Over the last few months we have posted blogs on some of the most popular diets today, like the Mediterranean, Ketogenic “keto”, Paleo, and Intermittent Fasting diets. This week we will be moving on to the final installment in our Diet Blog Series: Flexible Dieting, or the “IIFYM” (If It Fits Your Macros) Diet.
Flexible Dieting “IIFYM” Breakdown
What It Is
While many diets are meticulous about which foods you can and can’t eat, how much you can have, and even when you consume it, for some people, the excessive restrictions can be a recipe for failure.
Instead, the IIFYM diet aims to get away from that — focusing on the three most important energy sources needed for our bodies to function properly. We’re talking about protein, carbohydrates and fat (AKA macronutrients, or “macros”). How it works: Calculate your daily caloric needs, then split those calories into 40 percent carbohydrates, 40 percent protein and 20 percent fat. This is the ratio that IIFYM proponents say is the most effective for muscle growth, fat burning and consistent energy levels.
Keep in mind, there has been some debate on whether or not this diet is in fact more or less effective than “eating clean,” and if a calorie is a calorie regardless of the macro composition of the diet you’re following. However, some studies support it and numerous individuals have reported success with this diet. If you think IIFYM could work for you, here’s what you need to know.
The first step in the IIFYM plan is to figure out how much energy (i.e. calories) your body uses in a given day. The amount of calories you burn just by virtue of breathing and performing other vital functions is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Use this IIFYM calculator to calculate your macros.
Imagine 2,000 calories. Hard to do, right? You could get to that number countless different ways, both unhealthy and healthy. One version of a 2,000-calorie day could help you fuel fantastic workouts, add muscle, and feel full. Another could leave you on the same old blood sugar roller coaster, feeling cloudy and dragging through your training.
In other words, you need another layer of structure! Managing macros is similar to managing your monetary budget. Rather than being able to spend whatever you want as long as it hits a grand caloric total, you have to budget three different currencies—protein, carbohydrates, and fat. If you want to spend your carbs on a big pancake breakfast, you certainly can, but remember that you only have so much to spend and that you still need to hit your protein and fat totals for the day. And don't be surprised if you're hurting later that afternoon because you've spent all of your carbohydrates and are now lacking energy to power through the afternoon.
However, the beauty of IIFYM is that you can do this very thing every once in awhile and still stay on track as long as you're on point the remainder of the day. So, if you have a special occasion planned for later in the evening, you can adjust your intake throughout the day to ensure you have plenty to spend at dinner.
Remember that you want every meal to fit this 40% carbs/40% protein/20% fat set-up. If it fits into your personal macro ratio, you can feel free to eat it. Everything from roasted chicken to pizza can be “diet-friendly” as long as it hits your macros. This is why it is also called “Flexible Dieting.”
Flexibility: Many old-school diet approaches are based around strict calorie counts, approved food lists, and sometimes complete elimination of a food or food group to lose weight (think low-fat or low-carb). This approach may work initially, but it often doesn't last. When the dieter is feeling deprived and low-energy, a cheat meal turns into a cheat day, which turns into an eventual lack of care for the original diet. Within weeks, he or she ends up back at his or her pre-diet weight, if not heavier. This is the vicious yo-yo dieting cycle.
IIFYM avoids the mentality that certain foods are "off-limits" and promotes moderation and inclusion of a variety of foods. Rather than worrying about breaking the bank, you can indulge regularly with a bit of sweet or savory and still work toward your goal without a sense of guilt. It's all about portion control. Dieting will still be tough, and you might still feel hungry at times, but taking a moderation-focused approach will make it a lot more bearable.
Maintain Athletic Performance: Anyone who has ever tried to train hard while on a strict caloric-restriction plan—or one that's extremely low-carb or low-fat—knows how hard that can be. Your workouts suffer dramatically, as does your overall energy level. Sure, abs may be ultimately "made in the kitchen," as they say, but they're also made through month upon month of high-quality training. If you want to improve your body composition in a lasting way, this is non-negotiable! Extreme caloric restriction won't get you there.
IIFYM places a focus on the importance of each macronutrient, respecting the unique role that each plays. Those who have success with it find that it enables them to feel more energized and train hard even while losing weight.
Social Situation Success: If you've ever been on a diet that had a list—whether implied or stated outright—of "forbidden" foods, you know how even the thought of cake can make you feel guilty. Far too often, people indulge and then punish themselves later on by eating, well, nothing, or very close to it. This isn't a healthy or sustainable approach.
Following an IIFYM approach promotes less stress in these sorts of situations. You can just eat more or less of a certain macro than planned at an earlier meal. But don't forget you still have to meet your macros! It's a highly flexible system that is meant to coincide with your lifestyle and daily choices—as long as you're keeping track.
This transitions nicely to dining out, too. Restaurants often provoke anxiety in dieters due to their lack of control of portions and cooking methods. Of course, many restaurants will never be totally transparent about calories or macros, but once you've got the hang of the macro game, some back-of-the-napkin math should be enough to help you find options. One upside of the global obesity problem is that more restaurants than ever have their nutrition available online, and some even have it on hand. Checking the menu ahead of time to determine what may fit, or what you will be spending, will allow you to enjoy your meal without worrying about getting off track.
Multiple studies over the years have shown how ineffective the old-school restriction-based approach to dieting can be, and the stats back it up. But is IIFYM any better? It turns out that there has been research comparing old-school dieting to flexible dieting.
A study comparing the two found that people following a restrictive approach to dieting were more likely to have a higher BMI, reduced feelings of self-control, and more psychological stress related to weight and food intake.
We hope you enjoyed our Diet Blog Series. Check back next week to read our next blog.