Kellie and I get asked often about our diets- “What do you eat? What do you avoid? How much do you eat? Are you (insert giant-food group here, e.g., gluten, soy, meat, grain, dairy)-free?” Well, we’ve tried various things throughout our lives, and have both somewhat naturally settled into what is called, “IIFYM” or “if it fits your macros.” So, what is this term all about and why have we decided it’s the best way for us to eat?
Let’s start broad… What is a macronutrient? There are 3 to be exact: Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat. Every food that is consumed (with the exception of alcohol) falls into one or more of these 3 categories. That’s right; EVERYTHING we eat is made up of some combination of these 3 building blocks. So, what IIFYM means for me, for example, is that each day I have a specific number of grams of each of the macronutrients I am trying to hit. Currently for example, it’s about 50 grams of fat, 250 grams of carbohydrate, and 165 grams of protein. Depending on my goal, these numbers will change. For some, this would be too low carbohydrate and too high for protein, but my current goal is to compete at a specific weight class at the USA Powerlifting National competition in July, so I am trying to increase strength while gradually losing body fat (no easy feat:)). If my goal were simply to increase strength, my numbers may be higher. If my goal were to run a marathon in November (ahem- Kellie) I would likely be eating MANY more carbohydrates. See what I mean here?
The important thing, though, is that how I accomplish these numbers is completely up to me. On a typical day, my meals are likely comprised of oats, rice, quinoa, fruits and vegetables, chicken breast, ground turkey, tilapia, olive oil, peanut butter, almonds, and the occasional froyo. But let’s take this past week when I was in Florida for a conference as an example of how IIFYM REALLY works in action. Instead of my typical breakfast of black coffee and oatmeal with protein powder, nut butter and banana slices, I ended up eating a protein bar, whatever fruit was offered at the coffee stand that day, and coffee with soymilk. The macros for that meal ended up being about the same, but the protein bar was much more convenient for being at the conference. Now let’s look at lunch. Typically I’ll eat something like ground turkey and couscous salad with a piece of fruit. Did I have that option? No. So, I ended up with a chicken sandwich with pepper jack cheese and veggies with a pickle and pretzels on the side. Again, the macros were similar, but foods were drastically different. Finally, let’s look at dinner. I knew we’d be eating out, which typically ends up being higher in calories than when we cook ourselves. So, while I usually have another good sized meal in the afternoon (a couple yogurts with veggies and hummus, for example), I opted to leave that snack out and use the remaining macros for my dinner meal. When I had some carbohydrates left after dinner, I ate a couple pieces of licorice. When I had some fat and carbs, I treated myself to a chocolate bar. When I had extra protein, I drank a protein shake before bed. As long as the food’s macronutrients fit, I can eat it.
Now, there’s an even more flexible way of doing IIFYM, which is similar to what Kellie is doing right now. She has no specific weight-related goal, except for maintaining a weight/size where her clothes fit comfortably. She’s training for a FULL marathon in November, so her diet is based around performance. She doesn’t track every little thing that goes in her mouth. She eats flexibly, not worrying too much about going over or under her macros for the day, aware that her body will even out any highs and lows. That being said, she eats pretty routinely, knowing more or less what percent of her diet is coming from each of the macros. She tracks a day every once in a while to be sure she’s close to where she wants to be and she bases much of it on how she feels. She knows that her body needs more carbohydrates on days when she’s running long distances, so she adjusts to accomplish just that.
What Kellie and I have both come to realize through trial and error is that restrictive diets, and diets whereby entire food groups are cut out, can end up wreaking havoc on a person’s mental health and body weight/metabolism in the short and long-term. (Of course we are NOT talking about individuals with severe food allergies here.) We find that balance, variety and moderation are really where it’s at. The flexibility that IIFYM allows and encourages has really enabled us to make it a lifestyle…one that we can stick to in the long-run:).