IIFYM – temporary fashion, or a breakthrough in building shape? Part II

In the previous part of the article, I wrote about the nutrition idea called IIFYM, which is concentrated in its assumptions on providing proper amount of macro nutrients. As a reference point, I took a so-called “pure diet”, which is a way of eating based on products with particular pro-health properties (or beneficial for the body), or at least – kinds of food products lacking unwanted components. I also mentioned some disadvantages of this diet. In this part of the article, I would like to refer to the most frequent accusations towards IIFYM.

You should definitely read:

IIFYM – temporary fashion or a breakthrough in building shape?

Calories are not all the same

IIFYM – temporary fashion, or a breakthrough in building shape? Part I

On of the key arguments against using nutrition model based on IIFYM is the fact that “calories are not all the same”. What does it mean? The followers of this diet (and I am one of them) believe, that there is a big difference for our bodies whether we supply, e.g. 1,000 kcal in a form of buckwheat with salmon and vegetables, or in a form of doughnuts and ice-creams. Well, in fact, the reaction of the body for both meals may be different, it is related with the changes in the level of glucose, amino acids and lipids in blood, on the one hand, and on the other, the response from hormones, such as insulin, YY peptide or many others. What's more, there is evidence, that the body metabolises particular components differently, despite the fact that they belong to the same macro nutrient groups.

Frankly speaking – the reaction to glucose and fructose may be different. Just like trans-fatty acids of industrial origin influence our bodies differently than e.g. docosahexaenoic acid (omega 3). Referring to the physiological results in body, “calories are not all the same” (I will write more about it below).

The way of supplying energy from food is really significant for our bodies. There's big difference between supplying energy in a form of highly-processed food and unprocessed food – it is connected, among other reasons, with particularly dynamic activity of food, called after-meal thermogenesis. There are studies which confirm that when eating low-processed food, we give away more energy in a form of heat, than during the consumption of highly-processed food products, what was proven by Dr Sadie et. al in 2010.

There's one more important fact worth taking under consideration – there exists a common expression of “empty calories”. It's worth to know, that the body, in order to function correctly, needs not only proteins, carbs and fat, but also vitamins and minerals. If we don't provide those components, there is the disturbance of the organism's balance and worsening of health condition. One of the consequences may be e.g. worse functioning of thyroid, slower metabolism and larger tendency to increasing weight (what can be observed during vitamin D and calcium deficiency). If we don't supply all the necessary nutrition components, our bodies will function worse and, probably, it will be much more difficult to achieve good shape.

Having all of that information on mind, it's easy to come to conclusion that diet following IIFYM has no right to be beneficial. Whereas, practice shows something different, what can be proven by a well-known case of an American teacher, who lost weight eating meals exclusively from fast food restaurants. How is it possible?

The energy balance is relentless

In general, we can create different ideologies to more or less fattening food products (it won't be as senseless, as you think), but the fact is, that if you keep negative energy balance, your body mass will decrease. If you only drink water with sugar and eat chocolate bars and biscuits, it will be much harder for you to lose weight than in a situation when you support your diet on low-processed food. The reason is that sweets are less solid (what makes us more hungry than when eating balanced meals) on the one hand, and on the other, diet based on sweets is insufficient in many important components which reflects in the mood and the tempo of metabolism. However, it does not mean that when you eat only in a confectionery shop, or in a fast food restaurant, it's impossible to lose weight. It is possible, as long as the energy balance is negative. I will repeat that again – losing weight on “junk food” is not an optimal solution, because it may make the whole process slower and it may lead to selective malnutrition or even excess amount of harmful substances which can cause some disease at some point. And now there's time to ask the basic question – where is IIFYM in all of that?

IIFYM has many faces

The most important thing that has to be clarified in reference to the topic of this article, is that against some common opinions, IIFYM is not all about eating junk food. Of course, you can make such experiments under the name of this method, but you have to know, that even if such actions are not dangerous for your health, they are not an optimal solution if you want to improve your shape and physical condition. In other words – you cause more trouble to yourself. IIFYM is (or at least, I think it should be) something totally different.

The key message is to base your everyday diet not on “the only right food products”, such as chicken breast with rice and broccoli. Such meal doesn't have to be justified referring to the work on the shape. Similarly, IIFYM is not about punishing yourself after eating some ice-creams, grilled sausage or a slice of white bread with jam. Why? Because the key for good sports shape are calories and macro nutrients.

Does it mean that the matters of the quality of eaten food, supply of vitamins and minerals, or time of eating meals and including macro nutrients in different meals during a day are not important?

Of course, the answer is – no! However, the aspects mentioned above are of secondary importance, especially when considered extemporaneously. In other words, if you happen to eat pizza and ice-cream, you should “buffer” the eaten calories (proteins, carbs, fats) in the daily balance. Even if you don't provide proper amount of magnesium or folic acid this way during a day, and you change the appearance of macro nutrients in meals – there's nothing wrong in it. However, if you cross the energy demand this way by e.g. 1,500 kcal, then there's the chance that some part of this dose will be gathered as body fat. This example may be not perfect, but it influences the imagination in the matter of key factors.

I often meet people who lose a lot of time on keeping tomato and cucumber apart and checking if potatoes are really paleo, and they seem to forget about the basics important for the manipulation of body mass and composition, such as calorific balance and the distribution of macro nutrients.

On the Internet forums there are plenty of questions, like:

I eat a lot of lean meat, rice, broccoli, oat flakes and quark and my muscles are not growing – why?”

People who start such topics forget about the necessity of ensuring energy excess – (as long as the goal is to build muscles), they concentrate on choosing the proper fat to fry or have a dilemma concerning the problem of consuming simple or complex carbs after workout. Whereas, there aren't enough calories in their diets, or the distribution of macro nutrients is wrong. However, the situation is analogical in case of body fat reduction – if the priorities are wrong, there are no effects or they are inadequate to the effort.

IIFYM – healthy attitude

A second ago I used a statement that IIFYM is not about eating junk food. So, it's good to visualize the main thought of this method. Whether you are inspired by IIFYM or not, it's worth to eat low-processed food. But, it doesn't have to be chicken breast, brown rice, quark and olive oil. What's more – you can even omit those products in your diet. However, it's worth taking care of including sources of proteins, such as:

  • fresh meat (processed at home), but it can be poultry, lean beef, pork, venison or offal,

  • eggs – not only egg whites, but whole eggs with yolks,

  • dairy products, but, again, not only low-fat quark, but also rennet cheese, like gouda, or even cream!

  • Fish, but not only tuna or salmon, but also herring, pike, zander or mackerel.

It's also worth including food products which are good sources of carbs and consist not only refined saccharose. So it's good to find some place in diet for:

  • cereal products, whereas, they don't have to be all wholegrain – white rice or noodles are a great option, especially after workout,

  • potatoes and sweet potatoes (as much as it's possible, as they are expensive),

  • fruits (differentiated, the best would be local and seasonal).

The quality of fats is extremely important in diet. For example, the industrial trans-fatty acids are harmful and should be avoided. You should also have some place for the following food products in your diet:

  • fatty fish (the source of omega 3),

  • nuts and seeds,

  • unrefined plant oils poor in omega 6 (e.g. olive oil),

  • whole eggs,

  • fat dairy products,

  • avocado.

It's also good to find place for fruits and vegetables which provide vitamins, fiber, potassium and many other valuable components.

“Fine” - the extreme followers of IIFYM may say - “it's just more liberal 'pure diet' which was extended by few additional products (white rice, pork, fat dairy products). And where are ice-creams, hamburgers and pizza?” Well, the answer is simple – the wise IIFYM assumes that the base are products with high nutritional value, not necessarily all the mentioned above but some part of them, or at least products from similar categories. Whereas, food products which are the source of empty calories may be some kind of complement of the menu, or rather its diversification introducing the “relaxing” element. Such attitude may cause a lot of benefits: on the one hand, it liberates from the stigma of 'pure bowl' and the vision of permanent forcing in distasteful meals based on the hated chicken breasts, dry rice and broccoli, and on the other hand, it ensures proper nutrition for the body and gives a lot of fun. Although, experience shows that it's possible to decrease excess body mass by eating only in fast food restaurants. But it's not the best solution. As it is worth remembering that it's not about proving whether something is possible or not, but about searching for the solutions which give possibly good effects with low cost. Therefore, the key is optimization, and not making it harder, just to show that “it's possible”. Unless, you don't want to use the whole potential of yourself and the diet.


Of course, this is not the last part of this article, but I can create some conclusions here:

  • in the diet of IIFYM type, the key factor is calorific balance and the distribution of macro nutrients,

  • a diet, like IIFYM, doesn't have to be based on junk food (but it stands out with liberal attitude towards such food),

  • a diet, like IIFYM, should be based on valuable food products, whereas, they don't have to be “the only right products”, such as oat flakes, egg whites, chicken breast, rice and broccoli (like a typical bodybuilding diet suggests), or only those products, which occurred in paleolithic (like in paleo diet).

In the next part of this article, I will present an exemplary diet based on the assumptions of IIFYM and I will compare its nutrition value to the 'pure diet' nutrition value.


 IIFYM – temporary fashion, or a breakthrough in building shape? Part I