The Dark Side of IIFYM ( and diets in general)

http://dietsinreview.s3.amazonaws.com/diet_column/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/stress-eating.jpgRemember when I raved about the dietary approach called If It Fits Your Macros, or flexible dieting?  I experienced some significant personal growth with respect to the way I approached and related to food.  I still believe that others can experience these breakthroughs via IIFYM as well. Not to mention, I and countless others have achieved significant changes in our physiques.  But, at what cost? And were those changes sustainable?  As I alluded in my How-To: Take a Break post, following IIFYM for a long-term, continuous basis is not feasible or sustainable.  Like all diet plans and program, “flexible dieting” or If It Fits Your Macros has both benefits and pitfalls for its followers.  I’ll be exploring the less desirable aspects of this program (and other “restriction diets”) in this post.

 The Dangers of IIFYM

  • Obsessive/compulsive behaviours around food: planning, preparing, weighing, measuring, and tracking: this description is pretty self-explanatory, and it forms the crux of the entire program.  This is not unique to IIFYM; other diet plans and programs have various methods of measuring portion sizes (pre-packaged food products; “points” systems; etc.).  The mental effort and stress of constantly having to prepare foods consistent with the goals of the program can be exhausting and debilitating.  If time is being taken away from other pursuits, such as leisure time with family and friends, or if a sense of panic or anxiety ensues about NOT being able to weigh/track/measure, then it may be time to re-evaluate.  Yes, proper food and meal planning is very important for long-term health and wellness goals, but you should also be able to venture out without your food scale and measuring cups!
  • Periodic binge eating and/or other disordered eating patterns & habits: again, this is common with many restrictive programs (and almost ALL diets impose a form of caloric restriction, either directly or indirectly via macros or points).  The body, both physically and psychologically, will begin to rebel against prolonged periods of restriction, especially if essential nutrients are withheld and/or overall caloric intake is below base metabolic requirements of the body.  IIFYM offers some benefits in this regard vs. other forms of dieting as it does allow for regular consumption of foods otherwise considered “treats” or “junk” on other programs.  Removing the restriction around these foods can actually cause them to be LESS desirable and therefore less likely to be consumed in a binge.  On the other hand, because IIFYM does NOT require any special planning to ensure adequate intake of micro-nutrients, certain deficiencies can culminate in dramatic overeating episodes (binges) in an effort to consume the missing foods & nutrients.  IIFYM fat intake recommendations are also generally lower than what the latest science has to say about appropriate dietary fat levels.  The low-fat lie is being debunked, and the new villain in the world of nutrition is raising its head in the form of SUGAR.
  • Under-nutrition: as per the above, IIFYM does not generally ensure adequate intake of micro-nutrients essential for our health, such as vitamins and minerals.  This is also true of the Standard American Diet (SAD) in general – hence the explosion in the supplement industry – and the effects can be even more pronounced when food intake is cut back even further.
  • No long-term sustainability: having to pre-plan and log all food intake is not a realistic or enjoyable long-term strategy for health and wellness.  Again, as per the above, this activity can become a compulsion.  Some adherents may choose to follow IIFYM leading up to a specific event or goal, dropping pounds in the short-term, often at a very fast rate and to a lower-than-ideal body weight and/or body fat composition (and putting the pounds and fat back on while off the program).  These fluctuations in weight and changes in body composition can have negative health outcomes vs. slowly losing weight down to an “ideal” body weight (as determined on an individual basis in consultation with your primary health care provider) and maintaining that weight in the long term.
  • Suppression of natural hunger cues: with the requirement to stay within the prescribed macro targets for the day, IIFYM often causes adherents to ignore strong hunger cues, with various tips and tricks for appetite suppression.  Again, this is common across nearly all restrictive dieting approaches.  The ability to differentiate between a craving and a true need to eat, and how to ride out the former, is very valuable.  Ignoring the body’s true hunger cues, however, can slow metabolic rates, lead to under-nutrition (as described above) and further disordered eating patterns.
  • Suppression of natural satiety cues: on the flip side to the above, at times the IIFYM requires adherents to eat MORE than what is needed/desired to meet the prescribed macro targets for the day.  Supplying the body with nutrients it does not need at times it does not need them can cause hormonal and digestive upset and also further disordered eating patterns.  Adherents lose any internal “intuitive” cues as to when to stop eating and rely solely on having consumed the prescribed portions and foods for the day – “can’t stop until all of the Tupperwares are empty!”  This approach of always needing to eat the full serving allotted can carry over to servings outside of the program, even if those serving sizes are too large and cause discomfort due to overeating.
  • No knowledge of what or how much to eat outside of the parameters of the program: because IIFYM deliberately does NOT evaluate or prize foods on any basis other than their macronutrient composition, it does not provide any clear guidelines on WHAT foods are best eaten.  It only matters in the context of tallying up macros for the day, and that is not a sustainable practice outside of the program.

So, what to do now?  I highly recommend that you explore the principles and practices of The Whole30.  I’ll be writing a follow-up post on my own Whole30 experience at some point. You can also explore Intuitive Eating.  Feel free to contact me at any time with comments, questions, concerns or criticisms!

*As always, I am NOT a nutritionist or a dietitian.  I encourage you to consult with your trusted health professional on any dietary advice or strategies that are unique to YOU as an individual, especially if you are dealing with food allergies or intolerances.

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