This “If It Fits Your Macros” or IIFYM approach to eating seems to be really growing in popularity so I am going to go over the facts as I see them for educational purposes.
First off, for those of you who just don’t know, “macros” is short for “macronutrients” and refers to the ratio of calories sourced from protein, carbohydrates or fats within your total daily intake. Unless you’re one of those fortunate people who seems to be able to just get it right by intuition, if you have a specific body composition goal (for example; reduce body fat, increase muscle mass) in mind, you are going to need to consume the right amount of calories each day, with the right balance of macronutrients.
In short, “if it fits your macros” has become the default answer for a lot of people to any question along the lines of “can I eat [insert type of food] and still lose weight?” In other words “eat whatever you want, as long as you end up hitting your nutritional targets”.
Generally speaking, I like this approach. But lets look at the pros and cons to see how it really works out.
Obviously the best part is that you get to eat whatever the hell you want, rather than following some restrictive, boring “diet plan” some clown marketing person has come up with. Bottom line, if you’re not enjoying what you’re eating, you’re going to struggle to keep to the plan. So by eating the foods that you enjoy and even the odd treat thrown in, you’re far more likely to stick to the plan long term.
Now as far as the science goes… here’s the theory in rather simple terms; on a daily basis, you’re either eating (a) enough food to gain weight, (b) enough food to lose weight, or (c) precisely the right amount of food to maintain your current weight. Pretty simple right? Regardless of the amount or frequency of meals, high or low GI, etc etc, you are either getting the correct amount of calories to achieve your goal, or you are not. Simple! Of course, as the body uses different types of calories for different purposes, you need to get the balance of macronutrients right as well. Not necessarily down to the last percentage point, but somewhere in the vicinity.
This of course means that you have to do your homework, and actually learn about your calorific and macronutrient requirements, as well as the breakdown of calories in the foods that you eat regularly. I really think you should be doing this anyway though, if you really want to be in control of your destiny in as far as reaching your fitness / body composition goals.
Of course nothing in life is as simple as “just eat whatever you want”. You CAN eat whatever you want, but of course the more empty calories (aka junk food) you consume, the harder it is to end up arriving at your nutritional targets. So, with careful planning you might be able to sneak in that treat in the mid afternoon, but you’ll need to compensate at other times of the day with meal choices that are higher in protein and lower in fats and or sugars.
So the bottom line is, hit your correct amount of total calories, with the correct balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates. All three of these macronutrients are important, and a surplus or lack of any one of them will hamper your efforts in achieving your goals.
This next part seems to often be overlooked by proponents of the IIFYM philosophy; it’s easy to say “meal times, glycemic index and so forth are not important as long as you hit your macros”, BUT you also want to make it through the day without feeling like you’re starving, right? So it is often best (depending on your targets and your goals, of course) to choose foods that will keep you feeling full for longer, and contain less calories in a larger serving size. Junk food is called junk food because it tends to be the opposite, aka large amount of calories in a small serving, but even “junk food” won’t make you fat if your total energy intake is not inappropriate.
So there you have it, people. Actually, I would have said “make it fit your macros” is probably a better choice of phrase, because if you want to indulge in some treats, you do have to make allowances for it.
This is quite an old entry and who would have known when I wrote it that I’d go on to become a well known IIFYM or (as we now call it) Flexible Dieting specialist. If you’d like a lot more information in line with current best practices, head on over to the Flexible Dieting page and drop your details in the box.