When it comes to our diets and genetics, have you ever noticed how some people can seemingly get away with eating copious amounts of junk food, whilst still looking shredded with abs you could grate cheese on?
Others, however, eat something slightly more calorific than they’re used to and find themselves gaining weight faster than ever.
As unfair as it seems, one possibility for this could be the fact that the shredded dude is using a macro calculator, and the out of shape dude isn’t.
You see, when it comes to our physiques, it doesn’t matter how hard we train and exercise, if we aren’t eating right, we won’t see the benefits.
But what exactly is “eating right”?
To most people, this would be exemplified in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs.
Healthy produce is a vital component of any healthy lifestyle, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to getting in shape.
You may be wondering how people can get away with eating unhealthy foods rich in calories and fats, and still maintain such impressive physiques.
Well, one likely scenario is that they’re following the IIFYM diet, or are ‘flexible dieting’ with the help of a macro calculator, which is what we’re looking at today.
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When browsing the web for fitness and diet inspiration and advice, one of the most common phrases you’ll come across is ‘flexible dieting’ or IIFYM.
But what is IIFYM?
Well, IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros, and it is basically a way of literally getting to have your cake and eat it too.
Flexible dieting or IIFYM is a way of getting to enjoy the types of foods that are usually forbidden on diets and when trying to get in shape, despite the fact that you will actually get in shape, burn fat, build muscle, and tone up if you stick to the diet.
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, you can actually lose fat whilst still eating foods like pop tarts, pizza, cheeseburgers, ice cream, cheesecake, and so on.
Hold on. You mean to say that you can actually eat junk food and still lose fat and be healthy?
If you stick to the IIFYM diet and use a calculator.
You see, the idea behind IIFYM is that, rather than tracking calories each day, you instead track your macros.
Macronutrients consist of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
Each one of these three macros contains calories, and so, rather than just counting calories, you instead count calories from each of the macros.
Each day, we require a set number of calories in order for our bodies to maintain themselves in their current forms.
This is known as your basal metabolic rate, and everybody’s is different.
The good news is that you can actually work it out very simply, by using a BMR calculator online or weight loss percentage calculator, similar to the calculator we’re talking about later.
Once you have your set number of calories, you then need to figure out the perfect macro ratio to ensure that you’re getting the right balance of each.
Different people require different ratios because they have different goals.
If you were looking to build muscle and lose fat, for example, you’d require more protein than you would fats, because the goal is muscle growth.
If you wanted to bulk up and gain weight, your fat macro requirements would be higher.
Protein and carbs both provide 4 calories per gram, whereas fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Once you know your macro requirements for the day, the idea is to hit these targets or get as close to them as possible, through a number of different foods.
So, say, for example, your macro targets for the day in order to lose fat were: 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fats, as long as you hit these targets, or got as close to them as possible, you would still lose weight, no matter whether your calories come from processed junk food, healthy and nutritious foods, or a combination of both.
Basically, as long as your daily macro budget will allow it, you can eat whatever you like.
The catch, if you want to call it that, is that junk food is rich in calories from fats, so rather than eating say, an 18-inch four-cheese pizza for lunch, such as the rock cheat day, which would take you well over your daily fat macro limits, you could instead tuck into maybe a couple of slices of pizza instead, accompanied by a side salad.
It is basically the perfect example of “everything in moderation”.
In this next section, we’re going to be taking a look at a few common myths and misconceptions surrounding flexible dieting.
As beneficial as it is, there is a lot of misinformation out there that does need clearing up sooner, rather than later.
Here are some common IIFYM myths that are simply not true.
IIFYM Is A Junk Food Diet
This is arguably the most common myth associated with IIFYM, and it is one that needs clearing up once and for all.
IIFYM is NOT a junk food diet, in fact, it is quite the opposite.
It is sometimes known as flexible dieting because it allows you to be somewhat flexible with your diet, although the idea is still to prioritize healthy produce.
You see, if you were to try to eat nothing but junk food to hit your macros for the day, you’d be lucky if you enjoyed just one moderately sized junk food meal per day.
Could you survive on just one small meal per day?
We know we couldn’t.
If, however, you prioritized nutrient-dense food high in some macros, I.E protein but low in others, I.E fats, you could then enjoy saying, a cheeseburger for your dinner, or maybe a slice of cake after a healthy meal, if you had room for dessert.
If you try following IIFYM by eating nothing but junk food, you’ll find however that you simply couldn’t eat enough.
Those that are against flexible dieting will often talk about how the diet is unhealthy.
In reality, it is a very healthy diet because it means that you get an equal balance of all three macronutrients, which are all needed when it comes to our health and well-being.
IIFYM means that you should consume plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, good fats, complex carbs, and whole grains, which are all very good for you.
If however, your remaining macros will allow it, if you do decide to have something a little higher in calories for lunch or dinner, you won’t sabotage your diet and undo all of your hard work.
If anybody tries telling you that you don’t need a calculator when it comes to IIFYM, they’re almost certainly lying to you.
IIFYM is very tough at first, as there is a lot to figure out and there’s a lot of calculations to be made.
With a calculator, you simply enter the foods that you’re eating, as well as the quantities, and the calculator will tell you the macros for each food and give you a handy chart or graph to monitor it for the day.
This means that you can accurately track every single food that you consume, and every single macro.
So, other than getting to enjoy foods that were previously off-limits are there any other benefits associated with IIFYM?
Actually, yes there are, and there are quite a lot for that matter.
Here’s a look at some of the main benefits of IIFYM.
One of the worst things about a conventional weight loss “diet”, other than the crippling hunger, is the lack of social life.
You see, when dieting conventionally, people count calories, rather than macros, and as a result, they tend to focus on bland and tasteless foods that are low in calories.
Whilst your friends/families/partners are heading out to socialize and enjoy a nice meal out, you’re stuck at home crying into a plate of steamed cod and broccoli.
Sure, you could go out, but would you want to tuck into a boring grilled chicken salad and water, while everybody else eats calorific meals that actually taste nice?
With IIFYM, though, if you know that you’re due to go out that evening, you can plan your meals for the day so that by the time you head out, your remaining macros will let you enjoy something off of the menu that actually tastes nice.
We human beings have been socializing over food for centuries, so don’t let some low-fat generic diet take that away from you.
Far too many people that follow conventional calorie-restrictive diets end up developing an unhealthy relationship with food.
They’ll obsess over every single food they consume that isn’t “diet-friendly” and when they do break their diet they’ll likely binge eat, stuff their faces, gain back the weight, and slip into a spiral of yoyo dieting.
With IIFYM, it teaches you that, as long as you enjoy some foods in moderation, you can literally have your cake and eat it too.
Instead of starving yourself all day, and throwing in the towel at night because the hunger took over, and eating an entire chocolate cake, with IIFYM if you enjoy a healthy and balanced meal for dinner, as long as you used the calculator and had macros remaining, you could enjoy a slice of chocolate cake for dessert and still lose weight.
IIFYM actually helps people to develop healthy relationships with food.
Another downside associated with calorie-restrictive diets is the fact that the diets themselves literally require you to starve yourself.
They work on the principle that the only way to lose weight is to create a caloric deficit, regardless of how large it is.
Most people, therefore, consume foods that are far too low in calories and wind up feeling tired, lethargic, and fatigued because they are literally starved of energy.
If you’re tired and fatigued, the last thing you’ll want to do is head to the gym and exercise.
With IIFYM, the idea is that you get the perfect balance of macros, based upon your goals.
Fat, for example, is one of the best sources of energy we could wish for, yet people often fail to get enough on a calorie-restrictive diet.
With IIFYM, though, you still consume some fats, just not too many.
This means that you have just the right amount of energy, rather than feeling tired and lethargic all the time.
Whether you want to build muscle, get fit, burn fat, or just enjoy some exercise, IIFYM is the perfect diet to follow.
Because you’re getting the right ratios of macros thanks to the calculator, your body has what it needs to perform at its best.
This means that you have plenty of energy to train, your strength levels don’t suffer, and your athletic performance, in general, doesn’t suffer.
With IIFYM, you can literally fuel your workouts, rather than just trying to eat to get by, and the end result is that you get more from what you’re doing in the gym.
As you can see, flexible dieting is not as complex as it sounds, and it is certainly not just a case of eating junk food and going to the gym occasionally.
If you’re committed to the diet, you’re training right, and you utilize a macro calculator, you’ll find that it works incredibly well and it makes dieting much easier as well.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.