We all know that clean eating is important when it comes to getting the fitness results you want. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, eating clean is going help you get there better than an unhealthy diet. But what is clean eating? Ask any two people what they think clean eating means and you’ll almost assuredly get different answers. I suppose the most common answer would be eating whole natural foods and not processed foods.
That brings up a question though, what isn’t processed in some sort of way anymore? Not very much. There are plenty of healthy foods out there that have been processed, and unless you are making all your own foods from scratch then chances are even the majority of your “natural” foods are processed in some way. I always find it a little humorous when people say they eat no processed foods but drink several whey protein drinks per day. I guess it’s because I haven’t heard of those whey protein trees.
The issue many have with a clean eating lifestyle is it’s hard to maintain for very long. Even with scheduled cheats many people are susceptible to going on binges because they feel restricted. Is eating clean all week but then gorging yourself on the weekend really a solid plan? Or if there is an unplanned cheat then they beat themselves up about the binge and it starts a bad cycle of an unhealthy relationship with food.
Foods should be about inclusion not exclusion. Sure, some people do well with clean eating and are able to stay relatively perfect without straying and for those people I say good for them. But for most people I believe it’s too restrictive. If you feel restricted you won’t enjoy it and the chances of long-term success become low. Nobody wants to be miserable as they chase their goals.
This is where flexible dieting comes into play, or often known as IIFYM which stands for “If It Fits Your Macros.” The goal of this diet is to set a daily calorie and macronutrient goal and eat whatever you want as long as it fits within your those numbers at the end of the day. The issue most people have with this diet is they think it’s just an excuse to eat a bunch of junk food and call it okay because it fits your macros, but that’s just not the case, and especially not the case if you go about it the right way.
I believe the key to making IIFYM work is to not only set goals for your carbs, protein and fat but also fiber. As I’ve shown you over the last few weeks it doesn’t seem to matter what you eat as long as you hit your macronutrient goals with sufficient fiber intake. If you set a minimum fiber requirement in your diet it will force you to still eat mostly high quality natural foods. It’s going to be pretty difficult to eat all your carbs from candy bars and ice cream but still get 40 grams of fiber in your diet. But you can certainly do it having a little.
That’s the beauty of IIFYM. You can eat the foods you love in moderation while getting the same results as a clean eater without ever feeling bad about your food choices, beating yourself up and feeling restricted if you are on track. The chances of a binge become lower because you aren’t restricting yourself from the foods you love. If you are serious about health and fitness anyway, you’ll find you don’t eat the so-called “cheat” foods often anyway, but you don’t have to feel bad when you do decide you want some and you don’t have to wait for a certain day to do it.
How much you can have depends on your current goals. Someone in a bulking phase eating 400-500 grams of carbs per day will not be hurt by having a couple of poptarts as long as they hit their macros and fiber for the day. On the contrary if you are cutting hard and only taking in 150 grams of carbs per day and you eat half of those carbs by having a couple poptarts, that’s obviously going to be a bigger problem.
Something I commonly see in bodybuilding competitors is a vast difference in what happens post-show between a clean eater and someone following IIFYM. The clean eater can’t wait to completely gorge themselves with the most massive cheat of everything they love the world has ever seen after the show. Then many often go on long periods of “dirty eating” and struggle to get back into the right frame of mind to eat clean again. Most competitors I’ve seen who follow IIFYM just continue to go on with life just as they did before the show because they haven’t been restricted for so long. That sure seems healthier to me. Now for all you clean eating competitors don’t get mad, this is just an observation I’ve made and certainly doesn’t pertain to everyone.
While IIFYM is generally considered a lifters diet and not for the general weight loss or general health population I don’t necessarily believe that either. Certainly it is structured more for a bodybuilder and will work well for them but how many times do you see someone try to lose weight and restrict themselves so much that while they lose weight at first they are unable to keep it up and eventually go back to their old eating habits? It’s because they feel too restricted and know they can’t keep it up forever. If they went about it in a way that didn’t make them feel so restricted perhaps they would be able sustain it if they allowed themselves more of their favorite foods in moderation. The problem is these type of people often have trouble knowing what moderation is. If you have to factor it into your tracked macronutrient intake, you’ll learn.
Of course just like clean eating isn’t for everyone neither is IIFYM or any other eating plan for that matter. But if any of the things I mentioned have been an issue for you perhaps the IIFYM lifestyle would be a good fit. Don’t get me wrong as I am absolutely in favor of basing your diet around nutrient dense whole foods, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some of your other favorite foods in moderation. Of course if clean eating works well for you and you’ve been able to do it long-term with no problems and it doesn’t bother you there is no sense in changing what works.
Personally I did “clean eating” for years and had no problems staying on track for the most part, but eventually I got tired of it. I adopted IIFYM last year and haven’t looked back. Funny thing is I did a better job at keeping fat to a minimum during this bulk using IIFYM and incorporating “bad” foods into my diet than I did last time when I stuck to mostly “clean” foods the whole time.