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IIFYM & Flexible Dieting: THE GUIDE

IIFYM & Flexible Dieting: THE GUIDE

‘If It Fits Your Macros’, otherwise known as IIFYM or ‘flexible dieting’ has become a really popular way of eating to maintain or lose weight. Essentially, it means we can allow ourselves flexibility and freedom of choice with regards to food as long as we stick to a daily calorie count and specific macronutrient goals. Research has shown that if you stick to a calorie deficit over a period of time, you will lose weight so this is guaranteed success, right? Well, not necessarily. It might be backed by science but it still requires careful planning and tracking and like with all things, isn’t totally devoid of human error or negative association. It has been slammed for being a theory which legitimises eating poor quality (but great tasting!) foods which doesn’t necessarily maintain or improve health. HOWEVER, it could be a style that suits you and if done correctly using informed decisions, could get you great results so that is exactly the purpose of this post.

Before we delve into the numbers and how to build your own personalised plan, let’s have a quick overview of the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and why they are necessary within your daily diet.

Proteins are championed because they are made up of amino acids which help to build muscle, aid recovery and improve satiety. Examples include meat, fish, soy and eggs.

Carbohydrates are a favourable source of energy for both brain and muscles. Complex carbs contain lots of good stuff such as fibre for digestive health and slower, sustained energy release. Example are oats, legumes, grains, wholegrain bread and wholegrain pasta. Simple carbs are a quicker source of energy and although have a place in your diet (for quick energy or recovery) can sometimes increase hunger and cravings. Examples include white bread, potatoes, long grain rice and processed, sugary sweets.

Fats are essential for health and survival and are important in many bodily processes such as hormone production and vitamin absorption. Unsaturated fats such as those found in olives, avocados, nuts and oily fish are good for cognitive function and heart health. Saturated fats such as those found in beef, butter, milk, cheese and chicken skin optimise hormone production. Both of these types are beneficial for health so should be chosen over the unhealthy trans fats found in processed and packaged foods such as cookies, cakes and other baked goods.

Like with anything, there are good and bad features of IIFYM – by being aware of the disadvantages, it’ll allow you to follow this protocol with a more favourable, healthy approach which could ensure long term success. Take a look at both the positives and negative aspects associated with this style of flexible dieting so that you can make the right decisions when it comes to food choices.

The Benefits:
  • Freedom of choice to opt for the foods we truly enjoy.
  • Flexibility with regards to meal size, composition and frequency. It allows for intuitive eating and ‘feel’.
  • Sustainability and improved adherence – we are more likely to be able to stick to something we enjoy.
  • Ability to eat in different social settings without freaking out that we are going ‘off plan’.
  • Suitable method of dieting for busy individuals or those that struggle with routine and ‘samey’ plans.
  • Encourages a healthier perception of food and eating – reduces obsessive behaviours and the demonising of certain foods.
  • Reduces the chance of over-eating or spilling over into ‘cheat days’ which is a feature of the old school bodybuilding approach to dieting.
The Disadvantages:
  • An IIFYM diet doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy diet. It may be balanced but the source and quality of foods chosen could be processed/unhealthy foods.
  • We may fail to choose the optimal sources of proteins, carbs and fat. For example, we might succumb to taste too often, choosing proteins with less complete amino acid profiles, simpler sugary carbohydrates over energy-sustaining wholegrains and unhealthy trans fats over those that are essential for health and wellbeing. In doing this, it may also mean we fail to consume vital micronutrients.
  • It requires careful tracking – all foods consumed need to be logged to ensure the calories and macros don’t exceed calculated targets.
  • It doesn’t always give the best results. Because it allows such a degree of freedom of choice, we find we’re often guilty of choosing better tasting, poorer quality food sources which can hinder results. Some of us need to accept that our bodies don’t process certain food types optimally e.g. gluten/wheat/lactose/trans fats etc, and this will affect our ability to get really really good results.
  • It still requires willpower and planning. Consume all your calories too early in the day and you’ll struggle to find the energy to get through your evening workout.
  • It doesn’t guarantee a better body composition – the foods you choose will affect different people differently and although may mean you lose weight, it might not necessarily mean you hit your aesthetic goals.
  • It can make dieting harder. Choosing foods that taste good may mean decreased satiety and increased cravings which would make dieting feel harder as self-control and willpower is tested several times a day.
  • It can affect sports performance negatively. If your goal is to become a better lifter or athlete, an IIFYM approach may be sub-optimal and you may be better focussing on the quality of food sources rather than simply the numbers.
Ok, so we can see there are plenty of pros and cons for IIFYM compared to the more restrictive bodybuilding-style plan. But neither is a clear winner – everybody is different and what works for one might not work for another.

Why not follow my three simple steps outlined below to create and trial your own flexible eating plan:

If you don’t already know what this is, you can use a simple online metabolic rate calculator to find this – all you need to do is put in your stats along with your estimated activity level and the calculator will do all the working out for you. Simply search online for a metabolic rate calculator (ensuring it takes into account your activity level) and pop in those details. This will give you your target daily calorie goal.

There are a few favourites but this will also depend on your goal. A 40/30/30 split is a good starting point if you’re unsure – that’s 40% protein, 30% carbohydrate, 30% fat. Another popular method is to aim for 1g per lb bodyweight of protein then split the remaining calories between carbs and fats equally or alternatively, favour one over the other in accordance with personal preference and performance goals.

If you know that 40% of your daily calories need to be made up of protein and need to convert this into grams, first, you need to find 40% of total calories (again, you can use an online calculator to make this easier and limit error). For example if your calorie goal is 1800 then 40% of that is 720 so that’s how many calories you will need of protein. We know that there are 4kcal per gram of protein so we would need to do 720 divided by 4 which works out as 180g protein per day.

Then, carbohydrates would be 30% of 1800 which is 540 calories. Again, there are 4kcal per gram so the calculation would be 540 divided by 4 which equals 135g of carbohydrates.

Finally, the fat goal is 30% of the 1800 which is 540 calories again. However, fats contain 9kcal per gram so this would work out as only 60g fat.

Once you have these numbers, use an online food tracking system and pop these numbers in as your daily goals. Then get creative and choose foods which you enjoy and which make you feel and perform well. The great thing about this is you can choose different meals and eat totally different things each day, as long as you stick to your calculated targets. It may be that you take a bit of time to get used to it, perhaps make some adjustments and may need to do a bit of trial and error to figure out which macronutrient split works best for you – try and find one which gives you results without totally destroying energy levels or making you feel bad.

Hopefully this simple guide has given you a good overview of IIFYM and will allow you to make informed decisions on this topic. If you struggle with a standard restrictive bodybuilding way of dieting then this could be a different route to success for you. But you won’t know unless you try it! Have a go at designing your own plan and bear in mind the disadvantages so that you can avoid the pitfalls that sometimes come with this style of dieting.

Hope it all goes well!

Stay gluteyful!
Serene x
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