Friday, February 15, 2013

Common sense look at IIFYM, continued.

Read the previous entry first, it's all about the If It Fits Your Macros approach to nutrition planning for weight loss.

For long term results, all diets either succeed or fail due to providing the appropriate amount of calories. I always talk about “appropriate to maintain your goal weight” to rule out unhealthy over restriction, but as long as you are consuming less than is required to maintain your current weight, you will lose weight.

Regardless of absolutely everything else, at the end of the day you're either getting the right amount or you aint. It really is that simple.

Well... almost.

Appropriate calories is the top priority, but we also need to pay attention to the ratio of calories from protein, carbohydrates and dietary fats as well. Contrary to popular belief, all of these macronutrients are important, although ideal ratios will vary from one person to the next.

By now you can probably imagine how this theory on nutrition got its name. Someone asks “I'm trying to lose weight, is it OK to eat [insert particular food choice here]?”, and the answer invariably is “if it fits your macros”. In other words, if overall intake is suitable to fuel, recover and adapt to exercise while maintaining your goal weight, individual choices of foods do not matter.

Now quite often the particular food that they might be asking about is a perfectly healthy, normal choice of foods that there's no good reason to avoid. With that being said though, even the healthiest foods will cause weight gain if eating them means that you end up consuming more calories than are necessary to maintain your current weight. Similarly, even a less healthy food choice will not cause weight gain unless you exceed your maintenance level of calories.

So, does this mean people can eat junk food and still lose weight?

It depends. Junk food tends to pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food, and usually those calories are predominately from sugars or fats. Junk food also has that addictive quality where (if you're anything like me) even though you say “I'll just have one”, you end up going back for another 6, or until there's none left. So, while it's possible to include some food purely for enjoyment rather than for nutritional content, it makes it a lot harder to end up meeting your targets for overall calories and macronutrient ratios at the end of the day.

Why IIFYM is the logical choice for weight loss.

OK! Going back to that list of common diet tips from earlier, astute readers might have picked up a couple of references to some legitimate approaches in amongst a lot of stuff which is pretty much nonsense. So if you're offended because you think I'm talking about favourite approach, or something your favourite body builder uses, or for any other reason because you think I'm saying “that's no good, that won't work” hold up for a moment while I explain.

First up, I'm not in competition shape and I do not coach people in contest preparation. If anyone out there wants to tell me that specific meal timing or frequency (some of the other stuff too) gives them an edge in contest preparation I am happy to take their word for it. With that said, the body builders I follow and attempt to learn from mostly just talk in terms of “this macro ratio for off season, and this ratio for contest preparation”.
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Either way, we're not talking about nutrition plans for contest preparation here. What I'm interested in is taking people from overweight or obesity into amazing shape, and getting the best results possible with the simplest possible approach.

So in the case of an overweight or an obese person who may have tried to lose weight without lasting success several times already, the last thing they need is a complicated plan that focuses on the minute details rather than the big picture. They most often already have a bad relationship with food and have formed any number of negative beliefs about their ability to lose weight (“I can never stick to a diet” or “I don't like healthy food”, for example).

The last thing these people need is some complicated set of rules that is at best fine tuning for elite level competitors, and at worst entirely irrelevant.

Instead, what if you could build your own weight loss diet based on foods you will actually eat, and timed to fit your schedule? As long as it actually does fit your macros, how could you possibly go wrong?

Making it work.

Obviously it's not just a matter of choosing your favourite foods and going to town on them. We need to determine our target calorie and macronutrient guidelines first, and then start developing a meal plan to suit. One option would be keep notes on all meals, snacks and beverages consumed in a day, and then tally up the macronutritional content. From here it is easy to see which are the bad choices that are putting you into surplus calories (which means weight gain), and swap them out for some more appropriate choices. In many cases it may not require a particularly drastic change in eating habits.

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