When Chicago-native Vince Schiano was working toward his goal to drop body fat, he’d often carry around a food scale, protein powder and a tupperware full of ground beef or turkey.
“I have a meatball body. I wanted to lean up. I wanted a six pack,” Schiano, 27, told MarketWatch. He started the Macro diet in 2016. He weighed his food and counted the nutrients and calories. The first few months were the hardest, he said and going out for dinner and drinks started to feel like a chore.
“People would be like, ‘Why don’t you just eat this and that?’ I would go to a bar and say I was having a vodka soda, but it really would be seltzer water. You’re living just to count those macros. It really does drive you nuts. I would beat myself up if I was like 30 carbs over.”
Eating out has become a science for diners like Schiano who religiously count the nutrients of their meals. Macro dieting, the regimen popularized by fitness buffs, has turned into a mainstream numbers game with people aggressively calculating macronutrients — grams of proteins, carbs and fats — sometimes at the expense of having a social life.
People on macro diets set an exact goal of how many grams of protein, carbohydrates and fat to eat every day. Each person’s macros are calculated as a percentage of their total calories consumed per day.
You can eat whatever you want (within reason)
The diet is different for each person. For example, an active 130-pound adult following a 1,600-calorie diet could opt for 40 percent of calories from carbs; 30 percent from protein; and 30 percent from fat, Runners World recommends.
Schiano, for example, follows a macro count for a 200-pound male and consumes 179 grams of protein, 215 grams of carbs and 75 grams of fat per day. He says it’s helped with fat loss.
While most diets deprive people of indulgences, you don’t have to eliminate foods while following a macro diet, as long as you’re under your count.
It’s similar to the Weight Watchers International system where you eat whatever you want as long as you don’t go over a certain number of calories. For his part, Schiano will allocate some extra macros to a burrito from Dos Toros when he’s craving Mexican.
The weight-loss market was worth $167.95 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $278.95 billion by 2023.
Commercial dieting plans like Weight Watchers and NutriSystem, owned by Tivity Health have gained in popularity in recent years, but niche meal-delivery services are catering to the macro counters. Apps like My Fitness Pal and MyMacros make it easier for eaters to do-it-yourself by finding nutrition info, logging the foods they eat and tracking calories.
The search term “How do you count macros” increased by 19 percent in the US since 2016 and use of macronutrient calculators surged 183.52 percent in the last three years, according to data from SEMrush, a marketing and analytics platform.
Some restaurants are helping out macro dieters
Restaurateurs are taking note. Stratis Morfogen, managing partner at Brooklyn Chop House in New York, made his menu 50 percent gluten free when he opened last October, with the demand for healthier dining options.
Chefs at the steakhouse with Chinese-inspired fare use a dash of olive oil on steaks, never butter, he says and sub out flour for cornstarch when cooking chicken and shrimp satays.
“The old steakhouses are losing all the millennials because they don’t want a creamed spinach, baked potato steakhouse,” Morfogen says of serving lighter options like lobster with salt and pepper to attract diet conscious customers.
Still, despite restaurants serving healthier options, other macro counters, like Florida native Leslie de Graaf, who has been counting macros since 2013, says she’ll stick to a spreadsheet if she’s really being strict about it.
“I had an excel spreadsheet I created just to keep me sane. I inputted meals based on my total macro count and just kind of ate off that menu,” she said of the repetitive meal options like salmon, salads and smoothies. “It became too cumbersome to try and add in all these macros for different foods.”
The macro-counting counter culture
The FOMO (fear of missing out) factor was real too. At her most intense, De Graaf, whose goal was competing in a bodybuilding competition, said she’d eat meals from a tupperware in her car before meeting friends, then have tea or water at the table. A splurge when dining out would be beer and shrimp cocktail.
“You feel a little guilty because you’re not joining in,” she says. “If you’re really strong in your convictions and what your goals are, you make a joke about it and they understand that you’re not going to eat it. They tempt you and they tease you, but it becomes more of a joke.”
Traditional pot-luck dinner parties have turned into macro-friendly sessions for Schiano and his tribe of fitness friends who will meet on Sundays and share soups, chilis and grilled chicken dishes for the week.
“There’s tupperware everywhere,” he says, adding that he’s actually saved money by being on the diet. Instead of ordering calorie-heavy take-out, he’ll use a Chicago-based macro-friendly subscription meal service for on-the-go breakfasts and lunches that charges around $8 per meal.
“It’s still cheaper than eating out,” he adds.
Schiano says he has been food-shamed by friends who aren’t on the same diet and worse, by ultra-strict macro counters who will call you out if you fall off the wagon.
“It’s ostracizing to a degree. I haven’t lost friends over it, but you need people who have that common ground of balance,” Schiano says.
Cleveland-based Taeler De Haes, 26, doesn’t let friends food-shame her when dining out. She just plans ahead by saving some of her macros for carbs or fats if she knows she’ll eat out. She spends around $300 a month on groceries and says she hasn’t had to shell out more money to maintain her healthier diet.
“If you’re tracking macros you can’t just neglect your social life,” she says. “Maybe going out to happy hour means you don’t get appetizers but you get drinks. It’s not an all or nothing mentality.”