If you’re amongst the 800 million users on Instagram and you follow the latest and greatest fitness trends and dieting fads, then you’ve more than likely heard of If It Fits Your Macros ‘IIFYM’ and Flexible Dieting. From dripping ice cream cones, to monster glazed doughnuts, you more than likely have witnessed or know someone who is, “counting their macros.”
What Is “If It Fits Your Macros” aka 'IIFYM'?
The goal behind IIFYM is that you aim to eat a certain amount of macronutrients, (proteins, fats, carbs) that fit your daily ratio caloric intake goals. Beyond that, the source of those macronutrients is irrelevant.
That’s right! According to IIFYM, we’re talking strictly numbers, which basically gives you the right to eat whatever you want, whenever you want as long as your meeting your personal macronutrient goals. So instead of eating apple slices with peanut butter (carbs, fats) you can replace that healthy snack with a chocolate glazed, cap n crunch encrusted fried doughy masterpiece from the local doughnut shop, since it consists of the exact same macronutrient profile (carbs, and fats). It sounds glamorous right? That being said let’s talk about the IIFYM diet, and why it might not be the best choice for you.
Not All Foods Are The Same
There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods; everything in IIFYM is fair game. But, not all foods are the same. More than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity. The obesity epidemic in America today is recorded as the worst it’s ever been and to put this statement in perspective, 1 in 4 young adults are too overweight to even join the military.
IIFYM has been popularized through the idea that replacing wholesome foods with whatever foods you want (as long as you meet your macros) will promote weight loss. This mentality can be detrimental to someone who doesn’t have a basic understanding of health and nutrition.
Telling someone that pizza is a perfectly well balanced meal according to its macronutrient makeup, can set someone up for failure and fast. Just because a pepperoni pizza has carbs, proteins, and fats does not make it a well-balanced meal that you should be eating every day, especially if your goals are to lose weight, get lean, or maintain a healthier lifestyle. A double-double cheeseburger with fries from In-N-Out Burger (1065 calories & 59g fat), may have the right macronutrient mix to meet your daily caloric intake, but do you really believe that substituting a baked sweet potato (180 calories, 0g fat), lean steak (213 calories, 13g fat), and a side of avocado slices (161 calories, 14g fat) can possibly be the same thing? Absolutely not.
American diets have shifted towards decreased nutrient density with less than 20% meeting USDA guidelines for a clean diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Most people consume more calories per eating occasion when food is prepared out of the home with processed foods and are higher in total fat and saturated fat (1)
Most People Are Not Professional Athletes
Reading articles entitled “Eat Junk Food and Lose Weight” may sound like a dream come true, but in reality, it's backward thinking, counterintuitive and really just misinformation.
Instagram profiles of athletes and health influencers eating ice cream, munching on doughnuts, and slamming a whole pizza, are PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES, or dedicate a significant portion of their life to fitness, unlike the average person. During the 2008 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps downed a daily 12,000 calories in the training days leading up to his race. Usain Bolt eats 5,500 calories, 281 grams of fat and 237 grams of protein.
More realistically speaking when you have a caloric deficit of 1,000k calories because you crushed your workouts out for 3+ hours, a slice of pizza and a doughnut isn’t going to have that big of an effect on the way you look or your nutritional and athletic goals. But! If you’re like the majority of people who work an 8-hour day and have a couple of kids screaming their heads off at home and you’re working toward a goal of eating healthier, losing a few pounds or getting more fit in the 30 minutes of spare time you don’t even have, IIIFYM won’t work to help you create better nutritional habits or a sustainable lifestyle.
To be blunt, replacing your chicken and broccoli with a cheeseburger and apple pie because you saw your favorite athlete or ‘Instagram expert’ do it might be the stupidest shit you’ve ever done.
You’ll Just Gain More Weight
Only a few generations ago, the number of obese people in America were few and far between. In 1980, no state was above 15% obesity; today there are 41 states with obesity above 25%. Now if you visit any public venue, you’ll see that obesity is much more prevalent. Just visit the DMV or Wal-Mart and you’ll get a good dose of what we’re talking about here. Obesity is linked to more than 60 chronic diseases. Today, in adults ranging from 35-45 years old, the rate of heart attack, and coronary artery atherosclerosis is increasing. According to the American Cancer Society 572,000 Americans die of cancer each year, and about 1/3 of these cancer deaths are linked to excess body weight, poor nutrition, and/or physical inactivity.
In addition, over 75% of hypertension cases are directly linked to obesity. TIME Magazine reports that 2/3 of U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight and/or obese. IIFYM is built upon the belief that we can lose weight from eating pop tarts for breakfast and hitting the gym for a quick 30 minutes, is not helping people lose weight, it’s simple misinformation, that will help you gain more weight.
100 years ago the majority of people weren’t overweight. The majority of people weren’t counting calories either. So what’s changed? According to a study done by Harvard University. Too many fast processed foods, not enough exercise, and bad sleep schedules.
According to the American Heart Association, “Highly processed food is absorbed too quickly into our bloodstreams, inducing abnormal insulin responses that in turn lead to exaggerated swings in blood sugar. This has us walking around hungry, consuming excess calories to combat that hunger, and storing the excess energy in our bellies as fat. That belly fat is linked with inflammatory factors that are associated not only with heart disease but also with many forms of cancer, arthritis, dementia, macular degeneration, and other chronic diseases.”
It's simple. Adding highly processed food, refined grains, trans fat, and refined sugars with a minimal amount of physical activity, will absolutely lead you to gain more weight. Now, if gaining weight and getting stronger is your goal, then by all means get a McDonalds McFlurry for breakfast, eat a couple of clean meals between 10-5 and finish off the day with some Chicken and Waffles since you didn't hit your 3,000 caloric goal for the day.
Detrimental Long-Term Health Effects
Replacing wholesome nutrient-dense foods, with foods that have the same macronutrient profile, can be detrimental to your long-term overall health and well-being.
Added sugars, trans fatty acids, and increased sodium levels are all attributed from foods with low nutritional value, which is exactly what you’re doing with IIFYM and flexible dieting. Replacing wholesome food intake can greatly increase your chances of contracting heart disease, increasing cholesterol, and gaining weight, NOT losing it (2)
With the overwhelming evidence linking trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods to heart disease, type 2-diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and high cholesterol it’s hard to believe that no one seems to be concerned with the long-term detrimental effects that IIFYM can have on your health. If you don't believe me here are 6,000 hidden dangers of processed foods.
Just because you work out for 3 hours a day, and supplement your diet with cheesy gordita crunches (490 calories and 38g fat) from Taco Bell and somehow still have washboard abs, does not make you healthy. Far from it! Don’t get me wrong; your body composition is one indicator of how healthy you are! And with the right workout plan, and calculated calories, you might achieve your aesthetic and fitness goals. But in the long run, you’re killing yourself, from the inside out.
You Eat Out More Often
Listen! I'm not saying that you can't eat out, but since IIFYM and Flexible dieting are built upon the belief that your diet just needs to fit an overall macronutrient profile, more and more people are eating out, and not cooking at home. The year 2015 was the first time ever that people in the U.S. spent more money dining out than buying groceries
What does that mean? If I go out to the local microbrewery and decide to eat a turkey burger, on a wheat bun, with sweet potato fries, and honey aioli dipping sauce, then I’ve probably made the best choice compared to the other options on the menu. However, what you don’t know is what’s actually hurting you. The uncontrollable variables such as hydrogenated oils, sodium levels, and hidden nutrient contents, are all factors in your diet you don’t have control over, which can be detrimental to your overall health and well being. These ingredients include more than 3,000 food additives comprised of preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients. Don’t forget about these either:
Synthetic Trans Fats – contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil found in crackers, chips, fried food, most store-bought baked goods, and promote inflammation, cancer, diabetes, decreased immune function, reproduction issues, and heart disease.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – flavor enhancer in Chinese food, frozen dinners, salad dressings, snack chips, and meats that can trigger or worsen learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more.
Artificial Colors – Nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the US are directly linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do and is stored in your fat cells leading to obesity and obesity-related diseases.
Preservatives – lengthen the shelf life of foods and shorten the length of yours. They are linked to health problems such as cancer, allergic reactions and more.
IIFYM like all other diets, works on the common weight loss rule, that if you stay within your caloric budget, you likely won’t gain weight, and if you eat fewer calories then you need, you’ll probably lose weight. Hitting a daily caloric goal may be a simple straightforward approach when it comes to cutting or adding calories. It even takes the work out of worrying about what foods you're eating, and if the foods you eat are considered "clean foods." But if you eat wholesome food, fruit and vegetables, quality carbohydrates, and lean proteins, that are organic and nutrient dense, then what's there to think about?
The types of macronutrients you eat really do matter. Just read the statement below from Harvard Universities article on Obesity Prevention.
Macronutrients and Weight: Do Carbs, Protein, or Fat Matter?
When people eat controlled diets in laboratory studies, the percentage of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrate do not seem to matter for weight loss. In studies where people can freely choose what they eat, there may be some benefits to a higher protein, lower carbohydrate approach. For chronic disease prevention, though, the quality and food sources of these nutrients matters more than their relative quantity in the diet. And the latest research suggests that the same diet quality message applies for weight control.
The qualify of your food sources matter. IIFYM and Flexible Dieting, directly attribute to teaching people, that the food sources don't matter, and that you can replace your nutrient-dense, wholesome foods with whatever, so long as it meets the right macros. It’s misinformation.
The Bottom Line
There is nothing magical about IIFYM. It follows the same calories in, calories out principle as all successful weight-maintenance and weight-loss diets.
Insta-worthy photos of people posting pictures of themselves eating ice cream, cheeseburgers, and doughnuts makes the if it fits your macros life look pretty good, when in reality IIFYM doesn't live up to the hashtagable hype. Depriving yourself of essential vitamins and nutrients will increase your chances of contracting chronic disease, developing bad nutritional habits, and eminently leading to an unhealthy lifestyle. "Instagram experts" and online "diet coaches" are not real experts, nor do they possess the real health or nutrition qualifications. Having a large social following and being known as an 'influencer' does not qualify them to give you health advice.
Reedy J, Krebs-Smith SMJ Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Oct; 110(10):1477-84., Dietary Sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among adults and adolescents
Bahadoran, Zahra, Parvin Mirmiran, and Fereidoun Azizi. “Fast Food Pattern and Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Review of Current Studies.” Health Promotion Perspectives 5.4 (2015): 231–240. PMC. Web. 7 Oct. 2016.