Ep. #105: Quit Counting Macros with Christina Montalvo

Quit Counting Macros with Christina Montalvo: Christina, female with long blond hair, leaning against wall and laughing.

Christina Montalvo is the founder of The Confidence Project. She’s a personal trainer and intuitive eating coach, with a course called Diet Culture Drop Out. Today, we focused on counting macros. Christina has a really interesting story about getting started in the wellness space, and how dramatically her approach has changed since those early days! To learn why you shouldn’t be counting macros, listen in today! (Plus, a few notes on why using your phone to tell you when to cook, workout, or go to sleep isn’t the greatest idea.)

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Anti-Diet Strength and Conditioning

Christina started as fat loss coach! Since then, she’s realized her entire education was steeped on intentional weight loss. Being a personal trainer meant helping people lose fat….it just came with the territory. However, since then she’s pivoted. Now, she owns an all-women’s strength and conditioning gym outside of Chicago, where she’s an anti-diet strength and conditioning coach.

Her first memory of her body being a “problem” was when she was 10 years old. That’s when she started dieting, which launched her disordered relationship to eating and food. It was never considered disordered by others however; instead, it was applauded as what she “should” do to maintain her lifestyle and weight. During these time, she tried pretty much every diet under the sun. When she found counting macros, she thought she had found “food freedom”, because she could eat anything she wanted.

Christina noted there was nothing and no one to point out how disordered and unhealthy all of this was. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she was able to identify the fear-based, confirmation biased-based information that the diet (and nutrition) industry so often spread.

Freedom in Counting Macros?

During her honeymoon phase with counting macros, Christina thought she was living the dream of food freedom. However, that all came to a head as she realized it didn’t provide the freedom from diet culture that she had hoped for.

The macro nutrient component to a food can be found in everything we eat. These are carbs, proteins, and fat. When you do macro-counting, you create a caloric deficit and then create a plan when you’re “allowed” a certain number of macros for each of the big three categories. Some people add fiber counting as well.

If you’re into macro counting, you’re usually attached to a tracking app AND measuring and weighing everything. Serving sizes, number of ounces, and ratios of macros become all consuming!

In Christina’s personal and professional experience, macro counting is limiting and based on control and restriction. You may be “allowed” to eat pizza….but as a result, you can’t eat almost anything else for the day (or are restricted to very few items).

Macro Counting Wasn’t Worth It

Christina would work hard in the gym, often doing two-a-days, and religiously track her macros. Eventually, she realized that for the amount of time and energy she was expending….the results weren’t that phenomenal.

The celebration of losing .5 pounds, or of making incremental changes to her body, started to no longer make sense. As a result, she started thinking more deeply about her relationship with food and exercise. She started making changes in her own life and habit first. (At the time, she was teaching macro counting to clients as well!)

She would find that when her clients would participate in healthy activities, nothing mattered to them if the scale didn’t change. Even when they were doing things that should feel really good in and of themselves….they weren’t enough when the focus was on losing weight.

Christina also noted that professionals in the field, as well as clients, weren’t prioritizing or celebrating behaviors that felt good AND that were good (like getting sleep, enjoying moving your body, and living a life you can enjoy), unless they could directly attach them to losing weight.

Tempted By Counting Macros?

Christina notes that there is something to be said about relying on technology, like macro counting apps, to tell you what to feed your body. A previous client of Christina’s, who was macro counting at the time, broke her phone. She immediately spiraled, because she couldn’t make eating decisions without seeing the “green bar” or knowing how she was “supposed” to eat, based on her app.

The idea that we need outside intervention and technology to tell us what food to eat is ridiculous. Humans are born knowing how to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. We know how to read our bodies and understand what we need.

Rather than relying on external voices (diet industry! apps!) to tell us about our own bodies….what if we tried listening to our bodies instead? I loved that Christina talked about this, because it is so important! A few weeks ago I talked about my own relationship with my phone. I think we can all learn a lot about how technology interacts with our bodies, and how we sometimes use it to override our own biological cues.

Another issue? When you’re counting macros, sometimes you’re really hungry…and sometimes you’re “force feeding” yourself plain chicken breast in order to meet the requirements of your macro plan. Rather than listening to your actual body and the needs she is communicating….you end up relying on “rules”, restrictions, and often an app to tell you what you MUST consume.

So many of us are SO attached to our screens: TV, smart phones, tablets, and more! If that’s you….be sure to listen in to this full episode!

Tracking It All!

Christina and I also discussed the current fad with tracking everything on smart watches. For instance, so many people track their daily step counts, and often 10,000 steps is the “goal”. As Christina notes, that step number is arbitrary. It doesn’t mean anything, and it isn’t special or accurate.

However, many of us like to have yes/no, or right/wrong rules to follow. We like to think that when we hit a step number, burn a certain number of calories, or complete a certain sequence of events, we’ve done everything right! And we love being right, and feeling we’ve been doing the right thing…even if it isn’t ultimately serving us.

Too often, people attach morality to fitness trackers. (Christina has a whole podcast episode on this HERE!) We think of ourselves as being “better” people when we do everything our trackers say we should be doing. However, the also means being unattached to our own volition. We end up stripped of our own power, following rules instead of listening to our bodies and following our own intuition.

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