You have probably heard about the “If It Fits Your Macros” (or IIFYM) trend which has been increasing in popularity within the fitness and bodybuilding world. It’s not surprising that the concept was embraced and developed by people within the industry who were sick and tired of adhering to monotonous, restrictive meal plans in which the vast majority of foods were labeled as evil and forbidden. On a personal note, I jumped on the IIFYM bandwagon as well because I was fed up with avoiding certain so-called “bad” foods and also dealing with metabolic burnout from years of caloric restriction. What surprised me was the positive manner in which my body responded to taking in maintenance calories as opposed to constantly functioning at a caloric deficit which only served to slow down my metabolism.
The term macro refers to the principal nutrients which the body requires: protein, fat, carbohydrates. IIFYM dictates that as long as you fulfill the energy needs of your body, you can obtain calories from any food source. Let’s face it: your body needs a certain amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat, along with fiber and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally, but it doesn’t scrutinize every macronutrient gram as it is thrown into the body. On the other side of the coin, it is also important to bear in mind that most proponents of IIFYM do not consume large amounts of junk food either. As long as quality protein is consumed in adequate amounts to contribute to muscle growth and repair, along with micronutrients and dietary fiber to support normal digestion, it shouldn’t matter if a small percentage of caloric daily intake is obtained from discretionary or junk food items.
My personal opinion is that the quality of carbs still should come into play if you are employing an IIFYM approach. However, if the majority of carbs comes from quality sources such as oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice, a small amount of junk carbs (cookies, Pop Tarts) shouldn’t tip the balance too much. I am a fan of carb BACKloading and believe the largest insulin spike should come at night before you sleep, since you will be fasting for several hours.
I know some of you are still reading this with great skepticism and want to hold onto your six boring meals of tilapia and green beans every day, refusing to accept the concept of loosening the reins a bit and actually enjoying a variety of foods. IIFYM doesn’t mean that you lose control and eat whatever you want, whenever you want. What it DOES mean is that foods will no longer be forbidden or “bad”, and that you can actually consume them on a fairly regular basis as long as you keep track of your daily nutrient intake.
The main drawback of IIFYM is that you must track your food intake, which in a sense is another form of food fixation. However, there is a greater chance that you will meet your body’s nutrient needs than if you follow a cookie cutter, calorie restricted, orthorexia lover’s contest prep meal plan. When clean eating is followed 100% and the majority of food sources are banned, caloric restriction is almost inevitable. Such caloric restriction, when practiced for an extended period of time, will cause fat loss to stall and metabolism to slow down.
How about if you met your macronutrient needs without having to banish most foods from your diet? So many people in the world of fitness suffer from orthorexia, a psychopathological condition in which foods are labeled as “good” or “bad”, and in which individuals become socially isolated over their need to eat “correctly”. I have seen so many competitors struggle with an increasing difficulty in losing fat, so their coaches restrict their calories even more and ban more foods from their meal plans. Fruit, healthy fats, and healthy carbs are stripped away in an effort to lean the competitor out. Another thing to consider is what food deprivation does to people. If a food is “bad”, suddenly the temptation to indulge in that bad food is intensified.
You might want to consider trying IIFYM if you are in a slump with your current meal plan. You may feel like a hamster on a very boring and restrictive “clean eating” wheel in which you are only allowed to eat very specific foods in certain combinations. For some of you who have been doing this incessantly for years, you may have noticed over time that it has become more and more difficult to lose weight. Your meal plan is probably VERY rigid and VERY boring, consisting of foods you are probably so sick of that if you never had to eat them ever again, you would rejoice in the streets for days. Give IIFYM a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at how your body responds.