IIFYM: Too Good To Be True?

How many meals a day do you think you’d be happy to eat flakey white fish and whole grains?

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How many snacks in a row do you think you’d be content to munch on what some might mistake for bird food, with only plain 0% fat Greek yogurt to wash it down?

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How long would it take you to lose enthusiasm at the sight of a steamer full of vegetables?

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How long would it take you to run out of protein-packed and carbohydrate-crammed salad ideas?

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I’ve figured out I can last about three months at a time eating perfectly “clean” [whatever that means]. Here’s the fine print: It’s only about two days before I start getting grumpy watching people around me enjoy foods I’ve declared off limits, and only about 12 hours before I start longing for something sweet.

However, I do genuinely love all of the dishes pictured above. You’d be surprised how many ways you can transform a fish fillet, how many whole grains are on the market, what a big difference roasting a mixture of nuts makes, how a spoonful of Stevia can cut the tanginess in unflavored Greek yogurt, how creamy plain old parsnips taste after they’ve been steamed, and what a variety of things can moonlight as salad toppings.

You’ll discover all sorts of things when you piggyback healthy onto healthy:

  • How a delicious kind of honey seeps out of baked sweet potato
  • How much better quinoa tastes when it’s toasted beforehand
  • How savory onions become when they’re deglazed with balsamic vinegar
  • How buttery-soft salmon turns out when it’s sealed in a parchment paper packet

But this type of diet isn’t sustainable – at least it wasn’t for me. Not 365 days a year. And it WAS a diet. I could’ve told people it was a “lifestyle” until I was blue in the face, but any lifestyle that permanently cuts chocolate and cheese makes for a pretty crummy life, non?

There’s an acronym floating around the Internet right now: IIFYM [If It Fits Your Macros]. “Macro” refers to “macronutrient”. Don’t let your eyes drift out of focus! Words like “macro” make me want to locate the nearest bed too. T’inquiète [colloquial French for “don’t worry”]; you don’t have to highlight anything, I promise. But as the collective name for all the nutrients we need to ingest the most of for optimal growth & development, energy production, and body regulation, macros are pretty important.

There are three* macronutrients:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat

*But I almost consider fiber to be a fourth, and I monitor my fiber intake as closely as I do the others.

My macros [calculated on My Fitness Pal, with my boyfriend’s adjustments] tell me the ideal daily ratio of each. It’s like a road map for how best to “spend” the 2,000 calories I should [currently] be consuming per day.

Does this sound like a diet? Well, I suppose it is. But it’s the highest calorie diet I’ve ever been on, and it’s given me the most freedom I’ve had since I started caring about my physique. How so? Because as long as I meet my macros and stay within my daily calorie goal, I can enjoy foods I normally wouldn’t, guilt-free. When the whim strikes, I can have white pasta instead of whole wheat [c’mon, you know it tastes better], or a slice of cake after lunch instead of a mid-afternoon snack.

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If you look into IIFYM at all, you won’t get very far before you find a wise guy with a comment somewhere along the lines of “so I can eat nothing but pop tarts and still get ripped?” Well, no. If you ate nothing but pop tarts all day, you wouldn’t fit your macros. As I said, I keep a close eye on my fiber intake, which prevents me from eating too many micronutrient-empty foods. I approach the IIFYM philosophy as an occasional welcome break from the healthy foods that make up most of my diet, most of the time: oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables, chicken, fish, berries, avocados, etc.

And when plugging everything into My Fitness Pal starts to feel too restrictive, I take a night or even a whole day off from tracking my food. I go out to eat with my boyfriend or I cook with my mom, and I give myself a break from thinking about food so much. Interestingly enough, I don’t feel the urge to binge on those occasions…because I can pretty much always set things up so I can enjoy anything I want in moderation while I am counting.

Is it a formula that would work for everybody? Of course not. But for someone who craves an element of control, and for someone who struggles with feeling guilt-free after “indulging”, I think the IIFYM concept is a good step in the right direction. Maybe one day, I won’t need to track anything at all. But for now, there is a built-in flexibility to IIFYM that I seem to be unable to manufacture on my own, and it makes me able to nod my head “yes!” when:

My boyfriend makes me a still-bubbling tartiflette and a melty dark chocolate fondant and and says c’est l’heure de la bouffe [it’s time to eat]:

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One brother presents me with his cure-all-ills homemade pizza, and the other follows up with the best cookie in all of London:

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