For a good while now, “IIFYM” has become a buzz word in the fitness community – and like most abstract concepts in this world, there’s quite a bit of debate over it. Most people are either die-hard for or against IIFYM, and their personal opinions and experiences have no doubt biased their viewpoints.
As someone who enjoys analyzing (and even trying out) new methods, I thought I could offer something of value in the form of an objective viewpoint. I hope I can help dispel a few myths about IIFYM, explain what it won’t be able to do for you.
One thing to clear up right off the bat: IIFYM is not a diet. It’s more of a mentality, a philosophy, or just a “plan”. Diets tend to focus on specific foods, and this is just the opposite – it focuses on stepping away from looking at individual foods and rather aiming to achieve a targeted overall nutritional goal.
IIFYM stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”. Macros is short for “macronutrients”, and simply means proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These are the groups that make up your overall caloric intake, which is also taken into account. IIFYM is a fancy way of saying “If you make your food intake meet your daily caloric and macronutrient goals, then it really doesn’t matter what you eat”. This is a bit abstract for now, so throughout this article I will break this concept down in a way that is easier to digest (painful pun intended).
The IIFYM Philosophy
IIFYM changes the mentality behind food to where you view it as you would, say, money. This makes a pretty good analogy. If you need to work 40 hours at your job, it doesn’t really matter if you work 8 hours for 5 days a week, 10 hours for 4 days a week, or 20 hours 2 days a week. Some of these approaches might be a lot easier than others, but at the end of the week, it all works out the same.
This approach is all about achieving balance in the end. Saying “Oh, I can’t have pizza and beer for lunch”, in this analogy, is sort of like saying “Oh, I can’t have Wednesday off from work”. In reality, you absolutely can have Wednesday off of work and still work 40 hours that week – you’re just going to have to balance it out elsewhere.
If you follow and apply this philosophy, that indulgent lunch doesn’t have to blow your diet, or even set your back at all. Someone following this plan would acknowledge that their lunch used up, say, a large portion of their daily allotment of carbs, fats, and calories. To make this “fit” their nutritional goal, the rest of the day’s foods must be higher in protein and lower in calories than usual.
At the end of the day, this dieter meets their goals just as well as they would have by following a strict meal plan composed entirely of “healthy” foods. As a result, they see the same results either way.
That makes this approach ideal for people who typically find it difficult to stick to “healthy” foods. Most people who have dieted have been there – you’re doing fine and dandy, and then a craving for an “unhealthy” food pops up. Or your family wants to go to their favorite Italian place for dinner. Or your significant other really wants takeout for dinner, and finding the willpower to not get something for yourself takes all the strength you have.
IIFYM solves that by adding the element of spontaneity to your diet. It allows you to enjoy these indulgences by balancing things out during other meals.
What IIFYM DOESN’T Mean
First off, IIFYM is not for people who lack a certain level of self control. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter if you eat that cheeseburger and fries, if you fit it into your overall plan and still end the day meeting your target macronutrient goals. It does, however, matter if you don’t have the discipline to balance the rest of your diet to meet those goals. Like anything else, IIFYM only works if you actually do it. If you don’t make it “fit your macros”, then you’re not actually doing IIFYM, and you won’t see results.
Frankly, this is really the only negative thing I can honestly say about IIFYM: It is really – seriously – not right for some people. A lot of people, in fact.
You have to be the type of person who will log the macronutrients of every single bite of food you consume, every single day. Furthermore, you have to do whatever it takes to stay within your macronutrient and caloric goals every single day.
Some people just don’t have this level of commitment, and will unintentionally abuse the leniency of this meal plan to the point where they never meet their macro goals and never see results. For these people, a structured meal plan (eating the same foods in the same order every day) is just going to work better.
Also, let’s be realistic. Looking at the example I gave earlier, you could easily have two slices of pizza and a beer at lunch and tweak the rest of your meals to still meet your goals. On the other hand, if you eat a medium supreme pizza with extra cheese washed down by a six pack… I’ve got bad news for you. That’s just not going to work itself out unless you fast for the next 48 hours, and that’s just not something I can recommend.
If IIFYM gives you an inch, don’t take a mile. Savor that inch of leniency. Enjoy that you’re getting to experience something most dieters can’t, and you’re still being loyal to your diet by meeting your macros. If you know you’re the type that’s going to abuse this, just save yourself the disappointment and cross IIFYM off your list of options.
Finding Your Macros
Different macro “splits” (the ratios of carbs:fats:proteins you consume) are ideal for different goals. However, assuming your goals are primarily weight loss oriented, it’s typically accepted that the ideal macro split is to get 50% of your calories from proteins, 15% from carbs, and 35% from fats.
This ratio helps keep you full, minimizes cravings, and maximizes your body’s ability to lose weight.
It’s also necessary to set and track calorie goals with IIFYM. This one is a bit more complicated, since everyone burns a different amount of calories each day. To make this easier, head over to my TDEE Calculator and enter your details to help determine how many calories you burn daily.
Once you have your calorie numbers worked out, you’ll want to set your goal below that baseline in order to lose weight. The most common approach is to take your results from the TDEE calculator and subtract 500. That’s generally a good daily goal to start with, and will leave you in a 500 calorie deficit at the end of each day. Obviously, the more calories you naturally burn, the more you can subtract safely.
Just don’t overdo it – healthy weight loss is much better than trying to starve yourself into results.
Logging: 100% Necessary
That’s the one thing about IIFYM: You do need to log everything you eat. Every meal, every bite. That also means accurately measuring out all portions. If you eat out, look up the restaurant’s nutrition facts online before you go, and plan what you’ll order ahead of time if possible.
Thankfully, this era has introduced a much easier way of doing this. Head to the app store on your mobile device and take a look at the many nutrition-logging apps available. These make it super easy to log everything you eat since your device is usually with you wherever you go. If you still don’t have a smart phone, well, you’re going to have a much harder time – so make sure you don’t slack on writing down everything you eat.
Sure, this endless logging can get a bit tedious, but in my opinion it’s well worth it to be able to still occasionally enjoy your favorite foods (in moderation).