As I’m sure you all know, and have perhaps already experienced, there is a plethora of different diets out there. Low-carb, high-fat. Low-fat, high-carb. Vegan. Vegetarian. Paleo. Ketogenic. Atkins. Dukan. Juice cleanses… It’s completely overwhelming. Especially when you realise that each one comes with its very own personal library of articles, blogs, Instagram posts and Youtube videos either endorsing it and telling you it’s the best thing ever, or reproaching it and warning against the potential dangers of following it.
I have ignored all of these diets for obvious reasons (they’re stupid), but there is one that became very popular in recent times and caught my interest last year: the famous IIFYM.
what is iifym?
IIFYM is a very popular (not to mention controversial) acronym which has been circling around the fitness industry for some time now. At a time when “clean-eating” was being plastered all over the internet, IIFYM said “ENOUGH!” to the salads and the vegetables we are being told to eat, and argued that you can reach all of your fitness goals eating whatever you want, If It Fits Your Macros.
but, How does that work?!
IIFYM follows the notion that, so long as what you’re eating supplies you with the amount of macronutrients that you need (protein, fat and carbohydrate) and the amount that you are consuming does not exceed your daily calorie intake, it doesn’t matter what you eat. The intention is to promote a more flexible and laid-back approach to nutrition and to allow people to include their favourite foods in their diet and have more control over what they eat. No more feeling guilty about going out for an Indian, because you’ve already worked it into your calories for the day. No more picking a salad while all of your friends choose a burger, because you already adjusted your macros for the weekend in order to be able to indulge without completely exceeding your calorie goal.
Its popularity and success is largely because it contains the two magical ingredients of a practical diet: it’s easy, and it’s sustainable. We live in a society of convenience, and so it’s no surprise that being told “Hey! You can eat whatever you want and you won’t get fat!” went down a treat with us all. I mean… if you need to get 200g of carbohydrates in, and you can get them all from marshmallows or bagels rather than boiled rice or potatoes, who wouldn’t want to get involved?
Food for thought
For the most part, I would say that IIFYM has been a fantastic thing. It’s a complete change from the traditional strict-diet approach, finally allowing people from all different training or non-training backgrounds to eat what they want without the guilt or the fear of it ruining their progress. It’s helped people with eating disorders, bingeing, food guilt, weight problems. It’s great that people are no longer starving themselves on a bowl of lettuce and a cucumber because some chick on Instagram posted a picture of a salad and preached the importance of “clean-eating”. I think it’s fantastic that we’re all chilling the f*ck out and managing our diets so that we can enjoy a pizza now and then, or have donuts for breakfast.
What I don’t think is fantastic, is taking it to the extreme. And, like with all fashions and fads, crazes and diets, this is exactly what has happened.
It only took a few big Instagrammers and Youtubers to post some casual shots of their cookie dough breakfast alongside their chiselled abs saying “eat cookies, get ripped” for people to think “Well, if they’re doing it, that means I can eat poptarts as my carbs for every meal everyday and never have to eat brown rice ever again, right?”
Well, not quite.
Let’s get this clear.
Clean-eating isn’t bad for you; surviving off of rocket and avocados and never allowing yourself the foods that you love is.
IIFYM isn’t bad for you; cutting every fruit and vegetable and wholefood from your diet and substituting it with cereals and white bread and nutrient-void food because it fits your macros is.
Just because you saw your favourite “fitspo” post a picture of their tub of Ben & Jerries as a bedtime snack does not mean that
a) this is all they eat
b) this is, therefore, all you should eat
c) this is, in any way, an optimal and good way to nourish yourself. No matter how good they might look.
I messed around with IIFYM for a while last year and I had a great time. What’s not to love? I was chucking chocolate chips in my porridge. Eating fries with my dinner. Having a bowl of ice cream at the end of the day to top off my calories. Aesthetically speaking, I looked great. I was in great shape. I didn’t lose nor gain weight. I looked just the same as on a normal diet but was enjoying more treats, without worrying about their effect on my weight because they fit into my macros.
But, as someone who was raised all my life on a whole, nutritious diet, something didn’t sit quite right with me.
The bottom line is, you’ve got to look after your body from the inside out, and here’s where an extreme IIFYM diet slips up.
IF IT FITS YOUR micros
IIFYM is there to give you FLEXIBILITY with your food sources. It is NOT there to justify you living off a diet of protein powder, Oreos and peanut butter. It is about allowing you wiggle room with your calories, not about calculating how you can get all your daily calories from donuts.
Not because this will “make you fat”.
But because your body needs the nutrients.
We’ve all got so distracted calculating our calories and our macros, working out how we can eat spaghetti everyday whilst staying in shape, that we forgot about the micros. The vitamins. The nutrition.
Just because you’re not putting on weight and you don’t look any different does not mean that this is right, and does not mean that this is healthy. An IIFYM diet might not affect you aesthetically, but how does it affect your digestive system? Your energy levels? Your performance and strength? Or perhaps, most importantly, your recovery?
Your body as a clean eater and an IIFYM-er (that’s definitely not a word) might look identical, but don’t tell me there’s no difference in the inner body composition and health between the two.
FOOD IS FUEL
If you’re training, your body needs to recover. And sure, pizza and ice cream as your post-workout meal might well fit your macros and your calories and be delicious. You might well be getting shredded eating coco pops as your main carb source.
But tell me, what do you think will do better in helping your body recover to its maximum potential? A quick meal from McDonald’s? Or fresh salmon, wholegrain rice and vegetables?
No brainer, isn’t it?
The problem with IIFYM is that you often end up depriving your body of the nutrient-dense food that it needs to perform optimally. Clean-eating has acquired a bit of a bad name for itself, again because of extremes, but the concept of it should still apply. The majority of your foods (80%) should be coming from whole, single-ingredient, nourishing foods.
And this rule applies no matter what the goal. Losing weight. Gaining weight. It doesn’t matter. If you are working out frequently, you should be giving your body as much help as you can to allow it to perform, recover and grow to its best potential. And this quite simply won’t happen if your only carbohydrate source is refined flour and sugars, or your only protein source is a chocolate flavoured powder which comes in a tub.
So, what do I do? IIFYM or clean-eating?
Listen, I’m not your mum. I’m not gonna tell you what to do. I’m here to tell you about my experiences and guide you as best I can, not to tell you how to live your life. But I will say this:
It’s not one or the other. It’s not IIFYM vs Clean-Eating.
I’m not saying that you can’t juggle your calories around occasionally to enjoy a meal out or your favourite chocolate. I’m not saying every single meal you eat has to be from organic, wholefoods. I’m not saying you have to pick one.
I’m saying stay smart.
Think about what you’re eating.
Think about what your body would rather have.
Your body needs nutrients and vitamins, and you shouldn’t have to be buying boxes of pills because the diet you are eating is so nutrient-void that you have to supplement it.
It’s great to be shredded. It’s great to look good. t’s great to be able to eat what you want and still look like a Greek god/goddess. But at the expense of your health? I don’t think it’s worth it.
So whilst I continue to eat out when I want, buy an ice cream on a hot day, eat some chocolate when I’m craving it, for now, I’m staying away from IIFYM and focusing on eating clean.
Not because IIFYM is “bad.”
Not because it makes me “fat” or “unhealthy”.
Not because it has any impact on my physique or the size of my butt or the definition in my arms.
But because I want to look after my body from the inside out, and for that, I need my vegetables.
Give your body what it needs, not what it wants.
For more of my nutrition posts, visit the FOOD section of my blog.
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