Let me ask you a question. Which would you prefer to eat, boring ole chicken, rice and broccoli or a bowl of your favourite flavour Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream? Ice Cream right? Ah, but you are on a strict diet? What if you could have the ice-cream while sticking to your nutritional goals? Now I have your attention. Keep reading, all will be revealed.
This blog is written for the purpose of clearing up the IIFYM approach for the general public and gym goers with interest in nutrition and health, it may not be of too much interest to the science junkies as I will only be skimming the surface.
IIFYM is an abbreviation for “If It Fits Your Macros”; the latest craze to hit the fitness industry. Macronutrients are what makes up our foods, our proteins, fats and carbohydrates. All of which are essential in a healthy balanced diet. Depending on body composition, gender, goals, training load and day to day activity the amounts of each macronutrient vary. IIFYM began from fitness blogs when beginners kept repeatedly asking the same question; “can I eat such and such foods.” The response always being, “Yes. If it fits your macros”. This answer was given on the basis that no food is good or bad, so long as you reach your quota of each macronutrient, all should be ok. But take caution!
In this blog I will give you my 2 cents. Do I like the IIFYM approach? I cannot give a simple yes or no answer to this question. Firstly let’s discuss the right and wrong ways of undertaking an IIFYM approach to nutrition.
IIFYM has gotten a pretty bad rep due to people taking something good and turning it sour. When people who don’t know much about the concept of IIFYM hear of someone using it, they presume that their diet is made up of pop tarts, pizzas and other stereotypical junky foods. This is due to people doing IIFYM the ABSOLUTE wrong way!! Your body needs micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, all of which we get from nutritionally dense whole foods (1 ingredient foods, an apple is an apple, no BS added). Instead of these clueless apes getting these essentials into their diet to promote long term health and wellbeing, they fill their daily macronutrient quotas with this junky, highly processed and highly palatable food. Doing so depriving their bodies of essential vitamins and minerals. Ultimately they are starving themselves of these micronutrients. Your body is smarter than you are. If it needs something it will do whatever it can to get it. When you are deficient in whichever named vitamin or mineral your body will create cravings in hope of you eating a wholesome food to satisfy it. This may lead to over consumption of food throughout the day. As well as this because these junky foods are generally so highly palatable (taste good), have a low satiation value (fill you up less) and calorie dense it is far easier to overeat. The result; weight gain, deficiencies and decline in overall health.
Now that I have had my little rant let’s move on to the correct way to adopt the IIFYM approach. As discussed above your body needs whole nutritious foods to get essential vitamins and minerals to promote long term health. Therefore eat “good” or “clean” foods 80% of the time. We all know how to eat healthy, everyone knows fruit and veg is good for you, just suck it up and eat them, eat like an adult! Get your leans cuts of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, salmon), get your fat sources (nuts, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, cheese), your carbs (potatoes, rice, pastas) and eat these foods most of the time to fill up your macronutrients for the day.
Now here comes the good stuff. For that other 10-20% you are “flexible”. This meaning you can get some of your daily macronutrients from whatever foods you like! Yup, whatever you want! You like chocolate? Go for it. Carving pizza? Where is the nearest dominoes? Whatever foods you like and really enjoy, fit them into your day so long as (you guessed it) IT FITS YOUR MACROS! This method of IIFYM is excellent if you don’t want your diet ruling over your life. Enjoy social occasions, have a few drinks with friends, get popcorn at the cinema, whatever occasion may creep up just make allowance for it in your macros and you can enjoy those “cheats” guilt free. Doing this will not have an impact on your goals, whether it be fat loss or muscle gain. In fact it may even be advantageous to your goals, the psychological benefit of allowing yourself these treats will make sticking to your nutrition so much less of a pain in the ***. Allowing yourself to have the foods you love while you are in control will kill that burning desire to pig out, promote healthy relationship with food and may keep you on track and less likely to fall of the bandwagon.
Let’s return to our question at the beginning. Which would you prefer, boring ole chicken, rice and broccoli or a bowl of your favourite flavour Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream?
For arguments sake, say these 2 options had roughly the same macronutrients and calories. If you have eaten well for the day and all your buddies are heading out for an ice-cream or more likely your significant other is next to you with a big tub, would choosing the ice-cream really have an impact on your goals? No, it would not. It may stop you craving Ben and Jerrys for the following month however.
Sounds great right? So why doesn’t everyone do IIFYM? Here’s the downside, in order for foods to fit your macros you have to track your macros. This is essentially keeping a food diary of everything you eat. My fitness Pal is an excellent calorie and macro counter app that you can download to your phone to help you do this. Once you have input a food once it is always there, and you will find that most people generally eat the same foods over and over again. There is also a label scanner that will input macros automatically. From my experience IIFYM effectiveness is very dependent on the person. If you are would label yourself a perfectionist, someone who wants something done to the best it can be and an analytical person then IIFYM may be for you. It will involve weighing all your food and inputting everything that touches your lips into My Fitness Pal, which means no nibbling or aimlessly eating. If you just read that sentence and rolled your eyes to heaven then IIFYM definitely is not for you. Some individuals enjoy the process of tracking what they eat and being in control, for others it is their worst nightmare. So if it sounds appealing to you, definitely do give it a go, but do it the correct way.
This is quite a large topic and there is more to it, but I will leave it at that for the time being. For determining your own individual macronutrient targets just google calculators, there is 100’s available. Just be mindful that these calculators are estimates. If your goal is to lose weight and you are gaining weight, clearly the calories are too high and you will need to reduce them slightly to achieve the desired result, the same goes for gaining weight.
I hope this cleared up the topic of IIFYM a bit and you gained something from it. Following a nutrition plan does not have to be that hard, enjoy your food, train hard and don’t deprive yourself of living because you are on a diet.
This article is by Coach Shane Kingston. Sport and Exercise Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach at ACLAÍ.