IIFYM: The Controversy Never Ends

Nick Smoot

Owner of Smoot Fitness, www.Smootfitness.com


IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has been an area of controversy for a long time, but I thought that the war would have ended by now.  I thought people would have come to the realization that it is not a diet, that everyone who tracks nutrient intake is using a form of IIFYM, and that people who boast about filling all of their macros from junk food are not good representations of the philosophy.

Unfortunately, the war rages on with no resolution in the foreseeable future.  Check any form of social media, fitness forums, or any coaches’ email and you are bound to find someone with their panties in a bunch over the dietary cult.  I believe the controversy stems from a lack of understanding, past experience, and a strong belief system that will not allow people to view the topic with an open mind.  What I aim for in this article is to help you understand IIFYM, and hopefully your new understanding will allow you to balance food you need, and food you enjoy in to your daily nutritional plan.


The Cult Defined

IIFYM simply refers to the philosophy that anything you eat will result in the body composition changes (muscle/fat gain and muscle/fat loss) you hope to achieve if it fits within your daily requirements of protein, carbs, and fats.  Put another way, it is not the food choices that matter in terms of body composition; it is the quantity of food.  This is a direct violation of the “bodybuilding code” that states that one must eat chicken, sweet potato, and broccoli six times a day in order to get lean.  While I do think that those foods should be a regular part of one’s nutrient intake for micronutrients and fiber, it is not necessary to isolate your food intake to a select few items.  The healthiest eating plan is one that includes that largest variety of food possible.  Eating only a select few food items, nutrient dense or not, is the short track to micronutrient deficiency.

For an example of IIFYM, I am going to use a 160 pound male (the concept applies to men and women) with a required intake of 2500 calories per day to lose weight.  I hate using ratios to determine macronutrient needs because macros vary greatly from person to person based on a host of factors. However, because this is a fake example that I know nothing about, he will be using a 40:40:20 macronutrient ratio.  The daily macros are 250 g protein, 250 g carbs, and 55g fat.  He eats three large meals a day with one snack in between meals 2 and 3.  Meal 1 consists of oatmeal, eggs, egg whites, milk, and fruit.  Meal 2 consists of grilled chicken with teriyaki sauce, sweet potato, green veggies, and almonds.  The mid-day snack consists of a whey protein shake and a banana.  The final meal of the day was a trip to a restaurant with friends for a salad, two slices of pizza and 1 cup of ice cream when he got home.  Although he ate pizza and ice cream, he quantified the amount in order to ensure that it fit within his macros.  The next day, he was right on track with their weight loss goal for the week.  This is how IIFYM should look.  Micronutrients and fiber requirements are met with a variety/majority of nutrient dense foods, macros are hit in order to achieve body composition goals, social outings are not ignored, and foods you enjoy are not denied.

An important point I want to stress is that if you track food intake in ANY way, you are engaging in IIFYM.  If our example had eaten nothing but sweet potatoes and chicken, he is still tracking macros, and thus using the concept of IIFYM.  It is a philosophy or way of eating.  It is not a diet program.  How you decide to hit your macros is up to you.


The Junk Food Fanatics: What IIFYM was never meant to be!!

poptartA common question that arises is “can I eat nothing but junk food and still get lean.”  Yes, you can get lean eating nothing but junk food if it fits in your macros.  However, your health will take a nose dive with your insides transforming in to a post-nuclear war zone.  Eating that way is a huge mistake, and people who do are the leading culprits in making IIFYM so hard to grasp for most people.  IIFYM is not, was not, and never will be an excuse to eat junk food all day.  Micronutrients, fiber, and satiety are still important.  IIFYM simply helped people realize that one food is not necessarily better than another, “clean” and “dirty” foods don’t exist, and meal timing is irrelevant.  It introduced freedom back in to a society who prided themselves on deprivation and being social hermits.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but that fits the definition of an eating disorder.  Accept the truths that IIFYM brings to light, but do not lose sight of what you already know is healthy and beneficial.  If your nutrition plan resembles that of a 5 year old child on Halloween, you should direct your focus from fitness to self-help forums.  Do what works for you, and results are unavoidable.


Putting IIFYM to Good Use

Now that we know what IIFYM is and is not, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are incorporating the concepts properly in your nutrition plan.

  • Are my macronutrient requirements accurate for my goal?
  • Am I close to my macros each day?
  • Is the foundation of my diet a variety of nutrient dense foods?
  • Am I meeting my micronutrient requirements?
  • Am I meeting my fiber requirements?
  • Are my food choices keeping me satiated?
  • Do I enjoy the foods I eat?
  • Am I not letting food hold me back from social outings with friends and family?


Summing Up

Hopefully I have shed some light on the confusion surrounding IIFYM.  Save the fighting for something that actually matters, like whether or not the Seahawks caught the game winning touchdown versus the Green Bay Packers (What a horrible call!).  Even the best plan on paper will not work if it’s not followed.  A nutrition plan needs to keep you healthy, performing well, and must fit your lifestyle.  It’s all a different route to the same destination.  You choose which route is best for you.



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