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Why IIFYM/ Tracking Macros didn’t work for me

If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) used to be the holy grail of the health and fitness industry. For many, being able to eat a pop tart a day and still have 6 pack abs was an opportunity too good to miss!
POSTED ON Dec 30, 2021

While IIFYM is no longer trending, tracking your macros contribute to be a staple for those attempting to lose weight, gain muscle and improve their physique. I tracked macros on and off for two years. Here’s why I stopped tracking macros.

Calorie counting doesn’t replace nutrition education

While calories in vs calories out is true for weight loss, it is more complicated than that for health.

Nutrition education goes beyond knowing the macronutrients of foods and what foods are “good’ or “bad.” Understanding total calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats to aim for can be helpful, but it doesn’t replace a well-balanced diet and in-depth understanding of micronutrient content, glycaemic load, food timing, digestion processes, sports nutrition and tailored medical nutrition therapy.

As a dietitian, many of my clients come to me eating red meat at every meal, or processed ham and chicken breast because they’re “macro-friendly” (aka low calories and high protein). Despite the WHO recommendation for sodium(salt) to be under 2g daily, these individuals had average daily intakes of 6 – 10g of sodium a day.

Macro-friendly doesn’t always mean healthy (because context matters)

Low carb, high protein balls are also often used as a pre-workout snack despite it being low in carbohydrates – the macronutrient that helps fuel our workout. While you may be hitting your macronutrient targets perfectly, without nutrition education you may be losing more muscle mass than fat mass or sabotaging your workouts.

Excessive Reliance on Sugar-free foods

Excessive reliance on sugar-free substitutes replacing nutritious wholefoods.

Despite wild claims that artificial sugars cause weight gain or cancer, the consensus in the scientific literature that there is no harm to moderate intakes of artificial sweeteners in sugar-free foods.[1] Due to its palatability, however, many individuals heavily rely sugar-free syrups, sauces, and desserts during their dieting phase. While this is not inherently harmful, it can displace other important micronutrients.

Macro tracking has the façade of food freedom but the same people who are living their best life eating low carb pancakes with sugar-free maple syrup are also terrified of having a chicken sandwich for lunch. The lines between healthy eating and obsessed with healthy eating get blurred when you start to feel anxiety around meals because you don’t know what the exact macronutrients are.

Increased food thoughts

In order to be successful with tracking macros and flexible dieting, you have to either type everything into an app before or after meals or put your year 6 maths skills to the test and mentally calculate it all. Mentally calculating macros in your head is often worn as a badge of honour it’s really an indicator that you feel like you need to control food and can’t stop thinking about it.

Tracking your exact intake often means that you spend all day thinking about food. Leading up to the meal, you ‘re planning how to make your meal perfectly fit your macros. After your meals, you are trying to decipher what you can do next with what you have left. For a short period of time, this increased awareness of food may be helpful. As a lifelong tool, the increased food thoughts are never-ending, and you are no longer present in at mealtimes and throughout your day to day life.

Sharing food is a nightmare.

Imagine spending all night planning the perfect day worth of food for someone to take a bite out of your lunch, offer to share a dessert or completely derail your plan by inviting you to a meal that has to be shared.

You end up spending all night calculating how much food can you scoop on your plate. What proportion of the curry was protein and what proportion was fat? How many calories more in the large sushi roll vs the smaller sushi roll? How many dumplings can you have? The constant anxiety of whether or not you’ve eaten too much often pulls your attention away from the taste of food, conversation, your fullness cues. Even though you know it’s irrational, you end up feeling resentful that you were invited out, or that someone had eaten your food.

Flexible dieting often lead to over-restriction later

In order to fit in the large burger and fries and ice-cream waffles into your daily calories, it requires your other meals to balance it out. This had led to the normalising of coffee fore breakfast and protein shakes for dinner. While that massive meal may look good on Instagram, it makes the rest of your day pretty terrible.

When flexible dieting is the priority instead of consistently eating balanced meals with occasional treats, the majority of your day is spent feeling extremely low in energy and hungry for big chunks of your day. This negatively impacts your ability to be productive (trying to concentrate over the sound of a grumbling stomach is pretty difficult!), your training performance and even your sex drive.

Tracking macros made me feel like I could just make anything fit AND be healthy. If I overate at lunch, I’d tell myself I’d just skip dinner to make it work. Except when dinner came around, I was ravenous and would end up having it anyways, fuelling and shame, guilt and restrict cycle.

You can be in a calorie deficit without calorie counting

Like most people, I fell into tracking macros because everyone else was doing it and the rabbit hole of YouTube convinced me it was a good idea.

As a dietitian and athlete, I’ve learnt that just because it worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s the best way for you. I’ve also learnt that if something “temporarily works” and you can’t sustain the results long-term without derailing your life, it didn’t actually work.

At the end of the day, taking the time to learn more about nutrition and doing the hard work to implement it all is going to be better than any fancy new dieting method.

Flexible dieting felt addictive

Playing macro jenga can be very satisfying. The quick dopamine boost when you finally make your food fit in your macros and of knowing you’ve hit your targets perfectly can be very rewarding. This can help keep some individuals on track, but for me it meant hours thinking about food and saying no to spontaneous food adventures and date nights. Thinking about food all the time left me feeling guilty often and sucked the joy out of food and movement for me. It didn’t align with the life of freedom I wanted to live.

I transitioned out of macro tracking and realised I can still be dedicated to my training, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle without weighing and counting everything I ate. While IIFYM wasn’t a dieting tool that worked for me, I can understand that it’s a tool that might work for others at different stages of their journey. IN a sport like bodybuilding where the goal isn’t to be healthy but to be precise and as close to “ideal” as possible, using IIFYM for competition preparation may be helpful.

If you are thinking about trying IFFYM, it’s important to understand the risks going into it and have a solid understanding of nutrition first.

Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.

References

Ashwell, M., Gibson, S., Bellisle, F., Buttriss, J., Drewnowski, A., Fantino, M., . . . La Vecchia, C. (2020). Expert consensus on low-calorie sweeteners: Facts, research gaps and suggested actions. Nutrition Research Reviews, 33(1), 145-154. doi:10.1017/S0954422419000283

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Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.