Flexible Dieting aka IIFYM (if it fits your macros) is not a diet. The problem with diets is that there is usually an end date or goal weight in mind. Once that date arrives, or the weight is achieved, life goes back to normal. Sadly, nearly 65% of dieters, according to Gary Foster, Ph.D., clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania, will return to their pre-dieting weight within three years.
Flexible dieting takes “good” and “bad” out of the food equation and teaches you to look at food based on it’s macronutrient makeup. Chicken is protein. Apples are carbs. Greek yogurt is mostly protein and some carb. Donuts are carbs and fat.
Here is the Cliff’s notes version of the different macronutrients and what they do in our bodies:
Proteins are the building blocks of body tissue; containing the amino acids our cells need to thrive. Because our body doesn’t store protein, we must eat it daily in adequate amounts. If we don’t get enough quality protein (must have essential amino acids), our muscles catabolize, we become weak, our immune systems are unable to produce necessary antibodies, we become irritable, develop skin rashes and hair falls out.
Adequate protein levels are essential if fat loss / muscle gain is the goal. Complete protein sources include: meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Plant sources of protein must be combined with grains in order to supply all the amino acids you need (ex: peanut butter on Ezekiel toast or rice and beans).
*4 calories per gram*
People either love them or love to hate them. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, fructose, and galactose. Our cells only use glucose so both fructose and galactose are converted into glucose in the liver. In the bloodstream, glucose is taken in by the cells and turned to energy, is stored as glycogen by the liver (maintains blood sugar levels while we sleep or fast for short periods of time) and skeletal muscles (gives us energy when we workout), and is converted into fatty acids when eaten in abundance.
Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables) take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, white pasta, processed food). They each have their place. I prefer to eat most of my carbs around my workout window; choosing complex carbs 1.5 to 2 hours before a workout and simple carbohydrate either during or immediately following my workout.
*4 calories per gram*
First of all, fat does NOT make you fat. We need fat in our diets. It is a source of energy. It helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins. It is needed to build cell membranes. It is essential for blood clotting (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die from bleeding out!) , and for vanity’s sake it’s great for your skin and nails (bye, bye brittle hair and nails). There are three types of fats: unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. The fat in your diet should primarily come from unsaturated fat. Saturated fat is fine in moderation. Never consume trans fat.
*9 calories per gram*
How do you figure out your macronutrient goals?
This question is different for everyone depending on lifestyle factors, body mass, age, height, and body fat percentage. A general rule of thumb is to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or your realistic goal body weight, 20-30% of your calories should come from fat, and the the remaining calories will be made of of carbohydrates.
A Typical Day
I renamed the meals in My Fitness Pal into Meal 1, Meal 2, Meal 3, Meal 4, Meal 5, and Meal 6. I usually try to eat 4 to 5 meals, but every now and then I get a 6th one in if I need to fill out my macros at the end of the day.
Meal 1 – Egg Fritata (homemade) and Banana Nut Protein Oatmeal (Quaker)
Carbs 47 g, Fat 9 g, Protein 33 g
Meal 2 – Think Thin bar, Chunky Peanut Butter
Carbs 24, Fat 9 g, Protein 20 g
Meal 3 – Chipotle Chicken Sausage with Red Beans and Rice (Perfect Fit Meals)
Carbs 43 g, Fat 4 g, Protein 22 g
Meal 4 – Taco Bell Hard & Soft Taco Kit (1 hard shell, 1 soft shell, and seasoning), 3 oz grilled chicken breast, 3 oz shrimp, 1/5 cup purple cabbage, 20 g tomato, and 10 g Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt, 1 oz. repasdao tequilla on ice with a squeeze of lime
Carbs 34 g, Fat 9 G, Protein 47 g
Meal 5- Protein Cheesecake, 1 slice
Carbs 24 g, Fat 11 g, Protein 19 g
Totals for the day:
Carbs 189 g, Fat 42 g, Protein 141 g
Training day macros goal:
Carbs 190 g, Fat 45 g, Protein 145 g
I pretty much slayed it yesterday as far as hitting my macros goes. I came pretty close with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), but took some vitamins (Advocare Core) to come out ahead. I got to enjoy a drink and eat dessert, which my husband says tastes better than some restaurant cheesecake, guilt free knowing that those choices wouldn’t negatively impact my goals. Score!
One of the biggest misconceptions about IIFYM (thanks, social media!) is that you eat nothing but donuts, pizza and pop tarts. While you can OCCASIONALLY eat those things, 80% of your diet should be made up of whole food. Remember, we want our insides to look just as good as our outsides.
Another common misconception is that it’s really difficult. For some, the idea of weighing, measuring and tracking is completely overwhelming. The good news is that there are some great apps out there (My Fitness Pal is my personal favorite) that make it pretty easy. Admittedly, it can be challenging initially, but after a while it becomes second nature. You will be able to look at a piece of chicken and say, “That’s 4.5 oz.,” and be spot on.
For me, hitting my macros is like a fun game I get to play. My goal is to always hit protein and calories and to get as close as possible with carbs and fat (+/- 5). I no longer see food as “good” or “bad.” I see science. What does my body need to function/perform properly. The beautiful thing is that science includes the occasional slice of pizza or beer, and I never feel deprived. Win / Win!!!