In late 2014, I started gearing up for an intense 60-day fitness challenge with a trainer. (Stick me with on this one – the food talk that follows is going somewhere, I promise.)
I’d been going to the gym for a couple of years and by the end of 2014 had decided that I wanted to up my game. After being more of a cardio kid, I’d started to really enjoy weight lifting and was ready to get serious about it.
The challenge was a two-month workout routine consisting of heavy weight lifting six days a week, along with high-intensity interval training for three of those days, and an eating plan that revolved around macronutrients.
Macronutrients (macros for short) are carbs, fats, and protein. It’s as simple as that. Every food is in one more macro categories, and if you want, you figure out exactly how many grams of carbs, fats, and protein you need each day to either lose, gain, or maintain your weight, and then you hit those same numbers every day. My numbers were 132 grams of protein, 192 grams of carbs, and 46 grams of fat.
You can eat whatever you want if it fits your macros, which is why this lifestyle is called IIFYM.
It’s also referred as flexible dieting for this reason. If I wanted a chocolate bar instead of an apple, I would plug it into an app on my phone and it should me how many fats and carbs I still had left for the day after that.
Except that calculating every bite of food didn’t feel very flexible to me. Instead, there was a lot of planning ahead: What will fit my macros? What won’t? There was no spontaneous eating. If my boyfriend and I wanted to go out for dinner, I had to go on the restaurant’s website in advance and decide what I could make fit.
IIFYM was making my eating decisions for me because everything had to be added up in advance, even snacks and treats. And if I did want something like a chocolate bar, it often meant going without something else. So even indulgences felt like deprivation.
Some days were easier than others, but I stuck to it because I wanted to stay committed to the challenge and to see how my body might transform. Throughout those two months, I kept wondering if I would stick to IIFYM afterwards. It does work, and some people swear by it, but to me it felt a bit too rigid.
It didn’t help that I was hungry. I remember one night I was making a smoothie for my boyfriend to have in the morning. It looked so good that I let myself try just a little taste. And then I had another. And another. And before I knew it, I’d eaten half of it already. I felt so guilty I made him a fresh one and finished what I’d started, even though it didn’t fit my macros.
I started to look online for other people who didn’t like IIFYM. The lifestyle has so many cheerleaders that it was hard to find anyone else who found it too structured and too unnatural. How do I know my body doesn’t need more carbs on some days than others? How do I know I’m not craving something for a reason?
I also started to look online for people who were eating more. I wanted more carbs and more fats, and I would catch myself Googling anything about people who were eating 250 to 300 grams of carbs a day.
And then I realized how completely silly I was being. I’m even embarrassed writing it out like this because seeing it in word makes it seem even more absurd.
“Am I really waiting for the internet to give me permission to live my life?” I wondered. “I know I’m hungry. I know I need more than what I’m eating right now. And I know my body is different from other people’s bodies. So why can’t I just decide for myself that IIFYM isn’t for me?”
When I finished the challenge, I decided to keep the weight training schedule but say goodbye to the eating plan. IIFYM was not for me.
I also decided that I wasn’t going to look for permission on what I know is right for me. I don’t need to see what works for other people to know that it doesn’t work for me.
That experience made me think a lot about other times I’ve looked outside of myself to validate a decision that I pretty much already had my mind made up about.
I remember talking to my dad years ago about a relationship that I hadn’t been happy in for months. “I never liked him much, anyway,” my dad had said. “I think you should just forget about that one.”
And the relief that followed was like a breath I’d been trying to take for months, even though all it did was tell me exactly what I already knew I needed to do.
Having something affirmed to you can help a lot. It can feel good to know that you’re not the only one seeing things a certain way. But it’s more helpful when you have genuine confusion around how to move forward, rather than when you just know something needs to change.
Because what if my dad had said something different? What if he’d said, “I think you should try to work it out and give him a chance”? It wouldn’t have changed how I felt about the situation, but it would have been bad advice if I’d decided to listen to it.
I was unhappy, it was a bad relationship, and I didn’t want to be in it anymore. Those were all good reasons on their own. I didn’t need anyone else’s advice on the topic.
But because validation, no matter where it comes from, can feel like it’s pointing you in the right direction. But the thing that we always need to learn is that we have to trust ourselves in knowing what it is we really need.
When we look to other sources to give us permission to make a decision that we already know is necessary, we give away our power. We put ourselves at risk of sticking with something that isn’t right for us because we are allowing someone else’s way to impact our decisions.
If you know that it will kill you to stay in a job for another year and you ask your mom what she thinks if you leave, you probably want to hear that she’ll support you, that she believes you need to put yourself first, and that you are amazing and will figure something else if you decide to quit.
Instead, though, she might take a different approach. She is your mom, after all, so it’s only natural for her to worry that you’ll burn a bridge, that the job market might be too tough to risk right now, that you have rent and bills to pay, and that quitting might be too drastic of a change.
And so in seeking permission, you welcome the possibility of doubt and uncertainty into your life, when what you really need to welcome is confidence in your own ability to do what’s best for you.
You’re also welcoming someone else’s reflection to colour your choices: In this case, your mom’s own fears could come through, rather than her focusing on your reality.
If you’re not getting the results you want in any area of your life, whether it’s in the gym or in a relationship or at your job, then it’s up to you to decide what needs to be changed and how.
And the confidence to do that isn’t found on a website or in an online forum or even at someone’s kitchen table. It’s not found in asking if it’s okay for you to move forward with something.
It’s found in recognizing that the only one who really knows what to do is you, and then it’s in taking the step to make that change and trusting that whatever happens next, you’ll be able to figure it out.