I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about the Macro Diet before doing my own research for this series. When I was in my disorder, my social media feeds were saturated with fitness and “health” bloggers, many of whom followed this diet and would post the calorie, fat, protein, and carb numbers in the caption of their daily oatmeal photo. So, aside from knowing there was a counting component, I didn’t know much else about it. I had outlined this series before starting, and believed that the ketogenic and paleo-like diets would be some of the most restricting/dangerous out there. If you asked my opinion now though, I’d probably tell you that the Macro Diet is the most mentally and emotionally debilitating set of guidelines used to consume food.
A quick search of “The Macro Diet” will tell you it aims for “disease prevention and optimal health,” and claims “you’ll ward off and cure diseases – including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer some proponents say – and live a healthy, happy, long life.” Yet reading further from the same source, and the answers are full of ‘maybe, possibly, likely, probably’ and many other statements that don’t make the diet at fault should you not experience these outcomes. So, who is at fault then? Why, you of course! YOU failed the diet, YOU have no willpower, YOU can’t lose weight. I’m going to expand on this later, but we are all quick to blame ourselves for not losing or keeping weight off after trying a diet, when really, we should ask ourselves if it’s the diet that failed us.
Quoted from its description, macrobiotic diets are “essentially vegetarian (some nearly vegan) and emphasize natural, organically and locally grown, whole foods.” This trifecta of rules (not the vegetarian/vegan part) essentially makes up what eating disorder specialists today recognize as orthorexia. Orthorexia is a newer term in the ED world, and while not officially recognized as a disorder in the DSM-5 (though it’s only a matter of time in my opinion), this unhealthy obsession with healthy eating can lead to restriction and suffering seen in the common eating disorders we medically recognize today. “Orthorexia appears to be motivated by health, but there are underlying motivations, which can include safety from poor health, compulsion for complete control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, improving self-esteem, searching for spirituality through food, and using food to create an identity.” Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with choosing nourishing foods and here at Nutrition Intuition, we are all about organic and natural food, but it’s important to remember that physical and mental health is all about balance. Following a rigid set of rules when it comes to food usually doesn’t end well and can result in common eating disorders. Some of these are the same rigid rules required for the Macro diet.
- No dairy
- No eggs
- No poultry
- No red meat
- No alcohol
- Nothing artificial, processed, or with chemical additives
- Fruit, fish/seafood, nuts, and seeds only 1-2 times/week
- Restaurant foods aren’t likely to align with your acceptable foods list, causing you to turn down social outings with friends/family, stress over work lunches/functions, and ultimately deny any food intake out of your own control
- Recommends chewing each bite 50 times
And here’s what your daily numbers look like if you’re a moderately active adult over 19 years of age:
I have so many problems with this chart; I almost don’t know where to begin. The vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that are actually accounted for are far below the recommended intake, with the exception of sodium, which this diet increases above the recommended intake. If you were to read the warnings of the Macro diet, one of the dangers of this diet is that the acceptable foods don’t offer all of the vitamins and minerals we need, and was actually described as “worrisome” by some nutritional professionals. There is no recommendation for fiber, something Americans already tend to be low on and allotted fat amounts are too low for optimal brain functioning.
The Macro diet emphasizes optimal health, with weight loss as a probable result. “Just build in a calorie-deficit – eat fewer calories than your daily recommended max, or burn off extra by exercising – and you should see the numbers of the scale budge. How quickly and whether you keep the weight off is up to you.” Again, I want you to notice how the blame turns to YOU, should you not see this result. Here is a list of my problems with this claim, and I urge you to read more about what I’m going to describe below in Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon:
- Eating below your actual daily recommended max (which is actually calculated on your height, weight, activity level, body composition, and family history, and not the number above) will lead your body to compensate using mechanisms that trigger fat storage and weight gain due to the hormonal imbalances of leptin insulin, PYY, and ghrelin. Eating when you’re hungry won’t make you fat, it will continue to fuel your furnace and keep your body nourished.
- Our bodies are designed to keep us at the “set point” we’re supposed to be at, and you biologically cannot maintain a calorie deficit for extended periods of time before your hypothalamus either forces you to the table, or turns down the metabolic processes your body uses to burn energy in an effort to conserve it instead. There is a small population of people of who can in fact conquer their hunger drives. While they do feel hunger, the control center in their brain called the insula in charge of initiating eating is damaged – these patients tend to suffer from Anorexia Nervosa.
- There has not been one study to prove that diets produce long-term weight loss, yet many that show consistent dieting can increase abdominal fat in the long-term and raise a person’s “set point!” (The book above does a fabulous job explaining this).
- Long-term studies also do not show that people lose significant weight on exercise programs. There are a couple explanations offered for this:
- While exercise helps improve the sensitivity of appetite suppressing hormones, there is a cap on how much of those hormones our brains will accept. Eventually, over-exercisers will plateau and workouts will simply maintain the weight, not help shed it. If you’re over-exercising or participating in workouts you hate, chances are you’ll burn out and weight will pack back on
- People often use working out as an excuse to eat more than they are actually hungry for. Remember, appetite suppressing hormones increase with physical activity, so while yes you may need more calories to support your increased energy exertion, we tend to continue ignoring our hunger and satiety cues and over-plate.
Just to be clear, I am not discouraging exercise AT ALL. Physical activity can cure and prevent many chronic diseases, and has been shown to increase self-confidence, self-acceptance, sense of personal worth, and feeling comfortable in your own body. I am simply encouraging finding activities that you enjoy and will therefore maintain, and dumping the stuff you don’t.
So, no, Mr. Macro Diet, weight loss is not as simple as simply eating less or working out more.
The sample menu provided for this diet lacks nutritional variety and well roundedness. Take a look at the breakfast and lunch:
I see a plate full of water-dense items aimed to trick you into feeling full. I see meals lacking color from a shortage of fruits and vegetables. We know that nature’s colors provide us with a lot of different vitamins and minerals. Take dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale – full of calcium, B-Vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, potassium, copper, and manganese. Fruits like strawberries and blueberries offer folate, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. Dairy provides us with vitamins B6 and B12, cancer-protecting CLA, essential proteins, and beneficial gut bacteria. Red meat gives us lots of B vitamins, vitamin D and metabolites that speed up its absorption, iron, zinc, vitamin E, and carotenoids. Each for these vitamins and minerals play such a key role in our body’s day-to-day functioning, especially for our pregnant and breast-feeding mamas out there! Additionally, the Macro diet encourages a large amount of consumption from soy-related products as well.
Marketed as a high-protein, low-fat alternative to meat and dairy, and costing next to nothing compared to animal proteins to produce, it’s no surprise that soy carries the sixty-six-billion-dollar industry it is today. Knowing what we know about food and politics, any industry that can fund not only research, but lavish extravagant conferences wooing dietitians, healthcare professionals, and university scientists are paving a path to success. Success, of course, being a positive view in the public’s eye due to those health-care professionals ramping up the benefits and keeping hush on the drawbacks of any certain product, idea, or industry. We’ve seen it with the sugar industry, fat industry, weight loss industry, and now the soy industry. The truth is, many studies have shown adverse effects of soy on thyroid function (hyperthyroidism, hyperthyroidism), interference with the production and utilization of hormones, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Diet culture has led us to believe that there is something wrong with our bodies, and therefore ourselves, but they have an answer for us! The truth is, we were born with a process so individualized, no diet could ever replicate its effectiveness. Our body’s ability to manage itself is intricate, complex, and fascinating; we just have to let it. This is a difficult phenomenon to grasp onto, because many of us have been led to believe we can’t trust ourselves, our hunger and satiety cues, our “willpower,” and that we need a set of rules and guidelines to tell us what to do. I know that I and the Nutrition Intuition cannot single-handedly destroy the grasp diet culture and industry has on Americans, but I do hope I’ve destroyed the desire to put your body through “the Macro diet.” And if you need extra convincing, check out these reviews below:
Written by Madeleine White
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Daniel, Kaayla. The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food(New Trends, 2005).