In the oh-so “popular” fitness community, there are, generally, two schools of thought. The Clean Eating crowd who only eat specific foods and are very strict and clean with their diet.
And then, there are the newer kids on the block who eat whatever they want, so long as it fits their calories and macros.
This is the IIFYM vs. Clean Eating debate that will never end.
Sure, eating clean and restrictive will work, but at what cost?
On the other side, eating pancakes, ice cream & pizza and still losing weight just doesn’t sound right or healthy in the long term, right?
What’s the deal here?
Well, in this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of both of these “diets” and help you decide for yourself.
A quick disclaimer: I am the author of the book IIFYM on Amazon that covers the topic extensively and why I recommend it to everyone. Obviously, that makes me a bit biased. With that being said, I will be 100% objective of both diets here in this article. Just thought I’d point that out before we begin.
The Case For IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros
What Is IIFYM?
Contrary to popular belief, IIFYM is actually not a diet in itself. It’s a STYLE of dieting.
Yes, a style of dieting.
Unlike the Vegan diet, the Keto diet or the Paleo diet where there are certain rules and restrictions for your day-to-day eating, IIFYM is solely a method of tracking your food intake.
Technically, you can follow the Keto diet and still follow IIFYM.
Let me explain.
Every person, including you, reading this, has a certain amount of calories and macronutrients to eat for a specific fitness goal.
For example, let’s say Eric wants to lose weight. He finds my online IIFYM calculator and inputs his numbers and it spews out the following recommend calories and macros for his weight loss goal:
- 2500 Calories
- 250g Protein
- 250g Carbs
- 55g Fat
Now that Eric knows these numbers, he can track them with a free app like MyFitnessPal, a common tool amongst “IIFYMers.”
All that IIFYM says is so long that you stay under your calories and macros (which we noted above), you can eat anything you want.
Want that slice of pizza?
- Use MyFitnessPal.
- Log it in the app.
- Don’t go over 2500 calories.
- That’s it.
- That’s all IIFYM says.
You can see how this isn’t a diet. It’s just a concept if you will. You can follow Keto/Paleo/etc. and still follow the IIFYM concept.
Now obviously, there are pros and cons to this “radical” approach so let’s talk about them.
Note: I explain this concept for beginners in this video below:
The pros of IIFYM are:
- It’s not restrictive on any specific food or category – it’s based on your calories
No skipping out on carbs here. IIFYM doesn’t have a restriction on any food. The only restriction is your overall calorie and macronutrient intake. That’s it.
If you stick to them and don’t go over, you’re solid.
- Allows for a ton of flexibility in your diet
If you’re not in the mood for your 8oz of chicken breast one day, swap it out for a fattier protein like steak or salmon. This is possible because you would figure out how many calories are in your 8oz of chicken breast (around 240 calories) and swap it for the same amount of steak or salmon (calorie-wise).
Now that’s flexibility.
- Never too boring
Oh no, a random Ice Cream truck stopped by your house and you have a meal plan you HAVE to stick to.
Nope. Not with IIFYM you don’t. Yes, you can have a meal plan, but it’s flexible.
Let’s say that your ice cream sandwich bar is 300 calories.
Just take out something from your meal plan that’s 300 calories.
Nothing that’s specifically 300 calories? Then just take out the quantity of food you’re having from anywhere until there’s 300 calories less in total from the entire meal or day.
The cons of IIFYM are:
- Requires a bit more initial setup
Unfortunately, to get the benefits of IIFYM that we listed above, we need to setup everything for success and that can take some time and understanding.
Unlike other diets where the rules are pretty simple (i.e., don’t eat carbs), IIFYM is more flexible and less structured (although you can make it very structured if you want).
When diets have simple rules, there is less initial setup.
We’ll talk more about it below.
- Requires constant use of a food scale (for the first 2 months)
Yes, you have to use a food scale to utilize IIFYM.
Because to accurately figure out the calories and macros within the foods you inhale, you have to know the weight of it.
For example, the caloric difference between 100g of white rice and 150g of white rice are actually quite surprising. You wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference by looking at it.
The same goes with peanut butter.
You say you’re going to have 1 tbsp and you “eyeball” it and you actually served yourself 2.5 tbsp which is like 200 calories more than you originally wanted.
There’s no getting around the use of a food scale. You need to use it for IIFYM.
I think you’ll gain a lot of insight, sometimes depressing insight, into the amount of calories in the foods you used to eat.
With all that being said, you don’t have to use a food scale for the rest of your life.
I only say you will have to use it for the first 2 months of your IIFYM journey because it’s necessary to learn it and learn it fast.
After you have 2 months under your belt, you will be better at “eyeballing” it and can input foods into your MyFitnessPal diary faster.
Let’s talk about MyFitnessPal.
- Requires constant use of MyFitnessPal
Or you can use Cronometer or any similar food tracking application.
You need an app like this to track your calories and macros so you make sure you don’t go over them.
You input your calories and macros into MyFitnessPal and the app does all the math for you in the background.
Without this app, you would have to do the math yourself.
For example, there are 240 calories in 8oz of chicken breast, 200 calories (roughly) in 150g white rice (I know you would have more than this but it’s just an example).
You would add up 240 + 150 calories which = 390 calories.
Then you would subtract 2500 – 390 calories and you would have 2110 calories left for the day.
You would have to repeat this manually for everything you eat.
MyFitnessPal does all this for you easily.
It even comes with a barcode scanner so you can just input that candy bar or protein bar you ate.
Simple & easy but a hassle that will scare some away and I understand.
- Requires some learning pains in the beginning (can be confusing as your start)
The Case For Clean Eating
What Is Clean Eating?
Mayoclinic defines cleaning eating as the following:
“The fundamentals of eating clean encourage you to consume more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats — and limit highly processed snack foods, sweets and other packaged foods.”
This means more:
- Whole Grains
- Healthy Fats
- Packaged Foods
- High-Sodium Foods
While this doesn’t sound like terrible advice, actually this is great advice, it has its pros and cons.
The pros of clean eating are:
- More Micronutrients
It’s important to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of micronutrients in your diet because they provide essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
You can get these nutrients from all sorts of food, but some are harder to find than others.
You’ll find more of these micronutrients in “healthier” foods than in processed foods.
That being said, you can still get all the micronutrients you want with the IIFYM method also, but with clean eating, you’re limited to these foods. IIFYM allows for more options.
- Improved Gut Health
The connection between the gut and health is one of the most talked-about topics in medicine today. And it’s not just talk – science backs up what your grandmother probably told you: “You are what you eat.”
It turns out that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, play a crucial role in our overall health. We now know that there is a symbiotic relationship between good bacteria and bad bacteria within the digestive tract. The bad guys can take over if we don’t feed them properly, which can lead to chronic inflammation and disease.
What’s more, research has shown that when we eat the wrong foods for too long (processed junk food), those microbes actually change to become less healthy! So as much as possible, avoid feeding the bad guys.
- Less Deficiencies
A lack of vitamins can lead to a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue and confusion. These symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions, like depression or dementia.
The best way to avoid these symptoms is by eating “clean” &/or taking vitamin supplements.
- Better Mood
Eating clean makes you feel better after a while. We eat too many foods that are high in sugar and fat that make us feel lethargic.
- Gets Boring Fast
Eating clean can be great for your health, but it’s not always the most exciting thing to do.
The prospect of another salad or chicken breast meal makes you cringe and maybe even break out in hives. You start to feel like a hamster on a wheel, knowing that if you keep this up there will never be any change. It feels so hard just getting started with eating right, let alone continuing with it day after day.
But there is hope! Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean boring food all the time. There are plenty of ways that you can make your meals delicious without adding salt or sugar or any other processed ingredient that comes from who knows where.
- More Likely To “Go Off The Rails”
It’s not that people can’t eat a clean diet, it’s just that they don’t know what to do when the temptations come. I think there are two main reasons why people fall off of their diets and binge eat:
- They deprive themselves too much during the times where they should be enjoying food.
- They give up on enjoyable foods for so long, like sugar or carbs, that eventually they’re hungry enough to eat anything.
- You Develop A Bad Relationship With Food
Believe it or not, if you eat clean for too long, you start to develop a bad relationship with food. I know because I’ve been there. You eat all your meals and snacks on time, practicing perfect macronutrient ratios and getting plenty of healthy fats and complete proteins.
You get so swept away in the endless research that you don’t even enjoy food anymore. Food becomes an obstacle to achieving a goal, not something to be enjoyed.
When you catch yourself biting into your favorite cake or candy bar because it’s Friday afternoon, you feel guilty about breaking the rules—something you swore you’d never do again after struggling to fix your body for months.
Worse yet is when your friends announce they’re going out for pizza or burgers that night and hope that their invitation includes you.
You know going out to eat with them isn’t something that should happen until the fat loss is over, but you don’t want to be stuck at home alone when they’re all out having fun.
Not being able to go anywhere because of your diet seems like a prison sentence you’re serving for no reason other than being tired and feeling “fat.”
You’ve lost touch with yourself and your body. It’s not just your mind that becomes obsessed with calculating macros; you start making rules for what goes on your plate (no bread, no rice, no pasta) which slowly becomes more restrictive (no dairy or soy).
This is one of the worst situations that I’ve seen happen to many people. That’s why I usually recommend IIFYM because you can actually make eating out with friends on the weekends a regular thing.
How To Start IIFYM
Here’s IIFYM in a nutshell: you can eat anything you want as long as it fits into your daily macronutrient goals.
You don’t have to go on an extreme low-carb diet and deprive yourself of carbs for months as most people do with diets like keto or paleo; instead, follow IIFYM’s guidelines and find out how easy it is for yourself.
You need 2 things: MyFitnessPal & a Food Scale. Let’s talk about each.
MyFitnessPal is a free app that lets you bypass all the “math” that you would otherwise have to do yourself with tracking calories and macros.
It’s super easy to use and takes out all the guesswork.
You can simply scan barcodes of the groceries you buy and learn the calorie and macronutrient content of them quickly by serving size.
It displays them in, depending on the food/liquid in:
- Grams (g)
- Ounces (oz)
- Millileters (mL)
- Fluid Ounzes (fl oz.)
And they display them by serving size.
For example, the packaging of your ground beef might say 4oz and will also have a barcode.
You would then need a food scale to weigh out 4 oz to accurately get the calories and macros that are labeled on the packaging.
You would then scan the barcode of the packaging and input 4oz into MyFitnessPal.
MyFitnessPal would do it’s “magic” in the background and subtract all the calories and macros in the background without you having to do anything.
All you have to worry about is hitting your macronutrient goals and, more importantly with IIFYM, not going over.
Therefore the use of MFP, with IIFYM, is ongoing.
With that being said, let’s talk about the use of a food scale.
Food Scale (Ongoing)
The food scale is something you’re going to be using for a while with IIFYM.
If you truly want variety in your diet, that means you’re going to be measuring a lot of different foods constantly.
With IIFYM, a food scale is basically going to be out constantly, unless you develop an IIFYM meal plan.
For any new recipe or food you want to eat, you would need to use the food scale and input it into MyFitnessPal so you can track it.
Therefore, the use of a food scale is ongoing as is MyFitnessPal with IIFYM.
How To Start Clean Eating
Clean eating is very easy to start.
First, you list all the foods you want to eat based on a list of approved “clean” foods that you want to eat on a regular basis.
For example, you’d list out your proteins, fats, and carbs, and eliminate whatever isn’t on those lists.
Here’s an example:
- Protein Choices:
- Skinless Chicken Breast
- 99% Fat Free Ground Turkey
- Legion Whey+ Protein Powder
- Sweet Potatoes
- Brown Rice
- Olive Oil
- Shredded Cheese
- Peanut Butter
- Any and All Veggies
This is only an example, but this is technically how clean eating diets are laid out.
Anything not on the list above is off-limits, unfortunately.
With the list of foods that you have, you would then use MyFitnessPal, once, to figure out all the serving sizes you want for the foods you want.
From there, you would build a meal plan based on these foods by mixing and matching ingredients however you see fit.
For example, you’d figure out that you want:
- 6oz of chicken breast OR 6oz of 99% fat free ground turkey
- 150g of brown rice OR 200g of Sweet Potatoes (just an example)
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil OR 1/2 Avocado
For one meal or all your meals. Remember, you don’t have a ton of options here. Only your “clean” food options.
Food Scale (Not-Ongoing)
Once you figure out what foods you want and the quantities you need, you would use a food scale, once or twice depending on your experience with it, to see how much you need.
Conclusion – Who Wins?
Look, I’ve tried clean eating multiple times and every time, I get frustrated and usually end up binging and falling off the proverbial ledge and into all the sweets and snacks in my pantry.
This may or may not be your experience but IIFYM has let me eat my favorite foods while still seeing results on the scale.
Your results may vary. You may love eating clean and never get bored of it. I applaud you if you don’t.
But for myself, I just can’t do it.
In my eyes, IIFYM wins by FAR.
There is so much more flexibility and freedom with IIFYM. Sure, it’s more time consuming and takes a bit more upfront learning, but it’s totally worth it in the long run.
If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of IIFYM, you’ll probably be interested in my book:
Bestselling IIFYM Book
If you’re interested in learning more about If It Fits Your Macros, click the button below to learn more about it. It has over 195 reviews on Amazon!
Check it out above or click here.
Christian “IIFYM” Pinedo
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