And we're back, later than expected, for Part II of the macro experiment but I have a lot to talk about! If you're interested in reading Part I on how I failed at my first attempt you can find it here.
Today I'm going to be sharing about the next phase of my journey into macro counting as well as a little history. Also, I realized after my last post I never really went into the details for those of you new to macro counting so...let's do that now.
- What is a macro? These are your macro nutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
- Why track macros? Macro counting, when done right, helps you hone in your nutrition in order to reach your fitness, aesthetic, and nutrition goals through balanced and targeted plans.
- Why track macros instead of calories? This is huge, tracking macros creates balanced nutrition. You have targets for protein, carbs, and fat that keep you from slacking in any one area. That balance is essential to getting your body to do what you want it to do, whether that is bulking up, maintaining, or cutting fat. Counting calories can sometimes work, however, the approach does not ensure balanced nutrition which can leave your body feeling starved for certain nutrients. When your body isn't getting what it needs it's not going to respond how you want.
- What's the goal? Whatever you want it to be! Macro based nutrition is totally unique to you, your body, and your goals. A coach will calculate macro targets for you based on your size, weight, training, lifestyle, and goals to help you get where you want to go. You can work toward metabolic rehabilitation, fat loss, muscle gain, both, or just maintain where you currently are.
So...now that we have the basics out of the way I want to share the next, and what I consider to be the most important, phase of my macro counting journey. After my failed attempt at cutting I was frustrated. I'd been dedicated, the process had hurt me more than it had helped me, and it didn't really get me closer to my goal of fat loss. I was still finding that if I increased my caloric intake I was gaining body fat, however, my body was really stubborn about losing anything when calories were low. I just felt stuck. I took some time and started to talking to many other women I knew in the fitness community who I looked up to and started asking them about their nutrition trying to find something that might fit my life and help me get to where I wanted to be. This lead me to reverse dieting.
If you've never heard of reverse dieting, I was right there with you. I took a week reading, researching, talking to friends and coaches, trying to find out everything I could. Basically, the reverse diet is designed to rehabilitate a chronically damaged metabolism. When your metabolism has been damaged from years of low caloric intake cuts are simply not effective. Your body is used to functioning on a minimal amount of food so in order to cut enough to lose body fat you have to basically go into starvation. This is just not a realistic option. Now, before we dive into reversing any further, a little backstory:
I touched on this in my first post but I think it's important to go all in here. When I was a teenager I had some pretty disordered eating. The pressure young girls face to be thin and pretty is already quite high, couple that with wanting to be a tiny ballerina, and a mother who encouraged eating nothing to maintain a small frame and you've got yourself an eating disorder. I danced for 3 hours after school each day and followed it up with a run to burn whatever else I could. If I ate dinner I threw it up as soon as I had a moment to myself.
Things got worse around the time I left for college. I had started taking a medication prescribed to obese patients to help them lose weight. I was already very thin but I wanted more. I dropped to my lowest weight I'd ever been and it destroyed my body. My skin became so thin it tore like tissue paper if I bumped into anything. I was weak, unable to sleep, and unable to focus. I had heart palpitations and was tired all the time. When I developed kidney stones, likely as a result of this medication I had reached a breaking point. After I came clean about everything I was doing to myself and to my boyfriend (now husband), he asked me if I loved dancing, if I was happy, and if I could see myself living my life like this moving forward. I thought for a moment and realized I loved ballet but I didn't see it being my life, I definitely wasn't happy, and I wanted better for myself. I called it quits on everything. I was done with being unhappy, not eating, taking these pills, feeling awful inside and out. I gave it all up that day.
Over the years I struggled to figure out what normal was in regards to exercise and nutrition. While there is more to that story...that's about all we need to come back to reversing.
As I started learning more about reverse dieting for metabolic rehabilitation the idea totally resonated with me. The idea of taking a severely damaged metabolism, like mine, and slowly teaching it how to function again was intriguing. The process works like this, to start, you take your basal metabolic rate plus a little extra and you set your macro targets based on that. Each week you weigh in, provide measurements to calculate body fat percentage, and new macro targets are given. The goal being to increase macros week by week without seeing a significant increase in body fat. If I maintained or lost weight, macros were increased slightly, if I gained over a certain amount they remained unchanged from the previous week so my body could adjust. If I started to gain it indicated my body didn't know how to handle the increase and was storing fat, by maintaining the increase it had time to get used to receiving more food, and eventually, that would become the new normal.
Week by week we pushed my macros up, holding steady when necessary, and increasing as my body adjusted. I reversed from October 2016 to April 2017 and increased my caloric intake from 1350/day to 2250/day without a significant increase in overall weight or body fat percentage. I had put on more muscle than I'd ever been able to previously. I felt good and my body looked good!
Now, what happens from here? We'll save that for The macro experiment - part III. I hope these posts can start more conversations around metabolic damage, rehabilitation, reverse dieting, and the benefits of proper balanced nutrition. Our bodies are so complicated and sometimes it's just overwhelming trying to figure out what to do to reach our goals. Let's open this up and start some real discussions.