Lets cut to the chase here – If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) is one of the most popular nutrition trends around at the moment. It operates around the basic premise that you need to hit a certain target of the key macronutrients each day – protein, carbohydrates and fats to achieve your physique goals. In some descriptions it also states that the food quality does not matter as long as the food proportions (the aforementioned protein, carbs and fats) are in the right quantity.
What we plan to do in this article is to break down the IIFYM approach from a number of different perspectives to give people a very well rounded viewpoint on it.
Lets look at actual absorption rates first and how calories are actually absorbed in the body. This gives us a great context to look at it from.
- The first is all calorie counts for foods like fruit, vegetables and meats is an average. The actual gross calorie (and therefore protein, carb and fat ratios) can be off by up to 20%. This is what is actually allowed by food labelling regulatory boards.
- Foods are absorbed at different levels. We don’t absorb 100% of what we eat. For examples, we generally only absorb around 70% of almonds. Different foods differ in this amount as well.
- Food preparation affects calorie load. Certain methods of cooking or even chopping and dicing food can increase the amount of calories (and macronutrients) we can absorb from certain foods.
- Gut bacteria can influence nutrient absorption – Some people can absorb more or less calories a day on average due to gut bacteria. This can account for up to 7.5 kilograms of weight gain in a year!
- People suck at measuring portion sizes – We tend to either grossly over or underestimate what we actually eat.
This shows that there actually is a number of problems with calorie counting and macronutrient tracking. If this is the case, is tracking our food (with any numbers) really the best way to go about it? That is a topic for another day but is definitely worth considering.
Lets now have a look at it from something we feel is more important than nutritional science, lets consider at the psychology of eating.
Eating for fat loss, health or muscle gain is a massive psychological battle. We all know what we need to eat (if you don’t, browse this website) but the how and why we eat certain things is far more important in terms of sustainability and long term success. Our relationship with food is in our opinion the primary determinant of our success.
This is where IIFYM can have its greatest benefits and greatest drawbacks. Lets explore some of the benefits of IIFYM here:
- No “bad” foods. Some people get caught up in the idea that some foods (gluten, dairy) are inherently bad. IIFYM can help eliminate that mindset (caveat: we will come back to this).
- More flexible approach to eating – Having too many rigid rules about eating is a surefire way to set yourself up for failure.
- You can indulge your cravings when you have them. This depends strongly on the person.
- Easier to manage social events and other days that may interfere with your diet plan.
Here are some of the drawbacks of IIFYM:
- Can lead to nutrient bargaining. An example of this is removing good carbs from your diet to have ice cream (when done frequently). This is a classic example of disorderd eating.
- Turning over control to an arbitrary number – People who follow IIFYM may have difficulty sensing their own internal hunger cues and control – everything is left to the set of numbers.
- Increased compensation and bargaining – A classic behaviour we have observed is when people eat junk food (say around Easter) they compensate and bargain by adding more cardio and restriction of calories.
Often if a client is trying to transition to an IIFYM type routine it can cause massive blowouts and problems. The ability to eat cookies and other ‘junk’ food can lead to massive blowouts and binges. That been said if someone has a healthy relationship with food it can definitely be a useful tool. Here is an article that explores this topic in more details – Is your relationship with food normal?
Now lets address some of the nutritional shortcomings of IIFYM. A LOT of people use IIFYM as a justification to eat junk food to hit their macronutrient targets.
“I eat ice cream everyday to get shredded”
“Burgers and fries get you ripped”
This is the EXACT approach that causes so many problems with people and creates all the controversy. When you actually look into the history of IIFYM it was always designated that you could eat junk food as long as 80% of your diet was healthy and nutritious. This is the exact same advice that any decent diet plan gives that wants to be sustainable.
The biggest issue we at DC Health Performance is that it focuses on quantity, not quality. We have the exact same issue with many approaches to training. If the majority of people focused on the quality of their nutrition, movement and stress, we wouldn’t have to work so hard! Quality generally wins in most situations and for the average client who does not have extreme goals (physique competition, Olympics etc) numbers aren’t the most important variable to achieve!
All in all IIFYM can be a useful approach for you if you fit the following criteria:
- Have a very healthy relationship with food – no bingeing or compensation.
- Are an advanced client or have serious physique or performance goals
- Eat at least 80% of your diet as healthy, nutritious foods.
For most people we recommend they focus on the quality of their food and work on developing a better relationship with food. Stay tuned for our upcoming guide on how to improve your relationship with food!