Let me preface this article by pointing out that “if it fits your macros” is not a diet, it is a dieting concept. This is important because there are no particular foods you need to be eating, or a focus on limiting a particular macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, protein) while simultaneously focusing on another. IIFYM is simply a nutritional concept that allows an individual to have semi-lax eating requirements while still allowing him or her to achieve particular physique goals. In fact, an individual may follow IIFYM while they are sticking to a particular dieting strategy. IIFYM is appealing to many people precisely because it is flexible and can be applied to various diets or be followed on its own. It has the potential to allow more individuals to achieve their goals because it doesn’t force anybody to eat the same particular types of foods all the time, lessening the chance that the will of following a particular diet will break. It allows for variety, and variety keeps an individual from giving up.
To understand where IIFYM has its origins, it is important to understand that it developed out of the concept of Calories In vs. Calories Out. Put simply, an individual burns a specific amount of calories in a day. That amount is the amount that individual requires from daily food intake to maintain their current weight. If the individual starts eating less, this will result in a caloric defecit, which will eventually bring about weight loss. If an individual eats more, this will result in a caloric surplus, which will eventually bring about weight gain. The concept is easy to understand because it works off of a basic premise: an individual’s weight depends on the difference between the amount of calories they intake (calories in) vs. the amount of calories they burn (calories out). For more on how this process works and what the ideal calorie counts are for people trying to lose fat or gain muscle, visit our Calories Per Day article.
With that background in mind, another necessary concept must be understood: macronutrients. Naturally, whether an individual is looking to lose fat or gain muscle, the protein amount they eat per day should be decently high. This is vital in order to preserve muscle on a cut, or build muscle on a bulk. Outside of this requirement, an individual is free to choose whether they want to focus on lowering their fat intake, or their carbohydrate intake. These 3 groups (fats, proteins, carbohydrates) are the macronutrient groups that account for practically any calorie in any food (with the debatable exception of sugar alcohol). As such, in order for an individual to meet his or her calorie amount for a particular day while making sure their protein intake is high, that individual must manipulate the fat and carbohydrate amounts they intake to account for the increased protein intake. Otherwise, in simplest terms, the individual will wind up eating too many calories. This macronutrient manipulation is important because each macronutrient has varying calorie amounts. Proteins and Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram. If an individual has 50 grams of fats in a meal, as opposed to someone who has 50 grams of carbohydrates, the former will intake 200 more calories than the latter. This, of course, is important because it guides how many calories that individual will wind up taking in for the day, which will guide whether they will be losing fat, maintaining their weight, or putting on muscle. As a caveat, don’t automatically assume fats are bad because they have so many more calories per gram. Read our article on Fats in order to clear up any confusion.
With all of this necessary preceding material now out of the way, let’s tackle IIFYM. If if fits your macros is a concept that logically followed the natural combination of the two important components discussed above. If calorie counts are the decisive factor in determining any weight changes, and macronutrient manipulation decides how many calories we ingest, the bare minimum basic result that follows is IIFYM. For example:
If an individual requires 2,500 calories per day to maintain his weight and he does not wish to change, that individual can eat whatever he pleases as long as his ultimate calorie count winds up totaling 2,500 calories per day. Here is where many people, often critics, misinterpret IIFYM. An individual following IIFYM does not suddenly have free rein to grab a bag of doritos and a couple snickers ice cream bars and call it a day because the total comes out to 2,500 calories. The concept is called IIFYM for a reason. An individual may choose any food he wants to reach his 2,500 calorie total for the day, but the combination of those foods must meet his required macronutrient ratio. In other words, if an individual follows a standard 40/40/20 nutrition plan, 80% of his diet will evenly consist of proteins and carbohydrates, and 20% of his diet will consist of fats. That means 1000 calories must wind up coming from protein, 1000 calories must wind up coming from carbohydrates, and 500 calories must wind up coming from fats. What foods the individual eats to achieve those macronutrient totals is irrelevant, as long as they are reached. Yes, that means allowing an individual to break away from eating perfectly clean and having some “dirtier” foods. For an article expanding on this particular topic, check out Clean Food vs. Bad Food: Benefits of Both.
To expand on this example, imagine individual #1 goes to Burger King for lunch and has a 1000 calorie meal. The meal has a whopper and fries, which provides him with more carbohydrates than he desires, and less proteins than he desires. Individual #2 eats 1000 calories of grilled chicken and brown rice. He gets an amount of both that is satisfactory for his ultimate macro goals. These two individuals may have different macronutrient totals for that 1000 calories stemming from this single meal, but IIFYM must be understood based on the total caloric intake for the day, not one meal. As a result, the discrepancies in macros with this single meal will even out once the total calories for the day are consumed. How? Well, individual #2 only needs an X amount of protein for the day, the rest of his calories will come from carbohydrates or fats. This allows individual #1 in his next meal to catch up on lost ground by eating a protein-focused meal, limiting the excess carbohydrates he most likely had from his Burger King meal. Individual #2, on the other hand, will probably wind up having a smaller version of his previous meal. Whereas individual #1′s meals shift and vary in regards to macro totals per meal, he will mix and match his foods to cover for any one particular meal. Individual #2, on the other hand, will consistently ration his portions to wind up with his totals. As long as individual #1 keeps track and counts his macros, both individuals will wind up with the same macro ratios and total caloric intake while eating completely different foods. Individual #1 will have accomplished this thanks to IIFYM.
Now, of course IIFYM does not give anybody the right to pig out. Meal choices must be made with macronutrient ratios in mind, that is the key to success. However, it does allow the individual the flexibility to play around with his diet, and eat foods he often craves. The only major caveat to IIFYM is that often “dirtier” foods are higher in calories and digest faster (leaving you hungrier sooner), which gives them the “dirty” title in the first place. An individual following IIFYM must keep this in mind when choosing a particular food choice, and offset any higher calorie count for a single meal by eating a smaller meal later in the day and including cleaner foods that digest slower. However, that’s exactly what IIFYM is, it allows the flexibility necessary to play around with your food choices to come up with your desired caloric and macronutrient totals. Ideally, you should not use IIFYM as an excuse to eat “dirty foods” all the time. Instead, keep a clean diet overall and mix and match between clean and dirty foods to come up with your daily totals. This will guarantee you can eat what you like when you crave it, but at the same time allow yourself an easier time actually hitting your desired macronutrient ratios. Good luck!
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