Calories vs Macros: Tracking and Roles Played in Weight Loss

Counting calories…that’s so 90s! But that didn’t stop me from doing it for long after. Being a child of the early 70s, by the time the 90s rolled around, I was well into my health/nutrition mindset. Doing my best to keep fit by going to the gym, I’d get in my sessions on the Stairmaster 5000 PT and some circuit training on the, then state of the art, Nautilus selectorized equipment.


And where nutrition was concerned, I did my darnedest to make sure I kept low fat and low calorie all the way. After all, that’s the way to keep your weight down and stay fit, right?


Oh, dear. If only I knew back then what I know now! But hey, I’m not alone, and counting calories is far from a concept that’s only been around for the past 20 odd years.


The idea became popular around the turn of the 20th century, according to Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, a board-certified nutritionist. Back then, scientist Wilbur Atwater observed if you put food in a “bomb calorimeter,” and burned it, you could measure the ash and heat to find out how much “energy” was released and, therefore, how much “energy” was in the food. The idea caught on, and people began calculating exactly how many calories were consumed when eating particular foods, and “burned” when engaging in different activities. “A spate of diet books in the early part of the century popularized the notion that it’s all about the calories — and it’s been with us ever since,” said Bowden.1


Unfortunately, far too many people remain fixated on this approach and the diet industry isn’t exactly helping to set the record straight.  After all, it’s not in their best interest to; with 95% of people regaining the weight they lost, and often then some within a few months or years,2 there’s a huge demand for all things marketed to losing that weight fast, by any means and without regard to health consequences or sustainability.


While there is certainly some validity to counting calories, that’s only part of the picture. If the sheer number of calories were truly all that mattered, there would be no difference between a diet reliant on calories from refined, sugary faux-foods and vs a diet, such as Paleo, which focuses upon consuming only real, fresh, unadulterated food.


On the flip side, the idea that calories don’t count when you follow a real Paleo diet is equally as silly. Consider a person who eats strict Paleo approved foods but does so in excess simply because he or she has read that they can have ‘unlimited fat,’ as some Paleo websites suggest.  If that person doesn’t exercise and consumes thousands of calories in nuts, oils and fatty cuts of meat on a daily basis, those calories aren’t going to magically disappear simply because they came from grass-fed beef and sprouted walnuts. So it’s not that counting calories shouldn’t be part of someone’s routine; rather, it’s only part of it.


Equally important, however, if not more so, is learning how to balance macro nutrient ratios. We know from The Paleo Diet3 what a hunter-gatherer diet’s macro nutrient ratio is; roughly 19-35% for protein, 22-40% for carbohydrate, and 28-58% for fat.4


How does this compare with the Standard American Diet (SAD) Special? Let’s look at what the USDA recommends our intake should be:


For a 30 – 40 year old woman, 130 grams of carbs per day along with 46 grams of protein; for a man of the same age, the same amount of carbs and ten more grams of protein. 


And fat? “Not determined.”5,6


The very macronutrient that comprises nearly 2/3 of a healthy, Paleo diet approach has apparently not been deemed worthy of having a recommended amount of which to consume per the Department of Agriculture itself. The very same department, incidentally, determines not only what the public should be eating, but also what those in training at universities across the country to become doctors, nurses and registered dieticians are taught to council to advise their patients to eat.


It just doesn’t add up.


For those reading this post who are already well versed in Paleo, you won’t be surprised at our recommendation to eat more fat, cut down or omit the fruit and all other sugars, and keep a steady balance of wild protein coming in.


But is it really necessary to count the macros? In my experience, yes, at least when embarking on a new regime. Even if you’ve chosen only Paleo foods for years, if you’re not mindful of what foods to eat when and with which other foods, you’re not necessarily reaping all the benefits.


Eating more fat is very satiating making it far less likely that you’ll over eat, compared to a diet where you’re counting calories, eating refined carbs, spiking your blood sugar and crashing repeatedly.


The trick isn’t just to keep eating along the lines of the SAD Special and add more oil to dip your bread into or smother avocado on top of that sandwich. Rather, the idea is to remove refined, dietary carbohydrates in order to force the body to access fat for energy. Studies have shown low-carbohydrate diets that are high in fat help to reduce body fat percentage, increase muscle mass, improve mental focus and create more productivity and increased performance both at work and in physical activity.7


Wondering where you’re going to find time to do all this counting? Not to worry. If you track for a period of time and get the hang of what foods contain how many grams of each, it won’t be long before you’ve got them memorized and can eyeball how much of each to portion out onto your plate day in and day out.


If you’re feeling like it’ll be too tedious and bothersome, reconsider. Just as you may not have put two and two together back when you first started a Paleo diet, in terms of what foods made you feel great and which made you ill, you may not know how much better you could be feeling until you try something new.


Best yet, my Paleoista Real Paleo Meal Plans come with macro nutrient tracking tools! Whether you’re new to Paleo, a new mom, a CrossFitter, or fighting to get your diet back on track and fight acne, each comes with tracking tools and so much more!



By balancing out the counting of calories with being mindful of macros, you’ll soon be in sync and automatically veer toward eating just what you need, with higher energy levels and a lower number on that body fat scale!




[1] “The Dos and Don’ts of Counting Calories.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 30 June 2015.

[2] Fritsch, Jane. “95% Regain Lost Weight. Or Do They?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 May 1999. Web. 30 June 2015

[3] Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011

[4] “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (n.d.): n. pag. Plant-animal Subsistence Ratios and Macronutrient Energy Estimations in Worldwide Hunter-gatherer Diets. Web. 30 June 2015.

[5] “Dietary Reference Intakes.” Nutrition Reviews 55.9; 319-26. Web

[6] “Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients).” Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2015

[7] “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 30 June 2015.