Dieting. Arguably the most dreaded word associated with bodybuilding and fitness. So many people want to lose the pounds but are unwilling to give up the juicy hamburger and fries pick-up after work. Nor the curry from the local Indian takeout that has become a Saturday night staple in our diet. Nor the tub of ice cream you’re probably gorging on as you read this! But don’t fret, for I was in this situation too! The biggest issue I faced when it came to starting my diet last January was misinformation. It’s often all too easy to get caught up with the pseudoscience constantly floating around the gym. Claims such as “clean eating is the way forward” and “chicken, spinach and rice only man” are all too common. You know they sound way too authoritarian, but why would you ever doubt anything that comes out of a personal trainer’s mouth? Or even the “knowledge” passed down from the biggest guy at the gym, whom you’re sure takes something else along with those “10,000 calories a day”. I for sure am definitely not going to claim that I know everything regarding nutrition, but here’s my take on dieting and its associated myths.
Arguably the biggest myth concerning dieting, many fall into the trap of thinking that as long as they stick to their “chicken, brown rice and spinach everyday” rule they can expect to get “shredded” within weeks. Thank god this isn’t the case! Flavourless, tasteless and simply boring to consume, this doesn’t guarantee results. At the end of the day, a calories is a calorie regardless of its source. You’re just as unlikely to lose weight over-consuming unseasoned chicken, brown rice and steamed vegetables as you are overconsuming those heavenly Jaffa cakes.
Furthermore, labelling foods as “clean” or “dirty” can be highly subjective. For example, in the 1980s foods that had high fat content were considered “dirty”. Think about that for a minute. Sure that includes the fry-ups and whatnot, but the likes of olive oil and avocado are equally as likely to fall into this category. And if you think these beliefs are out-of-date take a look at some of the food products at your local supermarket from the likes of WeightWatchers strongly advertising their “fat-free” products. We require fats as much as carbohydrates and protein to function, from organ protection to hormone control (no fat, no party). Processed foods also should be avoided according to this method, yet many who preach this can be seen downing a post-workout whey protein shake, which at its core is processed milk-protein.
Likewise, as pointed out by leading nutritionist Alan Aragon, categorizing individual items fails to assess the broader picture. Consider gym bro A; caught in the gym toilets sneakily scoffing his face down with Pop Tarts. Does that make his way of eating “dirty”? Would that still be the case once you realise it was just one pre-workout meal in a day that mostly consists of eating just unseasoned chicken and vegetables? Though not.
IIFYM: the middle finger to Dieting
Within the past few years, a new “revelation” has come to the fore of dieting and bodybuilding: If It Fits Your Macros or IIFYM for short. What originated as a rebellious stand from a few bodybuilders sick of constantly eating the same flavourless food, has now been taken up by numerous athletes, researches and average Joes.
So what is a Macro? A macro, short for macronutrient, can be one of the following: Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats. IIFYM is based on the fact that as long as your food intake fits into your macronutrient and total calorie targets, you’ll be able to eat whatever you want and thus enjoy more freedom in food choices. The science behind it makes sense; Proteins have 4 calories per gram, Carbohydrates have 4 calories and Fats have 9 – REGARDLESS of the source. Therefore, you’re just as likely to lose weight eating a total of 200 calories from pizza and chips as you are eating rice and peas!
However, like with many things that start off well (Communism, the Transformers and Saw franchises being prime examples), what initially was developed to prevent gym bros from quivering in their boots about having a single “dirty” meal, blew up to a diet-destroying monster with it not being t0o common these days for diets of gym enthusiasts to consider of just fast food and ready meals.
The Middle Ground
The problem most individuals have on this matter is that they only see it in black or weight, without acknowledging the grey area in between. Pop tarts OR steamed vegetables. Angelina Jolie OR Scarlett Johansson. Why not both? As appealing as IIFYM may seem, clean eating also has its benefits. By consuming that unseasoned chicken and vegetables as opposed to that 16″ Mighty Meaty pizza, we’re taking in more of something that hasn’t been talked about thus far: micronutrients. For a few months of my cut, I too had fallen to having a fast food diet and although I was still progressing my weight loss, my workouts, energy levels and overall well-being noticably suffered.
The answer? The “wise man” Alan Aragon himself promotes a 10-20% mix of IIFYM into Clean Eating and while it may seem foolish to argue with someone as established, I may even say go for a higher mix if desired, having done so for my own cut. At the end of the day, point stands; track your macros and calorie intake, eat healthy but also enjoy life a bit! After all, what’s the point of getting those washboard abs if you can’t go out to a meal and show them off?
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