Can you be mindful around your mental health when it comes to macro-counting?

Anti-diet sentiment is on the rise, and that is a good thing. After literally decades of media inundation of diets, diet pills, and a very narrow representation of body sizes and shapes, there is push-back. We are finally seeing more diverse shapes in our print media and on TV and surely most influentially, on social media. There is talk about self-love and self-care. We may never be completely out of the woods, but we seem to be headed in the right direction.That brings some of us in the fitness community, whether that be amateur athletes or competitive pros, to a very puzzling crossroads. If we are tracking our diets and nutrition, specifically with macro tracking, in the name of physique and performance sports, where does that fit in to diet culture? Are we inherently disordered in our eating if we use these tools? Do these tools lead to distortions around food? It’s a tricky question, but one worth asking. Coaches need to be aware of their individual athletes and keen to red flags, but we can also learn strategies to keep ourselves accountable to our mental health. Macro Counting 101  It is likely that if you are here on the CorePerform blog, you are at least aware of macro counting for sport performance or physique goals. But just in case we will provide a brief run-down.Macros refer to macronutrients, and those are the major nutrient needs of our bodies that include protein, fats, and carbohydrates. When we count calories, we influence our weight. But when we count macronutrients, we have the ability to also influence our body composition to achieve muscle mass and fat loss goals. Each macronutrient carries a set amount of calories per gram, so while calorie counting is somewhat built-in, the emphasis is placed on the balance of specific nutrients that will influence our goals.Macro-counting can be a powerful tool for body composition and athletic performance goals. But we need to mindful about our food relationships when macro-counting is in the picture to be sure we are prioritizing physical and mental health over other goals. Here CorePerform sums up some ways that trainers, coaches, athletes and everyday fitness buffs can be mindful around macros. The Coach’s Role In Macro-Counting for AthletesIf you’re an athletic trainer or coach others on sports nutrition in any capacity, it is a responsibility of your role to be aware of your athletes’ health. Sports where muscularity, weight-requirements or physique are emphasized and individual sports such as gymnastics or bodybuilding vs. team sports are higher risk for eating disorders. According to National Eating Disorders Association, a few red flags for coaches include: 

  • Increased fatigue and need for longer rest periods between training sessions or sets
  • Perfectionism
  • Ritualistic behaviors around food
  • Extra workouts beyond the requirements
  • Irritability

 While macro-counting is indeed an effective tool for athletic and physique goals, using judgement to prioritize athlete mental and physical health and keep it within safe parameters is imperative.The National Eating Disorder Association provides a tool kit for trainers and coaches to support their athletes in healthy relationships with food. 

Access the Coaches’ & Trainers’ Tool Kit

Athletes & Macro-Counting

Just as it is important for coaches to recognize and take responsibility for their role in maintaining health around food and nutrition for their athletes, it is vital for athletes to make an effort to be mindful around how their training and nutrition are affecting their health.When Macro-Counting Is Healthy…Precise macro-counting is not intended to be long-term. It can be useful for athletes preparing for a bodybuilding show or building muscle for powerlifting among many other scenarios. A good coach will help an athlete transition to a more sustainable eating pattern after a diet phase is completed. This is imperative. There are ways to increase nutrients whileBesides for the achievement of performance goals, macro-counting may also be useful if you are new to training and nutrition in general and want to begin to understand how your food choices compare to your needs and how you feel in training when you experiment with different ratios of nutrients.Some signs that your headspace is stable around macro-counting include:

  • You can commit to a diet phase, and when it is over you feel low anxiety about returning to a more flexible approach to eating. You achieved your goal, and now you look forward to including some more fun foods into your diet-without guilt.
  • You don’t avoid social situations in order to “control” the food that is available to you. After a diet phase, you do not experience anxiety eating in restaurants or at parties when you don’t know exactly what is in your food.
  • A bit of weight gain after a competition or body composition diet phase ends does not derail you emotionally. You understand that even if the goal was fat loss, it is expected that when you complete your diet phase you will gain a certain percentage of weight back. This might be due to water or glycogen storage in your muscles once carbohydrate intake has increased (yay for fueled workouts!)

When Macro-Counting Isn’t Healthy…Despite there being some legitimate uses for macro-counting, at times there can be downsides too. Some red flags to be aware of in your own behavior are:

  • When you never feel like your diet is “good enough.” You might obsess over getting macro numbers just right and feel bad when you don’t. Red flag.
  • You’re unable to be flexible after a dieting period is over. You might try to reach a goal, and once that is achieved, you continue to feel the need to track and weigh all the time. It is one thing to be aware of your needs, and another to have panic over a meal that isn’t measured.
  • You lose track of the ability to recognize your body’s inner cues. When you track macros, you might finish a meal to meet protein goals that makes you feel uncomfortably full, or you might be left feeling unsatisfied when a measured meal is gone. When we rely on the scale instead of your inherent cues for too long, it might be hard to transition back to listening to your body.

NEDA provides a screening tool to help you analyze your relationship with food and dieting. If you question whether your mindset around nutrition has become skewed, it might be worth a few minutes of your time.

Access the NEDA Screening Tool 

At CorePerform your health is our utmost priority. We want to support you in mental and physical health surrounding nutrition. If you feel that your relationship with food may have gotten beyond your control we encourage you to seek help.

Get Support From NEDA Here

 Beyond Macro-CountingIf you have counted macros and are interested in a more flexible way of approaching tracking, CorePerform can help by guiding you through exchanges. It may also be a great option if you’ve never tracked and are interested in understanding the nutrient make-up of your food.Transitioning away from tracking altogether and re-learning how to be in-tune with body cues might be healthiest for you as well. When that is the case, CorePerform’s Food Freedom might be the best support for you.CorePerform dietitians and coaches can help you decide what is healthiest for you and support you through that journey.