19 Jul IIFYM and Flexible Dieting
IIFYM and Flexible Dieting
In today’s fit savvy world, you may hear a lot about flexible dieting or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM). To some, this means eating whatever you want within your assigned macros; protein, carbs and fats. You have probably seen post after post of some instafit model putting down a cheeseburger and fries, pizza or some mountain of dessert with the #iifym slapped on there. But to me, that’s not health.
Don’t get me wrong, I personally follow flexible dieting and do choose fit my macros with the occasional treat, but by following the above example, you can run into some issues.
Since I have been receiving countless texts, email, DMs and Snapchat messages about this topic, I figured I would lay it out for you and let you come to your own conclusions.
Calories In Versus Calories Out
I recently received this pictograph from a client with a message to the tune of, “See, alcohol is actually less calories than a banana!” And while I am certainly not arguing this, there is some fine print to discuss.
If your goal is to simply lose weight, then you must maintain a caloric deficit. That means, the amount of food and drink you take in must be less than the amount of calories you expend through physical exercise. However, notice I said weight, not fat loss, and YES, there is a difference. For more information, be sure to check out my blog, Weight Loss versus Fat Loss here.
So in theory, yes, you could fit in alcohol into your meal plan and come in under your caloric threshold and still lose weight. BUT as the aforementioned article explains, many of us are really looking to change our body composition, and THAT requires a macronutrient plan.
First of all, what is a Macro? A macro, or macronutrient, are considered the proteins, carbs and fats that make up a particular food, meal, etc.
Carbs are our main energy source – we NEED this to function properly. They are easily converted to energy (glucose) and either readily used or stored until the body needs them. As a result, the more active a person is, the more carbs he or she may require to sustain activity. Furthermore, carbs are broken down into glucose that is then stored in the muscles as muscle glycogen. We when weight train, these stores are depleted and need to be replenished, otherwise we risk muscle breakdown. So the more muscular you are, or if you are trying to build muscle, you must be consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Protein also has the highest Thermal Effect of Food, meaning it requires 25-30% of the protein we consume just to break it down and digest it! As a result, protein also keeps us feeling full and satiated for longer periods of time. So whether your goal is to lose fat or gain muscle, protein must be a staple in your diet.
Fats – healthy fats do not make you fat! In fact, healthy fats are essential for normal growth and development. They are used as an energy source as well. However, since the body takes longer to break down these foods, they are best used on non weight training days or on days where you may not be as physically active. You do need fats on training days, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to keep fats lower in pre and post workout meals. Carbs and fats therefore have an inverse relationship with one another. When fats are high, carbs are low and vice versa. The best fats to consume are unsaturated = nuts, avocado, coconut oil and olive oil.
Not one of the macros alone “makes you fat” – but any of them in excess, can create that caloric surplus and will be stored as fat. This is why counting your macros can be a great thing for those looking to change their body composition.
Junk Food Versus Clean Eating
Social media portrays body builders eating all sorts of junk under the name of IIFYM. But in true social media form, this is only one small sample a body builder’s diet. Besides, it’s way more exciting to post a picture of a Pop Tart Sundae than a plate of sweet potato, chicken and broccoli.
However, what many followers may not grasp is that it would be impossible to actually meet the macros required to build and maintain these physiques with solely junk food. This because not all macros are created equal. Take a carb for example, you have those that are considered simple and those that are considered complex. Quick absorbing carbs like white breads, cereals, pastas, etc. will enter the blood stream quickly, causing a surge of insulin and a corresponding crash soon after. As a result, you are hungry soon after and looking for you next “fix”. Fueling your body with processed junk and sugars can have crippling health affects later on down the road. Too much refined sugars caused elevated insulin levels which halts the fat burning process during that time. And isn’t that what you’re looking to accomplish by tracking macros in the first place?
So yes, while doughnut and a bowl of oats may both be considered a “carb”, they are NOT treated equal when it comes to fueling your body.
On the flip side we have our “clean eaters”. The people who don’t track or count calories, but stick to “clean” foods options. Instead of the white breads and pastas listed above, they choose whole grains, oats, lean meats, fruits and green leafy veggies to increase your fiber intake as well as other vitamins and minerals. This is certainly healthier than the junk food eaters because the clean eater are at least getting their micronutrients. These vitamins and minerals are used and absorbed by the body, providing benefits to all systems of the body. More of these foods are broken down and used by the body, versus being flushed through the body, or more likely, being stored as fat.
But even these clean eaters could benefit from a structured macro plan. The “problem” with a typical clean eating philosophy is that it doesn’t take into account how much a person is consuming. Just because the food is “clean”, doesn’t make it void of calories. I hear so many say, “well, it’s organic syrup” or “organic cane sugar”. Yea well, it still contains CALORIES and still behaves as a simple sugar in the body, thus spiking insulin levels and yes, halting the fat burning process in the body.
Furthermore, clean eating could mean ingesting 3,000 calories from clean carb sources and coming up short in the protein and fat department, which will do you no good if your goal is a body composition change.
The biggest misconception is that flexible dieting is a way to mathematically “fit” junk into your diet. In reality, the majority of a flexible dieter’s intake is clean foods. The difference is that, this diet allows for an occasional treat to be worked in to the daily macro assignment, without going so far as to have a “cheat meal” or “cheat day”. In my opinion this is NOT health. This is a vicious cycle of restrict and binge and does NOT promote a healthy way of life.
Attaining a goal, maintaining and sustaining a healthy, fit, body requires balance. Flexible dieting offers a way to do both – literally have you cake and eat it too (on occasion). It also helps to see foods for their macronutrient and nutritional make up versus as either “bad” or “good”. Macro plans list daily assignments for protein, carbs, and fats, as well as a fiber goal.
Fiber plays a huge role in digestion and satiation. A diet high in junk and processed sugars will not provide your body with the recommend amount of fiber, so in essence, flexible dieting almost forces you to adhere to a clean eating with occasional treat plan.
My suggestion and where I have found the most success with clients and myself is an 80/20 rule. Fit your macros with 80% clean and whole foods and allow yourself 20% of those macros for treats.
Of course, this is a simplified equation and your specific intake will depend on your gender, age, height, weight, physiological make up and individual goals. I do offer custom nutrition and macro plans, or you can email me directly with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org