Before I get into which is better, it would probably be helpful if I explained a little bit more about what exactly each of these concepts mean.
There really is no clear cut definition of ‘clean’ eating — hence the reason you’ll see the word ‘clean’ in quotes throughout this entire post.
A food that one person considers to be ‘clean,’ might not be regarded as ‘clean’ to somebody else.
Especially if you’re following the latest fad diet (that’s what all the cool kids are doing nowadays).
It all comes down to the fact that ‘clean’ is subjective term.
They say what you see depends on where you stand. And that statement couldn’t be more true in this example.
For instance, if someone follows a paleo diet, eggs are a great clean food with plenty of nutritious vitamins and minerals.
However for someone who eats a vegan diet, eggs are embryos of a living and breathing life form. They can’t even be classified as a ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ (dirty?) food — they’re simply not food at all.
Disclaimer: I recommend neither of these diets.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
For the purpose of this article, however, I’m just going make a simple over-simplification:
‘Clean’ Eating is focused around quality.
So what does this goofy acronym stand for?
If It Fits Your Macros
Macros, which is short for macronutrients, are the forms of energy that a given food contains.
You’ve probably heard of them before — the three main macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
These proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are what make up the majority of the calories we eat on a daily basis, and our bodies digest and use each one very differently.
The concept behind IIFYM is that a gram of protein is a gram of protein, regardless of the food.
Whether the protein came from a protein powder, or an egg, it’s still a gram of protein — the source is more or less irrelevant.
To make another oversimplification:
IIFYM is focused around quantity.
Side Note: I want to make one thing clear before moving on here — just because someone does IIFYM does not mean that they only eat fruity pebbles, chocolate cake, and candy.
At the same time, just because someone practices ‘clean’ eating doesn’t mean that they only eat plain chicken breast and broccoli.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what each of these concepts are, which one is more important?
I’m going to preface this with a short little story.
There once lived a farmer who lived in the valley.
He was a great farmer — for years he had been able to support his family by working the land. He provided food for his family to eat, and even had extra to sell for money in town.
But one growing season, there came a drought. There was no rain, and the river in the valley was drying up.
The farmer knew that if the drought were to continue, that his crops would die and his family would have no money and nothing to eat.
With this in mind, the farmer desperately wished and wished that the drought would subside and that it would rain for the rest of the season.
Sure enough, the farmer got his wish. It started to rain.
The farmer’s crops were getting the drink they had been longing for and the river was rising back to it’s normal level.
But the rain wasn’t slowing down.
It continued to rain so much that the river rose over it’s banks and flooded the valley. As a result, the farmer’s crops were killed and his home was destroyed.
The farmer got the rain he was hoping for, but it left him worse off than he was before.
Moderation and balance is the key to life.
As Aristotle put it:
“Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.”
Regarding the farmer in the story, he went from one extreme to the other.
No rain at all and his crops dry out and die. Too much rain and the crops are flooded and destroyed.
Even too much of a good thing can be bad.
You can gain weight by eating too much ‘clean’ food.
Ultimately, the dose makes the poison.
Most often, when there are two extremes, the answer is often somewhere in the middle — and that’s exactly the case when it comes to clean eating and IIFYM.
It’s ignorant to become obsessive over one or the other for the simple reason that both quality and quantity are important.
‘Clean’ eating (in quotes because, again, everyone has a different definition of the word ‘clean’) generally involves eating a lot of wholesome and nutritious foods.
This is important because our bodies don’t just require calories, but vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to keep our bodies functioning at an optimal level.
Think about the engine of a car like your body.
If you keep the engine well oiled and maintained, it’s going to run smoother, more efficiently, and last much longer.
On the other hand, neglecting the oil and maintenance work is going to result in sub-optimal performance from the engine.
Don’t neglect the oil and maintenance of your body.
I’ve cited Jim Rohn’s quote before, and I’ll do it again:
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
On the other hand, we have IIFYM.
IIFYM, or focusing on the quantity of food you’re eating, is nice because it gives you room to play around with your diet a bit.
If you want to eat some processed garbage like potato chips, twinkies, sugary cereals, or what have you — you certainly have the freedom to do that.
You don’t have to worry about craving certain foods — as long as they fit into your daily macronutrient intake, you’re free to enjoy them.
All it takes is a little bit of planning and budgeting to indulge in foods you may have felt guilty eating otherwise. In turn, people are typically less likely to feel deprived of their favorite foods, which lowers the chances of going off the rails and binging.
Like I said mentioned earlier, the answer lies in the middle of the two extremes.
Becoming obsessive over one or the other is unhealthy.
Becoming obsessed over ‘clean’ eating can cause feelings of deprivation, which can lead to binging and eating disorders.
On the other hand, obsessing over IIFYM and eating pop-tarts, ice cream, and protein powder all the time will leave your body deprived of nutrients. You’ll feel like crap, and your health will suffer.
The key is finding a balance between the two extremes of ‘clean’ eating and IIFYM.
However, when it comes to losing weight loss, the amount of food you eat (or rather, the amount of calories) you eat will ultimately make or break your weight loss efforts.
That’s because of the simple fact that you can overeat on ‘clean’ foods.
This is especially true when it comes to healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, avocado, and things like that which are typically regarded as ‘clean’ foods despite the fact that they’re dense in calories.
Ultimately, if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight.
The only way to absolutely guarantee that is counting calories (or macros), since you can gain weight by eating too many calories of whole nutritious foods (again, the dose makes the poison).
That’s why calories are at the base of our weight loss priority
When it comes to weight loss and body composition, at the end of the day, a calorie is a calorie — regardless of where it comes from.
For that reason, and from my personal experience, I believe that someone who’s trying to lose weight would benefit most from practicing IIFYM while eating mostly whole nutrient dense foods.
I’ve found that to be the best mindset for successful weight loss — it’s the best of both worlds.
By budgeting your calories and macros, you’ll be sure to lose weight — assuming you track accurately and you have the right numbers from the start.
Whereas someone who is already at a healthy weight might not want to bother with counting calories, and instead just focus on eating a diet of mostly whole nutritious foods. Since they don’t really care about losing weight.
The bottom line — If you want to lose weight, the only way to guarantee you’re in a calorie deficit (and thus, lose weight) is by counting your calories or macros. And you should do so by eating mostly whole nutritious foods.
With this approach, we’re able to find the balance that I’ve talked so much about.
This way, you’re really practicing both clean eating and IIFYM at the same time. The two extreme approaches don’t have to be exclusive — they can work together in perfect dietary harmony.
With that being said — you can certainly lose weight effectively and efficiently without counting calories.
Want to learn how?
Originally published at www.andrewschutt.com on December 5, 2016.
Originally published at medium.com