How the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach changed my relationship with food

March 29, 2021

How the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach changed my relationship with food

In this article:

  • What is IIFYM and how does it work?
  • What are macros?
  • IIFYM, weight loss, and diet culture
  • How to calculate your calories and macros

For the majority of my life, I believed I was blessed with this supernatural metabolism that allowed me to simply eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and remain slim. Mind you, this was my reality until 2 years ago - I could have pasta, bread, and all kinds of pastry every single day without thinking about consequences - not even for a second. Unfortunately, nobody informed me that this supernatural metabolism comes with an expiration date, and it wasn’t until I gained 28lbs that I could face the fact that the “magic” was gone.

When body weight fluctuates, so do emotions. As you can imagine, I entered full panic mode. I contacted the first fitness influencer I stumbled upon on my Instagram feed, and purchased my very first nutrition plan. I was motivated and determined to follow this meal plan down to a T, not taking any time to educate myself or even ask for a second opinion. In only 3 months, I was able to drop the 28lbs and fit into my skinny jeans again - and I was on cloud 9!

What I didn’t realize at the time (being too focused on the immediate results and all the compliments) is that in those 3 months I was depriving myself of many of the things that I love, including favorite meals, dinner dates, and pretty much all occasions where I wouldn’t be able to bring my own food. I became obsessed with the scale, and developed an extremely unhealthy relationship with food, labeling it strictly as “good” or “bad”. This is what medical professionals label “disordered thinking”.

Once I reached the desired number on the scale and I was satisfied with the image in the mirror, it was hard keeping up with my restrictive lifestyle. I had unbearable cravings, mood swings, and my energy was at an all-time low. Slowly but surely, I was falling back into my old patterns, rewarding or comforting myself with food and completely ignoring the rigid diet plan. After all, someone who swears by pasta couldn’t survive on chicken and broccoli for more than 3 months! Once I’d “relapsed” and resorted to binge eating with no portion control again, all while being in quarantine and dealing with the mess of a year like 2020, I managed to gain all the weight back.

This time around, I wanted my weight loss to be sustainable by working on the moderation and balance that I’d struggled with my whole life. I did my homework (which also included trying a bunch of different nutrition trends and diets) and educated myself on the importance of balanced nutrition, finally breaking out of the chains of the diet culture. The If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) method allowed me to enjoy all of my favorite foods, overcome the “cheat day” mentality, and lose weight in a way that is beneficial for both the body and the mind. Are you looking to achieve the same? Come aboard! Here’s my first-hand experience.

What is the IIFYM diet and how does it work?

Yes, ‘flexible’ dieting has always been a thing, but the ability to manipulate calories and macros in order to reach your goals has been taken to a whole new level with IIFYM - and we owe it all to Anthony Collova. What makes IIFYM that much more interesting is the fact that its founder developed this concept as a recovering drug addict, all while struggling with depression and emotional eating. Having overcome one of the biggest challenges of his life, he was now faced with excess weight and binge eating. Anthony knew he would have to modify his diet in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize his mental health. After years of research and his own trials and errors, he was finally onto something. He realized that increasing carb intake, even though it felt counterintuitive, was actually the key to it all. [1]

For most of his life, just like many of us, Anthony was a victim of diet culture, feeding us constant anti-carb propaganda and associating carb intake with guilt and shame. By not restricting himself and embracing carbs as the energy-providing, mood-lifting nutrients they are, Anthony was able to drop 50lbs in 6 months. He also avoided emotional rollercoasters and mood swings. Fortunately for people like me, he decided to test his theory on 500 volunteers. He came up with numerous macro calculators that have proven effective, regardless of people’s previous dieting experiences, genetics, and other health factors (but we’ll get into the macro-calculating business a bit later). [1]

So, how does the IIFYM approach work? All you need to do is track your daily calories and macronutrients, which allows you to have all the foods you want (within a certain amount). How is this possible? The secret behind every single diet you’ve tried is in a calorie deficit - which basically means consuming fewer calories than your body burns throughout the day. This “magical number” is absolutely individual, depending on a person’s gender, activity level, and age. [2] You may wonder, if a calorie deficit is a different parameter for every single individual, how come both you and your friend were able to lose weight following the exact same diet? This is mainly because the most popular diets set the bar too low with regards to calorie restriction. Consuming less than your body needs for an extended period of time is simply not sustainable long-term.

So, long story short - if you’re in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. But, what makes all the difference in the world is the macronutrient composition of your diet! A deficit results in both weight loss and fat loss. However, in order to change other important aspects of your health, such as muscle mass, body fat %, and overall body composition, you want to distribute your daily calories between three main macronutrient groups: protein, carbohydrates, and fat (while also keeping micronutrients in mind). [1] While it is recommended to combine both a balanced diet and physical activity for the best results, your deficit should be mainly focused on nutrition.

What are macros?

Since the focus of IIFYM is in organizing macronutrients and reaching a daily macro goal, let’s explore each of the three main macro groups: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Macronutrients are responsible for bodily energy, and they’re measured in calories (kcals). A gram of protein contains 4 kcal, as does a gram of carbohydrate. A gram of fat equals 9 kcal. [3] Besides providing the body with energy, all three groups of macros have very specific and important roles in our health.

Protein, perhaps the most talked-about macronutrient out of the three, consists of building blocks known as amino acids. It has numerous roles in our health, including tissue repair, lean muscle building, and bodybuilding in general. [3] To consume a sufficient amount of protein to build and maintain muscle, each of your meals should be built around a protein source, such as meat, fish, poultry (especially chicken breast), eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, and nuts. [3] However, if you’re anything like me you’re probably having a hard time hitting that daily protein goal. It often requires a lot of food prep that many of us just don’t have time to do. In this case, you can always supplement with a high-quality protein powder such as all-natural Collagen Peptides. It will help boost your protein intake and also promote natural collagen synthesis.

Carbohydrates represent the most stigmatized, dreaded, macronutrient category that is surrounded by a bunch of myths and misconceptions. Do carbs really make you fat? No! What will undoubtedly result in weight gain is a caloric surplus, which basically means consuming more calories than you’re utilizing, whether it be fat, protein, or carbs. All carbs, regardless of their type, are broken into glucose, which the body uses as the main source of energy. [3] The best, whole food sources of carbs include brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, barley, and whole grains.

People often get confused when it comes to fat intake. Let’s debunk yet another senseless diet culture myth: the fat you eat isn’t automatically converted into the stubborn fat on your belly and thighs! As macronutrients, fats are necessary for hormone production and management, organ protection, vitamin absorption, and energy storage. [3] However, there is a group of fats known as trans fats that you should aim to limit if you’re looking to nourish your body in a healthy way. Trans fats are typically found in fried food, processed dough, and margarine. [3] When it comes to the saturated/unsaturated fat division, you should always lean more towards the unsaturated, healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Saturated fats (including dairy, full-fat cheese, cream, and butter) should be limited to ~13g per day in an average 2,000kcal diet. [3]

Macros are undoubtedly the staples of nutrition, but we should never neglect micronutrients! Yes, macros account for the majority of our caloric intake, but micronutrients (water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, microminerals, and trace minerals) have a significant role in our health and normal functioning as well. [4] Micros can be hard to track and implement, so how can you make sure you’re obtaining an optimal amount? What has worked for me is including a bowl of fresh salad with every single meal, always making sure there are leafy greens, such as baby spinach. I’ve once heard someone refer to salad as the “tax” you’re paying for your meals, and it has stuck with me ever since! Rabbits may disagree.

IIFYM, weight loss, and diet culture

Diet culture has finally been exposed for what it is: an “all or nothing” approach to nutrition. This approach has proven time and again to be extremely unhealthy for body and mind. Not only is it difficult to sustain, but it also robs you of energy both physically and mentally. With most diets, there are periods when you deprive yourself of your favorite foods. These foods are labeled as bad or harmful, and create a toxic relationship with food in general. On the other hand, “healthy” foods are overhyped and sensationalized, leading us all to believe that a bowl of steamed veggies must not just make you feel good, but also make you a good person. While for some people steamed veggies are a feast, for the majority of us - they can only be served as a side dish, and there is nothing wrong with that! Here’s why I find IIFYM superior to numerous other methods I’ve tried:

  • Weight loss (or gain) is guaranteed: As long as you’re in a calorie deficit and you’re staying on top of your macros, you will reach your weight loss goals (needless to say, if you’re in a bulking phase - the same applies, only in a caloric surplus). With other diets, you’re taking your chances and guesstimating your calories, which means that you’re taking a leap of faith (while probably starving yourself). If there’s an option to precisely calculate calories for your own needs and goals, why not do it? While IIFYM is similar to intuitive eating in certain aspects, it is a far more precise approach to “dieting” while listening to your body’s signals at the same time.
  • Easy to align with your lifestyle & dietary preference: Whether you’re following an intermittent fasting regime, a plant-based diet, or trying to build muscle - IIFYM can work for you! Not only does counting macros fit any lifestyle, but it can also make your diet plan even more beneficial, since you know exactly what you’re doing. IIFYM is an ideal solution for athletes who are trying to reach specific goals, as it is one of the most accurate methods of figuring out exactly what your body requires.
  • Generally safe: When I say generally, I mean that it is considered safe for healthy individuals. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or any other issue that is directly impacted by your nutrition, it is necessary to consult with your healthcare professional and/or dietitian before making any drastic changes.
  • There are NO forbidden foods: IIFYM encourages people to view food as food, not as a reward, punishment, or guilt trigger. While tracking your calories and macros, you can still enjoy your favorite foods without jeopardizing your fitness goals or burying yourself in guilt.
  • Toxic eating habits are broken: You’ll no longer have the need to starve yourself, only to reach the point of exhaustion and then resort to binge eating. You will also no longer feel the need to go back to your old ways after “messing up” your diet. With IIFYM, you can’t mess up - ‘cause there’s no wrong way!
  • It’s healthy for body & mind: You’re able to nourish your body, keep track of the nutrients you’re consuming and manipulate the ratios to your advantage, all while enjoying life and not restricting yourself. Ever since I started this journey, I’ve never felt deprived, limited, or guilty, and I haven’t even thought about quitting!

How to calculate your calories and macros

Luckily, there are calculators to do all the work for you, so there’s no need to be intimidated by the math. Like most areas of life these days, there’s an app for everything. However, the federal dietary recommendation when it comes to the macro ratio is 45-60% carbs, 20-35% fat, and obtaining the remainder from protein. [5] This ratio depends on your goals, needs, and your own experiences. If you feel like a certain system isn’t working for you in terms of your energy throughout the day or your level of satiety, you can always adjust your macro percentages. For instance, what works best for me as a gym rat trying to build muscle is the following ratio: 30% carbs, 35% protein, and 35% fat. As far as calories are concerned, once you enter your data, the calculator will offer suggestions for different goals.

The calculator I personally use is the TDEE Calculator (TDEE standing for total daily energy expenditure), which recommends varying caloric intake and macro ratios for different goals. The best thing about it is that it’s free. All you need to do is enter your gender, age, current body weight, height, activity level, and optionally, your body fat percentage. The website will list information such as your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories necessary for life-sustaining activities), as well as the recommended amount of calories for different scenarios: sedentary lifestyle, light exercise, moderate exercise, heavy exercise, or athlete. Depending on the category you belong in, you will determine the calorie count for your individual case.

On this website you can also find the recommended calorie & macro combinations for different goals: cutting (if you want to lose weight and be in a calorie deficit), maintenance (if you want to maintain your current weight), and bulking (if you’re trying to gain weight). Once you’ve determined the calorie count and the macro ratio, you will need a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal (my personal favorite), where you can manually enter or scan your foods. The app allows you to track all the important info, including calories (free version) and macros (paid version, but a bang for the buck if you ask me), and even add your own recipes, water intake and exercise.

Once you’ve set the numbers straight, it may take you some time to get used to tracking and weighing your food. The biggest argument people have against IIFYM and calorie-counting methods in general, is the possibility of becoming too concerned with the numbers. My advice to you, especially if you’re an IIFYM newbie, is not to be too hard on yourself. Get your steps in, stay hydrated, and try to hit your macro goals as much as you can. Eventually, if you don’t feel like tracking and weighing food anymore, the experience of having done it will give you a more balanced approach to nutrition. At this point you’ll know enough about food and nutrients to maintain a balanced, guilt-free diet and make healthier food choices throughout your life.

Summary Points

  • IIFYM is all about tracking your daily calories and macronutrients, which allows you to have all the foods you want - within a certain amount
  • As long as you maintain a caloric deficit, you will lose weight, but the macronutrient composition makes all the difference in the world
  • Distribute your daily calories between three main macronutrient groups: protein, carbohydrates, and fat (while also keeping micronutrients in mind)
  • IIFYM is accurate, easy to align with your lifestyle, safe, non-restrictive, and healthy both for the body and the mind
  • TDEE Calculator is the best way to determine your calories and macros, while MyFitnessPal allows you to easily track them

Article References:

  1. About IIFYM. (2019, June 23). Retrieved March 23, 2021, from Macro Diet Plan for Fast Weight Loss • IIFYM • Calculate Your Macros website: https://www.iifym.com/about-iifym/
  2. Calorie deficit for weight loss: How it works, tips, and safety. (2020, December 23). Retrieved from www.medicalnewstoday.com website: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/calorie-deficit
  3. Macronutrients: A Simple Guide to Macros. (2019, September 5). Retrieved from Avita Health System website: https://avitahealth.org/health-library/macronutrients-a-simple-guide-to-macros/
  4. Publishing, H. H. (2019, July). The larger role of micronutrients. Retrieved from Harvard Health website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-larger-role-of-micronutrients
  5. Capritto, A. (n.d.). How to calculate and track your macros. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from CNET website: https://www.cnet.com/health/ultimate-guide-to-counting-and-tracking-macros/




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