If you are getting serious about diet, nutrition, and fitness goals, then chances are you have heard all the many diets flying around the fitness community. One type of eating that’s gained a lot of attention over the years is Flexible Dieting.
Also commonly referred to as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), it promotes the absurd notion that there are no “bad foods” and instead suggests all foods are equal, so long as it fits within your macronutrient needs.
That’s a cute concept. Even if it is inherently fallacious. Unlike humans, not all food is created equal. In case my opinion on the diet isn’t already abundantly clear, I think it’s an obscenely ridiculous oversimplification. Not as bad as merely counting calories, but close.
The problem with flexible dieting isn’t actually with its foundation. Like most dogmas, the dietary doctrine’s flaws lie with the followers (and many of the teachers). This happens in every diet though (like ketoers who eat only peanut butter and cheese).
The aim of this article is to give you a skeptic’s take on flexible dieting. I’ll provide you with all you need to know in order to make this highly adaptable way of eating work for you. By the end, you will be armed with the following important information:
- How Flexible Dieting Works (on paper)
- What Macros Are
- How To Calculate Your Macros
- Benefits of Flexible Dieting
- Problems with Flexible Dieting
- Solutions for Aforementioned Problems
How Does Flexible Dieting Work?
IIFYM (Flexible Dieting) isn’t so much of a diet as it is a lifestyle. For some people, especially those beginning, it can be empowering. This is because it doesn’t require meal plans or specific food restrictions.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well…
On paper, the concept of IIFYM is actually fairly sound. Taking one small step in the right direction (away from counting calories), this diet postulates that what really matters is total daily energy expenditure and macro needs.
Before setting out, the lifestyler must figure out their:
- Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)
- Macronutrient requirements
Calculating Energy Needs
Total energy expenditure per day consists of two primary components:
- Resting energy expenditure (REE): The number of calories you burn while at rest
- Non-resting energy expenditure (NREE): Calories expended during exercise, all daily activities and the energy required to digest food.
Resting energy expenditure accounts for around 70% of total energy expenditure per day. Non-resting energy expenditure, as you might have guessed, makes up (oin average) the other approximate 30%, depending on your activity level of course.
Calculating daily energy expenditure provides a general idea of how many calories are burned throughout the day. There are problems with this, but I’ll touch on that in the drawbacks section.
Most people promoting IIFYM suggest calculating TDEE using the Mifflin-St Jeor equation. Personally, I hate math, so here’s my suggestion: don’t bother doing it yourself. A quick google search of “Mifflin-st jeor” will provide you with a free calculator.
Once you’ve done the whole calculation thing, you’ll want to adjust calories according to your goals. Typically a 20% calorie reduction is recommended for weight loss. If your aim is to gain lean muscle mass, then you might find yourself considering increasing your caloric intake by 20%. Before you do, read this article on the Pillars of Muscle Growth.
How to calculate macros
Macros, short for macronutrients, are the nutrients your body needs in the largest amounts: proteins, carbs, fats.
These big nutrients play a significant role in multitudinous functions in the body and they provide calories (surprise).
- Proteins: Four calories per gram
- Fats: Nine calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: Four calories per gram
A lot of “health” websites will suggest things like carbohydrates should comprise upwards of 65% of your daily caloric intake. Those same individuals and companies also suggest that protein should make up 10-20% of your caloric intake.
Lucky for you, I’m not writing for those websites. We at Bucked Up care about your health and function. Because, like you, we throw up a middle finger to the idea of remaining average. In other words, eff that noise.
The choice is yours, of course, but personally, I’d never recommend anyone who wants lean muscle, visible abdominal muscles, and to look good naked to follow a macro guide that so closely aligns with the Food Pyramid (aka a stain on nutritional history, aka a guide with strong correlations to a rise in obesity in America)
This is actually one of the benefits of flexible dieting. It’s, well, flexible. You can tweak your daily macros according to your goals.
First, you just need to calculate your estimated macro needs. Just like with the TDEE calculator, for this one, all it takes is a quick google search to find a free macro calculator. However, I personally would suggest using an app like Myfitnesspal.
Chances are, if you’re getting into tracking food and macros, you already have it downloaded. This app actually allows you to tweak your own macro percentages inside the app, making it super easy.
It might require some experimentation, and it depends on what your diet is already largely consisting of, but here are two typically efficient percentage breakdowns to start you on the right foot.
For those already ingesting a standard amount of carbohydrates:
- Protein: 40%
- Carbs: 40%
- Fats: 20%
For those adhering to a low carb diet:
- Protein: 50%
- Carbs: 25%
- Fats: 25%
Keep in mind that this doesn’t take into account your daily fiber intake. Depending on your daily carb intake, this might vary, but generally speaking, it’s recommended that men consume around 35g a day, and women consume 25g.
How To Track Macros
Naturally, if you’re adhering to a diet that suggests tracking macros and hitting them in order to achieve your goals, you’ll want to keep up on tracking everyday (with maybe a day a week that’s considered a free day or a free meal)
Similar to calculating…there’s an app for that.
Take a look around either the Play store, or…whatever it is you iphone folks use, apple store? It won’t take long to find an app that fits your needs. I haven’t honestly tracked macros in years, but if Myfitnesspal is still doing its thing, then that’d still be my go to.
Benefits of Flexible Dieting
Number one on my list is number one for a reason. If you’re just starting out in nutrition and fitness and still getting the hang of the game, then flexible dieting is a sure winner. It’s basically like playing an RPG video game on Tutorial Mode the entire time. I mean, I’ve never played a game that actually has that feature (Dark Souls, please add this for those of us who aren’t masochists, thanks), but that’s beside the point.
How it applies to reality is that, since you’re constantly having to be mindful of the macros you’re ingesting it trains the brain to be more conscientious about what’s going in your mouth. And, you will likely notice that you start naturally memorizing the macro breakdowns of any food. To a point where, frankly, it’s almost annoying.
Because really, once that mental macro calculator gets uploaded into the brain, there’s no turning it off. It’s like how we all signed up for Facebook ten years ago, and now there’s no getting rid of it. Just, more helpful. What I mean is that constantly scaling, looking up macro-counts, etc. starts wiring your brain to do this without any conscious effort. It’s why I don’t ever bother with calculating stuff, because I can look at just about any meal and give its macro breakdown (I’m rarely off by more than five grams in any macro). It’s like a superpower…just not a very good one. Still, this alone is reason enough to try strictly tracking macros for a few months.
Most diets call for cutting out this or that. This can lead to feeling resentful toward health and fitness. Additionally, it often sets a goal seeker up for deprivation, leading to frequent cravings, binges, then…cue shame and addiction cycle. Feel bad for eating like “crap” then comfort yourself with more food, then feel worse, then voila, next thing you know, you’re two pints deep into Ben & Jerry’s, throwing in the proverbial towel.
Because Flexible dieting does quite the opposite, it can be empowering and have some profoundly positive effects.
You’re allowed to trust your own instincts, so long as you fit what you’re eating within pre-calculated goals.
Can Help With Long Term Weight Maintenance
When it comes to reaching goals, one of the most important parts is remaining consistent. Flexible dieting helps in this regard, since you don’t have to actually restrict yourself with anything.
Additionally, super restrictive dieting can have some psychological drawbacks, like causing unhealthy relationships with food. Although I obviously have opinions about ignoring micronutrients and treating all food the same, there’s something (positive) to say for not feeling guilty or hating yourself just because you ate a donut. It’s all about balance.
All Foods Get The Green Light
Read the following bullet list:
- Krispy Kremes
- Little Caesars
- Breakfast Burritos
- Cinnamon Toast Crunch
- Carne Asada Fries
- Burger, Shake, and (sweet potato) Fries
- Sour Patch Kids mixed into Play Dough Ice Cream
- 10oz perfectly cooked ribeye with a side of pepperoni pizza, cheese bread, and an appetizer of dry-rubbed chicken wings, followed by popcorn and cheesecake…okay, now I’m just fantasizing.
Easy To Follow
While it’s true that tracking macros for every meal can get old and tedious (to say the least), for the most part, IIFYM is really easy to follow.
Works With Other Diets
When asked about my diet, I often answer with a very non-committal, “Intermittent Fasting and Keto…ish?” I always add the ish, because commitment issues duh. Half kidding. The reason I add in the “ish” is because I am pretty much the worst ketoer ever. For example, my roommate had tortilla chips out last night. And then he and his girlfriend baked cookies. Naturally, I had some chips as well as a cookie. My one meal yesterday, beyond those, was also 2lbs of chicken thighs and two avocados.
So, most keto folks would s*** all over me for saying I’m still keto, but if you add everything up as well as the percentages, along with it being post-workout (if you’re going to indulge, post-workout is the time to do it, because lifting can increase glycogen absorption by somewhere around 40%), then you’d find that yesterday’s eating still fits an approximate keto-ish breakdown.
- Protein: 230g (appx 55%)
- Fats: 180 (appx 40%)
- Carbohydrates: 45g (appx 5%)
(I think that’s about accurate, feel free to check my math though)
This is where flexible dieting comes in. Just because a lot of people adhere to a higher carb diet with IIFYM, that doesn’t mean you have to. You can apply flexible dieting to literally any type of diet. What really matters is that you are conscious about what you’re eating.
Drawbacks of Flexible Dieting
Okay, that benefits section was pretty positive. You’d almost believe that I’m a proponent of flexible dieting! And, before I get started, just let me be clear:
So long as flexible dieting is done intelligently and with temperance in mind, then it can be truly powerful. My hatred is not for the lifestyle itself. It’s for those who spout misinformation and tell “clients” they can eat whatever they want without consequence…so long as it fits their macros. (Keep that in mind while I rant)
This is going to be both the easiest and hardest section for this particularly inflammatory writer to put down. Easiest because there’s just so many. Hardest because I’ll have to avoid ranting.
I will do my very best to be brief, and I’ll even attempt not to offend any die-hards, in case any said die-hards are also cancel culture cultists (or college students upset at their philosophy professor for daring to suggest a philosophy major question their beliefs *GASP!*). Anyway, let’s start at the beginning.
“Energy Needs (TDEE)”:
This is just stupid. It’s based on the assumption that humans are simple robots, and the only real variables are activity level. As much as I really wish hacking fitness was so simple, it’s just not. There are other things that need to be taken into account. For example:
- Metabolism: Just because you’re active doesn’t necessarily mean you have a healthy metabolism.
- Insulin Sensitivity: Insulin is responsible for, like, damn near everything when it comes to how you react to carbs. Not only does insulin sensitivity change throughout the day, it also changes from person to person based on a variety of factors.
- Hormones: Hormones like testosterone and estrogen and GH need to be taken into account when deciding when seeking fat loss or muscle growth. Certain foods can impair optimal hormone levels, release positive hormones, spike suboptimal hormones, etc.
Calculating Macros (And Macros Alone)
Next up to (get) bat(tered): The whole idea that all macronutrients are created equal. This is beyond absurd. It neglects things science has already proven to be important. For example:
- Vitamins and minerals play a role in, oh I don’t know, literally every function of the human body. You know, like: cognition, fat loss, muscle gain, general wellbeing. In other words, eat your greens, kids.
- The chemicals found in many fast foods, processed foods, and how science has shown said chemicals negatively impact us.
- All foods have a glycemic response (how quickly they’re digested then absorbed into the system), and as such, some foods need to be paired in order to provide longer lasting energy
- To continue responses, all foods also have an insulin response. Some proteins yield a greater insulin response than others on a gram per gram basis.
As much as I’d love to be one of those numerically responsible people who can plan a budget, track numbers, and whatever, I’m not (much to my bank account’s dismay). Instead I got gifted with an extremely overactive right brain (much to my parents’ dismay). As such, the idea of tracking numbers regularly sounds like a nightmare. Even when I was consistent with tracked macros, I loathed the process.
Again, I think everyone sort of needs to put in the hours, to glean a better understanding of what they’re eating. It’s just a hassle.
Additionally, this can go back to the psychological aspect of dieting. In order for flexible dieting to not have an adverse effect on self-image, then you gotta also give yourself some leeway with the numbers. If you didn’t hit your macro goal one day, so be it. That’s fine. If you went a little over, also so be it. Do better tomorrow. If you’re constantly judging yourself it sets up a seriously detrimental habit that is damn near impossible to break.
Solutions for said Drawbacks
I wouldn’t offer problems with a diet unless I also had some solutions. That’d just be complaining, and as much as I enjoy writing satire, this isn’t society (there are actually ways to remedy the issues commonly found in IIFYM).
As previously stated, one of my biggest issues with flexible dieting is an oversimplification of how to go about calculating your daily energy expenditure and macros. The main reason really comes down to it ignores hormone function and metabolic function, as well as gut health. These aren’t necessarily easily remedied, but can definitely be optimized.
The ways to hack those comes down to proper meal timing and, of course, supplementation.
Try to avoid foods that spike blood sugar in the morning. So, blueberry muffins for breakfast are out. For anyone seeking fat loss, I’d personally recommend avoiding carbs for your first meal, since you should still have glycogen stores from your last meal.
Even if you’re technically fasted from sleeping, you likely don’t need carbs to get you going in the morning. That’s what coffee with some Cognitive Creamer is for. Throw in some Buck Feed (OG or Natural, maybe with some MCT Oil Powder).
Time your carbs around your workouts. To have daily energy prior to your workout, try fruits and veggies because the carbs found in fruit have been shown to be more effective for replenishing live glycogen stores.
Another stellar option is sweet potatoes, since they can supply liver glycogen stores while still being lower in sugar than fruit, and can even provide a sweet pump.
Time your favorite simple sugar carbs like Oreos and all that for directly post-workout. This will be a fast way to replenish your muscle glycogen, and because your body absorbs glycogen better post workout, there’s less chance of said sugars going to fat stores.
Following the simple sugar indulgence is when I’d focus more on complex carbs, like brown rice, quinoa, potatoes.
Supplements to optimize hormones and metabolic function is always a good idea. Three powerful for hormone function would be:
Regarding metabolic optimization… easy.
Not only is HEAT (and HEAT HARDCORE) epically awesome for promoting a healthy metabolism, here’s a fun little known fact. BAMF nootropic pre-workout as well as WOKE AF both deliver potent metabolic boosting ingredients (Hordenine for BAMF, and Synephrine for WOKE AF).
For overreliance on Macros: The 80:20 Rule
This one is easily remedied. Just adhere to the 80:20 rule. I’m not referring to the Paredo Principle. All this means is that you strive to eat healthier food options for 80% of your caloric intake, and allow 20% for “unhealthy” options.
Any meal that falls under the 80% should have quality protein, and be loaded with micronutrients (the kind found in vegetables).
And, if you hate veggies as much as I do, and if likewise, you’re also stubbornly lazy, accept the apathy. Instead of eating greens, just drink them.
Bucked Up Organic Greens are no joke. They are loaded with so many micronutrients it’s actually kind of ridiculous. I have noticed fantastic benefits in gut health, metabolic function, skin health, and even mood.
Also, pretty sure I’m not supposed to tell you folks that our Organic Greens can replace veggie intake, so…if you’re a secret FDA spy reading this, then for the record, that’s my personal opinion and I’m 97% certain the company would advise you to always eat your veggies.
Flexible Dieting Summary
In the end, Flexible Dieting is just like any other diet in that it’s got its pros and cons.
What matters most is if it’s something you can stay consistent with, while also reaping the benefits. We can’t force you to stay consistent, of course. But we can for sure help you with the benefits part.