The Truth About IIFYM: Is It Really Just Macros That Matter?

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I’m sure that by now you have heard the diet style referred to as “flexible dieting” or “IIFYM” (If It Fits Your Macros).  The philosophy behind the diet is that the sources of the macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs) don’t matter, it’s the amount of each macronutrient you eat that matters.  The reason being that since your body can’t distinguish the difference between a cupcake and a sweet potato since they are both carbs, you can eat the foods that you love as long as they fall within the allotted number of macros.
This concept sounds great.  It allows people to eat their carbs from wherever they want, such as ramen noodles or Cheez-Its.  They also don’t have to worry about the nuances of worrying about fat sources, like reading labels to check for olive oil instead of vegetable oil.  It basically lets people have their cake and eat it too (literally).  There’s just one slight flaw with all of this.  Macro sources do matter.  They actually matter a lot…
You see, the concept of this diet started in order to allow the very restricted diets (think strict “bro-y” bodybuilding ones) to be a LITTLE more flexible, allowing for the occasional interchange of similar foods such as tuna for cod (low fat fish for low fat fish), or white potato for white rice (fast acting carb for fast acting carb).  You could not change salmon and cod, nor could you switch oatmeal for a white potato, because you get different body responses after eating them.  Somewhere along the line, someone got a hold of this, and took the idea one giant, incorrect step further.  They figured since a white potato and rice are created equal, Skittles and rice are the same.  Then a lot of the internet “coaches” got on board with this and promoted it to the masses in order to rope more clients with this easy, innovative diet approach.  “You want ice cream, you can eat it every day!  Balance!”, they screamed in Instagram posts.  They used bikini competitors as success stories, having them talk about how they were prepping WHILE eating Oreos (who doesn’t want abs while eating cookies?!) Unfortunately, what these coaches forgot to mention was how those success stories were either at starvation levels of calories or they were taking a lot of other “supplementation” with those cookies.  They also forgot to post about the rebound in weight gain that happens to a lot of the girls once they bring their calories back to healthy levels.  Not to mention the obsession with food that usually follows with following this approach.
Like the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is”.  That basically sums up this approach.  I would love it if I could eat cake every day, have abs and remain hormonally healthy.  But guess what-Our bodies don’t work that way.  A lot more factors come into play that just macro numbers to create a long term successful diet strategy.  Below are some important elements that IIFYM ignores:
Food Timing:  IIFYM removes the importance of food timing (when you eat certain foods).  As long as you hit your macro numbers, you can eat the food at any time.  You can starve yourself all day, saving your macros for that giant bowl of ice cream at the end.  Why is this bad?  There are beneficial times to eat certain foods, such as carbs right before and after a workout.  The worst time to eat them is when you are going to be sitting around (i.e. before bed).  You also don’t want to eat all your carbs at once, due to the affect it has on blood sugar and insulin.  100 grams of carbs spread throughout the day is very different than 100 grams all at once.
Micronutrients: The micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) content of food isn’t taken into account with IIFYM.  Vitamin and minerals are what keep our systems running at optimum levels-think shiny hair, clear skin-all the important things.  Due the diet being a numbers game, followers are encouraged to find “macro friendly”, aka diet foods, to fit in.  Usually these are void of a lot of micronutrients.  You may be eating a lot of food, but if you aren’t getting the proper vitamins and minerals, you will be malnourished, and things like your metabolism and skin will suffer.
Inflammation:  This is a big one.  A lot of the foods that are promoted with IIFYM contain ingredients that are inflammatory to a lot of people.  Gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs and corn are all high inflammatory foods that can be found in most diet or junk foods.  The consumption of inflammatory foods can lead to things like water retention (which no one wants), malabsorption of micronutrients (again, that means shitty hair, skin and nails), BREAKOUTS, and just feeling overall crappy.
Chemicals: Again, since this diet is all about the numbers, a lot of low calorie/high chemical foods are consumed.  Guess what our bodies hate?  Fake stuff.  Guess what diet food is-fake.  Your body can tell when something isn’t natural.  Unfortunately for us, the way the body deals with it is it traps the chemicals and toxins in our fat cells where they can be stored.  Another unfortunate thing is that our bodies are very smart.  So smart in fact, that they know that the chemicals are in the fat cells.  They also know that releasing them back into the body can cause harm, so it will fight giving up fat, in order to protect the body from being exposed again to chemicals.  So, the more chemicals you ingest, the harder it is to lose fat.
Likelihood of Developing an Obsession with Tracking:  I see this a lot with women that jump on the tracking bandwagon.  It starts out innocent enough, inputting their foods in an app.  However, it quickly becomes an obsession, to where they feel like they can’t go anywhere to eat unless they can track their food.  They stress about their food fitting in the allotted amounts, which leads to increased cortisol levels (stress is stress), which leads to a harder time losing weight.  This can also lead to an “All or Nothing” mentality, where if they realize they went over their macros for the day, they feel like the diet is ruined, and they will binge eat the rest of the day.  They will use the excuse of “I’ll get back on it tomorrow”.  This binging behavior can also lead to become a vicious cycle of starving and binging.  Yes, this all can develop with any diet strategy, but I have seen it develop in more IIFYM followers than any other diets clients have been on.
I know this will come as really bad news to all those Pop Tart lovers.  I know how you feel, when this first got popular, I really wanted to believe this would work.  I tried it myself with sub-par results.  Utilizing a heathy calorie level, I did it for a few weeks without noticing much of a difference in weight loss.  Then when I switched to a more “bro diet” utilizing the exact same macro make up but eating healthy nutritious foods, the weight fell off.  There really is something to giving your body real foods.   With that said, I do believe that the IIFYM is a great approach to use on certain occasions, like if you are on vacation, or if there is a social event that you know you will be indulging at.  It allows you to keep your food intake under control for the day, and a day or two of junky food won’t hurt you.  However, if you are subbing out healthy food with junk day after day, you will see the effects, and they aren’t good.  You wouldn’t put shitty gas in your car, don’t put shitty food in your body.

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