Counting macros seems like the easiest solution when it comes to weight loss and in particular, fat loss.
Simply track what you eat, count your macros and the results should come automatically, at least that’s the idea!
What happens though when you are diligently counting macros but not losing weight?
Counting macros alone is not enough to lose weight. You need to ensure that you are consuming a calorie deficit and/or expending enough energy to put your body into an energy deficit and burn body fat. Counting calories is only a tracking tool and does not have any direct impact on weight loss.
If you’ve been of the belief that counting macros/calories is enough to force physical change then unfortunately it’s not the case. Calorie counting is only something that is used to track a metric and is not something that can influence change (to an extent).
In this article, I’ll cover how you should approach counting macro correctly and how long it will take to lose weight when you do count calories because don’t get me wrong, counting macros can and will help you lose weight when done correctly!
Counting Macros but Not Losing Weight
Counting calories has a strange reputation when it comes to weight loss with many people under the impression that by counting calories you’ll directly lose weight as a result. Firstly, counting calories will impact weight loss but just not in a way you might expect…
As an example, take budgeting your money. If you are someone (or know someone) that wonders where all their money has gone by the end of each month then budgeting is something that is often used as a tool to reduce this.
A budgeting basic is tracking all of your spending within a day, week, and month. This means you track every single item or bill that you spend money on and either keep it on paper, in notes on your phone or in an excel spreadsheet for the serious trackers.
Now this exercise alone will not stop you from spending money, all you are doing is noting down what you spend but what it will do is show you areas where you might be spending a lot more money than what you thought. The $4 coffee you treat yourself to before work could end up costing $80 per month for workdays or $960 per year.
This article isn’t about money, but that concept is directly relatable. Tracking your spending doesn’t directly make you spend less but it will make you aware of your spending and help you identify areas where you can make a change. These small changes are what will then create the result of having more money left over each month.
When dieting, counting calories follows the same process. You track what you are consuming each day and like the spending example, that same fancy coffee with cream and syrup could be adding 300-400kcals to your intake every single day which soon adds up.
Just counting this intake will not make any difference as you are still consuming it, it’s what you do based on the calories consumed and changes you make that will make the difference. If you are counting your calories strictly every single day and consuming the same 2,000kcal daily intake, this doesn’t guarantee change.
You might actually need to drop this by an extra 200kcals, maybe you don’t burn enough energy through exercise so could consider a 40 minute walk or 20 minute HIIT session (I’ve also made an article on ways to cut without cardio), or maybe you are consuming too much fat/carbs and need to keep your calories the same but reduce the fat/carb intake and increase your protein intake.
There are a lot of adjustments you can make once you count your calories and track your macros but simply doing this will not make you lose weight.
Why You’re Not Losing Weight When Counting Macros
If you’re counting macros then this is genuinely one of the best steps you can take towards weight loss. I mentioned above more the importance of tracking calorie intake, in general, to identify where you might be making mistakes with your diet but counting macros takes this a step further.
It’s easy to assume that by tracking macros and being diligent with the diet choices that you’d expect to see results as a guarantee. I’d typically agree so if you are frustrated at going through all of the efforts of tracking macros with no weight loss to show for it, it could be the result of some of these factors:
1. Calories Are Not Set Properly
The simplest answer is that your overall calorie intake is not set at a level where you will lose weight. If you consume 2,300kcal per day as an example but your maintenance calorie requirements (how many calories you need just to maintain weight each day) are 2,100kcal, you’re actually consuming a calorie surplus and could even see weight gain in this scenario.
It’s fair to assume that a lot of people reading this will have already worked out their calorie requirements but if not, check out the tool I’ve linked above just to double check. Not having the correct starting point would mean it could be a long time before you see results even with frequent adjustments and lifestyle changes.
Therefore, before even worrying about how many macros you need to consume, make sure your total intake is in line with your goals.
2. Bodies Adjustment When Counting Macros
Next, you need to ensure you’re not setting unrealistic timelines for your changes to take effect. The body is an adaptive organism designed primarily for survival (and reproduction but that’s less relevant) which makes it stubborn and resistant to change.
This is the result of homeostasis where your body attempts to keep balance and won’t make a change for cosmetic reasons. To build muscle, you need to progressively get stronger in the gym and force your body to grow and adapt.
Losing weight is slightly easier but it’s still not an overnight fix. Any change you make to your diet needs 1-3 weeks just for your body to process the new normal.
A high carb intake draws water into the muscle groups so when you switch to a low carb diet, the reversal process will be a gradual reduction in water weight rather than a drastic loss of fat which people often assume when the scale weight drops.
You, therefore, need to give your body time to adapt and THEN make some further adjustments to your calorie intake, macro split, or energy expenditure. You then repeat the cycle. I’ll cover some general weight loss timelines shortly to give you a better idea.
3. Macro Proportions are Wrong
Wrong is likely not the best word to use as there really is no right or wrong when it comes to dieting. The body is complex and no way near as simple as changing one factor and seeing results. What could be the issue though, is that your macro proportions might not be ideal for weight loss.
This not only means you might be consuming too much of a certain macronutrient, but you could also be consuming too little as well.
It’s impossible to give a clear recommendation for what you should be consuming but you could use the below as a starting point and make adjustments from there:
** for this, you will need to know your maintenance requirements. If my maintenance requirements are 2,500kcals, my aim on a cut would be a deficit of 200kcals to test so this example is based on 2,300Kcals.
- Protein – 1g per 1lb of body weight (a 200lb individual will consume 200g protein)
- Fat – 0.45g per 1lb of body weight (a 200lb individual will consume 90g fat [200*0.45])
- Carbs – make up from remaining calories.
To work out carbs, you need to know that 1g of protein and carbohydrate equals 4 calories and 1g of fat is equal to 9 calories.
Therefore, convert the above into calories:
- Protein – 200g is 200*4 = 800kcals
- Fat – 90g is 90*9 = 810kcals
Protein and fat make up 1610kcals combined, if my cutting target is 2,300kcal I therefore have 690kcals leftover for carbs (2300-1610).
- Carbs – 690kcals is 690/4 = 173g carbs per day.
My macro split is now 200g protein, 90g fat, and 173g carbs. Once you have this initial starting point based on your calorie target, you can then make adjustments to see further progress over time.
How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight When Counting Macros
If you’ve been incredibly detailed when it comes to counting macros and you’re really struggling to see results, you might be wondering how long it actually takes to lose weight when counting macros and the honest answer is that it depends…
Counting macros alone will not cause weight loss (though it is a tool that will significantly help) much like lifting a specific weight will not automatically build muscle. Counting macros is something you do to know how much you are consuming and what you then need to do in order to see results.
Counting macros will only give an indication, it’s the adjustments you make based on the calories you are counting that will make the impact and change to your physique. Making adjustments is not a quick or simple process.
Putting yourself into a deep calorie deficit by consuming 1,000kcal per day will certainly see weight loss but not in a healthy or sustainable way. Therefore you should only be looking to lose 1-2lbs of body fat per week.
This may not be the figure you wanted to hear but it’s sustainable over the months, will reduce the likeliness of rebound dieting, and most importantly, will be easier to do psychologically. Would you rather lose 20lbs in 2 months only to then gain it again over the following 4 months or lost 20lbs in 4-6 months but maintain it for the next 2-4 years?
When counting macros, you should make small changes that result in an average of 1-2lbs fat loss per week. This is the most sustainable thing as reducing your calorie intake by 100kcals and seeing results is easier than reducing it by 1,000kclas, seeing instant results but then not having the option to reduce it further in a few week’s time.
Counting macros is not the key to weight loss and you shouldn’t be surprised that counting macros alone is not leading to the weight loss you expected. It’s a tool that can certainly speed up fat loss and transform your physique but only when it’s used as a tool and not the method.
If you are not seeing any changes to your physique, continue to count your macros but just make adjustments and track the effectiveness of your changes. Reducing carbs by 50g per day could see instant results but you won’t know this unless you test and log it.
It may seem like a boring or tedious task, but there is no weight loss magic formula and everyone responds differently to exercise and nutrition. If you track it though, this will give you a good indication of what you need to do to make changes. It’s only through adjustments that you’ll see results.
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