Much debate exists amongst dieting gurus these days. Many different methods have shown great anecdotal results, even with greatly contrasting approaches. One of the most argued approaches is the "If It Fits Your Macros" or IIFYM for short dieting approach. From a very general standpoint IIFYM is concerned with the quantity of the food in your diet rather than the quality. Shades of gray do exist within IIFYM approach, and thus through a quick logical view I plan to help distill whether it's quantity, quality, or somewhere in the middle that leads to a shredded 6-pack!
To truly disseminate the "If It Fits In Your Macros" (IIFYM) approach to dieting, you must understand its basic concepts as well as its different methods. To utilize IIFYM simply means that your meals, and subsequently your diet, need to fit the outline protein, fat, carbohydrate, and overall calories assigned, but the actual foods take a metaphorical backseat. Layne Norton, IFPA & NGA pro bodybuilder, uses what could be categorized as an IIFYM approach for his physique clientele, but ensures that enough fiber is consumed. Norton essentially states that as long as the fiber content is high, and you are truly hitting the correct ratios of macronutrients for a physique competitor style diet, then it would be hard to eat a box of "pop tarts" a day and still be doing it right
(See Layne's point of view below).
With Norton's technique, he himself has had much success bringing a well-conditioned physique to the stage, as have many of his clients. Norton's style, however, is not necessarily used by all in the IIFYM culture.
While some use the IIFYM method to bring some laxity to their diets, others take the freedom a bit further. The post workout window brings about 20oz Mt. Dews and half pint of Ben and Jerry's for those who really take fitting solely their macronutrient requirements. "Why not, the logic is to get an insulin spike right?" I would affectionately give this the trendy phrase "bro-science;" a termed used for undereducated gym members half-hazardly using their interpretation of the current literature. On the other end of the spectrum more modest IIFYM'rs would substitute white rice for brown as a carbohydrate source, or lighten their caloric load earlier in the day to allow for a meal with friends that may be more calorically rich in the evening. While at the end of the day both examples above use the IIFYM approach, you can see much variation in the implementation exists.
Venturing back to the "golden days" of the bodybuilding movement really sets the context for any legitimate discussion on diet. The original basis by which health seekers engaged in this lifestyle was to become just that, healthier. The idea was to eat healthy nutritious foods and train in such a manner that the combined effect would create both a health vibrant external being and an equally healthy inside. It seems as though this mindset of extremes has become transient amongst almost every facet of the sport of bodybuilding and the fitness industry in general. A good contrast would be a classic bodybuilder reaching for a banana as his or her post workout carbohydrate source, while the IIFYM bodybuilder trying to pack on as much mass could reach for a mountain dew. While depending quantity, these two options may have similar carbohydrate content, one is rich in micronutrients and has some fiber, while the other is devoid of the latter and is loaded with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which in excess has a plethora of proposed negative health correlates.
If I were to bring about an argument refuting IIFYM and its implementation it would focus on its overall message and abuse. When I work with clients the message I want to get across is that sustained, practical weight loss and positive body composition change occurs with a habitual adaptation to consuming healthy foods. The idea is that if you eat the right foods the numbers (i.e. macronutrients and calories) will fall in line. To my point any novice can spend the day matching up Little Debbie's snack line up to their macro's, but I think they would be better served reading Myotropics author Stacey Natio's article about learning what types of healthy fats could meet their requirements. Below is a list of ways to Implement the IIFYM methodology in the way I believe it was originally meant for; a means to decrease dietary rigidity, and increasing practicality of dieting while still being healthy on the whole.
Switch up your starches: Don't be afraid to occasionally use white or basmati rice instead of brown, or red skin potatoes in lieu of yams. One of my favorite treats is Ezekiel sprouted bread made into French toast. The idea is that you don't have to have 8oz of sweet potatoes at each sitting to get ripped. And as you may already know, protein consumed at the same meal as the aforementioned starch switch hitters will decrease the glycemic index of the meal.
Swap protein sources: Getting stuck in the extra lean ground turkey and tilapia rut is no fun, and I can certainly empathize. Don't be afraid to use fattier types of meat such as 93/7 ground meats or even more marbled cuts of steak. Again, if the fat content fits into your fat macronutrients then it should be fine, just remove what may have been a tablespoon of peanut butter from your meal plan and you’re golden. Using fattier fish like salmon can fit in, and certainly make room for egg yolks, just simply account for the fat, it's what the whole idea of IIFYM really is.
Be compliant, not perfect: I like to use the 95:5 compliance rule with my clients. Let’s say you have 35 meals in a week, that's 5 meals a day, pretty normal right? That means that 2 meals a week can be meals that are not typical meals in your diet. This could be a night out with your friends and you have a burger, maybe even an adult beverage. This "allowance" of a cheat meal can give psychological and physiological benefits.
In reality the IIFYM model on dieting isn't an inherently bad approach. When the concept utilizes whole, nutritious foods on a 95% basis to reach the assigned macronutrient and caloric requirements is when it flourishes. This allows 5% for that night out where you can indulge. Not only have I found this approach to be even more successful than complete rigidity, but also keeps dieters sane. So when it comes down to it, IIFYM correctly can be a great approach to dieting, but like I said, when done correctly!
Adam Bisek (Bodyspace)