Counting Macros Vs. Intuitive Eating
Comparing Philosophies: IIFYM & The Intuitive Eating Approach
I feel like everytime I visit a website that is related to eating, fitness, health, or wellness, I come across an ad attempting to suck me into the next up-and-coming diet trend that has everyone raving. I’m going to assume, on behalf of all my readers, that we all know what a load of —- these marketing schemes are. Instead of looking for the big diet trend happening right now, why don’t we look at what works and has simply fallen out of the spotlight? I’m talking about IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and the intuitive eating approach.
First, I truly believe there is a time and place for every tool in the toolbox. We can’t expect a hammer to do the same job as a screwdriver, am I right people? So as we learn about different eating habits, it’s important to understand that what works for one person may not work for another—and that’s OK! With so many different choices in how we approach food, we have to give our body what works best for OUR body. Committing to new lifestyle changes and habits shouldn’t result in trying to force these changes to work. Rather, it’s about being educated and confident in making the best decisions for ourselves and our bodies, and recognizing when these choices aren’t working.
Only YOU are the ultimate expert of YOUR body.
Second, I want to make this very clear from the get go: IIFYM and intuitive eating are NOT the same thing. These are two different approaches to how we build healthy and sustainable relationships between the mind and the body with food.
Third, we are kicking the typical descriptions and stereotypes of diet, dieting, and dieters right in the balls. Instead, we are going to use these words to describe eating and the relationship between lifestyle habits and food, in a positive and long-term manner. We won’t be thinking of IIFYM and intuitive eating as restrictive, unrealistic, short-term, or fad.
And lastly, before getting into anything more, I want each of you to acknowledge and understand that all forms of dieting involve “clean” eating, “balanced” eating, and varying physical results. There is no guarantee that any one diet will work better than another because our bodies are complex machines, and no two are the same. This means we have to find what works best for us, individually, because there is no one size fits all solution.
IIFYM – IF IT FITS YOUR MACROS
If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of the acronym IIFYM, I gotta ask . . . have you been living under a rock? I’m kidding, I’m kidding . . . but really, flexible dieting (tracking macros), has been one of, if not the biggest diet-lifestyle approaches in the fitness industry for years. Its foundation is simple: track your food to the gram by weighing everything you consume to create the most consistent caloric intake possible for your body.
Take a look at four important core values of IIFYM:
- Balanced Decisions
You’ll see how these tie in later on . . .
Just like training the body, IIFYM allows us the opportunity to train the metabolism by utilizing carbs, fats, and proteins (a.k.a. macronutrients) while maintaining complete control over where these sources are derived from. Hence the idea of flexibility, which stems from the concept that tracking doesn’t dictate what you should or should not eat, as long as you are hitting your daily macro totals and giving your body the sources it needs to function properly.
It’s science . . .
Carbs: the body’s main source of energy Protein: necessary for muscle growth and repair
Fats: used for tissue growth and hormone production in the body
CFPs are NECESSARY in our daily diet because they help our mind and body function together at an optimal level. If we cut one or more of these out and do not give the body what it needs, an internal imbalance is created and our hormones go into complete chaos.
When tracking macros, you are focusing on what the body NEEDS to function at an optimal level. It is a proven method to gain lean muscle and burn fat for the long term, a.k.a. body recomposition. It is designed to work with your body type and lifestyle habits.
When we consume CFPs (carbs, fats, and proteins) we are also consuming calories. This is because a macronutrient is what makes calories up, and as you may now realize, not all calories are created equal. Check out my helpful chart below:
|1 gram of carbohydrate
|1 gram of fat
|1 gram of protein
I began tracking macros in 2015. When I first started tracking, I was doing everything by hand without a phone app or any type of technology to help – – I was new to the whole IIFYM world and this was what I thought I was supposed to be doing! I would like to share the number one tip I learned and feel contributed to my successes with IIFYM, “if it touches your mouth it better touch the scale first.” Following this, I learned how to gram out everything I consumed and soon recognized the importance of ACCOUNTABILITY. If I failed to plan ahead or skipped out on the scale and just guesstimated what I was having, I quickly learned how important keeping myself up to par with my food choices was becoming.
I know you are probably wondering what the kicker is and how anyone sees results using a diet philosophy based off of eating what you want as long as it is within your daily means. The key is BALANCE. First, if this is something entirely new to you, I strongly encourage you to research and invest in a nutritional coach, specifically one who has long-term experience with the IIFYM approach and a reputable history with clientele. But understand, a coach doesn’t guarantee results—even the best of the best coaches can’t make anyone do the actual work—that is where you come in. The amount of responsibility and the importance of PATIENCE and ADHERENCE when using IIFYM is the make-or-break factor for a lot of people who try it, with or without a coach. It’s simple, results come over time to those who patiently follow their program and allow for their bodies adapt.
SCIENCEY KEYS OF IIFYM
? Eat less calories than you are burning = caloric deficit = drop weight
? Eat more calories than you are burning = caloric surplus = increase weight
? Eat the same calories as you are burning = caloric maintenance = no change in weight
RE-TOUCHING ON FOUR CORE VALUES OF IIFYM
- BALANCED DECISIONS: tracking offers both freedom and balance, allowing us to eat a combination of both healthy and unhealthy foods while hitting our goals. The whole idea of balance is to have an understanding that the body will process 1 gram of good carbs the same as 1 gram of bad cards, that there are both healthy and unhealthy fats, and protein sources can come from meats, plants, and powders. It’s not always about the quality of the CFP source. Instead, it is the quantity.
And what about micronutrients? Aren’t they also important? OF COURSE! Micros are the vitamins and minerals the body needs to properly function and are sourced from our diet. This includes fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats. BUT, this doesn’t mean we have to deprive our bodies from enjoying less nutritious foods. Sometimes you gotta treat yo’self too!
- ACCOUNTABILITY: IIFYM requires the tracker to log their food into an app, weigh what is consumed before consuming it, and for most individuals, plan ahead so failure and excuses are not an option. When working with a nutritional coach, routine check-ins that include photos, weight tracking, and maintaining a daily nutrition log also assist in keeping the tracker accountable.
- ADHERENCE: the bottom line is that you have to stick to your daily caloric needs, whether you are gaining, dropping, or maintaining weight. This also goes with sticking to your goal—you can’t be changing things up every other week. Establish both short-term and long-term plans so you have a clear vision of where you are headed with your nutrition. The more consistent you are, the better results you will see. It is about internal efficiency and understanding that the body adheres with our dietary choices. This means sticking to the program, being patient while you learn and your body adapts, and most importantly avoiding some major IIFYM mistakes:
- BLTs: Bites, Licks, Tastes
- Weekend Binges
- Using Body Parts to Guesstimate Measurements
- Changes in Activity
Interested in learning more on these common but not always obvious mistakes? Check out my article Four Simple Reasons You’re Not Seeing Results, covering all this and more by visiting
- PATIENCE: there seems to be an ongoing expectation that spending four weeks on macros will bring magical results. No, no, no, no. If you are entering into IIFYM with the assumption that this is about to happen, you are in for a rude awakening. IIFYM will give the results you are working toward (as we now know from the science-y keys above), but it happens over time and is different for every single person. Metabolic function in a 20-year-old is extremely different than the metabolic function of a 60-year-old. Medical science teaches us that a person’s metabolism changes over time, regardless of their overall health and wellbeing. This is a direct result of changes in activity levels, decreases in the production of human growth hormone (HGH), menopause in females, drops in the production of testosterone, estrogen and progesterone, loss of lean muscle mass, weight gain, increases in body fat levels . . . (I think you can see the trend here…aging = a slower metabolism)
The Intuitive Eating Approach
Let’s break this philosophy down by focusing on two words, intuition and intuitive.
intuition the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning intuitive perceiving directly by intuition without rational thought
Together, that is exactly what this type of eating and lifestyle choice entails. IEA doesn’t require weighing everything out to the gram, logging food into an app, or routinely monitoring your daily caloric intakes. Instead, it’s about tapping into your internal cues of hunger and fullness, allowing for flexible, unstructured eating. This is very different from IIFYM because it depends solely on making behavioral choices around health and enjoyment. This doesn’t mean you can derail and eat what you want when you want it because the body still takes into account total calories in versus total calories out. Remember, if you’re in a caloric surplus then your body will hold on to, and increase, your maintenance weight!
Leading me me to every dieters BFF, self-control. If you haven’t picked up on it already, the importance of keeping on top of yourself plays a big role in whether or not intuitive eating works for you. With very little means to holding yourself accountable, other than being intuitive, it is very easy to reach for that second slice of pizza when your body is already full, thereby creating habits of overeating. This means you have to dedicate time and conscious effort to really get to know your body and listening to what it tells you. Now, don’t be misled, IEA isn’t just going by the seat of your pants. You are coaching yourself throughout the process to be more responsive to how you feel and only you are responsible for keeping yourself 100% honest. This means paying close attention to your mind and body all the time, and not allowing outside distractions to deter you from that focus.
If you aren’t familiar with the differences between hunger and fullness, start with a food journal and keep track of where you start and finish on the scale below. This is an easy way to practice being mindful of what you are consuming while keeping yourself accountable when you first begin implementing IEA into your daily life.
AUBS’ HUNGER-TO-FULLNESS SCALE
|EMPTYMy stomach is hollow
|RAVENOUSI could eat a cow
|HUNGRYI’m ready for a meal
|PICKYJust a few nibbles
|4 – 6
Not really hungry – – Not really full
|SATISFIEDI feel full, but not bloated
|8 – 9
I was satisfied, then I ate some more, and now I feel like a fat turkey
|BARFY & SICK
I felt like a fat turkey, but I continued to eat, and now I am going to toss all my cookies
Now that you have this amazing chart to refer to, I think it’s time to address the most mentally and physically challenging aspect of intuitive eating. I know everyone is probably wondering it by now: How the heck do I get results eating like this? Unlike IIFYM, IEA hasn’t been subject to much independent scientific investigation. Rather, a lot of personal insight has been given on what others have experienced or are experiencing while using their bodies to decided when to eat and when to stop.
THE GOODS & THE BADS
BODY ACCEPTANCE & CONTROLLING BEHAVIORS→there is something extremely captivating about accepting where we are at and allowing ourselves to be there for as long as we need. It isn’t easy, but it is important and a huge part of what makes intuitive eating work. If you aren’t happy with how you look and are upset with how you have been treating your relationship with food, you are going to experience a subconscious battle against yourself and your intuition. What IEA does is allow us to work with our body, instead of against, giving us time and space to build sustainable changes to both healthy and unhealthy habits.
Once we establish what works, and how hungry and full feel to us, we develop a conscious and subconscious power over food and how it may have dictated every decision we used to make. This is where change happens! By allowing our bodies to just BE, we start to notice that food can be both fuel and fun, without feelings of guilt or shame.
METABOLIC FUNCTION & HORMONES→as our mood about our bodies, food and eating change, our hormones do too. Whether coming off a restrictive diet, the binge train, or just looking to switch up your eating style, hormones can play a highly tricky role in how our metabolisms adapt and change. Let’s look at two common diet scenarios…
- The Undereater
Let’s say at 7 am you had a granola bar and an apple for breakfast – – it’s now 3:30 pm and you still haven’t eaten again, except for a cup of joe at noon. As a result, your body has now entered into energy conservation mode a.k.a body fat is now your primary means of survival. Why? When we undereat, the body doesn’t recognize when it will have its next source of fuel, in turn causing it to store body fat and hang on to body fat tissue.
What’s worse, even if you have adequate muscle tissue (which holds the ability to burn calories) but you are routinely undereating, you deprive your body of vital nutrients needed to build, repair, and maintain lean muscle, therefore causing you to lose it which then causes the metabolism to slow down even more! This puts your body into an awful cycle of restriction and unsustainable eating habits,
When our body enters into this snail speed cycle, our thyroid hormones risk becoming underactive which shuts down the production of sex hormones and increases the production of stress hormones (a.k.a cortisol).
So less sex and more stress, which leads to leptin resistance (this hormone tells your brain how much energy is in your body and how much food you need) and insulin resistance, making fat loss extremely difficult due to increases in body fat retention.
- The Overeater
If you find yourself eating, eating, and then eating some more, you are playing a risky game with your oxyntomodulin and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (these are your stomach and intestinal hormones that register fullness and decrease appetite).
It takes a significant amount of time for your brain to receive messages from these hormones and process that the body is full, that is why eating fast make us more susceptible to overeating.
Once we overeat, we can expect those terrible feelings that follow, bloating, gas, and discomfort caused by eating for four people, and chances are you will want to go into a food coma too. This happens as a result of insulin levels increasing to rid the bloodstream of excess sugar from all the food. These spikes in insulin and calories trigger the release of dopamine (the feel good hormone that pings the reward system in the brain) which prompts us to continue to seek out the behavior that is making us feel so good.
I use these two patterns because they are strongly associated with IIFYM and IEA, making these eating styles either beneficial or harmful depending on the individual and their goals.
Now, all I am left with is to ask if you are picking up what I’m putting down? Because there seems to be a recurring pattern among any diet, program, or healthy lifestyle approach. And there you have it — THE TRUTH. Adapting to any habit change related to your health and lifestyle is about finding what works FOR YOU. If it isn’t meshing with your body and your mind, you will continue to experience a daily struggle to be consistent and keep motivated. Just because one thing works for Jack doesn’t mean it will work for Diane, and what works for Diane may not be what is best for Bonnie or Clyde. Give yourself the upper hand by trying different nutrition programs and eating styles for a minimum of three months, making note of how you feel and how your body is responding. Remember, and I say it again, knowledge is power and only we are the experts of our bodies.