Also known as macro-counting, this dieting practice requires a more in-depth understanding of your food than most other diets. With this technique, you figure out your nutritional requirements —based on your goals, activity level, etc.—and work your meals into those numbers. It has many wonderful aspects, not the least of which is that it’s more flexible than other “diets.” However, like all great things, it has aspects which some may find distasteful (ie, math).
Let me explain.
Macros —also known as macronutrients to the people willing to pronounce all those syllables —are three components of food that we care about for the purposes of this article. If you look on the nutrition label of food, they are the three headings in bold: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
- Carbs—(Carbohydrates, too many syllables.) This is energy, and the amount you eat should be directly related to how much energy you expend. It’s not evil, as many 2000s women’s lifestyle magazines would have you believe. It just needs to be regulated, because whatever energy isn’t spent is stored (You can estimate how much energy you have stored by how much your body jiggles.) One gram provides four calories. It can be found in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Protein—(If you’re dating a powerlifter, he/she is having an emotional affair with protein.) This builds muscle, primarily. Actually, it does plenty of things in your body, but in the context of losing fat, it fuels muscle growth/satisfies your appetite. Like carbs, one gram of protein gives you four calories. It can be found in poultry, greek yogurt, and eggs.
- Fat—(Don’t have a heart attack just yet.) Fat is essential for bodily functions not typically associated with physical activity—brain function, nutrient absorption, etc. It’s not as much fun as carbs or protein, but it is important to include in your diet. One gram provides nine calories, and it can be found in nuts/seeds and fish.
Finding Your Macros:
There is no shortage of variables involved in figuring out the amount of each macro you should be consuming in a day. Besides physical characteristics—height, weight, gender, etc.—there are also goals and activity level to take into account. And for those of us who are physically active on some days more so than others, macros may vary from day to day (I would recommend, however, sticking to a consistent schedule, and learning to respect the rules of biology, especially if you’re just starting out).
Generally, there are some truths you can rely on:
- If your goal is to lose fat, your overall caloric intake will drop. Additionally, your carb and fat macros will be on the lower side. What does that mean? You will be eating less pasta/broccoli/walnuts. Well, you’ll be eating less in general, but that’s what happens if you’re serious about getting lean.
- If your goal is to gain muscle, your protein intake will skyrocket. Fear not, as there are plenty of ways to prepare chicken breast.
As these numbers can be a lot to handle, and we can’t all be physiology experts, there are plenty of online calculators to help you out.
IIFYM in Practice:
Successful practitioners of this diet technique:
- Plan their meals in advance.— It’s not hard to figure out how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat are in each meal you eat. Having the discipline to actually sit down and do the math is the hard part. It’s best to set aside some time to figure out what you’re going to stuff into your body in order to meet your macros before you’re stuffing it in.
- Incorporate tasty food in a way that won’t harm their progress.— “Cheat meals"—super tasty and super unhealthy—are not a thing to be shunned. As long as they are handled properly, they can be beneficial for your body and, certainly, your motivation. Every two to three weeks is a good idea.
- Don’t bullshit themselves.— They don’t claim peanut butter is a protein source when we all know it’s a source of fat (Peanut butter macros (one serving): C4g, P6g, F10g. And that’s if it’s healthy).
While IIFYM allows flexibility in what you eat, it’s not an excuse to force whatever food you want into your diet just because it helps you reach your macro goals. Beef jerky is a pretty good source of protein, but it packs a salty punch, too. Sodium—which, um, encourages water retention—will bloat you up and you can kiss your abs goodbye. Choosing chocolate cake over vegetables will have the same effect.
Is IIFYM right for you?
Macro-counting is best suited for goal-oriented people. Those who have a clear vision of what they want to get out of themselves may find this to be the most efficient path. For those who are willing to stick to a plan, input a few numbers into a spreadsheet a couple times a day, and finesse their way through some numbers will get the most out of IIFYM.
Those who are looking for a clean, healthy lifestyle, but aren’t interested in investing too much time or brainpower into it may be happier with a simpler dieting practice.
IIFYM, macro-counting, spreadsheets galore—whatever you call it—gets results. But it’s not the only way to progress. Whether this turns out to be right for you or not, don’t settle for less than what you want.