Why “If It Fits Your Macros” Doesn’t Work

Why if it fits your macros doesn't work

The Reasons “if it fits your macros” Doesn’t Work

The ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM) still is and continues to be a very popular diet for all the wrong reasons. It may seem like an easy to follow and flexible diet, but the reality is is that it is slowly killing gut bacteria and causing serious digestive issues in the long term.

IIFYM is a diet plan that stands for If It Fits Your Macros. It claims to help users lose weight by tracking macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) without restricting food choices. In other words, if cookies fits into your macronutrient requirements, then you can eat cookies in relation to your ‘total’ for the day.


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The whole diet concept was created in the bodybuilding community as bodybuilders began to tire of eating just chicken and rice to sustain their physical activities. They tried experimenting to see if they could eat ‘dirty’ foods and still maintain and build their physique. Now, it should be clear at this point that the diet wouldn’t be around if people didn’t experience results. However, those results may be short lived and it severely comprises the health of the gut. Let’s start by taking a look at an example of the ingredients and nutrition of a poptart.

If it fits my macros. That doesn't mean you should be eating poptarts

Just take a gander at some of the ingredients found in the packaging. May be tasty, but clearly not a healthy way to fuel your body for physical activity. That brings me to my main point; the whole philosophy of “it fits your macros” is lazy. It stems from the current culture that enjoys instant gratification and doesn’t like planning, consistency and effort.

The question always comes up at athlete camps or during consults with new clients.

“Well ‘X’ athlete eats this and they are still performing at a high level.”

My response is always, what if they actually took care of their bodies properly? Imagine the possibilities. And to be quite frank, the reason they can get away with it is because they are simply more resilient. Eventually there is a point where resiliency ends and changes need to be implemented in order to function. Not just perform but also to live our daily lives in health. If you eat ‘crap’ food expect adverse effects and inflammation. There are multiple reasons why, they should be fairly clear.

Here are reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use an IIFYM Diet:

  • The Gut is King – It makes up about 70% (approximately) of your immune system. Creating the right ecosystem with clean food choices that do not challenge our body’s ability to digest fuel.
  • The Gut Contains 100 Trillion Microorganisms with up to 3,000 bacterial species. Once harmful toxin producing bacteria from poor food choices are prevalent the immune system is severely compromised.
  • The Western Diet with its abundance of processed foods, together with increasing sanitization of our homes, poor water and compromised environments have reduced the bacterial diversity creating dysbiosis.
  • The Proper Balance of Flora in the digestive tract allows nutrients to be absorbed appropriately.
  • Compromising the Gut With Poor Food Choices can results in decreased performance, frequent fatigue, poor digestion, inflammation, frequent colds/sickness, allergies and possible poor sleep. The GI tract is the gateway to optimal health and performance.

At OPEX, in the principles we teach our CCP Coaches, we start with a simple philosophy. First, when analyzing nutrition prescription and dissecting macronutrients, we look at the individual’s goal. That is the base of all nutrition prescriptions, including specific macronutrients for the client. Next, we start simple with asking the clients about basic food hygiene principles which are essential to Actually using the macronutrients digested.

Simple food hygiene principles that I send some of my clients are as follows:

  • Avoid Eating Out – Simple, make your own food, NOTHING processed. EAT real foods
  • Chew Slowly – Chewing slowly per bite and sit down to eat per meal relaxed setting – don’t work while you eat, NO stress. ENJOY the process of eating.
  • Digestion – It requires a one word sentence as it’s so important. It’s king, when you put food in your mouth, it is a 36-44 hour investment in most people.
  • Get Up – Get up and go to bed same time every day for next month…changing this has a LARGE impact on food digestion and stress. Circadian rhythm should be followed and consistently the same.
  • Get Sun
  • Lower Anxiety – Lower anxiety and stress especially during times of food consumption
  • Cook Your Food
  • Prep – Prep foods and be consistent with making enough for leftovers. HOME cooked meals are always best.

(Coach’s Resource: Learn our simple food hygiene principles here.)

Lastly, as a coach I consistently assess nutrition and then design a plan based upon what the client presents with. Thus, if these simple pieces are not being followed, macronutrients become less important as the system is not absorbing the nutrients properly, which essentially sets them up for failure. We have a saying at OPEX; Clients have to earn macronutrient plans by being compliant with hygiene principles and showing consistency with other simple principles like a specific amount of protein and drinking ½ your BWT in ounces of water per day. Don’t follow the craze, stop being lazy and understand what needs to be in place for you to perform (whatever that may mean for you). Be smart about what you are putting in to your body to fuel daily, stop making shitty decisions because Instagram and Facebook say it’s the gateway to look like me!

Clean, healthy and performance can be done, it’s proven. Lebron James spends over a million dollars on his recovery throughout the entire year. One specifically is a full-time chef that knows the ins and outs of his body to ensure his food profile is perfect to align with what’s most important, recovering post and fueling for the next.

Learn how you too can implement clean and healthy nutrition programs with your client, in The Free 7-Day OPEX Coaching Course. Sign up today and learn how to create holistic nutrition programs.

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Sample Marcus Filly Diet

Marcus Filly Diet

Tennil Reed-Beuerleinb Diet

Tennil Reed Diet

Sources:

“Basic Treatment Guidelines,” WholemedX By Dr. Dick Thom

“It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

“Grain Brain” By David Perlmutter

“How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy” By Paul Chek

“OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP)” by James Fitzgerald

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30 Comments

    1. Not sure where it says in this article that you can’t eat the occasional treat. Is it that you don’t believe that you can be mentally healthy and eat clean, unprocessed home cooked meals? That instructions such as chew your food, drink plenty of water, relax while your eating, eat unprocessed foods is poor advice? OPEX is about educating people about what their choices will lead to. Continually eat inflammatory foods? Expect inflammation.

      But then, why do people have to ‘treat’ themselves or include junk food in their diet? This itself is a poor line of thought. Because what do they have to do to be able to treat themselves? Will they become obsessive about working out to earn their treat? Obsessive about eating healthy during the week so they can earn their weekend binge? Why can’t they just eat and enjoy healthy, tasty food that they’ve created? You’re assuming everyone wants to eat the sugary crap that’s out there.

      The abstract you link to, doesn’t really include much information at all. How did these people begin to follow these diets? Who educated them? Are they training for sports? Are they training at all? Why are they making their food choices? What they seem to have found is a bunch of people obsessed with their body image forced themselves to eat a certain way. Which was probably a malnourished diet and causing a lot of stress. Versus people who didn’t care about their image, just ate food because that’s what you do, but potentially are having digestive problems and inflammation caused by over consumption of crap foods.

      Nobody involved with OPEX would ever want to create any type of mental unwellness with a client. The complete opposite in fact.

  1. I’m sure you won’t let my comment through moderation. Keep pushing unhealthy eating habits. Because that’s what rigid eating patterns are. NOT including the occasional treat. All the best.

  2. Thank you, Lyle! Took the words right out of my mouth! When thinking about mental sanity and reducing stress/anxiety surrounding foods, a moderate and balanced approach that promotes sustainability and flexibility is key!! Glad I’m not the only coach who thinks so 🙂

  3. Lyle, you reference a QUESTIONNAIRE based study on non athletic women, seriously? And the lack of power in q studies aside, I can just imagine how it would go. Women who didn’t constantly think about food, who ate well, but not 100% perfect, who could eat some less optimal foods without binging, were labelled as flexible dieters, and women who obsessed about food all the time, exhibited yoyo diet tendencies, and tried to severely restrict portions and macronutrients were labelled rigid dieters.

    Well that’s not the correct definition, and it isn’t what is being talked about in this article.

    I’d expect more from you Mr McDonald.

  4. You should consider understanding IIFYM before critiquing the diet. Knee jerk commentary to a media perception without performing your own research does not lend credibility to yourself as a coach. There is nothing contradictory in IIFYM compared to the advice you give clients. Plenty of people eat clean to meet their caloric and macro-nutrient targets.

    The basic principles of the IIFYM philosophy are to:
    (1) Hit minimum protein (0.8-1.5g per lb bodyweight) for your goals. Higher protein while cutting to retain as much muscle as possible while in caloric surplus, the lower end of that protein while in surplus.
    (2) Hit minimum fat (0.3-0.6g per lb) for hormonal health
    (3) Fill the rest of your target calories (cut/bulk/maintain) with carbohydrates.

    Some people may abuse this structure to survive off of poptarts, however this is not the intention of the diet. In fact, it would be pretty hard to meet your targets solely off junk and is far easier to balance your macros with whole foods. Personally speaking a lot of effort goes into my balanced meal prep for each week, with the resulting recipes/tracking in MFP not looking unlike the sample Nutritional Profile you have posted?

    Of course it’s great scheduling in a burger with my colleagues Friday lunch, or the occasional mid afternoon treat every few days. Tracking calories/macros means I can jiggle my other food intake for the day to “fit” it in… makes for a sustainable relationship with food… however you are confused if you think these occasional dirty moments are my entire diet.

  5. You’re delusional, at the end of the day our bodies see calories in vs calories out. By fine tuning the macros that are comprised in those Calories you can adjust your body composition.

    Counting calories and tracking macros is quiet literally the opposite of lazy. Most people who track macros eat relativity healthy according to your standards but have the flexibility to enjoy foods they like.

    A pop tart is high in carbs making it a good source of fast energy for a workout because it’s a simple carb and will process quickly giving the consumer a boost of energy to use during a workout, rather than using a pre-workout supplement. Just as an example…

  6. Lazy? Really? I spend hours meticulously meal planning, weighing food and calculating the amount of Protein, Fats and Carbs I eat in a day. Do you have any idea the effort it takes to get a large variety of food and yet hit your macro-nutrients on a daily basis within a gram or 2?

    Pushing your view but using ad-hominems is not the best way to put your point forward.

    1. I’m 100% with you on this Dave, Mike and Jessica! It takes a great amount of discipline, planning, effort and consistency to calculate your macros and prep your own food each and every day to stay on track. It takes a lot of whole, nutrient dense foods to build out your macros for a day and it’s quite a process in itself. Having been doing macros for close to 4 years now, I definitely have to say it’s taken time to get my meals down but once you do, it’s simple! What Mike meant to say is that in social media many fitness models and athletes tend to post only photos of the donuts they just ate or the cookies or poptarts, when in reality they are eating veggies and lean meats and good fats. It makes them look like they thrive off these processed foods, when truth be told it’s every so often. With IIFYM it’s not that I use it to eat well and consistently all week then binge or gorge myself on the weekends. I use it to eat well so I can feel good and train well and if my family or friends want to go out for dinner or lunch, I can go with them, eat something and fit it into my day while not going crazy restricting myself. I’ve been in the position where I had to take my pre-cooked container food to not only Thanksgiving dinner with my family, but also Christmas and my birthday (all for a figure competition). I looked like a crazy person and absolutely hated how it made me feel. I don’t want to have to be that restricted unless I’m on a contest prep. So yes I’ll be consistent all week, train my butt off and hey if I want to go have some pancakes with my friends on a Saturday morning, you better believe I will. And the next meal, right back on track. That’s how IIFYM work. Enjoyable, flexible, un-restricted. Macros are a great tracking tool, Mike’s clients all have them, pretty much if not all OPEX clients do.

  7. Are you going to war? Are you struggling for survival every day? Food is one of the pleasures of life. I will eat donuts, I will go out to eat, I will have more than raw carrots, I will enjoy life, and Im still probably more athletic and will live just as long as you will.

  8. Check your sodium count and then post an article on that, do you even lift? Your meal plan isn’t even based on real foods. What a joke

  9. Completely agree with Lyle! This type of article is what leads to disordered eating and can significantly mess with one’s mentality. A balanced lifestyle with some treats here and there but eating a mainly healthy diet provides a much healthier approach to eating. Some people just do not have the desire to eat “junk” food which is fine but being told that you HAVE to eat only “healthy” food or else you are unhealthy I believe is ludicrous. I’d rather eat well 80-90% of the time and occasionally have a few slices of pizza, some ice cream, etc… and feel both physically and mentally healthy but hey I guess according to this person I would be unhealthy and if so, then so be it!

    P.S. – As stated above by several people (thank you by the way), calculating macros does take a lot of discipline and planning in order to reach one’s nutritional goals each day!

  10. Meticulously counting calories, arranging meals so you can fit in a dinner with friends and not go over your macros, extreme discipline to maintain this long term. Does that not sound Orthorexic? Doesn’t sound like a very flexible diet.

    So a flexible diet just includes more food sources? And a rigid dieter is anyone who excludes food sources?

    In a world where poor quality food is the norm, it is unnecessarily difficult to maintain a diet high in quality foods. If I choose to only fuel my body with quality food sources, who are you to label me a rigid dieter with mental health issues? How is that different to you choosing to only fuel yourself with a particular macro ratio?

    1. You don’t have to “meticulously count calories” with extreme discipline as you described.
      If that was the case, no one would be successful without doing so. Aka people who don’t track but just have a selection of foods conducive to being roughly appropriate (or even more optimal) in giving them enough of what they need but not too much over all. Depending on how ambitious your goal is, your level of prowess at training, amount of activity outside of training, various other factors, a “flexible diet” can be very flexible indeed in terms of “get it about right most of the time, and say who gives a shit on friday night out for dinner with the family and friends”.

      In other words, as is usually the case, the criticism against IIFYM / flexible dieting based on a misrepresentation of what it actually entails.

      Being obsessed with ultra tight macro ratios 100% of the time could be classified as disordered behaviour.
      Believing that eating certain foods even on occassion will preclude good results in terms of fatloss and athletic condition from training certainly could also be considered disordered behaviour. Fortunately, we have other choices and if we are responsible and ethical we will present those choices honestly to others as well.

  11. I find it disappointing how much protein powders and other supplements are included in your “perfect” meal plan. Although I agree with many of your points, scanning an example meal plan filled with “food” that comes out of plastic containers made your article lose credibility for me.

  12. “Clean, healthy and performance can be done, it’s proven. Lebron James spends over a million dollars on his recovery throughout the entire year. One specifically is a full time chef that knows the ins and outs of his body to ensure his food profile is perfect to align with what’s most important, recovering post and fueling for the next”

    It can be done, people! Get your own private chef who knows your body!

  13. Why would you put in your mouth something that simply shouldn’t be labelled as food and justify it by saying that if you don’t do it you suffer from some kind of mental illness (eating disorder?).

  14. Great article Mike!

    I think the comments section here is quite revealing as to how emotional food/nutrition is for people, which is interesting in and of itself. If this article got you heated, harden up! Try seeing if you can LEARN something from a viewpoint different from yours instead of pouting because this way of eating looks hard. Save the worthless arguments which are just masking the fact you don’t have the self discipline to say no to sugar and processed food. If you need pop-tarts to stay mentally healthy, you are not mentally healthy.

  15. “….If you need pop-tarts to stay mentally healthy, you are not mentally healthy.”…This comment made my day, too funny!…thanks Myles!

    Thanks for great article Mike, solid principles.

  16. Hi there! This is my firstt comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out aand
    say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts. Can yoou recommend anyy orher blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same
    topics? Thanks a lot!

  17. Great article dude, thank you. For “others” on here. Yea the one post is extreme with the bringing food to her family dinner’s and stuff like that. Or was is just dedication and commitment to one’s own personal goal? Hmm. Umm and yes a fucking pop tart is a terrible pre workout snack. Oh it’s a simple carb, k cool. How about all the other bullshit processed junk that is in it which he hits on ruin your gut flora and oh have been found to be some of the worst processed sugars that lead cancer, diabetes and other health issues including cardiovascular disease… anyways, everyone has the CHOICE to do what they want. It’s a free country. Oh and next time you post an article that ends in .gov you should just go ahead and count that as a non credible source. I’m sorry but the big corporations and gov are the main issue with nutrition and wellness in our country and if you don’t think so, more time and research from other sources is a well worth looking into.

  18. Reading the above am still amazed at how PEOPLE find ways to JUSTIFY the consumption of FOOD that contains ingredients that are processed and synthetic ,almost like trying to justify why smoking is not bad for you. Addiction can sometimes be the culprit when it come to ” justification'” but that it another topic all on its own… TREAT yourself to PIECE OF PINEAPPLE with some COCONUT CREAM and maybe some berries … lots of other healthier treats .. BUT it is your choice and your life ..as for STAN …Please advise where you bough the CRYSTAL ball , I would also like to know how long I will live for.

    1. COMPLETELY AGREE Craig. Some…not all…of the comments above are simply justifications for eating bad food. One of the things that makes my skin crawl is the phrase “everything in moderation”. I feel a piece of me dies a little bit every time I hear/see that because it’s just a reason people give for eating garbage. And the term moderation is such an ambiguous term to begin with anyway. “Treating” yourself to a donut every now and then, while it won’t kill you, is still not the answer to healthy living. And the general rules outline by Mike above regarding eating real foods, chewing slowly, allowing ample time for digestion, establishing a good circadian rhythm, getting more sun, lowering stress, cooking and prepping your food…I think those are things we can all agree with.

  19. My opinion doesn’t really matter, but here is how I see it.

    If you took a car like a Viper or a Pagani, what kind of fuel would you use? Oil? How often would you do maintenance? The best quality. You would use premium gas, the top oil with the most optimum weight and would regularly change the oil and run maintenance on the engine. If you take my Hyundai Tucson, you’d see that I use regular unleaded, whatever oil doesn’t break the bank, and run maintenance as needed.

    Our bodies are the same. Yes, sometimes I eat “cheat” meals. But I do not try to mask it with saying, “it fits my macros,” or “my body needs fuel right now, so I’m going to eat this.” I know what I am about to do. I’m taking a risk and I am putting something in my body that will not give me optimum performance. And that is a choice that is my perogative. Majority of the time I eat clean, and my performance shows it. But when I have that “occasional treat” my body responds accordingly. I feel crappy and honestl, wish I hadn’t done that. It’s not mental, it’s internal and I can feel it. After eating clean for so long, the body is no longer adapted to processed crap and yearns for clean, quality food. I constantly remind myself of this, and I check myself. Is the juice worth the squeeze?

    The point of this article is to stop using the excuse of IIFYM and start being honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I a Viper, or a Tucson?”

  20. Thanks Mike for this article. This sentiment needs to be spread among athletes all across the board. People (as is evident on this comment board) get vehement about defending “calories in vs calories out”. I’m not sure how exactly to get folks to see that simply isn’t true. The body DOES care where it’s fuel is coming from.

    I’m glad you used the term “lazy”. Some might get offended by that, but that’s their problem. It doesn’t change the truth. Healthy nutrition doesn’t include pop-tarts. 200 Cal of poptarts is going to have an insanely different stimuli on blood glucose levels compared to 200 Cal of a fibrous fruit. When people over simplify things to calories it shows a pure ignorance of the human body and how it works.

    If your food choices is over-stressing you, eating processed foods that will throw off your hormones isn’t the best place to start.

    Steven, Craig, and Rob make great points. You also wouldn’t put regular gas in a F-1 racecar would you?

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