IIFYM first came into my periphery back in my university days, but it wasn’t until I was training for my first triathlon, about a year and a half ago, that I became serious about counting macros. Cardiovascular training 6 times a week meant my metabolism was through the bloomin’ roof, and it didn’t take long to realise I was eating nowhere near enough calories to sustain my lifestyle. On the first day of meticulously tapping every macronutrient into My Fitness Pal, I remember sitting down next to my Mum with an overwhelmingly large bowl of pasta, because it was 9 o’clock at night and I still had half my carbs eat before I went to sleep. IMAGINE. Nowadays, that would be a luxury(!)
“IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros”
After just a few days of eating at maintenance, I felt like wonder woman. I had infinitely more energy. I was leaping out of bed in the morning, throwing everything I had into my workouts and learning so much about the composition of everyday food. And the best part? I found myself eating more chocolate and more pizza because I was simply not afraid of it anymore. If I could fit it into my macros for the day, then girl, why the hell not?! Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a real time and a place for IIFYM. It doesn’t deny you any food groups and the ability to manipulate both your physique and performance through even the slightest adjustment to your diet, is fascinating. I’m all for it. And so I did it, pretty much solidly, for about 18 months.
Then why did I delete My Fitness Pal?
It’s a tricky one to write about because I feel strongly both for AND against using IIFYM. As I said, I do believe there is a time and a place (enhancing athletic performance, bikini competitors etc) but is it for everyone? It’s a convoluted topic which I’ll leave to the experts and instead, simply share 10 things I’ve learnt from counting my own macros – the good and the bad.
FOOD IS FUEL
CARBS. ARE. SO. IMPORTANT. How else are you going to have the energy to run further, faster, throw heavier weights around the gym, or to go out with your girlfriends until the early hours? When I started looking at my diet, the differences I saw from simply increasing my calorie intake, was unbelievable. And it wasn’t just more carbs; more protein meant that I was suddenly recovering much quicker, as well as building more muscle. So, within the context of your goals, don’t be afraid to eat more. But all of this can be done without counting calories. Simply having a greater awareness of nutrition can help you reach your goals, from smashing through training plateaus to changing your body composition.
There is no greater test than when you’ve exhausted your calories for the day and that chocolate bar you’ve got in the cupboard starts calling your name. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learnt to say no. And I do NOT mean no all of the time – trust me, if I want something, I’ll have it. But counting macros has certainly given me a degree of mindfulness towards food that I didn’t have before. When you’re tracking, you only have yourself to be accountable to. There would be no point in weighing out all of your food if you’re going to forgive yourself for eating two bars of Dairy Milk every time you log one. IIFYM doesn’t deny you anything, allowing you to quite literally ‘fit things in’ if you want them. So, in that respect, it’s helped me to build a healthy lifestyle out of the way that I eat; not just a fad diet.
The meticulous process of weighing out all of your food certainly gives you an understanding of portion size. For example, I now know how many oats I need to make a small-human sized bowl of porridge in the morning and how much granola is ‘too much’ granola *eyeroll*. Can you ever have too much granola?
EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT
I felt somewhat compelled to write this blog post because there are so many girls talking about macros on social media right now. Don’t get me wrong, if this is a lifestyle you want to try for yourself, then by all means, you do you girl. But just remember, someone else’s macros will be completely different to your own. You might find that some Influencers refrain from talking about their own macro split, in the endeavour to stop others from ‘copying’. Using a macro calculator is simply a starting point; it can take months to adapt to using IIFYM, to find your maintenance, and what feels right for you. For example, when I first began tracking, my fats were so low. I loved carbs and I manipulated my macros to embrace that. But experimenting with different splits, I have found that I function much better on a diet with higher fats, which is important for us girls and our hormones. So if you’re just starting out on this journey, my best advice would be refrain from copying, be patient, and find what works for you.
FINISH EVERYTHING ON YOUR PLATE
When I was younger, my Grandma wouldn’t let us leave the table until we had finished everything on our plates. I’m sure anyone who tracks their macros will empathise with me when I say that when you’re using IIFYM, you won’t even leave a grain of rice. Honestly, when you’ve weighed everything out to the gram, you’ll be licking the bowl clean! In that respect, it has certainly given me a greater appreciation of food. Waste not, want not.
EAT YOUR GREENS
Green veggies are extremely nutrient dense, but by comparison, contain very few calories. Therefore, by including lots of fruit and vegetables in your diet, you not only increase your micronutrient intake but also the volume of your food through not very many calories. This helps you feel fuller for longer – the thought process behind the evolution of zoats. Adding grated courgette to your porridge increases the volume of your food, and sneaks all the goodness of a vegetable into your breakfast without changing the flavour of your morning oats. So get more greens into your diet wherever you can. It has become somewhat normal for me to go through an entire head of broccoli in a day…
MICROS OVER MACROS
Over time, I found it very easy to fall into habits with IIFYM. It’s hard enough to find the time to meal prep for the week, let alone weigh everything out before it goes into Tupperware. I suddenly realised that for convenience sake, I was eating chicken, rice and broccoli, most days. It was a quick and easy, macro-friendly meal to prep in bulk. Taking a step back made me realise I had drastically lost the diversity I once had in my diet. Since I checked out of My Fitness Pal, I have started to enjoy cooking again and have been so much more creative in the kitchen. Moreover, it has challenged me to find alternative protein sources in the endeavour to reduce my meat consumption. Now, I like to think I live by micros over macros – having a variety of nutritious, colourful food in my everyday diet is now more important to me than hitting a specific number of protein, fats and carbs. And, I feel better for it.
If (like mine) your maths is a little rusty, it can take some time to get your head around IIFYM. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of carbohydrate, the same for protein. 1 gram of fat, however, is more calorically dense at 9 calories. Sure, MFP will do most of the legwork for you, but when you’re calculating macro splits, it might just help you brush up on your mental arithmetic!
MASTER OF PLANNING
Once you’ve calculated your macro split, you have the flexibility to distribute your calories however you want to. If you’re a serial snacker, you might plan to eat smaller meals, little and often, throughout the course of the day. Or, for various reasons, you might decide to try IF (Intermittent Fasting) and structure your diet around two, high-calorie meals. You can also plan to consume your macronutrients at different times, for example, you might consume most of your carbs around your workouts to fuel performance and optimise recovery. Or, you can simply eat a balance of macronutrients with each meal, as I will explain below.
Ultimately, this is the reason for my writing this blog post. My experience of counting macros has taught me enough to allow me to eat intuitively; I now manipulate my diet to reach my goals without the support of My Fitness Pal. As a general rule, to ensure my meals are balanced where possible, I look at my plate as a whole and try to apply the rule: 1/2 micronutrients, 1/4 carbs and 1/4 protein. And, if I’m going out for pizza with my friends, I’ll have loads of green veggies and high protein sources during the day and save my carbs for later. My Fitness Pal has been an invaluable, educational tool for me, which has profoundly informed my lifestyle and a healthy relationship with food. I strongly believe that IIFYM is an effective way to hit specific goals and hey, I might find myself doing it again in the future. But for now, my diet feels much more creative, colourful and above all else, sustainable.