THIS IS IMPORTANT: This is my anecdotal recollection of my own unique experience, partly because I think it’s important to share my experience about a topic that many mamas think about, and partly because it feels good to me to write down my thoughts so that I can look back at them in the future and see where I was in this time of my life as a new mama working through all of the things that come with it. This is NOT a macro counting bashing post. This is NOT a scientific post. This is NOT a post telling you what to do. But, perhaps you might take something from my experience and bring some light to you’re own if you’re experiencing something similar. And a final note: that perfect squishy babe to the right is my top priority. This post is in a way to show a shift that’s come with motherhood, so should you keep reading, thank you for holding the space for me to share my journey.
Ok here it goes….
Macro counting has become a very common practice as of late among the CrossFit community and far beyond. We see athletes like Katrin Thorisdottir and Kara Webb thriving under incredibly dialed in macro plans. We see men and women alike losing fat, building muscle, and feeling great in their skin. And frankly, I think counting macros serves a purpose and can be great in the right circumstances – professional athletes can get the upper hand in their sport. Those who have chronically overeaten and/or lost touch with portion size can get an education in what works best for their bodies and their goals. Those who might be under-eating for their bodies’ needs can learn to feed themselves appropriately.
I myself have used macro counting in the past to lean out and boost performance in the gym, and I see nothing wrong with that (most of the time). In fact, I was counting macros and tracking my food intake when we conceived our Evie. I think it can also actually be a great tool to bring someone back to intuitive eating, allowing for a realistic look into what amounts a specific person might need to thrive.
It’s about time, however, that I jump right to the point of this post (just in case you want to bow out now and just get my takeaway)… counting macros and tracking food intake is not right for every person and every stage of life. Case and point: my current postpartum period.
It’s important to note that I am in a very good place with macro counting and food tracking and have been for the past few years. Laura of 5 years ago? No way. I believe that anyone with disordered eating tendencies should think twice before diving into any macro counting escapades. I decided to give macro counting a try about a month ago for a couple reasons. First, I feel that I owe it to the women I work with (a growing number of postpartum mamas especially) to try it out. I cannot bash or recommend anything until I have tried it myself, and with the way I was feeling emotionally and physically when I started, I felt there was no risk in trying. Second, I’m really enjoying training again, and I thought I would see what kind of tweaks I could make in my performance and strength by dialing in my food intake a bit. Turns out, that even though it didn’t work for me at this stage of life, I am so glad that I gave it a try because I’ve learned so much about my body (and mind), and now I can take my experience into helping others do the same.
So at just over 4 months postpartum, exclusively breastfeeding, and back in the gym 5 days a week, I decided to start tracking my macros. My aim? To eat more specifically targeted numbers to learn my body’s needs, to hopefully improve performance in my workouts, and to maybe lean out a little (I am not ashamed to say this, but it also wasn’t top priority). I created my numbers using math geared towards maintaining weight, not losing, because I didn’t want to risk reducing my milk supply. I still planned on eating high quality, real food, but I thought I’d pay more attention to exactly how much. And here is what I found…
the fat conundrum
I believe the main reason this didn’t work for me this time around was due to reducing fat intake. Saturated fat and cholesterol are critical for hormone manufacturing and balance. And they’re crucial things for getting the body back up and running smoothly postpartum. Now, I could certainly have increased my daily fat grams and kept tracking, but what I am finding is that my needs change from day to day, so choosing any number to stick to just doesn’t make sense right now. Typically, fat and carbs act sort of as if on the opposite sides of a teeter tooter with protein as the pivot point. If fat intake increases, carbs will usually decrease (at least if there is some sort of nutritional goal in mind). Most days right now my body wants A LOT of fat. Every once in a while, I feel like I need more carbohydrate on a cellular level, and those days, I usually end up eating a bit less fat (not intentionally so much as intuitively). What I found in tracking macros is that I was restricting fat compared to how much I had been taking in for the first 4 months postpartum, and my body did. not. like it. Nor did my mood…
Without realizing any potential correlation, I found myself (within a week of eating to specific macro goals) feeling overwhelmingly stressed out. While work did pick up around the same time, stressors that I previously would have been able to take in stride brought anxiety. I also felt a sort of insecurity that I hadn’t felt in a long time. The body that I was so proud of for its strength, ability, and beauty suddenly felt like it wasn’t quite good enough. I remember the moment I realized this so vividly: I was mid workout and suddenly almost started crying. I remember thinking “what the hell is going on?” and then suddenly and “ah ha” moment. THE FOOD, primarily the fat. That was the only thing that had really changed, and all of a sudden I knew what was going on. My hormones, brain function, and ability to cope with stress were all being hindered by the fact that I wasn’t listening to my body’s needs, needs that in this recovery period while nursing a little one, are changing every single day. And by eating based on math rather than intuition, I was doing my hormones, body, and energy levels a disservice. Looking back, I believe it was a combo of hormones, reduced fat, decrease overall calorie intake (even minimally), and headspace. I am grateful that I was able to be in tune enough with my body and needs to have that realization and make a change. And I am grateful to have experienced that moment so that I can now share and pick up on cues from mamas potentially in the same boat.
how about gym performance?
In the past, tracking macros has been amazing for my gym performance. In those days, though, I was able to figure out the exact needs of my body, which very rarely changed from day to day. I was eating enough to fuel performance and provide energy to excel. Now, though, those needs are by no means set. Some days, Evie eats far more than others. Some days I get great training in. Some nights I sleep well, and others not so much. Some days my body is working overtime. Other days I feel like I could compete (though I am not there yet, that’s for sure). My point is that this postpartum period is a time of constant ebb and flow, and it’s important for me to listen to my body’s needs on a daily basis because as those needs change, so will my food intake – higher fat days, higher carb days, days I eat less, days I eat more. What an incredible opportunity to learn how to read those signals and develop a skill and intuition that will be so useful throughout the rest of the seasons of my life.
and milk supply?
So what about supply? Here’s the thing: my supply didn’t change AT ALL. What happened is that our sweet Evie was getting all of the good stuff from the fat and nutrients I was taking in, leaving me feeling depleted. Hence the mood shift, fatigue, and poor performance. Our bodies are magic and they will do whatever it takes to ensure our little ones are served first, so Evie got everything she needed, and my supply stayed solid. Now, I’ve had A LOT of milk since it first came in (part of that might be luck of the draw, but I really believe it’s also a product of my focus on deeply nourishing my body during the postpartum time). If I had already been struggling with supply, I wouldn’t have done this experiment, but if I would have, I likely would have seen a drop in the amount of milk I was making. It’s important to note here that every single mama is different in this regard. This is just my experience with supply and macros.
ok, let’s wrap this up shall we?
So there’s my experience. Again, not shared with any motive or agenda, but to maybe help another mama or to at least help myself someday when I can look back. So instead of counting, measuring, and tracking anything, I’m just eating less added sugar. Easy peasy (most of the time).
I’d love to hear from you! If you have thoughts, questions, or shared experiences, please feel free to share in the comments! And if you know a mama (or anyone) in a similar boat, please feel free to share this. Sending love to you in whatever season of life you’re in.