I have to admit that the first time I saw IIFYM was in a hashtag on Instagram that I then had to Google. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but it seemed to be As Many Pop-Tarts As You Can Eat, which is a different acronym entirely. If It Fits Your Macros is a controversial eating method, largely due to its portrayal in social media. According to IIFYM.com, the fat loss method began with bodybuilders who were fed up with their mind-numbingly dull traditional diets of chicken, tilapia, broccoli, etc. and wanted some variety and flavor while still losing fat. Basing their approach off the calories in vs calories out theory, they decided that as long as they were hitting their calorie goals consistently, it shouldn’t matter much from what food sources the calories came. When you look at the deprivation that many bodybuilders were used to, it makes a little more sense as to why pictures of pro-yo (protein yogurt) topped with all sorts of candy seem to be all that represent IIFYM.
What Are Macros?
Macros is short for macronutrients, which are nutrients that the body requires in large amounts. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates fall into this category. The basic idea is that if you calculate how many calories your body burns per day, shoot for ~15% less than that number (for fat loss purposes), and divide those calories up between your macronutrients in a way that will support your goals, you can pretty much eat whatever you want as long as you hit your specific targets. IIFYM.com provides a variety of calculators to help determine calorie and macro targets based on specific goals.
Why Do IIFYM?
As mentioned, bodybuilders seem to be credited with this movement, or at least its recent popularity, due to the fact that they were tired of eating the same bland foods day after day. Even not coming from a bodybuilding background, anyone who has followed a restrictive diet for any period of time can relate to the mental struggle of feeling like you’re depriving yourself. And many who have restricted for a long time can relate to falling off the wagon or eventually binging on ‘banned’ foods. IIFYM can give back some freedom in allowing you to choose what you eat as long as the quantities and combinations are able to fit within your specific numbers.
Though I’ve never competed in bodybuilding, I have been a health and physique-conscious person for many years, and through those years, have experimented with many diets (Beer & Pizza, Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, Six Small Meals). While I currently eat a mostly Paleo diet (no grains, minimal dairy, lots of meat and veggies), there are still ‘approved’ foods that I have a hard time controlling that have led to some falls off the wagon (generally directly into a vat of almond butter) and ‘banned’ foods that I crave. In the past, after eating something off-plan or in a larger quantity than I’d intended, I would chalk up the whole day as a loss, vow to start again the next day, and have a free-for-all until midnight.
One of the appeals of IIFYM to me was that it would allow me the freedom to have a formerly ‘banned’ food that I was craving or adjust my intake later in the day to account for a slip-up earlier on. I wouldn’t be forced to eat anything I didn’t want & could still have most of my meals be whole food sources like eggs and chicken, now I’d just have the option to choose something else, as well.
In the several months I’ve been following a form of IIFYM, I’ve had great success. While I was eating good foods before, I learned that I wasn’t necessarily eating them in the right amounts. For example, I learned I was often under-eating protein, which is immensely important in gaining and maintaining muscle mass, which is one of my top priorities. It’s given me a better idea of what appropriate portions are so that I’m better at estimating them when I’m out to eat. I’ve also learned that by unrestricting myself, many of the foods that used to be trigger foods, are no longer. It’s given me a system of checks and balances to help realize which foods are more important to me than others. For example, I could work in a cup of frozen yogurt, but it would mean skipping the sweet potato fries; which do I want more?
Would I Recommend IIFYM?
In a nutshell, yes, I think IIFYM can be a great learning experience for many people. But with anything, there are pros and cons that need to be considered.
In order to accurately track your macros, at least in the beginning, you need to weigh and measure everything you eat, which can be inconvenient or embarrassing. If you prep your meals for the week in advance, this is pretty easy to do with a kitchen scale and tracker like myfitnesspal, but can make eating at restaurants tricky, as it’s hard to estimate what is actually in your food and you may not want to draw attention to yourself by pulling a mini scale out of your bag. I got around this by eating out sparingly and doing my best to eyeball portions when I did go out. The upside to weighing and measuring is that it’ll give you a much better idea of what portions you should be eating, so that in the future, you’re able to estimate with better accuracy. I’m a big advocate of finding an eating style that I can maintain for a lifetime and while tracking my food isn’t something I want to do forever, I do think it’s teaching me important lessons that will serve me well in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, IIFYM can be a great method for people who have been on restrictive diets in the past and struggled with staying on plan or with episodes of binging. It gives you the freedom to decide whether a splurge food is worth the compromise in order to fit it into your day. For example, if you eat high carb and high fat foods early in the day, you may be having a can of tuna for dinner.
The downside, however, is if you replace one obsessive behavior with another. It can be a slippery slope for some to go from restricting their diets in one way to restricting in another by counting every gram that goes into their bodies. I’d recommend keeping a close eye on whether you’re actually feeling liberated with IIFYM or just restricted in a different way.
Lastly, IIFYM.com admits that the method “does not address health concerns of the heart, brain, or other organs, and does not put an emphasis on ‘healthy eating’.” That being said, while it gives you the freedom to work in “dirty foods,” it certainly doesn’t require you to. Measuring, tracking, and attempting to hit certain numbers can be a good lesson for everyone, even those not interested in eating any Pop-Tarts. In fact, despite the way it may seem on social media, it’s actually pretty hard to hit macro goals without having a good chunk of meals consisting of whole, natural foods. It just gives the option to have some flexibility when you deem it necessary.
Different eating styles work for different people and the best way to figure out what works for you is to experiment on yourself. Look at what your goals are and what you are willing to do to achieve them. Think long-term and work on building healthy habits that will serve you for a lifetime. If it seems like learning more about appropriate portion sizes and indulging in moderation would serve you well, IIFYM may be worth a shot.