Reader Question | What's the deal with macros?

I posted on my Instagram stories the other day with some fun questions to see what information y’all are looking for - and you delivered! Here’s a question that came up more than once:

What’s the deal with macros?

So today, we’re chatting all things macronutrients - what they are, why I don’t count them, and how you can tie knowledge from this post into gentle nutrition to fuel your body.

Macros My Plate

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients, or macros, are the nutrients we need in the largest amounts. I refer to them as the Big Three - carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients would include things like vitamins and minerals - important, but not usually what we think of when meal planning. All three macros are important and play different roles.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are “quick” energy - meaning they get used before other energy sources. All carbs get broken down to glucose (sugar), then used by cells for energy - glucose is the preferred energy source for our bodies + brains. Our liver and muscles can store glucose as glycogen - but our brains can’t store any glucose so we need a consistent supply from food.

Carbs are also what’s called “protein-sparing”, meaning without enough carbs, our bodies use protein (muscle) for energy. Not ideal, and one of several reasons I recommend against low-carb diets.

Protein

Protein isn’t actually meant to be an energy source - but it has several other important jobs. It helps cells repair themselves, builds muscle (when enough carbs are eaten), and helps your body create hormones/neurotransmitters - aka chemicals that influence your mood.

Fat

Let’s get one thing out of the way: dietary fat (what you eat) isn’t the same as body fat, and both are important. Fat makes food taste better and provides better satiation (fullness), plus helps your body create hormones, regulate your menstrual cycle, keep nerves healthy, and provides “”slow energy” - i.e., it keeps you full for longer.

Why I don’t count macros

Diets don't work - period. Our bodies all have a weight that they’re happy at, and they do a good job of staying around that weight if we let them. I usually compare this to a thermostat, which kicks in if the temperature gets too high or low - similarly, we get hunger cues or our metabolisms adjust speed to keep our bodies at a range that scientists estimate to be anywhere between 10-20 pounds. Different bodies and metabolisms may have different needs (for example, PCOS) and that’s where nutrition knowledge comes in - to help us meet those needs.

It’s not a natural thought process to go into a meal and say, “When I’m done, I’d like to feel like I had X% of my calories from protein” - so macro counting is a really abstract way of thinking about food that removes you further from a healthy relationship with eating. But you can use knowledge of the macros and what they do in the body to inform your eating.

Macros, meet gentle nutrition

Gentle nutrition (the 10th and final principle of intuitive eating) is really where knowing what macros do what can come into play. 

If you're really hungry, carbs + protein + fat will create a full and balanced meal that will keep you satisfied for longer.

If you're hungry but eating a meal soon, carbs can tide you over while allowing you to be hungry for your meal (hunger is the best seasoning, in my opinion).

If you're hungry and have a while until you can get to a full meal, carbs + protein or fat will help you ride out the wait.

You can know about macros and use that knowledge without specific percentages or a desire to change your body size. When you eat for satisfaction, your whole life becomes more satisfying + you free up brain space formerly used by food rules.

Do you incorporate macros into gentle nutrition? What's the best way you've found to reframe them?