If you’ve been around the health and fitness community for any length of time – particularly online – you’ve more than likely encountered “IIFYM.” Short for “If It Fits Your Macros,” this term has spread across the internet and has gone from being a pithy piece of nutritional advice to defining a whole diet. So, what exactly is IIFYM and what should you know about it before fully embracing the concept?
What It Means
According to Examine.com, IIFYM got it’s start on the Bodybuilding.com forums. Dieters would post a question, asking if they could have a particular food, and the popular answer became a simple “IIFYM.”
The idea represented by those five letters is that you can essentially eat anything you want, as long as it stays within your limits of total calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates – macronutrients (macros). Eventually, this simple phrase spawned an entire diet and subgroup within the fitness community.
The idea behind IIFYM – sometimes called flexible dieting – has definite merit. Allowing yourself the freedom to enjoy “treats” occasionally without being overly concerned with what you’re eating is a proven way to prevent discouragement and burnout while dieting.
And, for many people, this is all that IIFYM means. But for many others, the phrase has become an excuse to indulge in junk food… IIFYM. Writing for Breaking Muscle fitness expert Kyle Hunt, himself a flexible dieter, made some interesting comments on this. Hunt even states that this is a misconception about IIFYM that started with memes on social networks, depicting all sorts of junk food, put out there just to poke at clean-eaters. But the truth is that there are people who jump on the IIFYM wagon using these memes to set their dietary standards.
Flexible dieting is a liberating and effective way to eat. But you should not ignore quality of calories. If you were to compare 200 calories of walnuts to 200 calories of potato chips, the walnuts would doubtless give you a better nutrient profile. There is also the concern that chips – and many processed foods – contain artificial additives that increasingly demonstrate negative health effects. Many processed foods, for instance, contain emulsifiers that studies have shown can damage gut bacteria in a way that significantly increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and digestive conditions. The same can be said for artificial sweeteners.
The problem, then, is not IIFYM itself but rather the way that some misguided people use the phrase. As Examine.com puts it, “A more precise meaning of IIFYM would ‘if you have gotten high quality food and have reached your general macronutrient targets, there is nothing wrong with indulging in food.'”
By all means, enjoy your food and do not feel like you need to heavily restrict your diet. But don’t go to the other extreme and disregard the quality of a calorie.