The Paleo Diet vs The Macro Diet
Which Diet is Better: The Paleo Diet vs The Macro Diet
A BIG question these days is “What should I focus on with my nutrition? Food quality or food quantity?” In other words, is it better to just focus on eating lots of nutrient dense, low inflammatory foods OR is it more important to focus on staying within my calorie limits and making sure that the amount of food I’m eating is in check?
That question really comes down to the Paleo diet vs the Macro diet.
THE PALEO DIET
For example, let’s say you go Paleo. You’re eating all the broccoli, strawberries, avocados, and grass-fed steak you can get your hands on. You’ve cut out all the pro-inflammatory foods, you’re reading your labels and trying to stick to a meal plan with as little processed foods as possible. You’re rocking this paleo thing! BUT if you’re still getting an extra 200 calories per day of food, quite simply, you aren’t going to lose weight and that “extra” weight you’re carrying will have overall detrimental effects on your health. Not the least of which might be your morale and motivation since you have taken such care to eat healthfully, but may not be seeing the results you were hoping to achieve.
THE MACRO DIET
In our next example, let’s say iifym (the macro diet) is what you’ve decided to commit to. You’re staying within your body's caloric needs and you make sure you get the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat - regardless of what those macros are made up of. You might be living on white potatoes, ground beef, and canola oil, but you’re “hitting your macros” 100%. Chances are, you’re going to be able to cut weight or maintain weight, as desired. However, even though you’re carrying low body fat, you might find you don’t feel super great. Your energy level might not be awesome, your body might be dealing with some excess inflammation, AND your micronutrient intake is minimal. This is clearly NOT a recipe for long term health. Your body can only tolerate those types of conditions for so long. Nutrients are 100% necessary and if you’re not making sure to get them in your diet, you’ll suffer the consequences eventually.
** Many nutrition strategies, seemingly at odds with each other (Paleo, primal, vegetarians, and vegans alike) all agree on one MAJOR thing: VEGGIES ARE IMPORTANT. There’s a reason that these “enemies” still have a common thread. Your mom was right, you’ve gotta eat your veggies.
Calories still count...
For many people who try the Paleo approach from our first example, there’s a sneaky advantage. When you cut out things like bread, crackers, ice cream, and replace them with satisfying fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein, you automatically decrease your calorie intake because these foods are filling and less calorically dense than their aforementioned counterparts. Also worth noting, anytime you restrict a food or food group, you usually also incidentally restrict calories. Voila! Calorie deficit = weight loss. But this doesn’t work perfectly for everyone, and I’m a great example of that. I was eating paleo for years and still holding on to more body fat than I wanted to. I was eating way more fat (high in calories!) than my body needed, not eating enough carbs, and was probably even a little low on my protein intake. The magic caloric deficit didn’t happen for me and I needed to dial in more and focus on how much of each of those macro nutrients I was getting.
THE PALEO DIET + THE MACRO DIET
So let’s try one more approach. Let’s say you’re eating paleo or primal, and you’re also making sure to stay in the neighborhood of the right amount of calories for you. You might have an omelet for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, and some steak and carrot fries for dinner (yes, that’s a thing, and yes they’re awesome.) You’re getting lots of healthy micro nutrients AND staying within your caloric needs! You’ve checked all the boxes! GO YOU! This is a recipe for success. And maybe, every few days, instead of getting all your carbs from fruit or vegetables you have a nice piece of bread or a cookie or a donut! (GASP) You’re still going to look good, feel great, and see results… because BALANCE.
There is no magic pill or one size fits all formula and most "black and white" solutions aren't the answer for most people. Most of the time, the answer lies in the grey zones. You're the only person that can give all this stuff a try and figure out what works best for you. The common mistake with Paleo is that people overeat and don't see results. The common mistake with Macro (iifym) is that people forget how important all those micronutrients are and their overall nutrition suffers. You have to identify where you might be making mistakes and tinker with it.
Bottom Line: If you’re eating far too many calories for your needs on a regular basis, even if they’re coming from spinach and zucchini, it will result in less overall health. If you eat a donut every now and then but it’s within the confines of your energy demands and you generally eat healthfully, it’s unlikely to cause much of a problem. Just don’t use caloric balance and your macro diet as an excuse to live off of donuts and bacon for every meal.
This is only the beginning...
Do you geek out on the "science-y" stuff like I do? Have you heard of Carb Cycling but you're not sure where to start? Are you spending hours at the gym and still waiting to see results? Carb cycling is a GREAT strategy to give you better workouts and let you enjoy more of your favorite foods, while still burning fat and gaining muscle! Learn more here OR download my guide below!
I’LL TEACH YOU HOW TO CARB CYCLE IN REAL LIFE, JUST DOWNLOAD MY FREE GUIDE “INTRO TO CARB CYCLING” BELOW!
Ashley is a Pilates instructor and entrepreneur in NYC who specializes in biomechanics and exercise nutrition for women. She uses the science behind exercise physiology to empower her clients to lead healthy, happy lives. Her passion project is writing “The LEAN Life Newsletter” which goes out every Tuesday and focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Active recovery, and Nutrition and serves as the backbone for her L.E.A.N. Life online health and fitness programs. She aims to get this information into the hands of as many women as possible so they can feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. For more information head to AshleyBrownPilates.com or @AshleyBrownPilates on instagram, or click here to get on the L.E.A.N. Life List!