Clean Eating vs. Flexible Dieting vs. IIFYM
If you are in to your fitness and the social media side of things, you will have no doubt noticed the many different styles and categories of eating that have come to existence. You may have also noticed how heated the discussions get between different camps, so we are going to explain and analyse the three most popular eating regimens for you simply and clearly so you can decide what is best for you!
The three eating styles in question are:
IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
What is Clean Eating?
This is a style of eating where you only eat foods you perceive as ‘clean’. To put it simply, anything classed as junk food, refined, relatively high in sugar or fat is usually deemed an unclean food- but this is not a food in need of a wash. For example avocado, eggs, tuna steak and lean meats would be considered clean and on the menu, whereas chocolate, breads, pasta and anything processed would be considered unclean and off-limits.
This is an ideal way of eating for physical health. You will (most likely) get a great range and amount of micronutrients, antioxidants and fibre that would be relatively less in flexible dieting and IIFYM.
You are more likely to get at least the recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg per day that is again great for vitamins, minerals, fibre and hydration!
This automatically labels a list of foods unclean or bad– and with no available definition of a bad or unclean food, given this is subjective person to person, this could be restricting someone to too small an amount of foods.
This style of eating often leads to periods of binging, or if it has resulted in a complete diet change it often allows for short term results before reverting back to a diet they enjoyed and then a rebound weight gain.
Preparing clean foods are relatively hard and time consuming when compared to the flexibility and suitability of flexible dieting and IIFYM.
People often do not count calories (or to a lesser importance track macros) with this style of eating and are under the impression you cannot gain weight with it. However, just like with paleo and keto, you will still gain fat readily if you exceed you caloric needs each day.
Who it would suit:
It would suit someone who can cook and make relatively bland foods taste nice. Someone who feels a lot better knowing they are consuming a wide variety of more nutrient-dense foods would benefit greatly from this style of eating too, as could people who suffer from gout or certain illnesses and diseases (but this would require personalisation from a qualified dietician).
We do not recommend solely clean eating to the vast majority of people. We do not see it as sustainable, especially to those who were enjoying their diet before and because food is such an important and integral part of our day-to-day lives we have a lot of emotion connected to eating.
Do not take this as us saying you shouldn’t eat that way if you enjoy it, but consider more flexible eating regimens first and foremost.
What is IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)?
This is a style of eating where you can eat whatever you like as long as you hit your macro target. The food of choice here is regularly pop tarts, peanut butter cups and #flexbowls. In fairness to ‘IIFYM’ers’ there are rather large variations between degrees and of IIFYM, spanning from people who have two meals with any range of foods in per day, to those who also track their fibre and aim for a wide range of foods, fruits and veg.
This is a very easy way to eat when you have forgotten to prep foods.
You will see little to no difference in your physique consuming the same amount of macros and calories from one food group relative to another style of eating- energy balance is the overriding factor.
This style of eating is most likely to prevent periods of binging.
If eating for health using IIFYM and neglecting certain food groups can result in deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, and in the same vein if eating for health as well as body composition we do not see this method as ideal.
This can result in a higher cost of foods as you are constantly buying ready to eat foods from express stores and eateries.
Who it would suit:
If you have had very little success or longevity with conventional diets and have tried and failed with consistent meal prep IIFYM could suit you. Certainly on some days or portions of the day applying IIFYM, and then blending this with healthier meals, could help you hit your energy requirements and targets more and more often. This may be ideal for very busy people lacking in time to devote to meal prep.
As mentioned above this method of dieting could work well for certain people, but we wouldn’t opt for pure IIFYM constantly. If it helps someone who is dangerously overweight drop fat steadily alongside some exercise it would of course be brilliant to use until said person develops better self-control in regards to their diet, and can start introducing healthier meals.
What is Flexible Dieting?
This is essentially a blend between both clean eating and IIFYM. You blend a diet of majority wholesome, health-orientated foods with foods you would usually crave on a restricted diet in moderation. This is designed to be an ideal trade-off between the perfect and the most sustainable diets, and takes note of calories and macros.
Takes into account macros and calories, but from a diet based mainly on healthier food choices generally around 80-20 or 75-25 split of wholesome/healthy calories to more traditionally bad foods.
Lends itself to portion control more effectively, instead of disregarding it with clean eating and having portions based on the caloric density of the foods chosen that is irregular with IIFYM.
Allows the integration of a person’s vice foods or cravings given you learn to budget and account for more lavish foods and periods of predicted indulgence in your diet.
It is more time consuming than IIFYM.
This method of dieting can be hard to get the hang of as many people coming from conventional diets will write off the day and binge after eating one piece of ‘bad food’.
It requires self-control in that you have to limit portion size of foods like ice cream, chocolate and crisps- which tend to be the foods we associate with binging and treating ourselves with.
Who it would suit:
This would suit a more experienced dieter who has had some success with cleaner styles of eating, but never managed to get one to stick!
We prefer and openly suggest flexible dieting over clean eating or IIFYM. We see this method of eating as more suitable for long term body composition (fat and muscle) control and overall health and well-being, including your mental health and attitude towards food. Ultimately we feel long term the average person with a busy lifestyle and lots of commitments will better suit flexible dieting, and the skills that you tend to learn in regards to budgeting/accounting for certain foods and about portion control- as well as not demonising certain food groups in the process.