideal world, you would see this rate of loss week to week and achieve linear progression; however, this is rarely the case as multiple factors influence weight management and how quickly macro counting produces results.
These factors include:
- Physiology and Lifestyle: factors such as basal metabolic rate (BMR), activity level, age, genetics, and hormonal balance all impact how quickly macro counting for weight loss works. These factors determine your weight loss rate.
- Consistency: it takes time for your body to adapt to new eating habits and for you to notice significant changes. Some people might see results right away, while others may take longer.
- Nutrition Knowledge: your familiarity with nutrition and the principles of macro counting can affect your progress. If you are a beginner at macro counting, it may take some time to grasp the concept and accurately track macros, while if you have prior experience, you might adapt more quickly.
- Dieting History: if you’ve tried various diets or weight loss methods in the past, your metabolism may be slow, making it more challenging. In this case, you need to reverse diet or at least spend time eating at maintenance (the number of calories you need to maintain weight).
Macro Tracking Results After 1-Week
If you’ve tracked macros diligently and been in a calorie deficit (250-500 calories per day) for one week, you can expect to lose around 0.5-1 pounds of body weight (this is the best-case scenario).
Other possible outcomes include:
- Weight Gain: if you’re starting a new workout program at the same time that you begin tracking macros, your weight on the scale might increase. This increase happens because your muscles will be sore and retain water, which registers as weight gained on the scale.
- Weight Maintenance: For some, it takes longer for their body to show results. This week’s efforts may not register on the scale until two weeks later, so it’s important not to get discouraged when results are instantaneous.
After a week of tracking, you should be in the habit of tracking your food, hitting your targets more efficiently, and being more conscious of which foods contain which macronutrients.
Macro Tracking Results After 1-Month
If you’ve consistently tracked macros and maintained a calorie deficit for one month, you could expect a 2-4 pound loss (or ~1.5-3% reduction of your initial weight), depending on your initial weight and the size of your calorie deficit.
You might also experience changes in your relationship with food, which extend beyond just numbers on the scale.
You will likely be more health conscious, naturally gravitating towards nutrient-dense foods that align with your macro targets and limiting your consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods that are harder to fit into your macro targets.
At this point, you should also be more efficient when logging food as you likely repetitively log similar food items in the same portions.
Macro Tracking Results After 3-Months
After three months of macro tracking, you can expect to lose roughly 6-12 pounds of body weight (or a 5-10% reduction of your baseline weight).
Your nutrition knowledge and ability to estimate portion sizes of different foods should have drastically improved.
For example, you should know how to include treats within your macro goals without hindering your progress and which foods to prioritize to meet your macro goals more accurately.
You might also be more organized with meal planning and have strategies for more efficient meal preparation.
For example, batch cooking once a week can save time and stress throughout the week and make it easier to reach your targets.
Perhaps most importantly, you may develop sustainable and balanced eating habits beyond the 3-month tracking period.
Case Study: Results From Clients
As a dietitian, I have experience with macro tracking and assessing clients’ and patients’ diets. I want to highlight one case of a client who successfully achieved weight loss over ten weeks.
This client had yo-yo dieted in the past, could not stick to regular eating patterns, and struggled to keep weight off long-term.
After the first two weeks of tracking macros, this client did not see any changes on the scale despite being in a calorie deficit and thus felt slightly discouraged (on top of being tired and stressed).
This client was focusing solely on meeting macro targets, but she was meeting these targets with whatever foods would fit. She did not focus on sleep hygiene, stress management, or the quality of her food choices.
Here’s an example of what she would eat:
- Breakfast: white bread and peanut butter with full-fat milk
- Lunch: instant noodles for lunch with chicken
- Supper: sausages with tomato salad in the evening
- Snacks: salted nuts
You may have noticed that she tended to gravitate toward higher-sodium foods, which are known to cause water retention. She also struggled with sleep and stress levels, likely contributing to water retention.
After the first two weeks, I encouraged her to prioritize leaner protein sources and choose carbohydrates with higher fiber content. I also recommended she establish a bedtime routine that promotes better sleep hygiene.
After ten weeks of consistently logging food and working on creating healthier habits, this client saw a 5% reduction in weight.
Beyond the numbers, she reported feeling more energetic and making better food choices that focused more on keeping her full and helping her avoid overconsuming energy-dense foods.
As such, she felt that macro tracking was integral to losing weight and maintaining progress long-term.
- Want to work with me? Check out our nutrition coaching page for more details.
4 Tips For Getting Results Faster When Counting Macros
Here are my top four tips for faster results:
1. Set Appropriate Macro Targets
Ensure macro targets are within appropriate ranges to preserve muscle, improve energy levels, and maintain hormonal health.
For reference, the Institute of Medicine recommends 45-65% carbs, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fats.
To calculate your macro targets, you must use your calorie target and calculate the distribution of these calories among carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Remember that carbohydrates and proteins provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.
For example, if your calorie target for weight loss is 2000 calories per day, your macro targets might be:
- Carbs: 45% of 2000 calories = 900 calories (total of 225 grams per day)
- Protein: 30% of 2000 calories = 600 calories (total of 150 grams per day)
- Fats: 25% of 2000 calories = 500 calories (total of 55 grams per day)
2. Track Macros Accurately
If the food entries you use are inaccurate or you log the wrong portion size, progressing will be more challenging.
When measuring and logging your food, ensure you use an app with a verified food database (where food entries are confirmed to be accurate), choose the best entry, and input your portion size accurately.
For example, you could use a digital food scale to weigh foods and input them into an app with a large verified food database, like MacroFactor.
One common mistake I see is clients searching for “Chicken Salad Sandwich” in the food database rather than breaking it down into bread, chicken, mayo, etc.
Breaking meals into individual components is more accurate than searching for a generic meal.
3. Consistent Tracking
Stay consistent by tracking your macros daily and aiming to be within 5 grams of your targets as often as possible. If there are days when you’re over or under this goal, don’t give up; simply make a plan to be more consistent going forward.
You don’t have to hit your macros perfectly every day to make progress, but you do have to put in consistent effort.
If you struggle with consistency, make it as easy as possible to succeed by:
- Planning your meals and snacks the night before
- Choosing an app with a barcode scanner to log foods faster
- Prepping your food in advance so it’s ready to go
- Saving recipes you use frequently in the app as custom meals
4. Periodic Macro Updates
As your body changes, your macro needs may also need adjusting. By periodically reassessing your calorie and macro targets, you can ensure they align with your current or new goals.
In the case of a weight loss plateau (when you stop losing weight despite being consistent with your calorie intake), it is best to adjust your calorie and macro targets.
For example, if you were previously eating 2050 calories and losing weight but have reached a plateau, decrease your intake to 1800 calories (-250 calories) and re-calculate your macro targets.
On the other hand, if you achieve your weight loss goal and want to maintain your results, increase your calories by 150-250 and re-calculate your macro targets (aka reverse dieting).
- Read my article Counting Calories vs Counting Macros
Is There Anything Else That Influences Your Results Besides Food?
Aside from food intake, factors like activity level, stress, and sleeping habits significantly affect how quickly or slowly one achieves results.
When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, and high levels of this over time lead to a greater consumption of calorie-dense, fatty, or sugary foods.
As such, if you don’t manage your stress, you may struggle with cravings that make it challenging to adhere to your macro targets.
Sleep is essential for overall health and weight loss because it affects the hormones insulin, leptin, and ghrelin, which regulate appetite.
So, if you have poor sleeping habits (e.g., sleep deprivation), you will have less energy and dysregulated hunger and satiety signals.
This dysregulation might increase your desire for more calorie-dense foods, making it challenging to prioritize whole foods and stick to your macro targets.
Your activity level will influence your energy expenditure (the amount of calories you burn, your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE) and your muscle mass, which will impact your results.
More specifically, the amount and intensity of your workouts (exercise activity) and daily activities that aren’t structured exercise (non-exercise activity, or NEAT), like walking, fidgeting, household chores, or standing, make a significant difference in progressing towards your results.
If your activity level is low, it will be harder to achieve sustainable results when tracking your macros because you will have to eat less food than you would if you were active.
You are also less likely to look “toned” or “fit” as you lose weight because you will have less muscle than someone active.
It Feels Like I’m Eating Too Much Counting Macros – Is This Why I’m Not Losing Weight?
When you start counting macros, you might think you are overeating because the volume of food you are eating is significantly higher than it was previously. The increase in food volume is likely due to prioritizing whole foods over processed, high-calorie foods.
For example, if you’re used to eating frozen pizza but now you’re eating chicken, rice, and vegetables, you will be eating much more food than you’re accustomed to despite consuming fewer calories.
However, you may be overeating if you’re not losing weight while tracking your macros. Reassess your calorie target, accuracy, consistency, food choices, and habits to see where you can adjust or hire a coach to help you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Normal To Gain Weight The First Week of Counting Macros?
You can gain weight in the first week of counting macros; this is common for those starting a workout plan at the same time they begin macro tracking. I suggest sticking to a plan for at least two weeks before adjusting your targets.
Can You Lose Weight Just By Counting Macros?
You can lose weight just by counting macros if your macro targets are based on a calorie intake that creates a calorie deficit. However, the foods you eat to hit your macro targets and your activity level can drastically affect your results.
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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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