Is a Macro Diet Better than a Low Calorie Diet?

low calorie dieting

Many people turn to a macro diet after their low-calorie diet has failed or stalled their progress. Thus, people are tired of low-calorie dieting and I don’t blame them.

Who wants to feel hungry all of the time and yet have their weightloss stall after just a couple of months?

This is a huge reason people are embracing macro tracking or a flexible approach to dieting.

Now I’m not saying that with a macro diet you won’t be eating fewer calories than you burn during the day, but, with the macro approach this amount is customized to your individual requirements (TDEE) and not just a generic calorie amount like 1200 or 1500 without any consideration of your activity level, your age, or your height.

Side by side, here’s how both the macros diet and a traditional low-calorie diet compare based on 18 common qualifiers.

Macros Compared to Low-Calorie Dieting

Macro Diet Low Calorie
Fast weight loss
Slow, steady, long-term weight loss
Restrictive
Personalized based on your personal stats.
Addresses body composition goals.
Involves tracking what you eat.
Exercise is required.
Considers macro amounts.
Weight loss prone to stall.
Promotes metabolic slowdown.
Produces feelings of starvation.
Allows for treats and indulgences.
Easy to incorporate long-term.
Prone to produce yoyo dieting.
Promotes a healthy relationship with food.
Advocates “bad” or forbidden food avoidance.
Incorporates technology and tools.
Easier to do while eating out.

What the Science Says about Low-Calorie Eating

Luckily, there’s a fair amount of research published concerning dieting methods and here are just some of the studies that show restrive, low-calorie dieting isn’t the best method long-term.

    • This study showed that those on restrictive diets actually ate more than non-dieters when it came to a high-calorie food considered a treat or a splurge.1
    • This study showed that within 3 to 5 years there is almost a complete relapse in weight gain among those who engaged in a traditional low-calorie diet and exercise plan that’s often prescribed by health practitioners.2
    • Another study showed that after 5 years most low-calorie dieters returned to their previous weight after initially experiencing moderate weight loss.3
    • This study shows that low-calorie dieting increases cortisol, which is a stress hormone. The researchers noted that this “may be deleterious to psychological well-being and biological functioning”.4

What People Who Have Tried Both Have to Say

Not only do we have the science behind the reasons macro-based dieting is a lot more effective than traditional low-calorie dieting, but we also have people’s experiences as evidence.

Here are just a few of the many comments left on our site.

The Negatives of Low-Calorie Dieting

“I’ve been on diets all my life and have never passed the 1300 calorie range as I am considered overweight.” – Nahla

“Regardless of what I do, however, I can’t get out of this weight range. Against my better judgment, I tried Weight Watchers and was *very* strict with the program for over three months. I gained 1.2 pounds in this amount of time. I’ve tried counting calories, etc. I work out five days a week, I try to give my body enough rest. I’m on a never-ending quest to lose the last 20-30 pounds” – Erick

“I am 5’9” and have been working out for 10 years, 6 days a week… I never fall below 140lbs. I am 33 and switch up my workouts every month so I don’t plateau. I am trying to break the cycle of 140 and get to 135. I eat pretty clean and keep calories under 1,000 most of which 60% protein 30% carbs. Any ideas on how to achieve a 5 lb loss” – Diana

The Positives of a Macro Diet

“I just got my IIFYM numbers done about a week ago and since then I’ve been tracking. I feel SO full! I’ve been told it will level out in about a month, but I feel like I’m overeating even though I’m within my macro numbers.” – Beth

“Although it wasn’t easy at first, I am now incredibly comfortable with counting macros. I can eat whatever I want (in moderation) and not feel guilty. Going out has become fun again and the binging has stopped. There is no need to binge when you allow yourself to eat what you want.” – Paul

“Based on my goals, I started tracking my macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat) and found it significantly easier and equally as effective. I also started to track my fiber and ensured I was getting enough micronutrients. I’ve lost 40 pounds, got a six-pack, and I’m in the best shape of my life.” – Mark

Disclaimer: The above comments are people’s personal experiences and results may vary with both methods of weight loss.

Overall, it appears that a macros-based diet or flexible dieting is far more conducive to producing long-term weight loss results as well as better for a person’s overall psychological well being.

If you’re stuck in the low-calorie diet trap and tired of starving yourself with little results to show for it, there is a better way. Macro dieting has been the answer for millions of people and has put them on the path to dieting freedom.

If you want to learn how to better nourish your body while still enjoying the foods you love and reaching your weight loss goals, get started with a macros approach here.

You'll Love My Macro Solution Program

Step-by-step ebooks, or fully customized personal macros coaching. Now with complete vegan edition.

    Scientific References

  1. Lowe, M. R., Foster, G. D., Kerzhnerman, I., Swain, R. M., & Wadden, T. A. (2001). Restrictive dieting vs.“undieting”: Effects on eating regulation in obese clinic attenders. Addictive Behaviors, 26(2), 253-266.
  2. Miller, W. C. (1999). How effective are traditional dietary and exercise interventions for weight loss?. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(8), 1129-1134.
  3. Wadden, T. A., Sternberg, J. A., Letizia, K. A., Stunkard, A. J., & Foster, G. D. (1988). Treatment of obesity by very low-calorie diet, behavior therapy, and their combination: a five-year perspective. International Journal of Obesity, 13, 39-46.
  4. Tomiyama, A. J., Mann, T., Vinas, D., Hunger, J. M., DeJager, J., & Taylor, S. E. (2010). Low-calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosomatic medicine, 72(4), 357.
  5. Lead image credit.
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, a Certified Fitness Trainer, and is Healthy Eater's author and nutitional coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see his personal macros coaching options.
Last Updated: October 17, 2019