If It Fits Your Macros was started by a couple of bodybuilders who grew tired of the “clean eating” movement. They felt the food was boring, unappealing and “too healthy.” Their diet was simple: eat whatever you want. But there’s a catch–you have to stay true to your macronutrient distribution.
Macronutrients are the major nutrients that are found in food and provide us with energy. These include the big three: protein, fat and carbohydrates. All of these macronutrients added together provide us with our total calorie intake.
Proteins + Fats + Carbs = Total Calories
Keeping that in mind, here is the acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges for adults in maintaining a healthy diet:
Your macronutrient distribution depends on a variety of factors like your age, weight, sex, and physical activity level. If you would like a breakdown of your macronutrient distribution, set up an appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Back to If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
The philosophy behind the diet is that you can eat whatever you want and lose weight as long as you don’t go over the recommended intake for each of those macronutrients for the day. Their website uses a calculator to determine your needs but I must warn you that to use it you need to provide them with your e-mail and all that jazz.
In the words of If it Fits Your Macros followers: “regardless if you like to eat pizza, or boiled chicken breast, If it Fits Your Macros teaches us that if you eat less calories than your body requires you will lose weight at a steady and predictable rate”.
As you keep that quote ringing in your ears, I’m going to show you guys a study.
A famous Harvard study assessed 120,000 healthy men and women spanning twenty years. The study set out to find what causes weight gain or loss: a change in diet, lifestyle or everything in between. The results were pretty straight forward. Individuals who ate refined or processed foods (chips, sweetened beverages, fried foods) gained weight, while individuals who ate unprocessed foods (whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables) did not gain weight.
The takeaway point is that choosing high quality calories is an important factor in helping people eat fewer calories, which in turn will help people lose weight. So maybe choosing chicken breast over pizza will be the better option for sustainable weight loss… sorry If it Fits Your Macros friends.
Calorie In/Calorie Out is Dead
If you read my last blog post on calories, you now know that the traditional calorie in/calorie out method to lose weight is passé. This study teaches us that losing weight effectively and in a safe manner is much more complex and it is far too simplistic to assume a focus on calories will lead to our desired weight.
Pros of If it Fits Your Macros
One key positive is that this diet is unique because it takes away the restrictive nature of most fad diets. Diets like the Adkins diet, Master Cleanse or the Banana diet totally restrict calories and key macronutrients which may temporarily cause weight loss but it is practically impossible to sustain… like IMPOSSIBLE, especially when we need macros like carbohydrates for our brain to even function.
And don’t get me wrong, macronutrient needs are important because they help us create balance in our diet and make sure we’re not getting 90% of our calories from fat. Watching macronutrient distributions are even more important for endurance athletes who rely on high levels of carbohydrates to endure their long workouts and replete their glycogen needs. Macronutrients are important for bodybuilders who want to increase their muscle mass by increasing their protein needs.
The only part of this diet that stumps me is the correlation they make between shifting your macros and weight loss.
Weight Loss on If It Fits Your Macros?
This study tested a variety of diets made up of different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrates. They wanted to see whether there was a magic recipe for weight loss in terms of shifting macros around. But I think we’ve all been around long enough to know that there usually isn’t a one pill miracle. If there was, the diet industry wouldn’t be so rich!
After 6 months, all participants in each diet lost weight, however they regained it one year after. The moral of the story is that most of the time when we reduce calories, we see weight loss, so If it Fits Your Macros was right then. However, when we reduce calories, we tend to be unhappy and unsatisfied and we fall off the wagon and regain our weight, because it isn’t sustainable. The other moral of the story is that changing the macronutrient distribution did not influence the outcome – only the reduction in calories did.
And if this study wasn’t enough to convince you, there have been several experimental trials and high quality studies, that looked at the difference between either a high fat/low carb diet or a high carb/low fat diet, and there was still no difference in weight loss.
All of this is not to say that people who follow a If it Fits Your Macros diet won’t lose weight, because as we know restricting calories will cause weight loss. But there are consequences of eating those low quality calories – sadly your body has to suffer those consequences.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m told I can eat anything I want, that usually means binging at the local drive thru. When this happens, we’re consuming “empty calories” – this means they contain little to no fibre, vitamins or minerals that we need for our bodies normal function. When foods are heavily processed like a pop tart for example, they are stripped of their nutrients and loaded with sugar, fat and salt. So if we are replacing our diet with these empty calories, our body is not getting what we need to help us run smoothly and protect ourselves from chronic diseases.
Another downside of empty calories: less satiating. Meaning the moment we eat a bag of chips, an hour later we’re reaching for more chips… which doesn’t help with the whole eating fewer calories goal. Meals that contain high protein, high fibre snacks help us fill more full and prevent the binging at the all too dangerous 3 pm dip.
Another secret with eating nutrient dense foods: you can eat more. Yes, it’s true!
Let’s compare two snacks with the same calories and carbohydrate content, and you can be the judge of which you think would make you more full:
Snack 1: 3 oreos
Snack 2: 1 bowl of cottage cheese + 1/2 cup of mixed berries + 1 small honey crisp apple
I think we can all agree that snack 2, which contains a source of protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals will make you feel more full and satisfied and will probably not lead you back to the fridge twenty minutes after eating it. And let’s be honest, who can only eat three oreos and not the whole row… I know I can’t.
Eating whole foods with a variety of macros lets you eat more and feel more satisfied. Now that sounds like a recipe for sustainable weight loss.
Let’s think of it like fueling a Ferrari with cheap oil. Yes, you are the Ferrari and you deserve the best so why not fuel yourself with the best.
If it Fits Your Macros Wrap Up
The takeaway message is that between “clean eating”, which creates an unhealthy obsession with the quality of calories and If it Fits Your Macros eating which focuses too much on quantity of calories, we need to find ourselves somewhere in the middle. Let’s follow the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time be conscious of the quality of calories by aiming for whole nutrient dense foods, and 20% of the time enjoy those indulgences. Especially for athletes, being conscious of the food you’re eating is so important and if you focus on eating high quality sources of carbohydrates that are loaded with fibre and vitamins and minerals it will even enhance your training and performance. Just remember that counting calories won’t be as effective for weight loss if you’re not thinking about the quality of those calories. Think of it this way, if you are choosing nutrient dense foods, you will feel more full and in the end you will end up eating less calories, which is a win-win for you and your body. That sounds like a good bargain to me.
Contribution by RD2B: Sofia Tsalamlal
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.