Snacks #018: The Pitfalls of IIFYM: Why It Isn't the Best Nutrition Strategy

Feb 11, 2024

In recent years, the "If It Fits Your Macros" (IIFYM) approach has gained popularity as a flexible and seemingly convenient nutrition strategy.

The concept revolves around the idea that as long as you meet your daily macronutrient goals, you can include any type of food based on its 'macros' (protein fat and carbohydrate content) regardless of its more complex nutritional value.

While this approach may work well for some individuals who already have a high knowledge around nutrition and food quality, it may not be the ideal nutrition strategy for the average person.

Let's explore the reasons why I think IIFYM is a bad strategy for most

Nutrient Quality Matters:
IIFYM puts the focus solely on macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) while overlooking the importance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Consuming a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods provides essential vitamins and minerals that support overall health. Relying on IIFYM alone might lead to a diet lacking in these crucial micronutrients, potentially compromising your well-being in the long run.

Gut Health and Digestion:
The source of your macronutrients matters more than just hitting the numbers. A diet based on highly processed and refined foods, often allowed by IIFYM, can negatively impact gut health. Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provide fiber and other compounds that support digestive health. Relying on IIFYM with a focus on processed options might undermine the health of your gut microbiota.

Energy Levels and Satiety:
Not all calories are created equal. Foods with different macronutrient compositions can have varying effects on satiety and energy levels. While IIFYM allows for flexibility, it may lead individuals to choose foods that provide a quick energy boost but lack the sustained energy release that comes from a balanced, whole-food-based diet. This can result in energy crashes and increased cravings.

Long-Term Sustainability:
IIFYM might work well for short-term goals or specific fitness competitions. However, for the average person looking for a sustainable, long-term approach to nutrition, a more balanced and mindful eating strategy is often preferable. A diet that incorporates a variety of nutrient-dense foods is not only more enjoyable but also easier to maintain over the years.

Psychological Impact:
Constantly calculating and tracking macros can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food for some individuals. It may create a mindset where food is reduced to mere numbers, overshadowing the joy and social aspects of eating. This hyper-focus on hitting specific macronutrient targets can contribute to stress and anxiety around meals.

What I recommend for my clients instead:

Strategy 1: For specific goals: a flexible portion plan

Having a rough meal plan that outlines approximate portions of protein, fat and carbs at each meal to pick and choose from makes life easier. I calculate this for clients and they can chop and change.

For example, at breakfast, you’d choose from: 

  • carb portions (oats, fruit, muesli, cereal, toast, crumpets, a wrap, whatever), 
  • fat portions (avocado, cheese, oil for cooking, nuts, seeds) 
  • protein portions (eggs, protein powder, smoked salon, cottage cheese, high protein yoghurt...) 

If your portions are properly worked out for your goal (ideally by a dietitian), then you don’t need to count anything again.

Strategy 2: For general good nutrition, I recommend a 'healthy food plate'

This usually entails:

  • 1/2 of the plate as vegetables, fruit or other high fibre/low calorie options
  • 1/4 being lean protein
  • 1/4 being starchy carbohydrate

Of course, plate size varies from person to person and depends on the individual's goals.

The takeaway?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach exists when it comes to nutrition.

The average person seeking a balanced and sustainable diet is likely to benefit more from a holistic approach that emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods. Prioritizing the quality of your diet over strict adherence to macronutrient targets can lead to improved overall health, energy levels, and long-term well-being.

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