Saturday 20 January 2018

Can you have your cake and eat it too? 'Flexible dieting' claims to aid weight loss by eating your favourite foods

It is important to have a healthy relationship with food.
It is important to have a healthy relationship with food.
A screen shot of Meabh Durkin's Instagram - who describes herself as a 'Macro Mathematician'
Freya Drohan

Freya Drohan

If It Fits Your Macros - aka IIFYM or Flexible Dieting - is one of the most popular lifestyle trends in recent years. But is it too good to be true?

Everywhere we turn, there is opposing nutritional advice flashed in our direction and almost every week, a new diet term is coined.

However, there is one thing we all innately know: if you want to lose weight, there must be a deficit between the energy you intake and the energy you put out.

When you decide to “clean up” your diet, you automatically omit things like sauces, sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol. So did you ever stop and think that the reason you are shedding pounds is not due to the ‘clean food’ you are eating, but simply the caloric value of it?

Traditional diet food can get boring very quickly, meaning we fall off the healthy eating bandwagon
Traditional diet food can get boring very quickly, meaning we fall off the healthy eating bandwagon

Of course it comes into the equation that clean foods such as lean meats, complex carbs and vegetables are lower in calories than takeaways and sweet treats. But browse through the #IIFYM on social media and you will see people eating chocolate bars as a topping on their porridge, lashings of peanut butter on protein pancakes and tupperware containers with mountains of pasta.

This is why “IIFYM” is one of the more controversial lifestyle trends, as it causes a lot of arguments about what exactly constitutes a healthy and balanced diet. The diet is based more on meeting your macronutrient requirements (carbs, protein, fat, fibre) than worrying about whether the food you are consuming is nutritious and beneficial.

However, in general those who advocate it say it helps them keep on track and achieve their goals, as it makes room for treats and splurges, all while allowing an individual to keep an eye on how many calories they consume on a daily basis.

IIYFM or Flexible Dieting was started by a group of bodybuilders, who had grown tired of eating the bland and boring food they were being told to feast on, such as boiled chicken breasts, steamed vegetables, egg white omelettes and brown rice. They decided to experiment whether they would still achieve the physique they wanted if they had some fun with their food.

It's still important that every meal is balanced
It's still important that every meal is balanced

To date, it has transformed how millions of people around the world approach their eating habits and stay on track with long term, sustainable diets.

Here, Human Nutrition and Dietetics student Meabh Durkin weighs in on the matter and explains the science behind it.

A passionate foodie who has amassed thousands of followers thanks to her healthy recipe Instagram account, due to her Type 1 Diabetes, Meabh doesn’t follow ‘IIFYM’ strictly but she does advocate its benefits.

“The concept behind IFFYM is that you can eat anything you like so long as it meets your individual kilocalorie and macronutrient needs, and still reach your specific goals- be it fat loss, muscle gain or body composition changes,” Meabh explains.

“All foods are composed of the three macronutrients; carbohydrate, protein and fat in various proportions, and they all play numerous different and vital roles in the body.

“IFFYM is based on calories in minus calories out = weight loss so essentially what its saying is that it doesn't matter if these calories come from brown rice and chicken or from chocolate and crisps so long as you meet your daily calorie and macro targets.”

So how does one calculate their individual macronutrient requirements? First, they must determine their Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

which will show how many calories your body burns over the course of the day. A quick and easy way to find out your TDEE and macro requirement is to input your details into an online system.

She believes that while IIFYM is a brilliant way to track and analyse the composition of your diet, its downfall is that it doesn’t take into account all of the essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that we need.

“However, I think if it suits you and you approach it with a bit of sense then it can be a great tool to have," Meabh maintains.

So how does one keep an eye on the macros they are consuming every day?

Meabh recommends using an online database such as MyFitnessPal to help keep track of what you eat and your daily activities.

“Using this app you can enter your details such as age, height and activity levels into a calculator which will suggest macronutrient breakdown for you, which you can then modify.”

“The danger in this is that people with little to no knowledge or qualifications in nutrition are applying inappropriate diet compositions. ‘The more protein the better’ is often the mentality, with people feeling the need to be on shakes and supplements when this is certainly not the case.”

“What works for one person doesn't for the next and with IFFYM it’s no different. It’s not a magic formula, simply a way of tracking analyzing and reminding you that if you overindulge at one meal to simply cut back at the next- which many people do intuitively anyway."

Meabh also warns that it is easy to become bogged down with tracking, weighing and fretting over what they are consuming.

“Some people would be driven daft even at the idea of logging what they eat and others could just become obsessive about it. If it’s for you and you like it then great but don’t become too obsessive with it."

"It supposedly allows you to include more of your favourite foods yet some people end up eating the same foods again and again because they know they fit their macros perfectly. A varied and balanced diet is what’s key to all over health,” Meabh insists.

“We’re not all athletes or bodybuilders and food is something to be enjoyed not counted to the gram day in and day out.”

Now there's some food for thought.

Follow Meabh and her delicious, nutritious recipes here.

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