To take a break from the standard quippy introduction, I want to take a different direction and begin this article with a little game. Proceed when ready.
One of these words doesn’t belong: 8 pack abs, donuts, cake, ice cream, Pop Tarts, Oreos, Sour Patch Kids.
I bet most of you chose 8-pack abs. Sorry, you would be wrong. It was a trick question, the answer is they all belong.
Getting "abbed up", jacked, shredded, etc. doesn’t have to mean removing a huge list of foods from your diet. You can in fact get results eating pretty flexibly.
This is essentially the entire philosophy of the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach to dieting.
IIFYM utilizes a philosophy where all calories are created equal and it doesn’t matter where food comes from, a calorie is a calorie.
While there are some nuances and scientific ideas that make this idea a little more complex, the general principles of IIFYM hold a lot of weight and can be implemented to great effect for a lot of people.
Those who practice IIFYM, we shall call these creatures IIFYMers, often are able to enjoy a wide range of foods, including those typically left off diet lists, and still get phenomenal results.
If you detach yourself from your diet dogma, step back a bit, and look at IIFYMers, you can learn a few key lessons from them that might make your own nutrition much more successful.
1. Calories are king
If there is one singular lesson you can learn from IIFYMers, it’s that in the grand scheme of getting jacked and shredded… Calories are king.
While this is not a highly controlled science experiment, the fact that you can have a large number of people slaying donuts, cake, Pop Tarts, and pancakes on the regular and still be sub 10% body fat should be an illuminating fact. This natural living experiment should tell you right here that calories are obviously the single biggest aspect to any successful diet.
When you look at over 40 years of nutritional research, every single calorie controlled experiment tells us one unifying, clear, and distinct message. Calories are by far the biggest dictator of the success of a diet for fat loss.
It doesn’t matter whether you go high carb, low carb, low fat, high fat, etc. Calories rule the world of nutrition. It comes down to basic physics and chemistry. If you figure out a way around it, then you will probably win the Nobel Prize (although the prize money of $1,000,000 would be paltry compared to your book sales).
When you set out to design a diet to get you to your goals of losing fat, gaining muscle, or getting stronger, the very first parameter you need to nail down is your calorie intake. After that, you can begin to work on the macronutrients based on your goals, as each goal will have slightly different variations of macros.
But, calories will always be the single most important factor.
2. Discipline Equals Freedom
Many years ago, I was having a conversation with someone at a bar, after a few beers I uttered the following words,
“When you do what you have to do when you have to do it, you can do what you want to do when you want to do it”.
Several years later I read the following words in a book called Extreme Ownership, “Discipline Equals Freedom”.
“Discipline Equals Freedom” is a much more eloquent, less verbose, and more precise way to sum up the ideas I uttered many years ago. Discipline Equals Freedom essentially means that when you follow rules and establish well-oiled patterns, behaviors, and have robust systems for success put in place, you actually have more freedom to be creative and have a little flexibility while being successful.
When you boil the core concepts of IIFYM down this idea of “Discipline Equals Freedom” emerges from it.
IIFYM is based on a concept of strict calorie counting and tracking your macros. The discipline of quantifying everything you eat means you have a lot of freedom in the quality of the food choices you make. I mean yes, 60 grams of carbs from cake is not going to be as satiating as 60 grams of carbs from a potato, but you can choose either one you want.
While many may feel beholden to the scale when they follow a program that requires pretty strict measuring, this also builds the freedom to choose foods that you enjoy the taste of.
3. You can have your cake and eat it too
Unlike the silly English idiomatic proverb “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” which means you can’t have the best of the worlds, you can actually have the best of both worlds.
You can diet, get shredded, and still eat the foods you enjoy.
IIFYM really does give you a dietary approach that gives you the best of both worlds in many regards. Let me enumerate them:
- You can literally eat cake: If you can construct a meal plan that allows for the calories and macros in your favorite slice of cake, you can eat cake everyday if your heart so desires.
- You can eat as clean as you want: If you are someone who places a high value on health and food quality, you can develop meal plans that are 100% “clean”, 100% “paleo”, or 100% “vegan”. You get where I am going with this. You can follow any nutrient quality diet you want along with the IIFYM framework.
- You become a macro counting robot: After several years of following an IIFYM approach to dieting, you begin to develop a very intimate understanding of your food and its calories and macros. This is a life-long skill you develop that you can use for decades to know how to eat to maintain your weight.
Even if you choose not to use the IIFYM approach to your nutrition, the lessons you can learn from them are valid and should be taken into consideration when you decide what nutrition plan you are going to use to reach your goals.
Make calories your biggest priority, have systems that make you disciplined, and build in some sort of flexibility so you can get results while still having a good quality of life.
I mean let’s be honest, 8 pack abs are pretty much worthless if the rest of your life is in shambles because you hate how you live day to day.