IIFYM stands for “If It Fits Your Macros.” IIFYM is a diet- or way of eating- that has gained enormous popularity in recent years due, in part, due to people glorifying it on social media. At it’s core, IIFYM is actually a pretty reasonable approach to dieting and has some practical applications. Unfortunately, people have taken the idea way too far and are practising habits that could seriously endanger their health. Below, I’ll explain exactly what IIFYM is, some of my issues with it, and a more sound approach to nutrition.
What is IIFYM?
The foundation of IIFYM is simple: determine a daily caloric requirement for your given goal, break that number down into a designated amount of protein/carbs/fat (the three MACROnutrients), and eat food to satisfy those requirements. This idea is based on the principle that weight loss or weight gain is based solely on calories in versus calories out. If you burn more calories than you consume (a caloric deficit), then you’ll lose weight. In theory, this is true.
IIFYM can technically fit any “diet”. Vegan, vegetarian, or paleo, as long as you hit your macro targets, you’ll lose weight. Your protein can come from black beans, chicken breasts, or hot dogs. Your carbs can come from fruit, vegetables, or french fries. If it fits, it fits.
That’s where things get ugly. I believe IIFYM was originally created to allow people who follow strict diets a little more “wiggle room” to eat some comfort foods while still making progress toward their fitness goals. But now, people have taken it to the extreme and will eat just about anything if it fits their macros.
The Issues With IIFYM
✓ Binge Eating
One of the popular approaches to IIFYM is saving the vast majority of calories for a major “cheat meal”. People will eat very little to nothing at all throughout the day in order to a fit pizza into their macros. Neglecting to eat sufficient calories throughout the day and then going all out on one meal could cause some major issues. Your workouts could suffer, your mood could become unstable, and when it comes down to it, you put yourself in danger of habitually binging and over-eating.
Instead, practice a more consistent daily eating schedule. Eat regular meals comprised of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates throughout the day. You will stay fuller for longer and will be less likely to have an all out binge later at night.
✓ Lack of Micronutrients
The appeal of IIFYM is usually the fact that you can eat a bunch of junk food and still “follow” the plan. Unfortunately, that train of thought completely neglects micronutrients. People will track protein, carbs, and fat religiously, but totally fail to recognize the importance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber as part of a healthy diet. Disregarding these micronutrients not only negatively impacts the fat burning and muscle building processes in the body, it creates deficiencies that could weaken your immune system and leave you susceptible to diseases.
Plant and animal based foods are chock full of essential micronutrients, while processed foods are typically void of them. So even if you are following an IIFYM approach, make sure your meals are comprised mostly of vegetables, fruits, animal proteins, nuts, and seeds.
✓ Obsessive Weighing, Counting & Tracking
As I mentioned earlier, IIFYM is based on creating daily caloric and macronutrient requirements and hitting those numbers consistently. And while this approach can work, that’s exactly what it entails- WORK. You have to track every meal. Measure all of your portions. Add up all of your macros. It becomes a lifestyle. A lifestyle that, I believe, is not sustainable for a long period of time. Becoming obsessive with calories and macros is a slippery slope, and could become detrimental to your health and your social life. I mean, do you really want to have to pull out your phone at dinner with friends to find out how many wings you’re allowed to have?
I think the more practical approach is to simply eat real food 90% of the time. Vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and earth-grown starches will supply adequate amounts of protein, carbs, and fat. While you definitely can overeat any of these foods and gain weight, you’d be hard pressed to do it. I don’t know many people who got fat eating too much chicken and broccoli. The other 10% of the time, eat whatever you want. A couple times a week, enjoy the occasional “cheat meal”. But leave it just at that.
Take Home Message
While it’s certainly possible to follow an IIFYM diet and live a healthy lifestyle, many of the characteristics associated with the approach are particularly dangerous. Binge eating, the lack of micronutrients, and the obsessive food tracking are just a few of the habits that could be a major detriment to your progress in the gym. Instead, follow a more realistic approach to eating by focusing on eating real food to fuel your body throughout the day.