There are two things I need in my life on a regular basis: time to write, and time to workout.
I’ve been going to the gym for the three years now and I love it. Need it. If I miss a workout, I feel it deep, all day long, and nothing gets put right until I can make up for it.
I’m not ripped, and I don’t have six-pack abs or bulging biceps. But I feel good when I am at the gym, and that’s what keeps me going back.
At the start of 2015, I signed up for a 60-Day fitness challenge. The training package included six intense strength training workouts a week and a customized macronutrient plan – my introduction to IIFYM.
IIFYM, also referred to as “reverse dieting” and “flexible dieting,” has been a body building staple for years, but has been getting a lot of buzz over the last little while thanks to the rise of Twitter and Instagram as IIFYM devouts post gym selfies and photos of carb-heavy post-workout meals screaming #IIFYM.
IIFYM is often talked about as a lifestyle that lets you “eat anything you want” as long as you “hit your macros.” That means getting the same amount of proteins, fats, and carbs every day. That means eating to as close to as many grams of each as possible (with a 5 gram margin only, over or under).
For me, that’s meant:
– eating 192 grams of carbs a day;
– eating 134 grams of protein a day; and
– eating 46 grams of fat a day.
This came to a total of around 1,723 calories per day.
On “rest days” I had to drop my carbs to 120 grams, but the rest of my macros stayed the same. This totalled around 1,400 calories a day.
On top of that, we were asked to keep sugar under 50 grams a day.
IIFYM is considered “flexible” dieting because it focuses on hitting macros more than it does on the actual food that helps you get there. So you could get all of your carbs from fruit and whole grains, or you could get them all from chocolate bars and donuts (and there are IIFYMers out there who do).
I never really had a problem with how I was eating. I like to eat healthy, but I also like to have some desserts and drinks once in a while, and I’m self-disciplined enough to keep it all balanced.
Still, did my body change? Yes – I lost 10 pounds and six inches.
Do I credit it all to IIFYM? Well…not really. I do think the added carbs helped fuel my workouts, because before trying IIFYM I was definitely eating fewer carbs that I should have been. But during this challenge, I was also at the gym six days a week for 60-90 minutes at a time. So, you know, that might have had something to do with it…
My 60 day challenge recently came to an end, and so did my trial run with IIFYM. Here’s what I learned on IIFYM:
1. Tracking everything single thing you eat is ridiculous.
There, I said it. When the challenge started, we were told to download an app called MyMacros+ (there are others out there, like My Fitness Pal that are also popular) and track all of our macros in the app.
This meant adding every. single. thing. I ate for the last 60 days into an app. A lot of IIFYMers plan their entire meals out a day ahead, which means you need to think about everything you’re going to eat the next day, whether you actually feel like eating it or not when the time comes.
I found myself starting to think about food a lot more than I usually do. While before I wouldn’t have questioned downing my usual apple-carrot-spinach smoothie for breakfast, I now had to track everything that was going into that smoothie: the half-cup of milk, the tablespoon of peanut butter. If I took a little taste the night before, before I put it in the fridge, would I be going over my macros?
The answer was most likely: yes. Even an extra tablespoon of peanut butter (which is really not a very big serving) can put you over your macros for the day.
If I was extra hungry (because we all have those days), I either had to re-adjust my macros for the rest of the day, go over them, or go hungry. Weird, right? On macros, you can begin to feel like you’ve “run out” of macros for the day, or that you’re “not allowed” to eat something that day.
Using the app was like putting together a puzzle, adding up all the different combinations of foods for the day, seeing where I came up short and adding in little bits and pieces of other foods to hit those numbers every day.
But was I eating things I wanted to eat, or needed to eat for nutrients? Not always, because in IIFYM, the macros take priority, and they don’t care how you get there.
2. Nutrition is always your responsibility, and it’s a big one.
I love eating chocolate, but I love eating healthy even more. I’ve always been big on fruits and vegetables, and that’s not going to change.
But on IIFYM, I found everything became a trade-off. Depending on what my food plans for the day were, I sometimes found myself having to forego something like a banana and work in a rice cake instead, or some dried fruit, because it fit my macros better. But I know a banana is much more nutrient-dense than a rice cake, so what am I really giving up?
And how much progress at the gym am I really willing to see if it means giving up a healthy food that I enjoy?
3. Measuring and weighing every piece of food I eat is not for me.
There are people who LOVE IIFYM and I totally respect that.
But I found it restrictive and time-consuming, and potentially problematic.
With IIFYM, you are constantly working out perfect portions of food. Now, I’m not saying that serving sizes don’t matter, because they do, but it can really start to feel like you are nickle-and-diming your way through the day, and using up a lot of time while you’re at it.
I found myself weighing out chicken breasts and pulling out my measuring cups to pour myself a bit of cereal.
Between all the pre-planning and meal prep, the food tracking, and the weighing and measuring, IIFYM can definitely get obsessive.
I mean, come on: we can just decide, as adults, how much is too much or how is enough or how much we just really feel like eating, right?
(This being said, there are people who do serious bodybuilding and have massive macro counts – like, 3,000 calories a day and 500 grams of carbs and 90 grams of fat… and of course they can eat a lot. But they also work really damn hard for that and their body sizes and fitness goals are way different from mine.)
4. I am not measuring peanut butter by the tablespoon for the rest of my life.
On that note, there is no way in hell I am living the rest of my life by scooping out peanut butter and jam or whatever the hell else I want to eat on my sandwich with a frigging TABLESPOON for the rest of my life.
Stick a knife in that jar, spread that peanut butter how you want it, enjoy and move on with your life.
There is nothing “flexible” about a “lifestyle” that makes you count everything down to the last, precise serving size.
5. We are really fucked up about food.
I think something like IIFYM is great if you’re working towards a short-term goal, like a figure competition, or if you’re making a living in the fitness industry.
But for regular old me, it is not a sustainable lifestyle. I have enough to think about on a daily basis – I don’t need to add another layer of complexity onto my life by pre-planning my food choices and measuring out tomorrow’s snacks into an endless assembly lien of tupperware containers.
Before IIFYM, I just made healthy choices based on foods that I know are good for me and that I will enjoy, and that’s what I think we all really need to remember if we’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
During my IIFYM trial run, I took part in some online IIFYM groups and read a lot about the lifestyle to see if others felt just as restricted by it as I did.
What I found was a lot of questioning and guilt. I also found a lot of people wanted to eat treat foods, like cookies, and would work a cookie into their macros for the day, feeling excited just knowing they were “allowed” to have that one cookie at the end of the day.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need anyone’s – or anything’s – permission to eat something. And if that permission is coming from an app, well, I don’t know about that.
If I want to eat a cookie, I’m going to eat it. Most days I don’t eat sweets and most days my sugar count is naturally under 50 grams because of the choices I make day to day. But that’s me, and that might not be everyone else, and my body won’t necessarily look any better or be any stronger than someone who makes different food choices.
We need to trust that our cravings sometimes come for a reason: our bodies are telling us something. When we’re hungry, our bodies are telling us something.
We’ve heard so many conflicting studies about good carbs, bad carbs, no carbs, high fat, low fat, whole grains… The reality is, we’ve lost trust in our own bodies’ abilities to metabolise our food.
Calories in vs. calories out still holds true. If I eat a cookie later on today, I know my metabolism will know what to do with it. I trust that, because I go to the gym on a regular basis and work hard when I’m there, it will respond the way I want it to if I give it the right fuel.
And food is fuel. But it is also life, and sometimes it’s okay to say yes to dessert or enjoy a glass of wine with friends or grab an extra snack if you’re starving at 3 p.m. and dinner is still hours away.
Just trust that your body knows what to do, and make the choices that fit with your own fitness or lifestyle goals. (And if you don’t have any, that’s okay, too. It’s personal, and it’s all got to feel right to you.)
6. There are a lot of really ripped people who are not healthy.
I don’t want to take part in any kind of “lifestyle” that compromises my heart-health, immunity, or other vital, daily functions within my body.
I remember seeing a show on TLC about a bodybuilding family and the dad was talking about how he had to eat something like 12 eggs every morning just as a starting point to help maintain the mass on his body. The guy was huge, and so was the quantity of food he ate.
But what about high cholesterol? Diabetes? Clogged arteries?
You could be the most ripped guy or gal at the gym while eating bacon and eggs and Pop Tarts along the way, but is the physique worth it if you drop dead of a heart attack in the middle of a clean and press?
So don’t be fooled by #FlexFriday photos. Just as being thin doesn’t always indicate health, neither does bulk.
7. Carbs are not bad for you (even in the form of Lucky Charms).
Okay, I admit it: I was eating lower carb for a long time. For the past two years I never bought a single loaf of bread and never, ever allowed myself something like cereal (both of which I highly enjoy).
One thing IIFYM did allow me to enjoy again was carbs, and I’ll be keeping them in my daily life. I can’t believe I’ve spent so much time working out without getting enough carbs. They really do fuel your day.
So why do they have a bad rep? Well, people see results when they go low-carb. But you know what? You can see results by changing your diet in a lot of different ways. You can also see results by changing your workout routine.
But there’s more to eating that just fitness, weight loss, or weight gain. There is overall health, vitality, balance, happiness, and satisfaction. There is nutrition, immune support, and brain function.
For me, I would much rather challenge my body with exercise than with deprivation.
8. Everyone thinks their way is the right way.
It doesn’t take much time to find the answer you’re looking for. If you want someone to validate your love of carbs, you can easily go online and find both facts and opinions telling you that carbs are good.
But you can do the same if you want to hear that carbs are bad.
Ditto with IIFYM. And cardio. And Paleo. And “clean eating.”
And bodybuilding forums? Wow… what a jungle! To see people reaching out for support and guidance and then to see so many tear each other down is interesting and sad. I’m sure anyone who’s really into IIFYM or bodybuilding who might read this will say that bodybuilding isn’t for me because of my reluctance towards IIFYM – it takes discipline, and so does working out.
But you also need to enjoy what you’re doing. If you like working out, then you’ll stick to it. If you like your food, you’ll eat it. So find something you like and don’t stress it. These things should keep us motivated, not make us feel boxed in by rules and math (which is what macros come down to, and if you know me you know that math ain’t my thang…).
In my IIFYM adventure, I started to see a lot of people talk about “intuitive eating.” Some people talk about how they have moved from IIFYM to intuitive eating to help themselves feel less restricted by their macros…
What is intuitive eating, you might ask? This is going to blow your mind, but…
It’s just EATING. Listening to your hunger, throwing away your diet books, letting go of any fad ideas you have about food (i.e. Atkins), and eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.
So why a fancy name for it? Because sometimes, it’s hard to remember how to eat any more. When your head is full of food rules and diet tips and workout regimens…it can distort our relationship with food.
Which is why I had so much discomfort with IIFYM. It was great for my short-term goal of trying something new for a couple of months, but as a lifestyle? Not for me.
I don’t want my relationship with food to come down to daily calculations. It needs to come down to what my body needs and what I know works best for me.