The Macro Diet (IIFYM): What Your Dietitian Really Thinks
The phrase "If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)" is popping up everywhere these days. Sites claim the Macro diet will allow you to, "eat the food you love and trigger immediate fat loss" without deprivation (no hunger, no dietary restrictions); and with exercise being entirely optional. Popsugar Fitness describes it as the diet that "lets you eat pizza."
Well, that sounds magical.
It's an alluring description, and one that likely has you thinking somewhere along the lines of…
Pizza?! Sounds like my kind of diet. Sign me up.
This sounds too good to be true; what's the catch?
Err, what is the Macro diet?
Whatever the case may be, you're likely as intrigued as I was the first time someone asked for my opinion of the Macro diet (PS I had no clue what it was at the time). So let's explore the Macro diet from a dietitian's perspective. I'll cover what it is, and what pros and cons I can see. Then I'll leave the decision making up to you!
What is the Macro Diet?
Macro is short for the word macronutrients. If we break down that term, we see "macro" means large and well, nutrients means nutrients! Carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water are the nutrients required in large amounts by our bodies, thus they are called our macronutrients.
Essentially this diet was designed to dictate the amounts of macronutrients you should have to create "balance" in your diet and promote weight loss. It doesn't outline which foods you should choose or avoid. Anything can fit so long as it falls within your allotted calories and percentage of carbs, protein, and fat. Although it may sound simple enough to you now, the devil is in the details.
1. Freedom to be flexible.
I'm an advocate of ditching good food/bad food mentality and can appreciate a diet that encourages liberation. After all, we deserve the freedom to sink our teeth into a piece of cheese, chocolate, or other beloved food without feeling guilty for it! I think the reason this diet caught on in the first place is because we crave that freedom and unfortunately we don't give ourselves the permission to have it very often.
2. Carbs, fat, and protein are all included. Can I get an amen?!
Diets that lack relative balance are frustratingly restrictive at best, and can really be quite dangerous -- putting you at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies and/or toxicities. The Macro diet may restrict energy, carbs, and fat more than your dietitian would recommend (see cons below) but at least they are all invited to the party!
1. This diet may be too low in carbs to keep you energized.
Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for the brain and body. They're also the foods from which we derive a great deal of our fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Typical signs that carbohydrate intake is too low include lack of energy, mood disturbance, trouble focusing, and frequent cravings for sweet or starchy foods.
Contrary to popular belief, it's actually carbs (not protein) that are the primary source of energy for working muscles. Generally, 45% to 65% of calories in a balanced eating pattern come from carbohydrates. If you're an athlete or active person, your carbohydrate requirements increase -- rising to 55% to 70%. The Macro diet requires you limit carbohydrates to just 40% of your calories. For the vast majority of us, this is not enough.
2. While protein is a vital part of balanced eating, when we restrict in other areas (ie cutting back on carbs or fat) we may wind up having more protein than our bodies need, and that can be harmful.
Consuming protein in excess of your body's needs can strain your kidneys and liver, and interfere with your body's absorption of calcium. Protein in excess of your body's needs does not get stored as protein in the body. Usually, it’s stored as fat.
3. We need more fat! Fats help us regulate body temperature, protect cell walls, balance hormones, stabilize blood sugars, and stay full for longer.
Balanced eating patterns typically include 20% to 35% of total calories coming from fat. The Macro diet hovers at the lower end of that range. Many of us fear fat without realizing what beneficial roles it plays as a source of energy, as a vehicle for absorbing other nutrients, and as a protector of our cells amongst other things. Depending on your body and lifestyle, the Macro diet may provide the right amount, or too little fat for optimal health.
My closing thoughts on the Macro diet? It is, after all, still just a diet -- and diets don't work! Why? Because external rules and restrictions disconnect us from our body cues and set us up to feel like failures (which we are most definitely not!) Our bodies are wired to dictate when, what, and how much we eat in a way that ensures we meet our needs more accurately than any diet could. If you'd like to work with me to learn about how to reconnect with your body cues by practicing Intuitive Eating, I'm here!
Have questions? I'd love to hear from you! Here's where you can reach me.