IIFYM, Clean Eating and Flexible Dieting

If you’ve spent more than five minutes in a gym or follow any Instagram ‘nutritionists’ somebody has probably preached to you at some point about how marvellous their chosen style of eating is whether they’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, sports person or simply a fitness enthusiast. This lecture has most likely included the words IIFYM, clean eating or flexible dieting.

This post will aim to make some clarification between the three to help you make a more informed decision about which type of diet best suits your lifestyle. Let me clarify here that when I say ‘diet’ I don’t necessarily mean eating with the goal of weight loss, diet is purely to normal food that you eat regardless of your goals.

Clean eating used to be the holy grail of bodybuilder nutrition, especially when embarking on a cutting phase in the run up to competition and aiming to lose body fat and preserve muscle. This style of diet typically involves as little processed food as possible with a focus on natural, whole, unrefined foods. Think chicken, rice and broccoli and that more or less sums up clean eating. Dieters omit any food that is seen as ‘unclean’ from their diet, usually things like bread, refined white pasta, chocolate, dairy products and alcohol don’t make the cut.

The benefit of clean eating, especially when you’re cutting, is that ‘clean’ foods are generally lower in calories meaning that you get to eat more. This is great if, like me, you’re a bottomless pit and could quite easily sit and eat all day and not get full. A massive bowl of chicken and vegetables probably equates to a similar calorie content to that of an average sized chocolate bar. Add in the fact that the chicken and veggies also contains far more protein and micronutrients and I know which option I’d find more satisfying! This nutritional approach is a good choice if you’re prone to overeating as soon as you’ve had a little bit of ‘bad’ food. The ‘I’ve had one cookie, I’ve ruined my diet for the day, I might as well eat the entire pack’ mentality can be destructive to any diet regardless of goals. Clean eating can eliminate this problem by removing highly processed foods entirely and removing temptation.

A major downside to a strict clean eating regime is that your food options are somewhat limited which can lead to cravings. Cravings can lead to binge eating and binge eating is a sure fire way to de-rail you from your fitness and nutrition goals as well as being demotivating. It also demonises certain foods, potentially resulting in overwhelming food guilt if they are consumed and makes eating in social situations pretty difficult.

IIFYM stands for if it fits your macros and has exploded in popularity recently thanks to social media. This basically means that you can eat anything as long as it fits in to your macronutrient requirements. As long as your numbers add up it’s perfectly acceptable to live on Frosties and pizza, although I wouldn’t advocate doing so. IIFYM focuses on the three main macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein but doesn’t take micronutrients in to account. Having said this, most IIFYM disciples will fill the majority of their diet with wholesome and nutritious food as they recognise the health and performance benefits of consuming a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.

IIFYM can help to keep you sane whilst living in a calorie deficit as no foods are off limits and if you really fancy a certain food it can quite easily be worked in to your macros. If you can handle consuming unhealthy foods without it leading to a binge this could be the style for you. The downside is that it may decrease the volume of food that you’re able to consume within your numbers and you’ll live your life constantly weighing, measuring and calculating, annoying for trying to eat out or eat in social situations.

This is probably one for the most dedicated and hardcore of the fitness and aesthetics world with incredibly specific nutritional needs. The average gym-goer can manage their nutrition perfectly well without having to put up with the hassle of tracking every single morsel of food that they consume.

Flexible dieting is an approach that will most likely suit the majority of the population. Whilst the emphasis is on micronutrient dense, whole foods there is still plenty of room for a bit of indulgence in your favourite foods in moderation. The average gym user looking to lose a bit of weight doesn’t necessarily need to adhere to a strict set of macros, they just need to learn to make sensible food choices and stay in a slight calorie deficit. Energy balance is the ultimate key to weight loss or fat loss so there is nothing wrong with eating healthily all week then going out and enjoying a meal in a restaurant on a weekend or having the occasional bowl of ice cream after dinner as long as moderation is practiced and an overall calorie deficit is maintained.

Moderation is the flexible dieter’s best friend and doesn’t lead to the dieter feel restricted in any way by food choices or macro tracking. Intuitive eating is another word which may be thrown in to the mix with flexible dieting. This basically means learning to listen to what your body needs and feeding it appropriately, for example extra carbs on a particularly heavy leg day or simply eating when you’re hungry.


- Charlotte Fisher


Nutritional Science Student

1 comment

  • An image or two would make your post more palatable. #designmatters


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