Can You Have Your Cake And Eat It Too?

February 15, 2019


7Cutting down to shredded levels is rarely easy. And often times when you talk to that shredded individual at the gym you may notice they often have varying dieting philosophies. One person may tell you to try keto and avoid all carbs like the plague while someone else says to cut down the fats and keep the carbs higher. Another may talk about intermittent fasting or carb backloading.You may even come across someone suggesting a cleanse or juice fast, in which case you need to probably just turn around and walk away. But even though it’s clear that people are getting results following different strategies there are two groups that turn dieting into an ideology and butt heads frequently.

The If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) diet vs “eating clean” is one of the most heated debates currently ongoing in the fitness industry. As with all debates over different ideologies there is a strong emotional response with positives and negatives to both points of view.  In one corner we have IIFYM which is the acronym for “if it fits your macros”. Followers of IIFYM think “clean eaters” are missing out on life and suffering pointlessly by being unreasonably strict with their diets of fish or chicken with broccoli. The theory behind IIFYM is that there is really no such thing as a “bad” calorie as long as you are able to hit certain macronutrient targets for your goals. If you sc our instagram for the hashtag IIFYM you’ll undoubtedly come across countless pictures of ripped individuals downing pizza and ice cream because they were able to fit them into that day’s requirements. The IIFYM crew believe s that the source of the macronutrient will have zero impact on the individual’s physique even if it’s not necessarily optimal for long-term overall health.

In the other corner we have the “eating clean” crew. This group does not believe that sources of macronutrients are all equal. From their point of view IIFYM followers are simply undisciplined or uncommitted to the lifestyle. They believe that eating as close to 100% clean as possible will ultimately lead to a better physique and cite the clean eating habits of legends of the sport like Arnold, Zane, and Kevin Levrone. Levrone was known for eating fish with broccoli and a little rice as almost every meal for months at a time. He wasn’t using oreos or pop tarts to hit his daily carbohydrate total. Many that adhere to this philosophy also fall under the umbrella as “primal” or “paleo” and believe that our sources of food should be as unprocessed as possible.

Let’s take a deeper look at these two styles of dieting.


When taking an IIFYM approach, the first thing you do is calculate your daily requirements. Most people do this by first finding out their total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is the total amount of energy you expend in a day which is a combination of daily activities plus your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn just by sustaining life). The easiest way to calculate TDEE is to multiply your bodyweight by a factor of 12-20 based off of how active you are. The sedentary individual would use a factor of 12-14, it would be 14-16 for someone with a sedentary job who works out with moderate intensity 3 times a week. Most bodybuilders who workout hard 5+days a week probably fall in the 16-18 range. 20+ would be geared towards the extremely active or some8one with a very physical job. So if we have a typical 200lb bodybuilder a good estimate of TDEE would be 3,200 calories.

Once you have found the TDEE you need to find your macronutrient goals. Remember the TDEE is how much total energy you burn. If your goal is to lose bodyfat you need to consume less energy than you burn by 500-1000cals daily. So our 200lb bodybuilder would consume 2200-2700 calories. Studies have shown that the bodybuilding population benefits more from protein than the general population, especially during a cutting phase. 1.2-1.6g of protein per lb of bodyweight is needed to help retain muscle mass. Fats are essential to maintain healthy hormone levels and should be consumed at a bare minimum of .3g/lb of bodyweight up to .7g/lb if you prefer higher fats and lower carbs. Once you have figured out your fat and protein macros the leftover calories will come from carbs..

Let’s find the macronutrient breakdown for a 200lb bodybuilder who is consuming 2500 calories.

  • Protein  200*1.3 = 260g
  • Fats  200*.4 = 80g
  • Carbs  2500-(260*4+80*9)=740cals   740/4 = 185g

Now that this individual has their macronutrient totals they can fill them with whatever type of food they like. While most still try to eat relatively healthy with the occasional “cheat food” to reach their macro totals, there are some who certainly take this to the extreme and hit their totals through junk and processed food.

The Positives

IIFYM forces you to be very accurate with your calorie counting. If you have very specific targets to hit you will be forced to stay on track which will prevent any major binge eating which is a reason why many diets fail. Followers of IIFYM are able to consume the occasional treat without a feeling of guilt and don’t have to be so restrictive with their food choices. This comes in handy in social situations and is a major reason why many people follow this plan.

The Negatives

Unfortunately all that calorie counting can be a pain in the butt as well. What if you are out to eat? Do you know how much butter they used in the mashed potatoes? Are they going to have that black truffle seared foie gras on myfitnesspal? Sometimes not being able to accurately track calories can create stress and anxiety if following IIFYM. And is it even worth trying to hit a specific TDEE?

Your energy requirements actually change daily. If you are sick, stressed, more active or overtrained you will need more calories. Also not all calories are created equal. Some burn more energy through the digestive process than others and not all calories are stored the same. For example the 14 and 16 chain carbon fatty acids are converted to ketones by the liver and are immediately available for use in the bloodstream. All other fats go through the lymphatic system which means they won’t be used for immediate energy, instead they will be stored for use later.

But the biggest potential negative from IIFYM is long term health and hormone balance from lack of micronutrients. When in a caloric deficit this could be a problem if you are not eating a nutrient-dense diet. Now you can take a good multivitamin to address deficiencies but you still don’t want to be eating non-nutritious food. Gut health is crucial to our immune system and ability to properly partition nutrients. If your gut is unhealthy from consuming crap food you better believe that your hormones are not functioning optimally which will hurt your physique in the long run.

Eating Clean

9People who follow this approach simply eat unprocessed foods almost exclusively. It can get repetitive and perhaps even bland if you are not a very good chef. If it has ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it. Humans have been on this earth for hundreds of thousands of years and until very recently we ate very minimally processed foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. This group believes we evolved eating these foods and our bodies function best on a diet as close to our primitive ancestors as possible. Most bodybuilders who eat clean will also eat grains such as rice and quinoa. This group will bypass products containing things such as white flour, corn syrup, binding ingredients, and other ingredients that are only there as a result of the food being overly processed.


When eating clean you can certainly still track your macros, but it is not necessary. While it’s important to have a good idea of portions and how much food you are consuming, eating whole unprocessed foods allows you to listen to your body’s own biofeedback that signals hunger and satiety much easier than if you are eating junk multiple times a week following IIFYM. Another benefit this group claims is lower inflammation levels and better-functioning hormones which will help with recovery and appearance. Certain foods create an inflammatory response in our body which can elevate cortisol and also result in skin discoloration or puffiness which is never attractive no matter how lean you are.


The biggest con that eating clean presents is some people just aren’t able to stick with it and tend to fall completely off the rails once they do slip. Social events can make it difficult and uncomfortable at times if you are being very strict with your diet. It can also be more expensive as well as time consuming when you are having to prep all your own high quality food. And if you are trying to gain weight as an ectomorph it may be tough to eat enough calories from “clean foods”.

So Which One Is Better?

This is going be different for everyone. It’s funny how vocally opposed these two groups are to each other when in reality they probably eat mostly the same food. Some people do better with certain foods just completely off the table. It helps to not even view those as options. Others will crave those intensely if they are not allowed the occasional “dirty” food. Some people may use one method for bulking and one method for cutting. Ultimately which diet is better is going to come down to whatever one you are able to most adhere to. At the end of the day if you are getting the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients any diet will work in conjunction with hard training.

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