In the ever-evolving landscape of health and nutrition, the role of artificial intelligence in shaping our understanding is increasingly prominent. In this new series, “Ask ChatGPT,” we will throw it right in the deep end with the debate of whether you should count calories or macros.
Should I count calories or macros? Write about what each of these concepts mean, which is better to track for weight loss, and recommend an approach to tracking calories and macros.
Counting calories and tracking macros (macronutrients) are two common approaches to managing your diet, each with its own merits. Let’s delve into each concept and then discuss which might be better for weight loss.
- Counting Calories:
- Definition: This involves monitoring the total energy content of the food you consume, typically measured in units of calories. The basic idea is that weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume.
- Pros: It provides a straightforward method for creating a calorie deficit, which is essential for weight loss. It’s simple and easy to understand, making it accessible for many people.
- Cons: It doesn’t provide information about the specific types of nutrients you’re consuming. Focusing solely on calories might neglect the quality of your diet.
- Tracking Macros (Macronutrients):
- Definition: Macronutrients are the three primary components of food: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Tracking macros involves monitoring the specific amounts of these nutrients in your diet.
- Pros: It offers a more nuanced approach to dieting, as different macronutrients play distinct roles in the body. For example, proteins are crucial for muscle maintenance, and fats play a role in hormone production. Tracking macros allows for a more balanced diet.
- Cons: It can be more complex than calorie counting alone. Some people find it challenging to consistently hit specific macro targets.
Which is Better for Weight Loss?
The effectiveness of either approach depends on individual preferences and goals. In general:
- Calorie Counting: This is a straightforward method for creating a caloric deficit, which is fundamental for weight loss. If you’re new to dieting or prefer simplicity, counting calories might be a good starting point.
- Macronutrient Tracking: This approach can be beneficial for those who want a more nuanced understanding of their diet. It helps ensure that the weight lost comes from fat rather than muscle, and it may provide more sustainable results by promoting a balanced diet.
Recommendation: A Balanced Approach
For many individuals, a balanced approach that combines elements of both calorie counting and macronutrient tracking can be effective. Here’s a suggested approach:
- Start with Calorie Counting: Begin by tracking your total daily calorie intake. This creates awareness and helps establish a caloric deficit for weight loss.
- Pay Attention to Macronutrients: Once you’re comfortable with calorie counting, pay attention to the distribution of macronutrients. Aim for a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Quality Matters: Don’t solely focus on hitting numerical targets. Prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods for overall health.
- Monitor Progress: Regularly assess your progress and adjust your approach as needed. Everyone’s body is different, so what works for one person may not work for another.
Remember, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have underlying health conditions. They can provide personalized advice based on your individual needs and goals.
Can you give some example of apps that track calories and or macros?
Certainly! There are numerous apps available that help users track their calorie intake, macronutrients, and overall nutrition. Here are some popular examples:
- One of the most widely used apps for tracking calories, macronutrients, and exercise.
- Features a large food database, barcode scanner, and the ability to log meals and snacks.
- Lose It!:
- Helps users set weight loss goals and track their food intake.
- Provides a barcode scanner and a comprehensive database of foods.
- Focuses not only on calories and macronutrients but also on micronutrients.
- Allows users to track a wide range of nutrients for a more detailed nutritional analysis.
- MyPlate by Livestrong:
- Offers a food and exercise tracker with a focus on achieving a balanced diet.
- Allows users to set personalized goals and track their progress.
- Provides a food diary, exercise log, and a community for support.
- Features a barcode scanner and a comprehensive food database.
- Offers a calorie counter, exercise tracker, and meal planning tools.
- Includes a community for sharing tips and support.
- Allows users to track calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients.
- Offers personalized meal plans and recipes based on dietary preferences.
- Nutritionix Track:
- Tracks calories, macronutrients, and exercise.
- Features a barcode scanner and a restaurant database for on-the-go tracking.
- My Diet Coach:
- Focuses on motivation and behavior change in addition to tracking food and exercise.
- Includes reminders, challenges, and motivational quotes.
- Fitbit (and Fitbit App):
- Integrates with Fitbit wearables to track not only physical activity but also nutrition.
- Offers a community for sharing achievements and goals.
These apps typically allow users to set goals, track their food intake by logging meals and snacks, and provide insights into their overall nutritional intake. Users can often customize their goals based on factors like weight loss, maintenance, or muscle gain. Additionally, many of these apps offer social features, allowing users to connect with friends, join communities, and share their progress.
The Human Response
I started my blog way before Open Source language models like ChatGPT became widely available – about 2 years, in fact. So lots of what I ask ChatGPT I have written or read about somewhere. So in every case of “Ask ChatGPT,” I will respond with my take on what it says.
ChatGPT ALWAYS remembers to give a caveat about consulting with a doctor and/or suitable expert before you make any significant dietary changes.
ChatGPT zeroed on the pros and cons of calories versus macros. The issue is one of data manageability- macros are definitely way more complicated, and calorie counting is a good start. Ideally you would want to eventually get to a combination of both, but gradually and having a dietitian especially advise you about what your general macro targets should be (you can read about my recommendations for finding a dietitian here.)
ChatGPT got many of the tracking apps including some I have never heard of but one of them is not on the list that I am trying now – the Noom App. This may have not been on ChatGPT’s radar because technically it may not be considered a “tracking app.” I will be giving my review of the app to you in the next issue and comparing it to some alternatives like MyFitnessPal.
If you want to understand how calorie deficits work and how calories and macros relate, take a deeper dive in my two articles and presentation on the topic.
A few critical things are worth noting that I explain in my two articles. First, you need to understand the relationship BETWEEN calories and macros. Also, ChatGPT talks about a calorie deficit but does not explain the theory behind why this works, CICO. And finally, there is a way of setting macro goals that allows for flexible dieting that I discuss in my second article, which basically allows you to eat as many gummy bears as you want – if it fits your macros (IIFYM).
DAOFitLife Content on Calories and Macros
(Written pre-ChatGPT availability)