Is there a way that you can eat pizza, ice cream and donuts and still become ripped? I know, sounds like the beginning of a lame sales pitch about a revolutionary new diet, or pill or exercise machine. However, that is essentially the way that the commentary for the diet IIFYM goes. Let’s discuss what it is, and if you should use it.
OK, let’s deal with the name first. It stands for If It Fits Your Macros. There are two main concepts at play in this name, and they are quite simple. Macronutrients and calories.
For years, the conventional wisdom taught that the only way to get big was to eat chicken breast, brown rice, broccoli and egg whites. This was the diet of all the champs, so it was how everyone ate. Then came research showing that as long as you stayed within a certain calorie range, you could either gain or lose weight. It doesn’t just stop at calories, the next step is “macros” short for macronutrients. This is your protein, carbs and fats. So they guiding principle of IIFYM explained properly is as follows:
“Hit your protein target for the day, eat the set amount of calories. Do it with whatever food you want”.
Now, if this is true, then chicken and rice weary lifters can all rejoice! But let’s analyse the diet, and see if it holds up.
Does it work?
It depends. In good dietary practice, you should be watching your calories and your macros to make sure you are getting what you need. The problem however with the “If it fits your macros” approach is that it simplifies what a good diet is.
Many people will use this (because that is how it is advertised) as an excuse to regularly eat junk food. And the temptation can be that you quickly eat all the protein that you need for the day, and reserve room in your calories for some junk later on. So your day could look like this:
Required: 2200 calories
Protein required: 180 grams
So you eat 500 grams of chicken breast which is around 550 calories.
2200-500 = 1700 otherwise known as 3 big macs or 45 oreos.
So according to this diet, you will get all your protein, and you will have not exceeded your calories for the day. Just take a wild guess where your physique and health will be in 3 years after eating like this.
What are they missing?
It has been shown comprehensively in the past few years that the old calorie in vs calorie out is a gross oversimplification of what happens in your body. So what is missing from the IIFYM method? Nutrition. Yes, the simple basics of a healthy lifestyle are no where to be seen in this methodology. Your body needs vitamins, minerals, and a whole host of micro nutrients. Without these you will not be able to sustain growth, or healthy bodily function for a long time.
This is where old school knowledge that stuck to healthy foods wins out. To be an athlete, or to look good and be reasonably healthy you need to eat healthily. It is a concept that we are taught from when we are children, but is no where to be seen in the methodology. There is also the now newly understood idea of nutrient timing. Just assuming that your body works on a 24 hour timescale and that you are magically reset at the end of a day doesn’t make sense.
Is it all bad?
Not really. In this day and age of mass processing of food, a methodology like this is likely to appeal to many more people than a traditional fitness/bodybuilding diet. This means that it will recruit people to get to the gym and look after themselves a bit more as they don’t see it as such a sacrifice. This can only be a good thing, however, if the IIFYM principles are not slightly changed, then people will still be unhealthy.
How can it be used properly?
For us to benefit from the “flexible” idea to this dieting, we need to take into consideration things it is missing, and then create a sensible template. So as mentioned, the idea of nutrition is the key missing component from the diet, so that needs to be addressed.
- Eat vegetables with every meal. This should be non negotiable. Vegetables will help your physique and health so much in the long term that it is insane to leave them out.
- Eat 90% unprocessed food. No Oreos, no cakes, just proper natural food
- Stick to your calories and macros
- For the other 10% eat whatever you want.
This will give you the feeling of flexibility, but also make sure that you are not setting yourself up for heart failure or a sugar addiction.
If taken correctly, the idea that “no food is bad” can be something healthy for your mind. The idea for most people of eating nothing but chicken breast and vegetables for the rest of your life is enough to put them off good lifestyle choices. In moderation, it is not going to hurt you if you are flexible, and in many cases it will mean that you can sustain a good healthy diet for much longer than you might do if the diet was too rigid.
So overall, IIFYM has many flaws in the design. It can promote dangerous eating habits, and over simplifies the body and nutrition. However, if you take the good principles like, “no food is bad in moderation” or dietary flexibility, you may be able to stick to your healthy lifestyle for longer, and be less paranoid about what you are eating.
To all those hardcore warriors out there who slave away with the traditional bodybuilding food for weeks and years, power to you. Now, where did I leave that pastry?