IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is the practice of tracking your daily intake of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat), and hitting a prescribed target for each. It also goes by the name Flexible Dieting, because you can basically eat what you want, as long as it fits within your assigned macros for the day.
Clean Eating is, well….it depends who you ask. Are chicken breasts clean? Probably. Are French fries clean? Probably not.
Which eating plan is going to get you leaner faster? Which is easier to follow for the long haul? Let’s find out.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
If you follow any fitness people on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve probably seen pictures of cake, ice cream, chicken & waffles, etc. with the hashtag #IIFYM.
‘How can they eat that!?’ you may wonder. Here’s how.
What it is
The whole premise behind IIFYM is that you have a preset intake of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) for the day. The numbers are based on your training, goals and current body composition.
You can figure them yourself or you might work with a coach. But your macros are preset, and everything you eat has to fit within these presets.
So if you eat 3 cupcakes, just subtract the carbs and fat from your macronutrient presets. The rest of your meals will likely be protein and vegetables.
In a nutshell: you can eat whatever you want — if it fits your macros.
- You can eat what you want. IIFYM gives you more freedom than any other diet I know of.
- You can satisfy food cravings without worry. As in the cupcake example, you can eat decadent foods and still meet your presets, which is the key to optimal body composition.
- You can track your macros and still eat very clean foods. This is the best option for long-term health and body composition.
- You don’t have to bother with ‘cheat days,’ which often leave people feeling stuffed and sick. When you have more freedom in your diet, you don’t have to go off the rails in order to eat what you want. You just need a little planning.
- You have to log everything. Every. Single. Thing. Fortunately, there are apps to make it easier.
- You don’t always know what’s in everything you eat. If you eat in restaurants a lot, it can be difficult to know the macronutrients of what you’re eating.
- It’s too easy to eat the same easily-tracked foods all the time. More chicken and rice, anyone? Without adequate variety, you could miss out on a lot of fiber, vitamins and minerals — these are very important in any diet. Make sure your diet includes fresh vegetables, fruit and other high-fiber foods.
There’s a common misconception that IIFYM dieters eat crap all day and just focus on the numbers. This is hardly true. The guy who posts ice cream sundae pictures all the time probably has a kitchen full of chicken breasts, brown rice and broccoli.
Nutrient tracking is not for everyone. Not by a long shot. If you don’t want to keep a food log, you might prefer to be a clean eater.
What it is
There’s a general agreement about what constitutes a clean, healthy diet. But that’s just it: a general agreement.
Some people think avocados have too much fat. Hardcore paleo heads think that whole grains are the devil’s plaything. And the food industry has a way of packaging crap and making it seem clean, green, natural and whatever else people want.
So you may have to decide for yourself what constitutes clean eating. I would describe it as whole, fresh, unprocessed foods — the things on the perimeter of the supermarket, or from the farmer’s market.
- Clean eating is good for your health. Want a diet that makes your doctor happy? This might be it.
- It’s easy to find clean foods on most restaurant menus. In a pinch, even McDonalds has salads. (No, I don’t recommend this).
- There is a lot of support for clean eating. Healthy eating has been a mainstream idea for a very long time. Unlike a lot of diets, you don’t have to stand out from the crowd in order to eat clean.
- There is no clear definition of clean eating. Because of this, there is no quantifiable data on how well it works or how to make adjustments. Science can’t study what it can’t define.
- Clean eating is restrictive. Any diet that eliminates certain foods will almost certainly build up cravings over time. For some people, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
- Big food/agriculture will always be trying to convince you that their shit is clean. Sound cynical? It probably is. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
Which diet is better?
For me personally, the clear winner is IIFYM with whole, unprocessed foods. The two diets are not mutually exclusive — you can do them together.
When I just go by instinct and I don’t track, I tend to eat too much fat, too little protein and too few calories overall. I know this through lots of experimentation and after-the-fact food logging.
Both diets leave me feeling satisfied, eating foods that I love. But clean IIFYM is a lot better for me in terms of workout energy, recovery and body comp goals.
If I’m craving certain foods, I can pre-enter them into my food tracking app, and plan the rest of my meals around it. You don't really have that flexibility with clean eating.
Which diet is right for you?
It’s been said that the best diet is the one you can stick with. This is absolutely true among these choices.
If you don’t have any appearance goals — and you just exercise to feel good and be healthy — clean eating is probably a good diet for you. It’s healthy, it tastes good, and there’s a lot of support for it because a lot of people do it.
But if you have specific goals for your physique — if you want to get to sub 10% body fat and maintain/increase muscle mass — you will almost certainly need to track your macros. At least for a little while to get a solid idea of what you’re really taking in. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who can stay ripped without much dietary effort. But for the rest of us, IIFYM is a very straightforward way to get the body you want.