Flexible vs IIFYM vs Intuitive Eating: the search for food freedom

If you’ve been following me from the beginning of this journey you know that I’ve been working on intuitive eating and learning to listen to my body and its own cues. I’ve been reading a lot of books to learn the most about different ways of eating that are not “diets” and that fit into the intuitive eating model. 

In my most recent search for information, I began looking into “how the leanest people in the world eat,” because let’s face it – I dream big – and on my “goals to accomplish” list is to compete in a bodybuilding competition in women’s physique. So, I thought “why not look into the ways that the leanest people in the world get so lean!” Which brought me to the book “Burn the fat, Feed the muscle.” This book, so far, has given me an indepth look at nutrition – including the way to calculate BMR and TDEE (both numbers which allow you to figure out your needed calorie allotment for body active and non-active days). I’m not done with the book yet, but it discusses advanced techniques of fat burning later in the book; I’m excited about that. At the point in the book which I have reached, it has me establishing a baseline to work from – calculating how many calories are needed, and then calculating percentages of each macronutrient to get me started. Now, I know what you must be thinking – “Suzanne, if you’re counting calories and macros then aren’t you following IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and wouldn’t that be against all of the work you’ve done on intuitive eating?” And my answer – well, sort of yes but sort of no. You see IIFYM is a “lifestyle,” a fad if you will, of people who choose macronutrient percentages based on whatever they base it on (TDEE would be the best way to get their numbers but I do wonder where some people come up with their macro information)  and they eat anything they want as long as they can mathematically figure it out so that they can literally have their cake and eat it too. Many proponents of IIFYM believe that a calorie is a calorie and a carb is a carb whether the carb comes from a poptart or a sweet potato they don’t look at them differently.

Flexible dieters tend to utilize the ideas of IIFYM but with more of a regard for nutrition. This book leans more on the side of flexible. 

Here’s where I am currently – I’ve calculated my needed calories for the amount of working out that I do, based on my TDEE, and then I’ve decided on a macronutrient baseline of 45% carbohydrates, 35% proteins, and 20% fats. I’ve decided that I’m not locked into these numbers and if I have a craving for something, I will eat it – if I’m actually hungry – insert intuitive eating. I’ve spent the last 4 days eating foods that fit my macronutrient percentages and fit my calorie intake for the day. What has been even better is that I have been eating foods that I enjoy, that have been filling me up, and I haven’t wanted anything different. I’ve even been eating more vegetables AND fruits! 

I used to think fruits were “bad” and had a hard time eating them even when I allowed myself anything because “fruit is so high in carbs” but I have learned through reading this book that fruit is not actually bad, nor will it ruin my efforts but it will actually aid in a healthy lifestyle as they contain many micronutrients that are, in fact, good for you. Have you ever noticed that we’re told to “eat your fruits and veggies” and we know this is the right thing to do, until we join some 28 day plan or quick fix diet that says “fruit is too high in sugar so hold off for now” and then for now really turns into almost never until it becomes a fear that one piece of fruit will ruin all of your efforts? This is absurd. 

Something I’ve learned in my years of “trial and error” dieting is that no one food can make or break you. It is the sum of all of your efforts – what you eat day in and day out – that really matters. Do you have cake and candy and processed foods every single day? Or do you have them on occasion? I think “on occasion” and “in moderation” sometimes gets skewed for people too. On occasion doesn’t mean every day or every other day. In moderation doesn’t mean “I get to eat a bar of chocolate everyday, it’s in moderation since I’m only having one.” No, I’m sorry, but if your goal is healthy first (which mine is) then you need to take a good look at what you consume daily, and really have a heart to heart with yourself. 

What I’ve learned with intuitive eating, while having the goal to one day compete, is that sure if I want chocolate I can have it – but instead of diving nose deep into the chocolate regardless of hunger, I have learned to be FLEXIBLE with myself, listen to my body, and if I’m actually hungry then sure I’ll have some chocolate (or ice cream or whatever it is im craving) and fit it into my macros for the day, but if I’m not actually hungry than I won’t really enjoy it the way I would if I were. The biggest thing I’m finding is that if I wait a bit, let it pass, realize I’m not really hungry, that when I AM hungry I grab for things that are going to fulfill that hunger rather than the thing I craved earlier. Chicken, rice, and green beans will fill me up and satisfy both my future goals and my current state of hunger all at once, chocolate will not do either and I’ll probably end up with a headache. The obvious choice is chicken, rice, and green beans. It doesn’t have to always be that “boring” although that is a staple meal during the week. 

So, for me, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) a balance between macro counting, being an intuitive eater, and being flexible with my food. I’m treading lightly with the counting, eating what I believe to be “balanced” meals and then seeing what they end up being after the fact to make sure my intuition is on target with my goals (which so far it has been).  

I’ve tried macro based diet plans before and I hated it, but this is different. I’m not sure if it’s because I have decided the numbers, they haven’t been given to me; I have decided the foods to eat, and have not been given a list of “good” vs “bad”; that I feel good about where I am currently and don’t feel like I need to rebel against any set plan. I’ve given myself the plan, so if I rebel it’s only against myself…. 

   You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?

― W. Clement Stone 


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