What if someone told you that you could eat whatever you want, and still lose weight? That’s the main promise of the diet known as “IIFYM”, aka If It Fits Your Macros.
Sounds nice, right? Maybe too good to be true? This article will define the popular IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros concept, and why the backbone of this diet may not be worth all the hype.
What are Macros in Food?
There are three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Alcohol is technically the fourth macronutrient. Macro means large, so these are the nutrients we eat in large quantities. We also have micronutrients. These are the vitamins and minerals that we eat, but in smaller quantities (for example: micrograms of folate versus grams of carbohydrates).
Each macronutrient provides a different number of calories per gram of weight (1)!
- Carbohydrates = 4 grams per calorie
- Fat = 9 grams per calorie
- Protein = 4 grams per calorie
- Alcohol = 7 grams per calorie
This is why people call fat “calorically dense”. It has the most calories per gram of weight than any other macronutrient.
What is the IIFYM Diet – If It Fits Your Macros?
If It Fits Your Macros is a diet plan where people track their intake of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) each day, without restricting any one particular food. They argue that you can still eat donuts, candy, ice cream, pizza etc. each day. As long as you stay within your given macronutrient restrictions (based on an overall calorie amount), IIFYM states that you will lose weight. You may be asking: but, how do I calculate my macros?
There are a few steps to IIFYM. First, they estimate your daily energy expenditure – basically, how many calories you burn in a day. The equation to calculate your calories uses your age, height, weight, activity level, and whether or not you’d like to lose weight. If weight loss is your goal, they subtract about 15-20% from the total daily calories. Finally, they calculate your macros by dividing up the calories into the three different macronutrients to give you a daily goal.
How to Calculate Macros
Here is an example of how someone may calculate your protein macros. Let’s say you want 30 percent of your calories in a day to come from protein.
- Multiply your total calories (say, 1500) by 0.30 to find the number of calories from protein (300).
- Divide this number by 4 (grams of protein per calorie) to find the number of GRAMS of protein you would eat each day (75).
Make sense? If you’re asking, how many macros should I be eating of each? It really depends! We can’t overgeneralize or give a one-size-fits-all number, because we all have different bodies, genetics, environments, and more.
The Main Problems with IIFYM
Ok, so some of the basic science behind the IIFYM diet does line up. However, like anything that seems too good to be true, there are some major downfalls to this diet, which we will now discuss!
You may be thinking, “if I can calculate my macros, THEN I’ll know what my body needs.”
Our bodies are all unique. We have varying amounts of hormones, enzymes, vitamin levels and different genetics! Modifying the protein or fat content by a few grams is not individualization. Because our bodies are unique, we react to various foods differently. While one person may have no issue with dairy or gluten, the other person may experience eczema, GI issues, or a number of different symptoms as a result of eating these foods!
IIFYM doesn’t truly offer an individualized diet. Without eliminating and trialing certain foods, we cannot distinguish which foods make us feel great and conversely, which foods worsen some of our symptoms. If we continuously eat foods that our body does not agree with, we will not only continue to feel like crap, but we won’t effectively lower inflammation (which is a HUGE element of natural healing).
IIFYM Doesn’t Consider Metabolic Adaptation
When we continually restrict calories to lose weight, our body begins to fight back with something called metabolic adaptation (2). The amount of calories we burn per day is called our metabolism. Over time, calorie restricted diets cause our metabolism to “adapt” to this continuous low calorie intake. As a result, our metabolism decreases, our fullness hormones go down, and our appetite hormones go up (3). We are left in this vicious cycle of continuing to drop calories lower and lower, meanwhile our body feels hungrier than ever and holds onto those fat stores with a death grip!
Your ability to maintain weight loss is not due to a lack of willpower. It comes down to science that is based in an evolutionary perspective where food scarcity was often an issue. Unfortunately, the IIFYM eating method doesn’t account for this metabolic change.
Calorie Equations Aren’t Accurate
The backbone of the If It Fits Your Macros diet is based on estimated calorie equations. As we discussed above, IIFYM uses measurements like your height, weight, age, and activity level to determine how many calories you burn in a day. Here’s the problem: research has shown us that these calorie equations are not all that accurate. For example, studies show that some of these equations can overestimate calories by up to 20 percent (4)! That is almost 300 calories considering a 1,500 calorie per day diet. Not to mention, the amount of calories we burn per day is HIGHLY individualized based off of things such as weight history and even our ethnicity (5).
IIFYM Encourages us to Ignore our Hunger and Fullness Cues
Imagine it’s 8 p.m. You had a big dinner, and it made you a feel a little bloated. You’re not hungry. BUT, you still have remaining protein and fat grams that you need to eat because, well, it’s in your macro calculation! So, you find something to eat and forcefully feed yourself, leading to an even MORE bloated stomach.
On the other hand, say it’s 8 p.m. and you’re “out of macros” but you actually feel a little hungry! You worked out today, so that’s probably why you’re feeling this hunger sensation more than usual. Guess what? You can’t eat, because it doesn’t fit your macros.
BOTH scenarios are examples of forcefully and intentionally ignoring our internal hunger and fullness cues. This leads to a long, dreadful road of overeating and disordered eating habits. No bueno.
It Doesn’t Account for Micronutrients (Food Quality)
IIFYM promotes that you can still eat all the foods you enjoy – like pizza, donuts, ice cream etc. – and lose weight as long as it fits into your macro allowance for the day. That sounds great and all, but it completely ignores one of the most important aspects: INSIDE HEALTH!
These types of foods are low in nutrient quality, and high in processed fats and sugars. Losing weight does not automatically make us healthy. And, we cannot truly heal until we address inside health, too! This goes far beyond calories in vs. calories out. We have to provide our body with the nutrients it requires like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, probiotics and more. Without these key elements, it is almost impossible to heal our gut properly, balance our hormones, reduce symptoms and treat the ROOT cause of most health problems – inflammation.
Sure, we can eat crappy food all day and keep within our daily allowances. But, will we feel great? Probably not.
How do I Lose Weight AND Feel Incredible?
You do not have to keep feeling like crap! By determining the foods that make you feel energized, focused, and free of symptoms, you can form a personalized eating blueprint for YOUR body. The 131 Method is GPS of sorts to help you do just that. It’s not a diet, but a method to finding what works for you. With dietary phasing, your can ignite your metabolism (preventing adaptation), nourish your body with the nutrients it needs, and maintain this success…for life.