IIFYM vs Clean Eating

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Written by Coach Austin Current

Original article posted on N1 Training, written by Coach Austin Current.

First, I think it is important to touch on the fact that I do not think If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) and Flexible Dieting are synonymous. You can read the full article HERE before diving into this one.

Now, let’s dive into today’s topic: IIFYM vs Clean Eating.

In a world of diet confusion, it seems nutritional belief keeps getting split into different categories, sides, or “teams”. Although great marketing, it is confusing to the end consumer and it’s not helping people understand how to consume healthier foods and form a healthy relationship with food.

In this article, I want to do my best to break down IIFYM and Clean Eating into their respective arguments and evaluate if one is better than the other. As you read through this article you may find out that neither of these is the best approach for you.

First, let’s define the bare bone structure of IIFYM and Clean Eating to ensure you understand the context as you read through this article:

IIFYM: A diet approach consisting of hitting the three macronutrient targets, daily (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats). In this diet, it is advised to track your macronutrients throughout the day to ensure you are hitting your daily targets. The selling point of this approach is finding a better “balance” with food by no foods being “off-limits” within your diet. That is right! As long as it is within your macronutrient ranges, nothing is off-limits.

Clean Eating: A diet approach consisting of a short health-first wholesome list of foods that have been deemed as acceptable. In this diet, it is advised that you only consume whole nutrient-dense foods. There is less focus on the idea of tracking daily macronutrient targets and more focus on food quality with a rough guideline of portion control per meal. The main goal with this diet is to stick to only “clean” foods and anything outside of that is considered “dirty” or “off-limits”.

 Now, let’s look at the undeniable, still unresolved, battle of IIFYM verse a clean eating approach. Although different methods, these two groups have one common goal in mind: overall health and wellness. I think it is safe to say, whether you choose to follow a strict diet filled with 6 foods or a strict diet filled with 26 foods ⏤ the choice is yours and it does not necessarily define how “healthy” you are or aren’t.

Somewhere between nothing is “off-limits” and only eating from a shortlist of “acceptable” foods, we start to form a list of pros and cons.

Both of these diets come with their list of drawbacks (cons). These drawbacks can include:

  • Over restriction, leading to binging episodes or paralysis
  • Getting overly attached to certain foods
  • Obsession with food choice 
  • Lack of understanding within food decision
  • Overconsumption of low-nutrient foods, leading to micronutrient deficiencies
  • Developing a bad relationship with food
  • Loss of ability to enjoy social occasion where there is food involved

There are also positives (pros) that they both can possess: 

  • Gain of control over your day to day nutritional intake
  • The understanding of tracking macronutrient/calorie intake
  • Consuming a high percentage of nutrient-dense foods 
  • Consistency 
  • A better understanding of the impact of different types of food
  • Portion control
  • The ability to enjoy social occasion where there is food involved

As you can see from above, both come with an overlap of pros and cons that will depend on the individual and their ultimate understanding, experience, and discipline within the respective diet.

As I have spent time in both extremes of IIFYM and Clean Eating, I can transparently say that I came out on the other side with more emotional issues towards food and misunderstood tendencies that would resemble an eating disorder than I ever thought possible. I have also spent the last five years coaching competitive athletes and the general population of a wide range of ages, both male and female, that exhibit similar issues with both of these diet approaches.

The fact that the main goal of a diet approach is to come out on the other side a healthier individual, both mentally and physically, makes me rethink both of these popular approaches and their application for anyone looking to improve their overall health.

So, as I said toward the beginning of this article, you may find out that neither of these is the best approach for you. You also may find a happy medium within each that makes you happy and improves your health and body composition. Actually, this can be quite common.

The battle between the groups is utterly confusing to those people who are seeking better health and relationships with food. Let’s end the hostility and teach the world to be a better and healthier place mentally, physically, and emotionally.

 

Looking Objectively: Argument, Evaluation, & Reality

 

As I write out each side of the argument below, I will be using the information that I hear used most to promote each respective diet approach. I will do my best to omit personal bias.

IIFYM

Argument: Creating “balance” in your diet by allowing yourself to eat foods you love, without restriction. This allows you the nutritional freedom to eat foods you enjoy as long as you are fitting them into your daily macro targets.

Evaluation & Reality: In theory, this sounds about as good as it gets. You can eat whatever you want, as long as you stay within your number targets, and you are within the “rules” of that diet. Where this approach gets a bad wrap is the free-for-all in terms of food selection. No matter the quality of the food, you have the green light. The more I learned about this approach, the more I realized that the majority of the crowd singing the praise of this approach were people like me — people who were within their first 3 months to 3 years of dieting. It is common for the people who follow this approach to create a poor relationship with food. Although it may not be in the traditional sense, it comes with a host of drawbacks (as listed above).  

Clean Eating

Argument: A health-first approach promoting only eating nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods. This allows you to maximize your health while fueling your body with only the best. 

Evaluation: In theory, this sounds great. You ingest and fuel your body with only the best. Where this approach gets a bad wrap is it’s otherwise restricted approach in food selection. In that, it is commonly demonized as “too restrictive” and unsustainable — which is where the IIFYM crowd brings down the comparative hammer. Similar to IIFYM, people following this approach are either dieters early on in their journey, or people who hop on and off of the dieting wagon often.

As I have spent time in both extremes of IIFYM and Clean Eating, I can transparently say that I came out on the other side with more emotional issues towards food and misunderstood tendencies that would resemble an eating disorder than I ever thought possible. I have also spent the last four years coaching competitive athletes and a wide range of general population, both male and female, that exhibit similar issues with both of these diet approaches.

The fact that the main goal of a diet approach is to come out on the other side a healthier individual, both mentally and physically, makes me rethink both of these popular approaches and their application for anyone looking to improve their overall health. At the end of the day, it is not an optimal approach if it comes with a large set of rules and requires you to commit to a lifetime of what you are not going to enjoy — no matter what “approach” is called.

So, as I said toward the beginning of this article, you may find out that neither of these is the best approach for you. You also may find a happy medium within each that makes you happy and improves your health and body composition. Actually, this can be quite common.

If you are still wondering where I draw the line when making the comparison between IIFYM and Flexible Dieting, read the full article HERE! 

 

Written by Coach Austin Current, BSc, CSCS, IFBB, Pn1

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