Today's post is brought to you by others' interest in IIFYM, or "If It Fits Your Macros." It is gaining in popularity due to it's "flexible dieting" approach, which allows adherents to eat whatever they'd like as long as it fits into a daily allowance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). I came up with a list of pros and cons, based on my assessment of the IIFYM website.
· It reintroduces calorie vigilance. Paleo, Clean Eating, and Whole30 all generally dismiss the need to watch caloric content. The theory is that, if it is clean food, the calories won’t matter. To some extent I agree. But it reminds me of one patient in particular, who struggles with her weight on a Paleo-type diet. The thought process is: it’s a Paleo muffin, therefore a healthier muffin, so I will eat ALL the muffins. (Psst: Eating 1200 calories in almond flour is not healthy!)
· It can promote moderation. Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, I was into body building and figure competitions. I ate the body building diet described on the IIFYM website and I never ever want to eat tilapia again. As a result of the over restriction and how we glorified forbidden, dirty foods, I engaged in a lot of disordered thought patterns and behaviors related to the banned foods. Allowing them in a diet, to some degree, normalizes it and is less likely to create that neurotic love/hate relationship. Allowing indulgences may reduce binges as a result of over-restriction/glorifying a naughty food.
· The calculator divvies up the nutrients allowed by the number of meals desired. Less math is good math.
· In dietetics, we use the Mifflin-St. Joer (MSJ) formula for calculating resting energy needs (REE). For total energy needs (TEE) we add an activity factor of 10-40%, depending on physical activity. When I used my stats and did my method versus the online IIFYM calculator, I came up with similar numbers.
· My first impression was all of the ads on the page. It’s so bad that it makes the site hard to read and reduces the site's credibility. I wondered why they are GIVING away so much information. My hypothesis is because they’re making money off of all the ads! And the meal plan/coaching they want you to buy....
· The concept sounds great – eat whatever you want, as long as it is within your budget of nutrients. This increases potential for abuse. For example, say I give Elise $120 to spend on Saturday. If she spends it all at Chuck E Cheese with nothing to show for it but some spider rings and a whistle, I’ll tell her she didn’t use her money well. Moral of the story: don’t waste your money – or your macros – on crap. (We would never give her $120 for Chuck E Cheese, but it is representative of grams of carbs one might have in a day...)
· Along the same lines - although the calculator divvies up equal nutrition per meal, the concept as described doesn’t necessarily encourage macronutrient balance from meal to meal. Nor does it consider meal timing. You could budget two slices of pizza at dinner, but at what cost? You would have to take away carbs from earlier meals or, worse, skip meals = imbalance of carb intake = imbalance of insulin needed = jacked up metabolism.
· It justifies “dirty” foods. Old school dietitians preach that “all foods fit.” (I know, I was one.) But the foods don’t fit when they’re laced with cancer causing preservatives and train wrecking trans fats, IMHO. My buddy Lynn asked me recently what foods I just refuse to eat – cereal, original peanut butter, and coffee creamer are on my list. Yes, they’re tasty, but I don’t care if they “fit my macros” – they’re crap!
· Try to do the math yourself and it gets difficult/confusing for some. This might work for some nerds and engineers, but the majority of folks will need some help.
· Say you use the calculator, you have your grams of each macro, what now? Drive yourself nuts scrutinizing food labels and log/calculate grams all day? Don't be silly! You buy their $50 meal plan and you pay for a coach, of course!
· You can speak with or Skype with a “coach” 1:1, but does said “coach” have any legitimate credentials?? (Psst: Even the website administrator doesn’t.)
· Lack of transparency. I could not tell what formulas they used for calculations until I dug deep into the bowels of their numerous online calculators. Then, they give you an option of formulas to use. One of which (Harris Benedict), has been debunked for years in favor of Mifflin St. Jeor (MSJ). Even then, MSJ can be inaccurate in overweight or obese people. And very few of us know our percent body fat to use in the Katch-McCardle equation.
· Also re: the calculator – I’m not sure how the lay person would know how many grams per pound to select for protein and fat.
· Hypocrisy. The administrator mocks internet advice like, “5 Foods You Should Never Eat!” but a like ad shows up within the website.
· Secondary gain. Administrator owns an oatmeal company whose ads are featured in the site.
RECOMMENDATIONS & SUMMARY –
· I do like IIFYM and I understand how to do it because I do it every day for everyone else. It isn’t a new concept. If TRCF people would like to get together to work out their macros together as a group or class, I’d be happy to accommodate.
· Once your numbers are figured out, make GOOD foods fit that other diets eliminate: like Greek yogurt, Ezekiel bread, Wasa crackers, natural peanut butter, oatmeal, and sweet potato. Try to limit overt indulgences (pizza, ice cream, fast food, etc) to once/twice a week and count them in your allowance.
· Rather than providing you all the formulas here, I recommend using a tracking tool, like the MyFitnessPal app. (FYI - MyFitnessPal is a free app unlike the “My Macros” app the site recommends, which is $2.99.) Reset the macros from 50% Carb, 30% fat, 20% protein to 30% Carb, 30% protein, 40% fat. This is a good start and what I generally prescribe for folks. If you are one of those weird people who actually likes a lot of cardio and endurance sports, increase carbs to 40% and take fat down to 30%. I personally eat a good bit of nuts, nut butter, and avocado, so I want to allow myself more calories there.
Questions or comments welcome! See you at the gym!