Clean Eating vs IIFYM: Which Is REALLY Better?

The problem with articles like this which aim to compare any two things in the diet and fitness world is that the person doing the comparing is usually biased from the very beginning. So it’s usually less about a fair comparison and more about showing you why their way is right.

And by usually, I mean always.

Typically the people who are in favor of IIFYM are former clean-eaters who personally had issues when eating that way in the past (everything from mild annoyance to full blown eating disorders).

And typically the people who are in favor of clean eating are people who consider it the best (or possibly the one and only) way of eating despite never actually trying something like IIFYM. They just assume it, I assume.

And then there’s me. And I’m actually pretty rare. How so? Because I’ve spent a significant amount of time eating both ways. And – get this – doing equally well with both dietary approaches.

I shit you not. I ate my version of “clean” from around 2001 – 2007 and did just fine. I ate my version of “IIFYM” from 2008 to today and did/am doing just fine, too. I apparently swing both ways.

For this reason, I think I’m capable of bringing a somewhat unique and unbiased perspective to this annoying-as-hell debate. So, sit back and relax. It’s time to bring it.

What Is Clean Eating?

The hard part about trying to define “clean eating” is that its definition will vary based on who you ask.

I mean sure, avoiding “bad foods” like typical snack foods, foods high in sugar, foods high in “bad” fats/carbs, foods that are highly processed, etc. will be part of most people’s broader answers.

But things start to get a little wacky when you try to narrow those “bad foods” down into specifics.

For example, to one person, a white potato is a perfectly good, perfectly clean food. To someone else, a white potato is the devil and an army of sweet potatoes must descend from the heavens and murder it.

To someone else, only Paleo-approved foods are clean. To another, only vegan foods are clean. To another, only gluten-free, or sugar-free, or fructose-free, or artificial sweetener-free foods are clean.

To a clean eating bodybuilder, grains are a perfect carb source. To that same Paleo-dieter from a second ago, grains are the worst kind of carb you could possibly eat. And to a clean eating low carber? Carbs in and of themselves are bad just for being carbs!

Turns out “clean” is a very subjective term.

You could ask 1000 people what “eating clean” means to them and there’s a chance you’ll get 1000 different answers all involving a different set of dietary allowances and restrictions.

And at the heart of it, I think that’s probably the best way to define what this dietary approach is.

It’s a manner of eating that is a bit (or sometimes a lot) more strict rather than flexible (and “stricter eating” may be a better term for it than “clean eating”), has specific “good foods” you can/should eat and specific “bad foods” you must avoid, and really just has more rules that you must adhere to than the dietary approach we’re comparing it to in this article.

And sometimes those rules can extend beyond the foods themselves into how those foods are consumed.

For example, this dietary approach is commonly (but NOT always) associated with a stricter form of diet organization… stuff like the good old 6 small meals per day/eat every 2-3 hours recommendation. Or not eating after a certain time of the day. Or avoiding carbs at night. That sort of stuff.

Yes, I know, this part has become less common than it used to be. And yes, I know, there are plenty of people who fit into this category (especially of the Paleo variety) who are actually big into intermittent fasting (which is basically the complete opposite of this stuff).

So no, this part is definitely not a requirement of clean eating. It’s just something that is much more likely to be found there than anywhere else.

Common Misconceptions

The biggest misconceptions with clean eating aren’t so much misconceptions as they are misinformation or personal preferences/beliefs being regarded as proven facts.

What I mean is, the main reason a person chooses to use this stricter “clean” style of eating is because they think that, with all else being equal, there is something superior about it in terms of its effects on body composition (fat loss, muscle growth, preventing fat gain, preventing muscle loss, etc.).

Common examples include…

  • That eating clean foods will help you lose fat or build muscle better/faster.
  • That you can’t get fat eating clean foods.
  • That you won’t gain fat in a surplus as long as you’re only eating clean foods.
  • That you’ll at least stay a lot leaner while in a surplus if you’re eating clean.
  • That calories don’t matter as long as you’re eating clean.
  • That there’s no need to bother counting calories as long as you eat clean.
  • That you won’t lose fat in a deficit if you’re eating “dirty” foods.
  • That eating 6 small meals per day/every 2-3 hours will speed up your metabolism.
  • That not eating carbs at night will prevent you from gaining fat.
  • That eating the same calories/macronutrients worth of Food X will make you fatter than Food Y.

With all else being equal (which for this article will mean the same total calorie, macronutrient and micronutrient intake and the same consistency with which it is consumed), none of this is true.

In fact, it’s flat out false, and there’s more than enough science and real world experience out there to prove it. The Truth About Fat Loss is a good place to start. The Best Superfoods List, How To Choose The Best Foods For Your Diet and When And How Often Should You Eat are others.

But the truth is…

In terms of your diet, changes in body composition happen as a result of your total calorie, protein, carb and fat intake. They don’t happen as a result of the specific food sources that provide those calories and macronutrients, nor do they happen as a result of the specific manner they are consumed in.

What does this mean? It means that, with all else being equal:

  • It doesn’t matter if you eat every 2-3 hours, every 4-6 hours, do something like Martin Berkhan’s 16/8 version of intermittent fasting, or anything in between.
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat 5-8 small meals per day or 2-4 huge meals.
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat a significant percentage of your daily calorie/carb intake earlier in the day or later at night.
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat white rice or brown rice.
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat white potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat egg whites or whole eggs (with the yolk).
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat Paleo approved foods or non-Paleo approved foods. (Or vegan foods, or raw foods, or whatever other kind of “special” foods you can come up with.)
  • It doesn’t matter if you eat 100% clean foods 100% of the time, or eat those same clean foods maybe 90% of the time and various supposed dirty foods the other 10% of the time.

It also means that, with all else being equal:

  • You’ll gain fat just the same eating clean foods as you will eating dirty foods.
  • You’ll lose fat just the same eating dirty foods as you will eating clean foods.

So basically, from a body composition standpoint (and with all else being equal), all of the reasons you might have heard for why clean eating is superior just aren’t true.

What’s The Biggest Problem(s) With Clean Eating?

The major downside to this approach is that the dietary strictness/rules/allowances it comes with won’t suit everyone equally.

In fact, many people just can’t stand it and find it to be everything from inconvenient, to annoying, to pure torture. And forcing themselves to eat in a manner they’d describe this way will clearly make their diet significantly harder to sustain.

And trying to anyway (even if successful) will just make their life suck in general.

And the side-kick problem that often goes along with this is that many of the people eating this way and hating it are doing so because they believe some/all of those misconceptions we just covered. So they’re forcing themselves to eat in a manner they don’t truly like because they think they’re getting benefits that don’t actually exist.

How lovely.

So on one hand the problem with clean eating is that it’s too strict for many people’s preferences. On the other hand, those people are willing to sacrifice those preferences for a collection of myths and assorted bullshit. That combination is the biggest problem with this dietary approach.

Although… I should mention that the placebo effect can be an amazing thing sometimes. So if a person thinks they’re getting benefits from something they’re doing, and that’s part of what keeps them doing it… maybe it’s not such a terrible thing after all? Assuming of course it doesn’t get taken to a point where it negatively affects other aspects of their life.

Speaking of which…

Another potentially big problem with being so strict all the time, completely avoiding certain foods/food groups and only eating in a manner that fits a specific definition of “clean” and “healthy” is that this sort of thing can turn into an unhealthy obsession. An obsession that can not only ruin your social life (having strict dietary rules makes it hard to be social with people who don’t follow those same rules), but also turn into a full blown eating disorder.

Both of these scenarios happen quite a bit.

However, I should also mention that contrary to what many IIFYM people think, it’s NOT something that happens 100% of the time. Plenty of people (myself included) can eat this way without feeling deprived, annoyed, tortured or inconvenienced, and without it turning into an unhealthy obsession or eating disorder. Turns out people are different. Who knew?

What’s The Best Part(s) About Clean Eating?

This might surprise you at this point, but there’s actually quite a lot that’s good about this style of eating.

The biggest and most obvious is that it encourages people to eat higher quality foods.

I know, “higher quality” is another subjective term (just like “clean” or “healthy”), but I think you know what I mean. Foods that have a better macronutrient and micronutrient profile than other, lower quality foods. Foods that are more natural than processed. Foods that are more filling and satisfying.

That’s how I’d define “higher quality.”

And eating higher quality foods is a big part of what clean eating is all about. And that’s definitely a good thing. I mean, encouraging the average person whose diet is primarily made up of stuff that has a cartoon character as its spokesperson to eat less lower quality foods in favor of more higher quality foods can only be viewed as a good thing.

You can’t really argue with that, and I won’t.

(Although you can certainly argue with the reasoning behind some of these recommendations, as many are based on myths and/or the personal preferences, needs and beliefs of a tiny fraction of the population (e.g. people with a legit gluten intolerance)… but we’ll ignore that.)

What some people might try to argue with (and be completely wrong about if they did) is the second potentially good aspect of clean eating. And that is, whether you like it or not, the fact that SOME PEOPLE actually benefit from, do better with, or just flat out require a more strict and structured approach to their diet.

Holy crap, did I just say that?!? Yes, I did. And I know this fact is hard for a lot of IIFYM/anti-clean eating people to handle.

But whether you believe it or not, like it or not, or have become so enraged by the thought of it being possible that your head has exploded and you’re now just a headless body sitting there trying to read this… it doesn’t matter. It remains true nonetheless. And clean eating provides it.

So while some people view this strictness and these rules as torture and everything that’s wrong with the concept of “clean eating,” it’s exactly what will allow certain other people to actually stick to their diet and consistently eat the way they need to be eating for their goal.

The Superior State Of Mind

Another fun aspect of clean eating that I think is worth mentioning is the mindset that often comes with it.

Some (but NOT all) of the people who eat this way view themselves as being better than the people who don’t eat like they do. There’s sort of this mindset of…

“Look at you people eating the way you eat. It’s pathetic. Look at how strict and disciplined I am and how weak minded you all are.”

“Look at these fat losers having a piece of birthday cake while I ignore it because I’m so damn awesome. You know what? I’m not even going to sing the “happy birthday” song as a sign of my utter lack of respect for the ingredients in this cake and as a symbol of my overall hardcore mental strength.”

“What? Go out to eat with you guys tonight? Sorry, but they don’t have plain grilled chicken breast and oatmeal at that restaurant… and I’m just too in control of my diet to eat anything else.”

“Haha! This guy is sitting there eating foods that cavemen would have NEVER eaten! What an idiot!”

Sure, that might be a little exaggerated. But trust me, as someone who “ate clean” for years, I can tell you first-hand that it’s not quite as exaggerated as you might think (or hope). I will fully admit to having thoughts like these (or at least kinda like these) at times.

In some small way I did feel like I was better than other people because I (supposedly) ate better than other people. Many (but not all) clean eaters have similar thoughts, too.

They just might not actually tell you about it. Then again, telling you about it may in fact be one of their favorite things to do.

What Is IIFYM?

IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros. “Macros” is short for macronutrients, which in this context refers to protein, fat and carbs. And even though calories are not a macronutrient (rather, it’s your macros that provide your calories), calorie intake is included in this as well. (Details here: How To Calculate Your Macros)

And what If It Fits Your Macros is, is something a bit different than clean eating. Different how? There is no list of specific foods/food groups you must eat or avoid. There are no specific dietary rules, restrictions, and allowances you must adhere to. There’s no strictness and structure that must be followed.

What there is however is the freedom and flexibility to do what suits your personal dietary preferences.

Can you eat this food? Sure… if it fits your macros.

Simple as that.

As long as your total daily calorie, protein, fat and carb intake is what it needs to be for your goal, you can get those calories and macronutrients from whatever food sources you want (good, bad, clean, dirty,  etc.) and consume them in whatever manner (food combinations, meal timing, meal schedules, diet organization, etc.) you want.

Common Misconceptions

There’s primarily only one major misconception about IIFYM (and it’s why I’d much rather refer to this approach as “flexible eating” rather than “If It Fits Your Macros”), but there are two different points of view it comes from.

The misconception itself is simply that IIFYM = eating shit all day.

That IIFYM supposedly entails avoiding stuff like fruits and vegetables or really just whole, natural, nutrient dense, higher quality foods in general. Or, to put it another way, avoiding the types of foods most people consider “good” and “clean” and “healthy” in favor of the types of foods most people consider “bad” and “dirty” and “unhealthy.”

You supposedly just eat whatever you want with reckless abandon so long as you end up at the right calorie and macronutrient totals at the end of the day.

Now from the clean eating side, this is the misconception they base most (if not all) of their opinions on. “IIFYM? Ha! Good luck eating nothing but candy, cookies and Pop-Tarts all day.”

The other point of view is actually from the IIFYM side in that there are people who somehow came to this style of eating expecting this misconception to be true. And so they make sure their calorie, protein, fat and carb intake is what it needs to be, and they proceed to get those calories/macronutrients primarily (or entirely) from junky “low quality” garbage… often with no attention given to stuff like fiber, omega-3’s, calcium or micronutrients in general.

The misconception is basically that IIFYM is all one big 24/7/365 cheat day.

This of course is 100% wrong. And 100% stupid.

It’s not something any non-dumbass proponent of If It Fits Your Macros would ever actually do or recommend.

It’s just something misinformed people assume it is, partly because they’re misinformed, and partly because “If It Fits Your Macros” is a stupid name for it.

The truth is, the IIFYM style of eating usually works out to be more like 90/10 or 80/20 rather than the 0/100 people incorrectly assume it is. In fact, the majority of the people who eat in this more flexible manner actually end up eating what most people would consider to be “clean” the majority of the time.

I mean, if you look at the breakdown of the diet of someone correctly eating IIFYM style, you might be surprised to find that it really just looks like a more free and flexible version of a typical “clean” type of diet… just with more variety because that specific list of foods/food groups that must be eaten or avoided isn’t there.

It’s typically a lot of the exact same foods (vegetables, fruits, chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, whey protein, almonds, olive oil, oats, potatoes, rice, etc.). But again, without all of the major and minor restrictions and allowances that clean eating forces along with them.

And of course, the addition of some (which I’ll define simply as the minority, not the majority) of the “lower quality” stuff that keeps people sane and happy while also making it easier for them to function in society (e.g. you don’t have to disappoint your grandma by being the only person refusing to have cake at her 100th birthday party).

So basically, if you take “clean eating” and replace the allowances and restrictions with freedom and flexibility… you get IIFYM.

What’s The Biggest Problem(s) With IIFYM?

There are two that come to mind. The first is based on the misconception we just covered, which is that people will take IIFYM very literally and eat almost nothing but crap. But again… this is wrong and stupid.

The other problem is that while the freedom and flexibility of this IIFYM approach is what makes it ideal and sustainable for some, it’s exactly what makes it unsustainable for others.

What?!?! How?!?! Why?!?!?

Because again, whether you believe it or not or like it or not, there ARE people who may fail to eat the way they need to be eating when being given this much freedom and flexibility in their diet. They NEED to be restricted to some degree. They NEED a list of foods they should/shouldn’t eat. They NEED a list of rules to adhere to.

Basically, they just NEED a more strict and structured approach to succeed. IIFYM doesn’t provide that.

What’s The Best Part(s) About IIFYM?

That’s easy. The freedom and flexibility. The lack of rules and restrictions. The ability to eat in a manner that fits your specific personal preferences rather than those of whichever random person happened to make up the rules for you.

The ability to eat the foods you truly enjoy eating while avoiding the foods you don’t. The ability to have a meal without first looking over your list of allowed/restricted foods. The ability to eat when you want and how you want. The ability to never have to completely avoid a food you love because someone deemed it “dirty” or “bad.”

I can go on and on here, but I’m really just repeating the same underlying benefit: dietary freedom and flexibility.

The Superior State Of Mind

Sorry IIFYM people, but the clean eating people aren’t the only ones who think they’re better than everyone else based on the way they eat.

Some (but again, not all) of you guys/girls are just as guilty of it as they are. And the ironic part is, it’s those very same clean eating people who you feel the superiority over.

“Look at this loser coming to work with Tupperware containers of grilled chicken breast, broccoli and brown rice. I’m just gonna go out for lunch and look up the macros on my phone. Enjoy your brown rice, stupid!”

“I can eat ice cream and you can’t! Haha! IIFYM ftw!”

“Look at me, I’m eating gluten and fructose and white rice and it hasn’t instantly killed me. It’s a miracle!”

“I can’t believe this dude is going to sit here and watch the rest of us eat birthday cake because it’s not on his list of “clean” foods. Oh well, I’ll just work it into my macros and have his piece myself.”

Which One Is Better: Clean Eating or IIFYM?

So now that we’ve defined both styles of eating and looked at the pros and cons of each, it’s time to answer the ultimate question. Which is better?

That’s easy…

In general, with all else being equal, they’re exactly the same.

In general, with all else being equal, you’ll lose fat and/or build muscle exactly the same.

In general, with all else being equal, you’ll maintain muscle and/or prevent fat from being gained exactly the same.

In general, with all else being equal, none of this shit matters.

As I explained before, it’s your total calorie, macronutrient and micronutrient intake that dictates what happens to body composition and really overall health in general. And those calorie, macronutrient and micronutrient needs can be met just the same with both clean eating and IIFYM.

Which means, in general, with all else being equal… it’s a tie. They work equally well and your results will be exactly the same with both dietary approaches.

The problem of course is the “in general, with all else being equal” part that I keep repeating. Because in the real world, this just isn’t how things work. Which is why there is a much more important question we need to answer here.

The REAL Question: Which One Is Better For YOU?

THIS is what matters. THIS is what you need to care about. THIS is the one and only thing that should determine how you approach your diet.

You see, clean eating and IIFYM can and will both produce the EXACT same results for you… with all else being equal. But, the fact that we’re all different people with different needs and different preferences means that all else will NOT be equal.

So one person might find one approach to be more enjoyable, manageable, convenient, preferable and (therefore) sustainable for them. Another person won’t. And vice-versa.

If you’re that first person, awesome! But if you’re that second person, you will be significantly less likely to consistently stick to your diet. And the ability to consistently stick to your diet may very well be the most important aspect of it.

So what does all of this mean to you? Here’s my advice…

Are You Eating Clean?

  • If you’re doing some version of “clean eating” and found that you don’t really like it, it’s too strict, it’s too inconvenient, it doesn’t suit your needs or preferences, you don’t like the rules and restrictions it places on you, you don’t like being forced to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods, or find that eating this way is causing you to cross over into “unhealthy obsession” territory… and this is all making it harder for you to consistently stick to your diet (or lowering your overall quality of life in general), then I’d highly recommend experimenting with a more flexible approach.
  • If however you’re doing some version of “clean eating” and you love it, find it suits your needs and preferences perfectly, and are doing well with it… then by all means definitely feel free to keep eating this way.

Are You Doing IIFYM?

  • If you’re doing it IIFYM style and found that all of the flexibility that drew you to it in the first place has ended up doing more harm than good, or the freedom it provides you is maybe a bit too freeing and tempting, or you lack the will power to eat this way without going overboard, or that a more structured approach might suit you better… and this is all making it harder for you to consistently stick to your diet, then I’d highly recommend experimenting with a stricter approach.
  • If however you’re doing it IIFYM style and you love it, find it suits your needs and preferences perfectly, and are doing well with it… then by all means definitely feel free to keep eating this way.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Here’s My Opinion, And I’m Always Right

The person who tells you that you MUST be strict with your diet and eat 5-6 small meals every 2-3 hours comprised only of “clean” foods is wrong.

But here’s the thing. The person who tells you that you MUST do the opposite of this and be more “flexible” with your diet is wrong, too.

Why? Because both approaches can work. This is a fact. With all else being equal, your results will be the same regardless of which dietary approach you go with. And this means you’re not required to do it one way instead of the other. Neither approach is an approach you MUST use.

Which means, everyone telling you that option A or option B is the way you need to do it is equally wrong and equally guilty of trying to force their preferred approach onto everyone else.

But that’s all you ever see. Someone telling you that your diet needs to be strict, or it needs to be flexible. You need to eat frequently, or you need to use intermittent fasting. You need to eat clean, or you need to do it IIFYM style.

None of this is true, because none of this is “needed.”

The only thing you NEED to do is make sure your diet provides the total amount of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients you need for your goal and overall health in general. This “need” can be met with both dietary approaches.

From there, it’s really just a matter of picking the specific approach that will best allow you to consistently sustain that diet and meet that need.

For some people, for whatever reason, that approach is option A. For others, for whatever reason, it’s option B. For some, it might even be a combination of the two. Who knows. And better yet, who cares? You might, but you shouldn’t.

Whether you like it or not or agree with it or not, people are different. They have different needs and preferences, and they do better doing things a certain way than someone else might. Each person should approach their diet in whatever way that is for them, even if that “way” isn’t the way you happen to like.

That’s why I try to avoid making statements for or against any “style” of eating. Even though I have my own preference for one over the other because it’s what I like best and do best with (flexible over strict), I try not to make it seem like that’s how it needs to be done, or that’s how it should be done, or anyone doing it the other way is wrong and stupid.

You know, like everyone else loves to do.

What I much prefer to do instead is point out that these different options exist and will work just fine with all else being equal… and the one and only factor that should influence which approach you choose should be your own personal preferences and simply doing what suits you best.

Anyone who tells you otherwise, regardless of which option they’re in support of… is wrong.

Yes, even if it’s the option I personally happen to think is better.

Still wrong just the same.

So, What’s The Point?

And now for the TL;DR…

The goal with your diet is to consume a total amount of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients that supports your goals (fat loss, muscle growth, etc.) and your overall health.

The goal with how you approach your diet is to do whatever is most ideal for you in terms of personal preferences, needs, convenience, sustainability and really just whatever will keep you most sane, healthy and happy while reaching those goals.

Whether that ends up being a more strict approach (like whatever your definition of “clean eating” is) or a more flexible approach (like IIFYM) honestly won’t matter with all else being equal, and it’s entirely up to you to determine which approach suits you best.

And everyone else? They should shut up and let you eat in whatever manner that way is.

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121 thoughts on “Clean Eating vs IIFYM: Which Is REALLY Better?

121 Comments

  1. Well, I have tried both diets for losing fat and I totally agree with this article. It is a very nice read. Many thanks.

  2. I can’t get over how funny this line is: “For example, to one person, a white potato is a perfectly good, perfectly clean food. To someone else, a white potato is the devil and an army of sweet potatoes must descend from the heavens and murder it.” Thanks for always being informative and entertaining. You are literally the only online source I trust completely.

  3. Great article! Goes along with a growing trend that is helping us get away from the hold/programming the fitness/supplement industry has us in.
    Great information for people that workout and those that just want to lose weight. Bottom line, to just lose weight one can literally find out how many calories it takes to maintain and then start reducing them. Then to gain muscle for working out, fine tune the macros.
    The ONLY reason any of the diets work out there these days is that they ALL involve calorie reduction, then the success for each one of them relies on the dedication and length of time each individual puts into it.
    Same with clean eating and iifym, it all comes down to the individual’s belief and mindset as to which one will work. If I’m programmed to believe clean eating is the only way then that’s what will work for me etc…..

  4. Thank you for an article not blaming anyone and not pointing fingers!

    I would love a more flexible diet, but I handle carbs quite badly. I am not “scared” of them, my body just hates them. I have done some calculating and with a IIFYM diet, I have a very high carb macro that I have to satisfy!

    Now, I eat low carb and high fat – yes FAT and I enjoy my diet and do not feel deprived or feel like I miss out. My point is, I hate being misunderstood by IFFYM’ers believing I am on a strict diet. Just because you CAN eat carbs does not mean you like it.

    • Glad you liked it!

      But you may have unknowingly brought up another misconception about IIFYM. There is no specific macronutrient ratio you MUST meet when eating this way (if you happened to see that claimed somewhere, it’s bullshit). You definitely don’t need to eat more carbs than you’d prefer to. The idea that you do goes against what IIFYM is supposed to be.

      You basically want to set whatever macros suit your goals and your personal preferences/needs, and then just meet those macros. So if you happen to do better with less carbs, you can simply set your carb intake lower (and your fat intake higher) and do your own tailored version of IIFYM.

      Which is what IIFYM always should be… each person’s tailored version.

      Which again is another reason why calling this style of eating “if it fits your macros” is stupid. It’s too open to being interpreted too many incorrect ways. Flexible eating, flexible dieting, etc. are much better.

      Or just no name at all.

      • Thank you!

        See this was very helpful! I believe this is a broad misconception, as IFFYM’ers always state how many carbs they are eating compared with their “clean eating”. That is, no one ever mentions the quality, their protein or fat intake – it is always about the carbs.

        Anywho – thank you for this article 😉

        • Yup, you’re probably right about that one, but that’s mainly because most (but not all) people typically WANT to eat more carbs. So when they’re putting their diet together and figuring out their macros, they adjust to make carbs as high as they can to suit their preferences.

          You’d of course just need to adjust in the opposite direction to suit yours.

        • Totally Sofie, I unwittingly have been doing the IIFYM approach for a while now and set the carbs according to my current requirements or what I am experimenting with which is currently to trim off the fat. This is currently about 150g of carbs per day which on a diet of about 2400 calories per day is relatively low. In a couple weeks when I play with bulking this number will probably double but my protein will stay about the same or slightly higher so my calories go up. In February I will begin training for a half marathon so will need to up the carbs further more likely with the benefit I will still trim the extra fat I may pick up from bulking. So you can definitely set the macro values to what you want, be it fixed numbers or percentages of total intake, to suit your requirements. There is no set number at least from how I understand it.

  5. Another great article. White potato vs the army of sweet potatoes was so darn funny. I have learned so much from you. Thank you!

  6. Totally agree with you. The best you can do is open up people to different possibilities, but that’s all they are, possibilities not prescriptive guidelines. For me, IIFYM works well. I try to eat healthier foods, but I know that every so often, for other reasons I can’t. Tonight my wife and I are taking her aunt out to dinner at Tony Roma’s for her birthday. Knowing this in advance I am making this event fit into my diet for the day. I will be enjoying myself and the company and not worrying about whether or not fries are made with organic potatoes or not. This fits me and my lifestyle. I experimented with different approaches, different macro percentages, different exercise patterns until I found one that worked for me. No one else, but me. It works and I’m happy with it.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. All good points Jay. And I guess that applies to workouts as well? Sorry you fell off your chair reading this, lol. I tend to eat clean with the addition of some wine with meals. I try only to eat organic because I despise food corporations and what they are doing to our health but I guess that would be a completely different article. I enjoy my pizza once in a while and just steer clear of anything in a package. After all a mindset is half the battle.

    • See, certain people will hear you say that you try to only eat clean and organic and they’ll think you’re crazy. But if you prefer it that way (for whatever reason), are doing well that way and it’s not causing any harm… it’s exactly what you should be doing.

      And yeah, it applies to training as well to some extent.

  8. Hey Jay , you hit that debate right on the nose again as always… I have to agree with Paul, up above how he cracked up lauging when you said about the white potatoes verse the sweet potatoes, to darn funny is right. It drives me crazy when people break down health foods into super healthy foods…. then I find myself for a split second , believing in that nonsense. You are definitely a great writer man, I love all your reads and I still to this day follow your upper / lower body split workout 4 times a week with progressive overload training, and I still love it very much so…. Your the best Jay, keep up the awesome and “so true” articles of yours.

  9. I use to follow the strict paleo diet , but I found these people to be holier than tho attitude to much for me. I joined the iifym on facebook. those people where such a$$holes. How I eat is simple. 1 ingredient foods in a castle iron pan. every once in awhile I’ll treat myself to what ever a few times a week being fully aware that Gmo crap is really bad for me. I do use myfitnesspal. I do, but not religiously keep tract of my kcals. it’s more of a make sure I’m staying on tract for my goals..

    • The ‘holier than thou’ part is definitely the most entertaining aspect of it all, especially considering it’s one of the only things both sides are in full agreement with.

      They’re both better than you because of how they eat.

  10. Very informative article! Luckily from a few of your other articles I figured this out awhile back when I was being overwhelmed with all the ways on how to eat. I actually had someone tell me the other day they were eating 4,000 calories a day on some vegan diet (80 10 10 or something), failed to mention it was 4, 000 calories of fruit ONLY, said they weren’t exercising either, yeaahh right! Lol Everyone wants you to do it there way. I just take it day by day, don’t deprive myself but don’t over-indulge, log my food to make sure I don’t overdo it, strength train and that has worked well for me, so I guess I fall under flexible eating.

    Thanks for the article, love the site, its taught me a lot!

    • I think “I just take it day by day, don’t deprive myself but don’t over-indulge, log my food to make sure I don’t overdo it, strength train” pretty much sums up my recommendations about everything. 😉

  11. I love you jay! (Not in a homosexual way, though. ;)) haha. Been following you for almost a year now and i have to say results are coming in as expected from what i read from you. 🙂 i’ll be proud to show you my progress when i’m really done cutting my body fat, then, i’m gonna start bulking up or the way you call it, smart bulking. 🙂 things couldn’t get much easier reading your articles. 🙂

    Thank you so much, jay! (If that’s really your true name. Haha)

  12. What Christy said! I do a little of both, but more clean than not. A little obsessed though at hitting my numbers, even with whole foods. I find it sooo helpful and easier to stay on track if I plan out my food for the entire day. I’m just neurotic enough to turn down food so as to not have to redo my MFP diary for the day.

    Luv luv luv everything you write!!!

  13. I’ve found that if I set macro goals, it forces me into certain eating patterns anyways. For example, if I’ve got a 1,800 calorie diet and need 150 grams of protein, that will necessarily limit the types of food I can eat. I could eat a large bowl of ice cream but then I wouldn’t hit my protein goals or I’d exceed my calorie goals. So by necessity I’d have to start eating more protein foods and less carb laden foods. In other words, just maintaining macro goals will weed out a lot of bad food choices.

    I’ll also say that most of the people I work with aren’t professional athletes. They, like myself, have a day job, a family, kids, etc. A lot of people set themselves up on a rigid diet (or exercise plan) and fail to account for how flexible you need to be to keep up with everyday life. Then when life requires them to flex they simply can’t do it and wind up dropping the diet or exercise.

  14. In my 30’s, I was a freak of a clean eater….just ask my kids. No crap in our house and I counted everything that went in and worked out like a maniac….which eventually burnt me out. Then I went to the opposite end, stopped working out consistently only once in awhile and ate whatever, whenever. Thankfully my body type does not get obese, but I was a little over weight. Now, I have a good mix of eating good, high quality foods, drinking wine if I want, and working out 4-5 days a week. I am losing weight, building muscle and am happy, not crazy! But I agree the IIFYM for me means I eat high quality grass fed protein most of the time, get my veggies, some fruits, and have a general aversion to processed foods or substitutes. It works for me.

  15. I am so glad I saved the e-mail that contained this article! I just finished reading it (obviously…) and learned so much! I tend to be in the ‘Clean’ Camp as I need this more strict regimen of eating to keep me within my goal. Still, it was facinating to read about IIFYM eating as I was not familiar with it. Thanks always for being both objective and witty! I look forward to reading more informative articles on diet and workouts from A Workout Routine.

  16. Jay, you are a superlative writer and this is another keeper. Keep ’em comin’. Very soon I’ll have enough to publish a book! LOL Just kidding!

  17. But how can we increase our metabolic rate so we can eat clan foods with less stress? For example, when I was young I ate a lot of calories and didn’t gain weight, and now as I get older I gain weight easily. Some people eat tons of calories and stay thin while others look at food and get fat. Also, it seems now people are getting fat at a much earlier age. How can one increase their metabolic rate so we do not gain fat so easily? What causes a metabolism to slow down and what causes it to speed up? And what the hell is fast metabolism really mean anyway? This is the Holy Grail for fat loss or fat prevention. Any ideas Jay?

    • Assuming you’re already training correctly and eating a sufficient amount of protein, there’s little to nothing you can do (short of building 20+ pounds of muscle) that will make any meaningful difference to your metabolic rate.

      Preventing fat gain is more about eating/training in a manner that prevents a caloric surplus from existing.

      • It just seems eventually it is impossible to keep this up unless I increase my metabolic rate. I go crazy after a few weeks eating in a calorie deficit. I kind of find it impossible to do this according to the chart. What I mean is, for me to lose all body fat, would take serious discipline for an extended time that just never seems to work out. I try really hard, but I never seem to get below 180 then I say screw this. But if I lost all the weight as it says on paper, then ideally I would eat a calorie surplus to gain muscle. But this is great on paper, but in reality, this is impossible for most people to keep up. I, like most people, do not have the willpower to live the rest of our lives counting calories and watching what we eat everyday. Is the only solution to work out like mad for the rest of your life to not gain fat? There must be a way to be like those people who just don’t get fat. I feel really disillusioned by all of this, as I feel gaining muscle is far easier than losing belly fat.

        • Will power will always play a role in fat loss and preventing fat gain. No way around that. It’s why the majority of the population is fatter than they want to be but yet fail to ever change that.

          As for preventing fat gain, it’s all about calories in vs calories out. You can either eat the amount you need, eat more than the amount you need and workout more to make up for the difference, or some combination of the two.

  18. Just wanted to say that it was a great read and highly informative! Thanks for posting high quality work and look forward to more!

  19. Another great article Jay! I am kinda curious, what motivates you to give us such high quality, very informative articles for free!

  20. Hi Jay. I agree with 99% of your writings… and in particular your no bs and entertaining delivery. I would like to point out, however, that complex carbohydrates, particularly those associated with plant fibers, are digested more slowly than simple or refined carbohydrates. This can result in profound differences in the sensation of satiety and the duration of that feeling. Also, some experts believe that the slower release of nutrients associated with more complex foods plays a role in insulin and glucagon regulation which can also have an effect on weight loss and weight gain. To that extent, there *is* a difference between white rice and brown rice (and other complex vs simple or refined carbohydrates).

    • A few things. Actually, five things…

      First, the glycemic index of white rice vs brown rice really isn’t THAT different.

      Second, even if it was, it’s unlikely to matter in the real world because the average person is unlikely to eat these foods in isolation (which, by the way, is what the glycemic index is based on and why it’s much less useful than people think).

      Meaning, the average person won’t sit down to a big plate of white rice and nothing else. And when other stuff is eaten along with it like it usually is, it changes everything. The protein, fat, fiber, etc. in those other foods will greatly reduce the speed of digestion/glycemic index of the entire meal to the point where there will be no meaningful difference between whether white rice or brown rice was a part of it.

      Third, there’s the anti-nutrient issue. Here’s Alan Aragon… “White rice actually has an equal or better nutritional yield & also has a better nitrogen-retentive effect than brown rice. This is because the fiber & phytate content of brown rice act as antinutrients, reducing the bioavailability of the micronutrients it contains.”

      Fourth, brown rice contains significantly more arsenic than white rice does.

      Fifth, many people find they digest white rice better than they digest brown rice. It’s never the other way around.

      So while there are some differences between white rice and brown rice, those differences are unlikely to make any significant difference whatsoever in terms of body composition (so feel free to eat whichever you like best). And when you really compare the two, any differences that might be even close to significant tend to favor white rice over brown.

  21. This was the only article in your website that I found misleading.
    While I agree with the “if it fit your macros” from a fat loss/body composition viewpoint, implying that “some people need rules or foods that they should not eat” is somewhat myoptic.
    There are foods that humans cant digest well. Even if they do not “instantly kill you”, they surely do their damage.
    I hope you understand my point, and see that this is not an attack on your website.

    • You’re more than welcome to disagree, but I have no idea what you’re disagreeing with?

      Where do I state that every person can digest every food exactly the same and without any problems? If anything, I make a brief reference to the fact that some people have issues with gluten. I personally avoid diary because I don’t digest it well. So I have no clue what you’re disagreeing with here?

      And anything I’ve said along the lines of “some people need rules or foods that they should not eat” is from the standpoint of body composition – specifically fat loss – in that some people will overeat when told they can eat whatever foods they want and therefore “need rules and lists of foods to avoid” to prevent this and allow them to stick to their diet.

  22. Funny read and great approach to this debate! Fully guilty of some clean eating “condescending” thoughts, haha. Literally laughing at my computer while reading this, keep up the good work!

  23. Hi Jay. Great article as always…
    I completely agree with the concept of IIFYM regarding body composition and I practice it, even though I eat “clean” most of the time.
    I have one question about “nutrient timing” however… I know that the number of meals one eat a day isn’t relevant to body composition as long as the total calories and macro/micro are the same. So if the target number of calories in a day is 3000, it doesn’t matter if one eats one huge meal of 3000 calories, or 10 small meals of 300…
    But what do you think about the distribution of calories in a larger period of time, let’s say a week? Do you think it is exactly the same if you eat 3000 calories a day, all the days of the week or, let’s say: 1000 on monday, 1000 tuesday, 1000 wednesday, 3000 thursday, 5000 friday, 5000 saturday, and 5000 sunday? Would it be the same regarding body composition? If so, does it matter the days when you workout?
    Greetings from Brazil!

    • I think there are some small calorie partitioning benefits to putting more calories on training days and less on rest days (aka calorie cycling).

      But the differences won’t be huge, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that a net deficit is needed for fat loss and a net surplus is needed for muscle growth.

  24. its okay to have one healthy day out of the week. Eat whatever healthy food you want for the whole day. you deserve it. lol

  25. Great article and I agree 100%. Here is the bottom line; I say I eat clean, but really I eat IIFYM. What I mean by this is that I KNOW what I am eating, and I try to eat foods that are not processed, lack trans fats, I avoid sugars and try to eat whole grains. I avoid some foods specifically, for reasons I will mention below….

    For me clean, is eating smart and eating to MY MACROS! That means I make smart choices and I am aware of what I am eating. If it is my kids birthday, I WILL have cake, but I will NOT have a HUGE SLICE and say “F it”. Likewise, if I find myself hungry during the day, I will choose a protein shake or Kashi bar over a bag of Doritos. I will choose water over soda, etc.

    I chase two things, protein and calories, I avoid those foods that do not add what I feel is a good amount of protein per calorie. But on occasion, when I find I hit my protein goal, but not calorie goal, I will let loose on something for the enjoyment of it.

    One can eat clean, or IIFYM but really they should eat SMART!!

    What do I consider smart? I know my macro’s, I read EVERY LABEL for EVERY FOOD I eat, I know what I am eating and I track through a website what I eat so at any moment of the day I know where I am in my macro’s and where I need to be and MORE IMPORTANT what the impact of that snack, cake, whatever has on my macro.

    I feel, most people, on either side of this debate have no freaking clue what they are eating from a total macro level. They just friggen EAT! And then wonder why the apple diet failed to help them lose weight….ummm maybe because apples have almost not protein and you are always hungry so you were eating 3000 calories of apples!!!!

    You can eat either way, but you should be smart about what you need, what you eat and what effect those foods have on your goals. If you fail to do this, you will not lose weight or not build muscle, unless you get lucky.

    One mans opinion anyway.

  26. I started eating “clean” and it literally consumed my life. I later researched and realized that calories, macros and micros are what matters, and not the source. That gave me freedom of about 90/10 or 80/20 and my life turned to be way better! I am happier, stronger, leaner, etc.
    I actually recommend people do the same, no restrictions at all, but keep it to a sane level. This works wonders for everybody.

    Regards Jay!

  27. I was not familiar with the IIFYM acronym. At first I thought it meant, “if it fits in your mouth” which I thought sounded like a wonderful diet.

    I’m curious if you personally avoid some of the “bad carbs” like high fructose corn syrup? Or is a gram of HFCS the same in your mind as a gram of carbs from a potato?

    Since trans fats are basically being banned, are their other foods that you just flat try to avoid because of health concerns (beyond just how they impact your body composition)?

    • Ha, that’s the acronym most of the population already adheres to.

      The only thing I purposely go out of my way to avoid in my diet is trans fat and foods I personally have issues digesting (like dairy, for example).

      Beyond that, there’s no specific food or food group or ingredient (like HFCS) that will have a negative effect on body composition with all else being equal.

  28. Hey Jay,
    Thanks for very informative article… and that too free 🙂
    I have one general query, may be out of sync.
    Shouldn’t we eat only when we get hungry? Otherwise it may overload the body and body can’t digest all that’s eaten.

    • As long as your total calorie and macronutrient intake is what it needs to be each day, you can eat whenever suits you best.

      If a meal is REALLY big, everything will still get digested fine… it will just take longer.

  29. Regarding calorie cycling: does it matter whether the “extra” calories consumed on training days are consumed before or after the workout? I would think it would be best to consume them right after, like an extra-large post-workout meal, or something to that effect. Reason I ask is because I tend to work out in the evening, not long before I go to bed, so on a workout day, most of my meals are still eaten in a “non-workout” state.

  30. What about chemicals and crazy stuff in processed foods that surely are detrimental to health? Pesticides and herbicides, hormones, and non organic food as less nutrient value than organic. I mean there are countless reasons to eat organic and healthy.

    • “Surely detrimental to health” is easy to say but tough to prove. For every person eating organic everything, there’s another who has never seen an organic food yet lived to 100 with no serious issues.

      I personally only go organic with the handful of fruits/vegetables shown to contain the highest levels of pesticides. Whether it will ever truly matter in the end is impossible to say. I do it just in case. That feels right to me. Other people do it for all foods. Some do it for no foods.

      Do whatever feels right to you.

      • Hi Jay,

        Love your site. Your articles have actually changed my way of thinking. I’ve been on a non-wheat diet for three years thinking it was helping me control weight for some reason. Then I stopped thinking about it and continued on without purpose. Turns out I weigh the same now as when I started, same size waist too, which was the whole purpose of stopping wheat. I guess just replaced wheat with a bunch of gluten-free crap without realizing the impact.

        Anyway, thanks to you I’m stopping this diet. I’ve already been on a calorie deficit diet for a few weeks and it seems to be working.

        But I have a question which follows up from the above. There’s an abundance of nutritional information that circulates on a daily basis which people and advertisers constantly promote. Some examples: eat foods with antioxidants and omega-3; eat broccoli to avoid cancer; avoid pesticides, salt, trans fat, cholesterol. and so forth. Then there are articles on regulating hormones through certain percentages of macro nutrients, or some other diet principle. There’s just a constant barrage of nutritional information. My wife thinks milk is giving her eczema. Just never seems to end.

        I’m obviously not very good at being critical of all this information. Your article addresses the pragmatic problem of losing fat and gaining muscle, but how do these other list of supposed health concerns figure into staying healthy? I know you mention pesticides, but is anything else relevant?

        Thanks.

        • I think this is the best way to answer this question and other questions like it…

          Consume the total amount of calories each day that you need to support your goals. Get those calories from a sufficient amount of protein, a sufficient amount of fat (with an added emphasis on getting a sufficient amount of omega-3s), and fill in the rest with carbs. Then get those macronutrients from primarily higher quality, micronutrient dense foods while keeping the typical junky stuff to a sane yet still enjoyable minimum. And beyond that, avoid any specific foods that happen to be problematic for you (e.g. if you have a peanut allergy, avoid peanuts… if you are lactose intolerant, avoid diary… etc.).

          Do this, and everything else will take care of itself.

  31. I used to be Won’t Eat Cake Guy. I remember a few years back we had our office Christmas party and everybody brought in ‘dirty’ food and snacks. I was adhering to an IF type diet at that point, and every Wednesday I would fast for the whole day, nothing but water. Dirty snack day happened to fall on a Wednesday. I ate nothing that day, what a turd I was.
    Looking back I can account for many instances like this, equally as pathetic. There is nothing wrong with a little discipline, and I will still fast once in a while to let my digestive system catch up and clear out, but man, I was ridiculous.
    Now, I eat sensibly and enjoy life much more. I also do not notice any difference in results.
    If the diets I used to torture myself with actually did produce better results I’d never know it, as the stress of actually maintaining that ludicrous lifestyle likely negated them.
    Great article Jay, no surprise there.

    • Ha, been there and done that my friend. And it’s not that I couldn’t keep doing it that way for the rest of my life (without any legit problems, either). It’s just that life happens to be better NOT doing it that way.

  32. I’ve basically been following a IIFYM approach for about a year now without a name for it (this article is the first reference to it I’ve seen) and would have described it as eating clean even though it does involve eating rice, potatoes, pecan pie :), from time to time. I’ve dropped down from over 30% body fat to 13% and lost about 80 lbs with this approach while gaining lean muscle (while lifting weights at the same time of course and steadily improving from not being able to do a single dip to being able to do four sets of five). I fail to see how critics of this approach could argue that you can do this while eating low quality foods as you wouldn’t be able to eat the desired amount of protein with your calorie limitations with this approach (unless you set your protein quota to be very low). Currently mine is about three grams per kg of body weight and I’m finding that has helped me a lot since I got stalled at about 14.5% body fat for a while.

    • Awesome progress dude!

      And the thing is that both sides tend to be critics of extreme but usually inaccurate versions of what they assume the other side does. So for every clean eating person who’s all “good luck eating nothing but pop tarts all day” there an IIFYM person who’s all “your life must suck eating nothing but broccoli and grilled chicken all day.”

      • Cheers. Indeed – one of the macronutrients I keep an eye on is fibre (trying to get 30-40g per day where possible). Proponents of ‘clean eating’ seem to promote eating of brown rice and sweet potato so you get your fibre and carb from a single source but using this technique I can just as easily get my carbs from white rice or potato if that’s all that is available and the fibre from green veg etc

  33. Lol!!!!!!! Those thoughts you wrote from clean eaters and IIFYM eaters are hilarious! (ex: “Look at you people eating the way you eat. It’s pathetic. Look at how strict and disciplined I am and how weak minded you all are.”)

    Having used both diets, I must admit that I was guilty of having both thoughts. You made me realized how ridiculous I was. Great article!

  34. Totally agree with your analysis that people’s definition of clean eating and IIFYM differ, which is precisely why people should just focus on the nutritional facts (which is what clean eating is meant to be and what your version of IIFYM sounds like).

    The problem with different definitions is eliminated as soon as one begins to understand the chemical processes of nutrients – and these aren’t subject to personal interpretation. Fact is, carbs convert to body fat much faster than dietary fat does. And protein is both required to provide the aminos for muscle growth and can be used as an energy source. No zealous “diet program” to follow, just know what everything you’re eating does. Although personally, I do advocate a low carb higher fat diet because the scientific evidence shows that dietary fat is a healthier energy source than carbs, and because I saw a better composition change with it (though, like you, any way I diet gives me results – I just like the fact it makes sense).

    • Glad you liked the article, but a lot of what you said there is wrong. For example…

      “Fact is, carbs convert to body fat much faster than dietary fat does.” That’s completely backwards.

      “I do advocate a low carb higher fat diet because the scientific evidence shows that dietary fat is a healthier energy source than carbs.” And that’s just total nonsense.

  35. In your ultimate weight loss guide on a calorie counter – you advocating avoiding or greatly limiting soda, candy, fast food, cookies/crackers, chips/pretzels, pastries, trans fats, etc. In effect you advocated eating clean. I eat clean not because I believe it will make my body look better or so that I can gain or lose weight faster; but because I feel that I will be healthier in the long term. By this I mean, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, liver problems from alcohol etc. However I’m not sure if this makes a big difference to long term health and if so how much. On average will someone eating clean stay healthier and live longer than someone eating IIFYM?

    • As mentioned in this article, I used to eat “clean.” The other article of mine that you’re talking about was written in 2007 and contains some older, outdated opinions. Then again, telling people trying to lose weight to limit the amount of soda, candy, cookies, etc. they eat is still good advice.

      As for your question, there is no definitive answer. All we can do is guess based on what is known, and assuming the same total calorie and macro/micro nutrient intake remains the same, there’s likely going to be no difference if you eat 100% clean 100% of the time, or maybe 90% clean 90% of the time.

  36. This is the most accurate acticle I have ever read. Finally someone, who speaks the truth. Thanks for enlightening the world with your wise words!

  37. Hi Jay,

    First off – love your articles. But I have 2 questions
    1. Does it really matter staying within your macronutrients goals, as long as you stay in your caloric goals?
    2. How long do you have to consistently be in calorie deficit to start losing weight?

    Thanks – and again, loving your articles.

    Makayla.

    • 1. Calories AND macronutrients both matter.
      2. Depends on the size of the deficit. For most people using an average sized deficit, some measurable degree of fat loss will occur in the first week or so.

  38. I love this clean eating vs iifym. I’ve done iifym in the past and would become so obsessive over weighing and calorie counting, it drove me crazy. I saw results slowly but overall, it just became an unhealthy obsession. I would freak out about any unexpected weight differences in food. Now I’ve moved on to flexible, clean eating. I eat higher quality foods all day and cheat once a week. This way is fairly new so I have to wait for results.

    Point is, you hit the nail on the head. No way is right, no way is wrong. Its whatever works best for you.

  39. Glad I found this article, I WAS eating pretty clean and decided to try this iifym deal. I’m at the end of my 2nd week and I wanna pull my hair out. Totally obsessing over grams of protein and carbs shouldn’t be how I spend my day! Off to check out the rest of your posts, thanks!

  40. I have done IIFYM dieting before but it was from following a meal plan that I paid for from an online personal trainer, so it had everything I needed to eat listed along with the weight, of course, which made it simple for me. However, food alone is expensive enough so I don’t want to pay for something I could do myself anymore.

    I am now trying to “create” my own meal plans now but it is just so difficult to perfectly fit my macros to a ‘T’ without going over/under a gram or two (of proteins, carbs, fats). I am going for a 40/40/20 protein, carb, fat split, respectively. I guess what I am asking is it a huge deal if it isn’t perfect?

  41. A Workout Routine,

    I wonder what your take is on cheat days/cheat meals/binge eating/social outings or whatever else you call it, especially when you’re cutting (but also when you’re bulking as well). What is your advice/strategy? Sometimes they are unavoidable (e.g. family meal on Thanksgiving, etc.) Should I try to “make up” by going hardcore cardio the next day? Maybe this is a good topic for a future article from you.

    Looking forward to your comment.

  42. Very high quality post.
    I have to nitpick one point though. Intermittent fasting and “eat every 2-3 hours” should NOT be conflated as two sides of the same coin. This is outright false.

    There are real, specific, scientifically proven benefits to intermittent fasting. It has undeniable physiological benefits. “Eat every 2-3 hours for your metabolism / stop ‘catabolism'” is completely bunk bro-science with no factual support.

    This is not to disagree with your main point, which is that macronutrient counts and calorie counts are the most important factors bar none. IF is, of course, not a magic bullet. But it is a nice bonus activity to add once you’ve locked down your macros and calories. The best description I’ve heard is to think of it as a pyramid, calories at the bottom -> macro nutrient at the next tier -> micro nutrient at the next -> meal timing at the last tier

    • I really wasn’t using them as two sides of the same coin, but rather just 2 different extremes: one where you eat very frequently, and one where you eat very infrequently. And considering many of the people being annoyed to death by eating every 2-3 hours are saved by IF approaches, it fits pretty well for my example.

  43. Hi there, I’ve been reading a few of your articles over the last few days and I really like the no-nonsense approach. While I agree with most of your article here, I’m wondering about the eating 5-6 meals a day thing. I thought that protein could only be used by your muscles for roughly 3 hours or so after consumption. Also, your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein in one meal, correct?

    So assuming that’s true, wouldn’t it be best to spread your meals out often over the course of the day if you’re trying to build muscle rather than only eating 2 big meals for example?

    • Don’t assume it’s true… because it’s not. 😉

      The whole “your body can only absorb x grams of protein per meal” is a myth. I regularly eat 50-70g protein in a single meal.

  44. I think this is a wonderful article. I just got done cutting, and I just recently realized that I could lose weight while eating a decent amount of junk, as long as I was at a calorie deficit. I’m planning on starting a clean bulk next week (for the first time ever), which is why I’m spending this week finishing off the rest of the unhealthy snacks that my wife bought from the store (while at a calorie deficit). I understand the iifym concept and don’t have anything against it, but I want to try to start off eating clean first, because the thought of consuming a lot of saturated fat and sugar scares me, since it’s going to be my first time eating over maintenance in a very long time. I’m at 9.3% body fat, and I want to try to lower that percentage more, while gaining muscle. I might change my mind in the near future, but I want to start it off with a more strict diet. We’ll see how it goes.

  45. I love your articles! I’ve spent a good part of my adult life yo-yo’ing between fit, chubby, and flat out fat (after my pregnancy). I’ve been “back on track” with my workouts and eating healthier for about 2mos now and I’m really looking to try IIFYM. Right now I count calories, trying to make protein the priority and everything just sort of falls wherever it fits. I’ve been losing about 2lbs per week, which I know is a “safe” number to not lose muscle.

    Well, I would like to lose about 65lbs (in a realistic timeframe, no rush) and I know that my weight/body fat can really change my macro goal. I guess my question is – how often would I need to recalculate my macros? I think I would lose my mind if my goal changes with every single pound.

  46. I recently started reading your articles because I want to lose weight and they are proving to be a big help, but I wanted to ask some questions

    1. For one week i tried to force my body to burn fat by eating only about 700 calories per day and I never lost a pound, why is this?

    2. Will being slightly under or over my daily caloric intake (e.g 100 cal ) have a big effect on me losing weight.

    3. what workouts would you recommend for a beginner at the gym trying to lose weight

    4. Do you recommend protein shake

    I am 19 and weight 252lb

  47. I just recently came across your site and love your articles. I’m digging your no bullshit straight up attitude and info. It’s exactly how I need things explained. I just started your beginners bodybuilding workout and it’s coming along. Thanks

  48. Hi,

    I’ve read a couple of your articles now and must say (after reading articles online for weeks), they’re the best and most informative I’ve came across. especially for a beginner like me, there’s an overload of information online and I had no idea where to begin. I like the basic info, and the way you keep things simple and balanced, without forcing your (or any) opinion on the reader but just present facts. I just started working out (with your “The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine”) and finally know how to calculate my calorie intake. Thank you so much!

  49. Once you have your macronutrient percentages, do they have to kept equal for each meal or just balance for the day? In other words, can I eat a meal of entire protein for breakfast and later in the day have a meal of only carbohydrate or fat?

    • The total for the day is what matters more than anything… you can put whatever combinations in each meal that you want (side note: you typically don’t want to eat a meal comprised on ONLY protein, carbs or fat).

  50. Thank you for speaking in a language that we can understand! This is by far the best article I have read, and I have read many. I’m trying to research more on all this good stuff. Most of the articles use terms that someone who is just starting cant even understand. I love this.

  51. Hi there, I was looking up info on IIFYM and I loved this article, I think I am doing a cleanish IIFYM, a hybrid, but that’s because,honestly, I do not really like candy or other stuff, just salty things,like fries..and I’ll have some sometimes,nom nom, the main point with me is I am a vegan, not as a diet or anything, just ehtics, and I was a vegetarian since I was 18 years old, now I’m 34, so there’s plenty of things that are already out of my scope for so long now, I’m not one of those vegans who eat only organic and supa healthy, so I am trying out this IIFYM, if only because sometimes I feel like eating white bread! and before I honestly kinda felt bad about it and I eh had some food issues, restrictive eating and so on… I hope this approach will work for me!! thanks for writing cool articles!!

  52. Hey I have a quick question for you. I’ve been on and off work out for a while never really lost or gained significant weight but am looking to work on my eating since that is what I (as many people struggle with). I have gone back and forth with a cleaner type eating (not as strict with portions and meals but eating more as you spoke of higher quality food less proccessed more natural). I am currently at a crossfit gym that offers nutrition aide in both paleo and macronutrients. I am leaning toward macronutrients because I like the things I’ve read about it. However I would still like to stick with higher quality food and cut out the junk if I can. (I know from experience that I feel better if I’m not eating a ton of sugar, white bread or junk) Celiacs (gluten intolerance) runs in my family along with other food allergies and I am lactose intolerant so I find avoiding dairy helps me feel better. I know its a lot of restrictions but I wasn’t sure if that would fit with a macro style diet. I would really like the help with the accountabllity that this gym provides but I don’t want to be a problem with the style diet? is this something that is even possible to put more restrictions on my diet (as I have stated earlier) but still follow a macro nutrient diet plan? Thank you!

    • I honestly couldn’t tell you what the people at that gym will recommend, but I can tell you that all you really need to do is figure out how much protein, fat and carbs you need to eat per day, and then get those nutrients from whatever the hell foods you prefer.

      No need to get any more complicated than that. Here’s how I personally do it.

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