There is a concept to which some cling in the “diet” world that says, “Eat whatever you want ‘if it fits your macros’.” While this might sound appealing to some, I contend that it’s a terrible idea, and I’ll share my rationale below.
This concept isn’t new, sadly. I remember a time in the late ‘90s when my best friend was following a popular calorie restriction program that required you to “count points”. Fiber grams allowed you to offset some of the calories, thus fiber-rich foods tended to be worth less points. Eventually, folks started trying to “work the system” by eating whatever they wanted alongside fiber supplements. In essence, they were the early adopters of the IIFYM eating model.
Then, in the early 2000s as low-carb eating became more popular, I saw people doing things like “saving” carbs so they could continue to put sugar in their coffee or eat junk food in place of nutrient-dense carbohydrates like vegetables.
Since my experience over the last 20+ years has been primarily keto, I want to discuss IIFYM in that context, although I’m sure many of these points will apply to whatever eating plan a person chooses to follow.
IIFYM in the Context of Grief and Loss
A lot of folks have a pretty strong emotional attachment to food. It’s human nature, right? We celebrate with food, we reward ourselves with food, and the process of eating can be a very social experience. When we change our meal plan though, some folks, especially those who have an unhealthy relationship with food, will experience feelings of grief and loss. This is where the idea of IIFYM comes in.
The five stages of grief and loss are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve personally experienced all these stages at one time or another when I’m trying to make positive changes in my life, but denial and bargaining are often paired with the IIFYM way of eating. “Well, this way of eating doesn’t have to apply ALL the time, so I can keep eating bad stuff as long as I’m still playing by the rules.” In reality, that’ll only set you back in the long run.
Inflammatory Effects of Poor Food Choices with IIFYM
The ketogenic way of eating is inherently an anti-inflammatory diet. When we choose foods that simply fit the macros though without paying attention to food quality, we increase inflammation, glycation, and sometimes even stress hormones as a result. Claiming that a jelly donut counts the same as an entire day’s worth of vegetables is flawed logic. It relies on the idea that a calorie is a calorie regardless of where it comes from, and both anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that this simply isn’t the case. Quality does matter, regardless of what eating plan you’re following.
Way of Eating vs. “Diet”
I’ve seen it so many times. “I’m going to go on this diet and then when I lose my weight, I’ll eat ‘normal’ again.” IIFYM fits perfectly into this logic because folks are simply looking for a way to make it through until they can go back to the terrible habits that made them unhealthy in the first place. Looking at a healthy human diet like keto as something that’s temporary though means you’re likely to end up right back where you started — sick, fat, and miserable.
“Diets” sell products and make people lots of money. A “way of eating” requires nothing but smart choices at the grocery store or farmer’s market. “Diet” in the commercial sense implies an intervention that’ll end when you’ve met your goal. A way of eating implies something that’s sustainable for a lifetime, and IIFYM has no place there in my opinion.
IIFYM is Like Heroin Instead of Methadone
As I discussed earlier, the IIFYM model is often used by those of us who have unhealthy relationships with certain kinds of food in certain situations. I can tell you from my own experience though that using IIFYM when you’re trying to deal with food addiction is one of the quickest ways to guarantee failure. It’s like saying to a drug addict in rehab, “We’re going to let you have a little bit of your drug of choice as long as you can fit it into the program.” It makes no sense.
Some will contend that food addicts should quit cold turkey without any sort of methadone, and that’ll be a topic for another day. Using “just a little bit of heroin” while you’re trying to quit heroin essentially guarantees failure or relapse. Ask me how I know because my drug of choice has always been food.
The whole concept of IIFYM encourages backward thinking and I would strongly advise anyone who’s serious about their health and longevity to avoid this trap. It’s usually just the grief or the addiction talking, and those guys can say some pretty convincing stuff sometimes when you’re vulnerable. If you’re going to put in the effort to make your life better, don’t short-change yourself. It’s not worth it!
- IIFYM – KETO Done Wrong — a pretty good video from Dr. Ken Berry on the subject
- Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health — a really nerdy book that goes into the science of how the quality of your food matters