Friday, May 23, 2014

What Is IIFYM and How Does It Work?

Sorry for the lack of posts, graduating college and finals really took a bunch of my time up. Now that I’m done, I’m going to really try to post on here as much as possible. If any of you would like, I decided to make an Instagram for this blog and for my journey through fitness, so give a follow. I promise loads and loads of healthy food, recipes, and humorous memes.

Anyway, one topic I always wanted to write an article about, but never had the knowledge or experience to do so was about “IIFYM.” After going through the trial and error in the beginning, I’ve become a supporter of the IIFYM movement, and have seen great results with it now. IIFYM = If It Fits Your Macros. The main idea of IIFYM is it lets you indulge in some of the so called crap we all love to eat, so long as we’re hitting our daily calorie, fiber, macro, and micronutrient numbers. So at night you’re craving a serving or two of ice cream? Earlier in the day get in some fruit, some veggies, hit that fiber and protein number, and enjoy your ice cream. Now performing IIFYM correctly involves a little patience, you need to measure out your portions, or weigh them as I do, and track everything. I’ll cover that later in the article but first:

What In The World Are Macros

Macros, or macronutrients, are what make up your calories. Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates are macronutrients. Protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram, and one gram of fat accounts for 9 calories. While not everyone knows what their macro amounts are, there are plenty of websites to helpdetermine your caloric intake necessary to reach your goals and will help break down your macros. Keep in mind, these websites are estimates, not exact numbers, so you will need to adjust given how your weight fluctuates.

For example, if you want to lose weight, and you start with 2,300 calories, and after one week of eating that caloric load you notice your weight increases by 1.5 pounds, then you would try decreasing by 100 calories and adjust your macros accordingly. Simple as that, just need to go through trial and error and have patience until you start to see the results you want to see.

So How Does IIFYM Fit in the Grand Scheme of Things?

Well, a calorie is a calorie – For the most part. Yes there are different hormones that some will try to manipulate (Low carbs = low insulin), but for the most part, 2,300 calories from take-out is 2,300 calories from “clean” foods.

Now does this mean I’m saying you can lose twenty pounds on the only twinkie and ice cream diet? I mean, sure you can, but it won’t be healthy. You need to focus on hitting specific goals through your daily eating, and THEN you can squeeze in some of the junk you crave.

For example, I love Cookie Crisp cereal, but for years swore it off since it wasn’t a clean food. Once I started to realize the science and main idea behind IIFYM, I decided to give it a go for a week.  I bought a food scale, and replaced my normal post workout oats and protein with a protein shake and 2 servings (56g) of cookie crisp. I did this for a week, and not only did my weight remain unchanged as I was eating at maintenance level calories to test this diet out, I was happier since I was able to eat foods that I haven’t had in forever.

I made sure to hit my protein and fiber goals, and made sure to get plenty of vitamins and minerals in through various vegetables and fruits. To be honest, ask yourself this: Does your body really know the difference from a gram of carbohydrate from Cookie Crisp or Oats? In the end, it all gets digested in the same place, AND AS LONG AS YOU HIT YOUR CALORIC INTAKE AND MACRONUTRIENT TOTALS FOR THE DAY, you’ll be fine.

Will Ferrell's got it down
This is from a recent refeed during my diet that called for copious amount of carbs. I've never met a carb I didn't like.

Here's a normal day of eating from last week. Right now i'm experimenting with carbs super high, and fats super low. So far it's been a success.

I capitalize that top sentence big time, because I’ve seen others try IIFYM and use it as an excuse to eat boxes of poptarts, bowls of ice cream, and dump loads of fruity pebbles everyday, and then they get upset when they’re fat. You need to track your portions and caloric intake for this diet to really work.

How Do I go About Tracking my Intake?

There’s many ways. You can write it down with pen and paper or you can use one of the hundreds of apps dedicated to calorie counting. I use MyFitnessPal because it’s simple to use, you can store your own foods and recipes, and there’s a huge database to help find other foods.

What I like to do is the night before, or in the morning, I’ll plan what I’m going to eat for the day. I make sure to hit my calories, my carbs, my protein, fiber, and fats, and then I simply just plug in what I want to eat. It takes time to get used to doing this, but in no time you’ll become a wizard at making adjustments and filling it out on the fly.  Making your own food in your house and controlling your portions to find your proper caloric intake is optimal in the beginning. Once you have an idea of what caloric intake you need to say, maintain your weight, then you can start adventuring outside your own kitchen and really use IIFYM to enjoy these “dirty” foods.

One of the best parts of MyFitnessPal is the database that also includes foods from many popular restaurants. Going to Chipotle with friends but didn’t plan that into your macros earlier in the day? Simply erase dinner or whatever foods you need to, and check out the nutrition facts on the company’s website to make your food entry. I tend to over estimate in this situation, since not surprisingly, the dude behind the counter making my burrito can give two farts about my macros, but as long as I’m within earshot, I can eat happy and not feel guilty.

And I know pretty much everyone today has a smart phone, and the MyFitnessPal app on Droid and iPhone’s is so clutch when you want to or need to make adjustments on the fly. It’s truly a great piece of software. It’s also free.

So an example of how I go about tracking my intake is as follows. I’ll weigh out say two servings of cereal, measure out 4 ounces of unsweetened almond milk, plug it into MyFitnessPal, and bam its right there. If I plan the day before, I’ll just simply follow the plan. For example, if I planned a meal that’s going to be 1 serving greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and a scoop of protein powder, I’ll simply weigh out the greek yogurt, use a tablespoon measuring cup for the peanut butter, and take one scoop of the protein. Stir it in a bowl, and bam delicious.

Why Is IIFYM Superior to Other Diets?

I’m not saying it’s superior to any diet. Any diet, or nutrition program, that you can follow for the long haul is the best diet. Period. It’s superior to me because I love Chipotle, and I love ice cream, and I love peanut butter cheerios. So if I want a bowl of one serving cookie crisp, one serving peanut butter cheerios, and one serving banana nut cheerios, I’m going to make it fit my macros, have it and feel great.

By the way, yes, I recommend that combo.

And the glory of IIFYM is the combinations of foods you can create and not worry about gaining loads of fat from overshooting your calorie target. I wanted a giant bowl of baked oats the other day, so I planned out 5 servings of oats, which is 200g, and ate the whole thing. It was great, and guess what? I woke up the exact same weight, since I was eating at maintenance level calories.

Today I wanted to make my own style of granola… so I had a bowl of banana nut cheerios, puffed wheat, unsweetened almond milk, and different types of fruit. No longer do I crave things because I can eat what I want, when I want, so long as it’s in moderation and it fits my macros.

Can You Give Me Some Examples of What Your MyFitnessPal Looks Like?

Sure, here are some screenshots of how I go about my eating habits. I tend to drink BCAA’s before the gym around 9:45, drink EAA’s during the gym, and then afterwards consume two bigger meals, and a smaller meal before bed.

Other Things to Note About IIFYM

Meal timing is largely irrelevant to body composition. Does this mean don’t eat after you workout? No, I wouldn’t do that. But if you’re someone like me who likes larger meals, then maybe eating two bigger meals in the back half of the day is better. If you like smaller meals, then go for it. Do what makes you happy.

While measuring your foods with measuring cups is a good start, I truly believe the best way to measure out correct portion sizes is to invest in a food scale. I use a Shaper Image food scale that measures in grams. From there you can read the nutrition facts on anything, and get the right serving sizes for that caloric load. Checking out the government’s site for nutrition facts on other foods, such as bananas, strawberries, chicken, etc will provide you with weighted numbers. For example, if you want blueberries just simply look up what 100g of Blueberries is on the USDA food list and maybe have half a serving, or the full serving. Whatever you want. That’s the glory of IIFYM.

It is tricky at first, but you’ll be 100% happy you went through the trial and error and maybe earlier frustrations of tracking your food intake in the beginning. When you realize you can lose fat to look good on the beach this summer while enjoying your favorite cereals, ice cream milkshakes, or bacon egg cheese sandwich while your friends are stuck eating salad and grilled chicken with asparagus every damn day.

Meal timing is irrelevant for the most part, as is combining certain foods. First linked is an article by Lyle McDonald where he reviews a study on meal timing, second is an article by Alan Aragon where he discusses how mixing carbs and fat together in meals doesn't automatically equal fat storage. Don’t fall for that mumbo jumbo “you can’t eat fats and carbs together as the insulin spike will cause the fat to be stored... as fat.” People don’t realize our bodies take hours to digest certain meals, and if you think food isn’t overlapping in your stomach from previous meals then you don’t know how digestion rates work.

I will say this though; certain foods will make you feel more lethargic or energized. I personally get more energy from higher carb meals and more lethargic and sleepy from higher fat meals. So my last meal of the day and my smallest is usually a higher fat meal. My two bigger meals are more carb dominant since they give me energy throughout the day, and my macros call for more carbohydrates than fats. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what suits you and what your body runs best off of.

There you have it, a brief little introduction on IIFYM and how to go about it. Now go have some ice cream, you deserve it!

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