After years of eating paleo, I spent 4 weeks weighing and measuring my food, counting my macros while eating paleo, and saw incredible results. These are the top three things I learned from my experience.
Paleo macros. Not a combination of words you automatically put together, is it? Me either. Until I tried it.
I've been eating paleo, or some version thereof, since 2014. I've been strict, and lax, and 80/20, and Whole30. (I've made LOTS of Whole30 friendly recipes - you can find them here!)
So when we held a month long nutrition challenge at the gym I own, I decided to dive in - for 30 days, I was going to count, weigh and measure every single thing I ate.
And I'm here to tell you - if paleo works, paleo macros really works. Here's what I learned.
1. You don't know what you don't know.
This is probably the biggest one. Even if you think you eat healthy, even if you eat paleo ALL the time, or you've done a Whole30 twelve times over, there's still more for you to know. There was for me.
It's easy to get stuck. Stuck in what you think you know, or what you perceive to be the case in a certain situation. And most of the time, you're probably wrong.
I know I am, and this situation was no different.
I've come a long way - from a girl who didn't eat vegetables and consumed sugary cereals (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, and Corn Pops were at the top of the list) to eating mixed greens and baked salmon for lunch.
We've been eating paleo/mostly paleo for years now. (Probably around 5, if we're counting.) We've done more Whole30's than I can count. We eat mostly by Whole30 guidelines even when we're not on a round because it's what we know and what we now enjoy as our everyday food choices.
But there is always something more to learn.
“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” – Ronald E. Osborn
It was frustrating at first. I felt completely out of my element. I knew how to eat paleo, but paleo macros? I had to weigh and measure every single thing that I ate.
Every. Single. Thing.
You can't guess at this part, because trust me, you don't know. I didn't.
You don't know what ¼ oz of hazelnuts looks like unless you weigh them. You don't know how to make a of salad 2 cups of spinach and 2 cups of mixed greens topped with 3.5 oz of salmon, 1 cup of cooked brussel sprouts, ¼ of an avocado and 1 ½ teaspoons of balsamic vinegar UNLESS YOU MEASURE IT.
I didn't know my portion sizes were way off, because I'd never paid attention to them. I just ate a whole salmon filet on top of mixed greens drizzled with some olive oil and balsamic and called it good.
But I was doing a lot of things wrong: not eating frequently enough (every 2-3 hours), not getting the right amount of carbs/proteins/fats at each meal and snack (snacks are chicken, broccoli, hazelnuts, and coconut water, not an RxBar), and not holding myself accountable for a lot of the things I was randomly eating throughout the day (random pit stop at Starbucks, anyone?).
By eating straight from the meal plan, I knew what to eat, when to eat it, and how much of it to eat. The measuring was tedious at first, but I didn't have to come up with any meal ideas.
And after awhile, I started being able to eyeball my portion sizes without the scale and the measuring spoons.
You don't know what you don't know - true. But you can learn it.
2. Paleo works. Paleo macros REALLY works.
When we first started paleo years ago, we had amazing results. In about 3 months, Brandan lost 20 pounds, and while I didn't lose any weight, I lost 3 pants sizes - my body composition changed, and changed fast.
And there we stayed. We've fluctuated over the years - there's seasons to everyone's eating habits over time, and we're no different.
When I was pregnant, I didn't stick to paleo eating because I wanted to make sure my baby was getting exposed to every kind of food he possibly could to prevent any allergies or reactions later on in life.
I ate mostly paleo but made sure I incorporated lots of other things too. Not junk food and soda, but grains, beans, dairy, etc.
There have been times where we've been stricter with ourselves, and times when we've relaxed on vacation in Hawaii and had iced coffees and Mai Tai's every day for 2 weeks.
But for me, I know paleo is what makes me feel best from the inside out, leaves me with the most energy for my day, and doesn't give me that sluggish feeling, which is why I stick with it.
All that being said, my weight and shape have not really changed all that much since we got our first results from going paleo all those years ago, with the exception of being pregnant.
With our nutrition coaching plan, we start with biometrics. What do you weigh? What's your body fat percentage? What's your BMI? What is your goal? Do you want to lose weight? Decrease body fat? Increase lean muscle?
Then we calculate how many calories you need a day in order to work towards that goal. Once we have a calorie number, we break it down into the macros. Remember, the KINDS of calories you're eating matters!
Once we've got a count for the carbs, proteins, and fats you'll need, we create a meal plan, and the meal plan will get you to those specific numbers each day.
I was on a "decrease body fat" goal, with the right macro settings for my activity level.
I lost 11.8 pounds in 4 weeks.
No, that is not a typo. I leaned out so fast, it's like my body had just been sitting there waiting for me to figure out this is what it needed. Once I did, it was like, "Finally! Thank you. Here we go!"
I'm smaller right now than I've ever been in my entire life. Literally, my whole life.
Will it last? I don't know. I can't weigh and measure my food forever. But I do know I felt better, slept better, and saw bigger changes than I have in a long time.
I don't tell you this to brag, by any means. I feel weird even just writing it down. But if you are out there looking for answers, looking for help, and I don't tell you what you can do to get help, then I'm doing you a disservice.
And why would you believe me if I just told you to do it? By telling you my experience, and sharing my results, you know it's coming from a real person who has been there, not someone who is just trying to sell you a fad diet with shakes for meals and weight loss powders and a variety of colored containers for your food.
If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. - Tony Robbins
Just like with anything in life, things get stale. We go stagnant. You have to mix things up, change what you're doing, to get different results.
3. What goes on the inside affects the outside.
Did you know your skin is actually your largest organ?
We don't really tend to think of our skin as an "organ." It's just the thing that keeps our body parts and internal organs from falling out...right?
Right. But when I say "internal organs," doesn't that make you wonder about "external" organs? Well, you've got one, and it's your skin.
I've had problem skin since I was in high school. That's over 20 years of bad skin. And when you're 38, and you have cystic acne all over your jawline and neck, it's embarrassing.
We're talking the kind of cystic acne that is so deep it hurts to wash your face. Not joking.
The story of my skin is one for another post, but after troubleshooting a million ways to Sunday, I went to see a doctor who focuses on a holistic approach. She did a full bloodwork panel, and all the things I thought were causing my acne that I had previously been diagnosed with were no longer the issues.
So, I started at the root of it all - food. Nutrition and supplements, additional bloodwork, test and retest. After working with her for 2 months, I saw a marked improvement, but I was still breaking out.
Enter the Food Matters Nutrition Challenge at HCCF. I never ask my members or athletes to do something that I won't do myself, so into the Nutrition Challenge I went.
I put myself on a Paleo plan in our meal planning app, adjusted my macros to 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat, and started eating.
And eating, and eating.
Do you know how many vegetables you actually have to eat to reach that many carbs in a day? Well, it's a lot. My plate of brussel sprouts often looked like this:
A week or two in and I noticed something had started to happen - I wasn't getting any NEW acne. The ones I had were still there because they were so deep, but they were healing. And no new ones were coming in.
Could it be? I kept going. By week 4, most of what had been there was completely healed, and there was nothing new coming in.
So. Even after paleo, even after clean eating and supplements and trying what I thought was everything I could do -
macro counting worked.
Getting the balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats at each meal, and eating every 2-3 hours to regulate my blood sugar levels - worked.
We've only been done with the challenge a week. I've mostly stuck to the same eating habits, but I've allowed myself a few items that were "off," and I've paid for it. I started breaking out again almost immediately.
Do I think I can stick with macro counting and eating at home every meal for the rest of my life? No. But I've learned now what affects me, what affects my body, and what affects my skin.
And knowing that is the start to fixing it. Once you figure out the cause, you can also figure out the effect.
If you've tried fad diet after fad diet, if you feel like you've stalled out in your progress, if you feel like you need a change and you just don't know what to do next - try counting your paleo macros. I feel confident that you'll be amazed at the results.
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Like Vanessa, I found your page when I was searching for Whole30 Macro Counting. I've eaten Paleo and done rounds of Whole30 but never truly adapted that lifestyle. I am a macro counter but want to clean up my diet by eating more the Paleo way instead of the American way where whatever fits your macros fits. With that being said, I'm nervous that I won't be able to reach my protein goal without a shake/bar/dairy but also that I will go over my fats by a long shot. Anyways, I'm going to search around your page and see if I can find some tips/tricks to help me. I know deep down that I should be eating better but I just truly love tracking macros so want to find a healthy balance.
HI Jyssica! Macros can be really helpful to get a handle on what a healthy plate looks like. Combining paleo and macros is one of the most powerful combos I've found! If you have additional questions, please feel free to shoot me an email and I am happy to help answer any questions you have.
I am so encouraged by your article and ready to try what you are doing!!
I eat a paleo diet but have used intermittent fasting also and I think it has made me gain weight. But I am so used to it I am not even sure how to go about eating every 2-3 hrs. How many calories, etc. what does your every three hours look like and when do you stop and start eating?
Hi Clare! I have mixed feelings about IF. It's good for some but not for all. It's also been shown that women shouldn't have a fasting of more than 10 hours, so you should have a 14 hour eating window, whatever that looks like for you. In regards to a regular eating schedule, that's going to depend on your lifestyle and what you're eating. I find that when getting started, setting an alarm to remind me when it's time to eat can be helpful until it becomes a habit.
I see you wrote this over a year ago. I searched google for Whole30 and macro counting and found you. You are exactly what I was looking for. I have been a whole30er since 2017. I lost about 15 lbs in 8 or 9 months and then have just plateaued. I have continued to eat mostly whole30 with sushi thrown in a few times a month but have started to learn that macros are important and may be exactly what I have been missing. Like you said “My goal is truly just to decrease my body fat.” I struggle understanding how macros work and how to calculate them in my meals. I wish someone could provide a tangible answer to what and how much should I eat to hit my macros. I am starting to look at meal plans hoping it will help guide me. Anyway, thank you for writing this - it gives me hope that it will click one of these days.
Thanks for your message! When you plateau, the answer is usually macros. I don't love counting macros, but it does help propel you forward and give you that boost you need to get over the hump. If you send me an email at [email protected] I would be happy to chat more about macro specifics and where I recommend you look!
I loved this post and your openness!!! Just exactly what I was looking for!!!
are you still doing macro counting and whole30 food most of the time? or did you phase out of tracking and counting?
This is such a great question. Honestly, it's a difficult one to answer, because the answer is a little bit of both.
We've adopted mostly W30/paleo as our way of eating in our house. We don't own refined sugar, regular flour, etc. Our pantry is stocked with paleo ingredients, and when I want to bake cookies or brownies, I find or make a paleo recipe in order to do it. Most meals are proteins and veggies, which is more second nature by now than anything else.
From counting macros, I learned what portion sizes look like. I can now eyeball 4oz of chicken breast and 2 cups of spaghetti squash pretty closely without actually weighing and measuring, and I know when I go take a giant spoonful of almond butter out to dip my apple that it's way more than a serving of fat.
When I feel myself starting to get lazy, or fall off things, I spend a couple of weeks dialing it back in. Sometimes that's W30 style, sometimes its macros, sometimes its just strict paleo.
So, it comes and it goes. I'm pretty good about eating really really clean most of the time, and when I'm not, I forgive myself, because I put in way more deposits of healthy stuff than unhealthy stuff.