IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros, is perhaps one of the most buzzed-about abbreviations in the dieting world today. But rather than simply be a passing trend or a medically unsafe diet fad, IIFYM is one of the safest and medically sound dieting options today. Let's take a look at what IIFYM really means, what you need to know about it, and different tips and tricks on how to be successful at it.
IIFYM: An Introduction
IIFYM doesn't require the participant to sacrifice the foods they love, change anything about their exercise habits (unless your habits are no exercise at all… change that) or even overdose on one particular macro or another.
Rather, IIFYM operates behind one very simple principle: you can eat what you want, when you want, provided that it fits into your macronutrient allotment for the day.
There are three macros around which all diets revolve: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The diet focuses on macronutrients, rather than calories although total calories in vs calories out is important.
Traditionally, weight loss focused on a particular concept: if you burned more calories than you consumed, you would lose weight. If your caloric intake and your calorie burn were equal, you would maintain your weight. If you consumed more calories than you burned, you would gain weight. Simple right?
But under the IIFYM program, the weight loss concept is a bit different: calculate and meet your macros. How many grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates a day do you need in order to meet and exceed your weight loss goals? Under the IIFYM program, food intake is tracked and adjusted accordingly. Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. #MATH !
Unlike other diet programs, however, the IIFYM program places no restrictions on the foods you eat, provided that you eat enough of your macros as designated by the program. So if, for example, you meet your fat macros by eating a brownie, the IIFYM diet allows you to do just that. Just to be clear, getting your carbohydrates all from mountain dew or fat from butter probably isn’t the best idea. This isn’t an excuse to eat garbage 24/7 as long as it fits your macros. It is meant to allow you to enjoy those foods when you want them, not feel bad about it and have them fit into your health and fitness goals.
And because of this flexibility in food intake, the IIFYM program is preferred by people who don't want constant restrictions placed on what food they eat and when. Again, not an excuse to eat crap! Ex. I know I am going to my favorite pizza place with my girlfriend tonight and I want to dominate an entire personal pizza because I deserve that shit! So, for a few meals earlier in the day I opt for veggies instead of rice or potatoes and choose very lean cuts of meat so that I can save my carb and fat count for that pizza I am going to put a hurting on later. If done correctly, your protein, carb and fat count will be no different that day than any other day and you’re still on track for your fitness goals but also can live your best life!
How Do You Calculate Your Macros?
Before you can begin the IIFYM program, it's essential to calculate your macros. While many people choose to calculate their macros for free on the official website, it's easy to "do it yourself" as well. A great app that has a free version, which is all you need, is the “my fitness pal” app. Literally every food you can imagine is in there. All you have to do is scan the bar code or search the food and input the amount that you are eating.
First, measure your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. Your BMR is calculated based on your sex, your age, and your height and weight. From there, it's necessary to adjust your BMR based on your activity level -- and this will calculate your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. This will vary based on the individual but a basic starting point for anyone who is not familiar would be to determine your lean body mass, body weight X (1- bodyfat %), then simply add a zero to the end of that. Ex a 200lb person with 20% bodyfat
200 x (1-.2)= 160. Put a zero at the end and you get 1,600 calories your body uses everyday in order to function and go about basic daily activities. If you workout then you’ll need to add those calories in as well for your total. Eat less than 1,600, lose weight. Eat more, gain weight. (We always recommend that you consult with a physician or registered dietician before undergoing any sort of diet program.)
Finally, it's time to determine your macros. A good rule of thumb for anyone looking to maintain or even gain a little muscle mass; 0.75 - 1 gram of protein for every lb. of LEAN body weight, 0.2 - 0.4 grams of fat for every lb. of LEAN weight. All the other calories are allotted for carbohydrates.
It's imperative to note that carbohydrates aren't just bread, grains, and sweets. Carbohydrates also include complex carbohydrates, such as those found in vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber foods.
When losing weight, too, it's imperative to remember that losing muscle mass is never the goal. Rather, the goal is to maintain -- and, in some cases, even gain -- lean muscle mass while burning fat. To that end, it's imperative to reduce the number of total calories while at least maintaining the total protein intake. In other words, you can sacrifice the number of calories you intake while also increasing the amount of protein you intake.
How Do You Meet Your Macros?
To participate in the IIFYM program, it's important to actually calculate your macros. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps that will calculate macros for you, including -- but not limited to -- the following:
- MyFitnessPal (our choice)
- My Macros+
- Lose It!
It's also probably a good idea to invest in both a food scale (to accurately measure and weigh food) and a digital weight scale (to measure total BMI, or body mass index).
Finally, it's important to remember that the IIFYM program tends to be lower in total carbohydrates and fats, and higher in protein, for optimal weight loss conditions. It's therefore important to understand which foods have the highest quantities of each macro.
Which Foods are Highest in Protein?
If you're following the IIFYM program, the foods highest in protein -- and thus, the ones you'll want to eat the most of -- include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Animal products (beef, chicken, pork, fish, wild game)
- Greek Yogurt
- Beans (any and all kinds)
- Whey Protein
Which Foods are Highest in Fat?
If you're following the IIFYM program, it's important to know which foods are highest in fat -- and not just "any" fat, but rather, the so-called "good" fat. These foods include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Seeds (any and all kinds, but more specifically, chia and flax seeds)
- Oils (any and all kinds, but especially olive oil)
Which Foods are Highest in Carbohydrates?
If you're following the IIFYM program, it's important to know which foods are highest in carbohydrates -- both the "simple" carbohydrates (as in sugars that are easily broken down) and the "complex" carbohydrates (as in the fibers that are not as easily broken down). Obviously, too, the latter is better for you than the former. These high-carbohydrate foods include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Grains (like oat, barley, and rice)
- Fruits (any and all kinds)
What are the Benefits of IIFYM?
People who participate in the IIFYM program find that they are able to lose weight easier, look better, and feel healthier.
But those are just two of the many benefits of this healthy diet lifestyle that many experiences. People who participate in the IIFYM program report a wide variety of benefits, including, but not limited to, the following:
- No food is "off limits." The philosophy behind IIFYM is simple: if your diet is too complicated, you'll never start; but if your diet is too restrictive, you will never finish. On the IIFYM program, all foods are fair game -- even bread, pasta, and cereals -- so long as they fit into your prescribed macros. It's important to note, AGAIN, that while IIFYM doesn't restrict the type of food you're allowed to eat, it is not an excuse to simply fill your body with junk food, and nor is it recommended if you're suffering from an eating disorder (like anorexia or bulimia).
- You learn "the truth" about food. Many people have different misconceptions about food -- but by not demonizing food, and taking a realistic approach to weight loss, you'll get much further and reach your goals that much quicker. On this plan, you'll quickly learn that there's no such thing as a "bad" food, so long as it's eaten in moderation (one doughnut isn't going to kill you -- but one dozen doughnuts isn't healthy on any diet plan).
- There's no need to "pack a meal" before you go somewhere. While many diet programs require that you do "meal preparation," and insist that you take a pre-packaged meal wherever you go -- even if it's to your dear, sweet mother's house -- the IIFYM doesn't have that level of restriction. In fact, it's encouraged that you get out and try new foods in new environments, so long as, again, all of your macros are met.
- There's no social awkwardness in your eating. The running joke, as of late, is that there are people who are so deep into different "fad diets" (such as paleo) that they've become obsessive and borderline annoying with their habits. Perhaps few things will put a damper on a fun dinner event with friends quicker than being annoying about your eating habits -- but there will be none of that with the IIFYM program.
- No deprivation and no binging. Let's face it -- it can be very difficult to break old eating habits. If you deprive yourself of something you've been eating for the longest time, you'll feel irritable -- and, eventually, you will crave it so much that you will binge on it. While many diet programs suggest that this is necessary -- that a "cheat day" is a way to stay on an otherwise overly restrictive diet -- the IIFYM program suggests the exact opposite: you can eat what you want, when you want, so long as you fulfill your macro requirements in a day and don't binge on calories. This will make the diet program much easier to follow, reducing the need for binging.
- It actually works. Countless studies have shown that we, as humans, tend to stick with something if we see that it provides a benefit to us and enhances our happiness, duh!. In other words, if we see a diet program working for us while not feeling restricted, we are likely to continue to do it. Since we've more than proven to ourselves that fad diets and crash diets don't work, we're likely to try things that actually do work -- and when the IIFYM program works for us we will continue to do it without hesitation.
Naturally, as with any other diet program, there are misconceptions about the IIFYM program. The misconceptions -- and their clarifications -- include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Eating Clean is the Only Way to Get Proper Nutrition: Many people who first start out on the IIFYM program believe that the only way to fulfill the macro requirements is to "eat clean," or eat without any seasoning, salt, or fat. They believe -- erroneously -- that "cleaner" eating means they're eating more nutrient-dense food. But the reality is, that simply isn't so, and unless you like eating clean, you aren't required to do so on the program.
- It's NOT Intended to Be A Diet: If you participate in the IIFYM program, you're not engaging in a "diet" that can come and go with the latest fashions -- you're engaging in a total lifestyle change that will, ultimately, change the entire composition of your body.
- You Can Binge on All The Junk Food You Want: This idea isn't a good one, no matter what type of program you're on. The IIFYM program presumes that about 85% of the food you eat is nutritious, and the remainder is "junk food." It's imperative to note that the IIFYM program is also suitable for all budgets, so you're not bound to buying thousands of dollars worth of unpronounceable food products to remain on the program.
- It's Only for Weight Lifters: While a program similar to the IIFYM program is followed by professional bodybuilders so they can be in peak form on the day of their competition as well as other elite athletes, the IIFYM program is for anyone and everyone that wants to lose weight and change the composition of their body in the process.
- It Takes a Lot of Time: In the days prior to computers and the Internet, the IIFYM program was nothing if not inconvenient. And, yes, it did indeed take some time to compute all the macros one would be getting from a meal. But the reality is, the IIFYM program was almost designed for the smart phone world. With a multitude of apps that calculate macros almost on the spot, the IIFYM program is one of the easiest to follow!
IIFYM: The Bottom Line
Above all else, the IIFYM program is designed to be a lifestyle shift and a mind recalibration. It's a nutritional approach, not a diet. And if it does nothing else for you, the IIFYM program should make you more conscious about the food you put into your body, while also removing the "shame" and the guilt surrounding certain foods that, fairly or unfairly, got a "bad rap" over the years. Flexible dieting will disabuse you of the idea that you need to be "on" or "off" a diet, and will, instead, help you make a healthy adjustment in your lifestyle that you can sustain for the rest of your life.