Clean Eating vs IIFYM – Which will work best for you?

Standard

Two of the biggest eating trends for improving body composition are ‘Clean Eating’ and ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM). They are two very conflicting ideals, yet they have both helped people to achieve their weight loss, fat loss and muscle growth goals. In this post I explore the advantages and disadvantages of both lifestyles, so you can determine which will best suit YOU.

Clean Eating

The idea behind clean eating is to eat as close to nature as possible. This means eliminating processed and refined foods, and only eating foods that are free from artificial additives and preservatives. There are varying degrees of clean eating, with the most strict only eating meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit. Some people will only eat paleo foods, whereas some will eat vegan, gluten-free or sugar-free. Other ‘clean eaters’ eat packaged foods, provided all the ingredients listed are all ‘clean’.

Advantages

  • It focuses on eating healthy, natural foods – We all know that eating natural, unprocessed foods is better for our health. Eating clean is a way of eliminating processed foods, which are generally high in sugar, fat, and/or artificial additives, which are toxic to the human body.
  • There is no calorie restriction – You can eat as much food as you like, provided it’s all ‘clean’. This means no starving yourself – you simply eat when you’re hungry.
  • It’s structured and simple – it’s clear what foods are off-limits and easy to follow without the need to count everything.

Disadvantages

  • You need to be moderately savvy with food labels – Reading food labels will be a must. You need to look at the ingredients list on the back of the packet (if you choose to include packet foods) to ensure that all the ingredients are clean. You will need to be able to recognize trick word like “Natural Flavouring”, which is generally not natural at all. You can’t fall for the “all natural” claim on the front of the packaging – you really need to analyse the ingredients list of what you’re eating. A good rule of thumb to follow is if you can’t recognize all the ingredients, and if you can’t go and buy each individual ingredient in the supermarket yourself, then you shouldn’t buy it. Where can you buy a bottle of Natural Flavouring? You can’t.
  • Not all ‘clean’ packaged foods will help you reach your goal – Clean eaters love their date based bars, fruit and nut bars bound with honey, clean muesli bars etc. but these foods are often high in sugar, despite boasting a ‘clean’ ingredient list. If your goal is weight loss or fat loss, then you need to watch the amount of sugar you are consuming in these kind of products.
  • It restricts the food groups you can eat – Most people find it challenging to cut out all the junk food from their diet. Some can also become fixated on the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, which can lead to an unhealthy obsessive mindset. If you choose to eat clean, it’s okay to have a cheat meal each week where you indulge in ‘dirty’ foods and don’t feel guilty about it.

IIFYM

IIFYM allows you to eat anything, provided it fits within your daily macronutrient requirements, as pre-determined by a ‘macro-nutrient calculator’. Some people also track micronutrients and dietary fibre.

Advantages

  • There is freedom of food choice – You can literally eat anything (including a whole block of chocolate), as long as you don’t exceed or fall below your macros for the day.
  • Flexibility can make it easier to adhere to – eating out is easier, because you can account for it in your macros for the day. You can still eat foods you enjoy like the odd chocolate, protein bar, or ice cream. The benefit of eating in this way is that long-term adherence is easier when your eating is less restricted.

Disadvantages

  • You have to calculate everything – Firstly you need to work out how many grams of protein, fats and carbs you need per day to achieve your goal. Then you need to work out how much of those things is in everything you eat for that day.       Although it sounds easy, 100g of chicken is not 100g of protein. It contains about 31g of protein and 4g of fat. You need to work this out for everything you put in your mouth, which involves a lot of weighing, counting and research. Although this gets easier as you go and start to learn the macronutrient content of your regular foods, every day will be focused around counting. It’s a time consuming process.
  • It’s not necessarily healthy – Just because you can eat chocolate bars all day and still hit your macros doesn’t mean you should. They are still highly processed, full of sugar and fat, and contain toxic additives. Using IIFYM as an excuse to eat junk fund while ‘getting shredded’ will still have consequences on your health. It’s so important to get enough vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables. If you fill up your macros with junk food, you’re missing out on certain nutrients vital to your health. Some people will track their micronutrients as well, but again that is a time consuming process.
  • It can be overly tempting – Although the norm is not to fill your macros with junk, when the options are open, some people struggle to resist temptation. Eating foods high in sugar causes your blood sugar level to spike and then drop, which results in you craving another sugar hit to give you energy again. This can become a vicious cycle of cravings and sugar hits, which is not a good thing to have when you’re on a diet where you can technically eat anything. Another problem people may have is if they indulge too much early in the day, forcing them to ration their macros for the rest of the day. Leaving yourself to go hungry because you already used up your macros is not healthy physically or mentally.

What works for me?

I personally prefer the clean eating approach. I care a lot about eating highly nutritious food and avoiding toxins in my lifestyle, especially in what I eat. Eating clean is an effective way to minimize exposure to toxins and maximize intake of vitamins and minerals. I love healthy food because it makes me feel more energized and happy. Junk food always makes me feel sick or groggy. I’m human and get cravings that I occasionally succumb to, but because eating clean makes me function so much better it motivates me to ignore my cravings and eat well. I like having foods I can and can’t eat, and having rules to adhere to. For me, that kind of structure is easier to follow than an IIFYM approach, where I would be tempted by the wide variety of foods I could eat and get slack on my meal prep. I also hate the idea of counting my food and working out my macros every day – I’ve always hated maths! I still have my cheat meal once a week, filled with ‘dirty’ foods. I do think that it’s important to have a cheat meal to keep you balanced, enjoy a meal out with friends, or just to keep you sane. We are all human and there is a lot of temptation, so it’s nice to be able to give in to them sometimes. But overall, I love eating healthy foods and clean eating works well for me.

What will work for you?

You need to work out which approach will be most convenient, manageable and thus sustainable for you and your lifestyle. What will allow you to stick to your eating plan? Do you like to have rules about what foods to eat and what to avoid? Do you feel better eating clean foods? Perhaps you have food intolerances and clean eating is the best way to manage them. Or do you enjoy having flexibility in your diet to have some treats? Do you love eating out a few times a week, and are not willing to sacrifice that? If you had flexibility in your diet, would you have the willpower to still eat healthy foods the majority of the time? The reality is both methods can help you achieve weight loss, fat loss, or muscle gain – you just have to find the one that best suits you. No two people are the same, and thus no diet will work for everyone. Experiment, work out what you find sustainable, and stick to that, because it is consistency that is more important than which lifestyle you choose to follow.

With love,

B. xx

Image: sabotagetimes

Advertisements

PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 3: “The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles.”

Standard

When I started this blog, one of my main goals was to give an open and honest account of my comp prep journey. We tend to only see the glamourous side of a fitness model’s journey – that perfectly ripped body, those perfect workouts and their perfect diet. We don’t see their struggles and their failures; we just see their highlight real. I want to share with you my first big set back; not because I have to, but because I am committed to maintaining as much honesty as possible. In the end we are all human and none of us are perfect, despite what our social media accounts may convey.

I’ve suffered a few ups and downs with my stomach since changing my diet. But the past two weeks my stomach pains became unbearable. It got to the point I was struggling with every day activities. I had a feeling my body wasn’t digesting properly, because I was getting bloated and extremely full extremely quickly, amongst other symptoms. This caused a lot of discomfort, which I was able to push through at the start but it became progressively worse. It got to the point I could feel every meal just sitting in my stomach and I couldn’t eat anywhere near as much as usual. I also came down with a cold last week, which is pretty rare for me, and I now realize that it could also be attributed to my digestive issues – once digestive functioning is impaired, the ability for the body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat is diminished.

I made the decision to put my health first and eat the things I was craving – namely fruit and yoghurt (both of which support the digestive system). I replaced some of my meals with fruit smoothies because I couldn’t stomach the meat that I knew would just sit heavy in my stomach again.

I knew that I couldn’t keep eating the way I was until my digestion was sorted, because it was making me feel so ill. Although my goal is to compete, my health is my utmost priority and I would never sacrifice that for anything. Incorporating the fruit and yoghurt was enough to help improve my digestion until I was able to see my coach and sort out some supplements to aid digestion, which I am now taking.

I’m lucky that I’m quite ‘in tune’ with my body – I know that when I’m craving something it’s generally because my body is suffering a deficiency, and I can usually recognize and respond to that. I know what my body feels like operating at 100%, and I know when something isn’t quite right. Although I basically threw my diet out the window for a few days, even my coach said he is glad I had the common sense to listen to my body and it’s surprising how many people don’t, particularly when focused on a goal such as competing.

Obviously not being able to follow my eating plan for the past week or two is a set back. However, I started early for the exact reason that I wasn’t sure how my body would respond and wanted time to tweak things and make it work. My digestive issues are not particularly surprising, given I was a vegetarian for so many years and my diet is now highly meat based. I’m just lucky that this happened now instead of in the final 12 week lead up to comp, when it could have taken me out of the running. The supplements seem to be working so far and I’m back on track with my eating and training.

Luckily it’s not all bad news! 🙂  My coach is happy with how my body has responded to this phase of training so the next phase is going to focus on increasing weights again and dropping the reps! I’ll be working in an even lower rep range (between 2 and 8 reps depending on the exercise) to really build some muscle and strength! And I’m super motivated after being forced into taking some time off from it all, so I’m looking forward to these next two weeks! 🙂

With love,

B. xx

PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 2 – “You can have results or excuses – not both.”

Standard

I just had my third body composition testing to see how far I’ve come in the last 4 weeks. This test marks the end of week 10. I’m starting to get tests closer together now so that if something isn’t working, we can change it. Going into this test I was feeling pretty deflated. I’ve been on the second phase of training for 4 weeks now and didn’t feel like I had changed. The only real changes I had noticed were a bit more size in my upper body and legs. If I had to guess, I would have thought my body fat percentage had gone up.

However the results of the test surprised me! The most exciting part is that I gained 2kg of lean muscle mass in the space of 4 weeks! The goal of this phase of training is moreso about building muscle than it is about losing fat. The weights are heavier and the reps lower. Being naturally small it is a fight for me to build muscle, so I couldn’t be happier that the training is working.  I also dropped 0.2% body fat during this phase. Although this isn’t huge, it’s good if I can still maintain my body fat level or lose a bit of fat as I build muscle, so losing 0.2% to bring me to 16% overall is a good result.  My coach was happy with this too. He is confident he will be able to get me lean easily and the most important thing is holding on to muscle mass.

I honestly thought my coach was going to ask me what the hell I’d been doing and why I hadn’t got any results this time around! I just didn’t feel different. This goes to show I need to have faith in the process – my body was responding the way it was supposed to, I just couldn’t see it. I know if I follow my coach’s instructions to a tee, I should get the results I’m after.

Dealing with setbacks 

The major set back I had this last week was coming down with a cold, losing my appetite and only really being able to stomach fresh fruit and veggies. I rarely get sick but I ran myself down after functioning on little sleep, working full time and maintaining my intensity of training. Having a cold made me crave sweet foods for a pick me up – mainly fresh fruits and soothing cold drinks for my sore throat. I prefer to rely on natural medicines when I get sick – like eating more vitamin c through oranges, carrots and berries, and taking manuka honey and green tea in order to remedy a cold. But unfortunately these things all contain sugar, which is not technically part of my comp prep diet. However I chose to put my health first and include more fresh fruit and manuka honey to try and kick the cold so I can get back into my training fast. I do believe in listening to my body, and wanted to give it the best chance to recover quickly. I’m feeling better for it and only had to take one extra rest day this week as a result.

Where to now… 

I’ve worked out that I’m sitting 18 weeks out from comp, and I’ve already been dieting for 10 weeks. I’ve still got so far to go, and it’s difficult to maintain motivation when your goal is not really in sight. I had a chat to my coach and he thinks I’ll need 12 weeks for my strict comp prep. So instead of dieting for 26 weeks in a row without a break (which would be the longest comp prep ever and not sustainable!), I’m going to get a week of ‘flexible dieting’ starting on November 30th. Essentially this is a week off from my diet so I can enjoy meals out a bit more. I won’t go completely nuts, but it will be nice to enjoy health foods like fruit smoothies, raw treats and protein bars that are not really part of my comp prep diet. I will still stick to my training regime during this time. I don’t find adhering to the training difficult, but dieting is very time consuming and can get a bit boring. It will be nice to have more variety in my foods for a week before knuckling down. Now that I have a date set for this in the foreseeable future, it should be easier to maintain discipline with something to look forward to in just 3 weeks time. 🙂

I’m looking forward to the last week on this phase of training. The goal is to keep gaining muscle mass while maintaining a low level of body fat! Bring on the gains! 😛

With love,
B. xx

Cardio – and why you DON’T need it.

Standard

There is a common misconception – particularly amongst females – that you have to do more cardio if you want to lose weight. Coupled with the other big misconception that ‘lifting weights will make you bulky’ has led many females to turn into cardio bunnies who either won’t lift weights at all or only use light weights. Big mistake!

What if I told you steady state cardio can actually stop you from losing weight? It can, by the way. Over time, performing hours of steady-state cardio can actually cause your metabolism to slow down. The effect of this is doubled when combined with a low calorie diet. Unfortunately this seems to be the recipe of choice for most girls trying to lose weight – low calorie diet, high cardio program.

The worst part is that this will work at the start, lulling you into a false sense of security. Then your body will start to adapt to it and cause your metabolism to slow down. In order to keep getting results, you will have to keep increasing your cardio and decreasing your calories. That doesn’t sound very fun to me.

The good news is weight training actually increases your metabolism by building lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have, the greater your ability to metabolize fat. Long duration cardio can actually counteract these efforts by burning into the muscle mass you already have. So, dropping the hours of cardio for some shorter sessions of heavy lifting (whatever is heavy for you) will actually make you leaner. And don’t worry, unless you have crazy high levels of testosterone as a female, lifting weights WILL NOT MAKE YOU BULKY!

I’ll be honest, I used to do hours upon hours of cardio and wondered why I still couldn’t lose stubborn body fat, having always eaten relatively healthy and been highly active. I would try to eat less and run further, but I was burning myself out. Now, I have focused on reversing the metabolic damage I caused myself by focusing on lifting heavy weights in lower rep ranges. I NEVER do cardio, and I can EAT MORE food than I did before WHILE GETTING LEANER! That’s a lifestyle I want to live – a healthy, happy and fulfilling one rather than an extreme, restrictive and depriving one.

If you do cardio because you enjoy it, then that’s an exception. I still enjoy going for a walk with friends occasionally, but it’s more of a social thing than for exercise. The occasional run or walk won’t hinder your weight loss efforts, and some cardio may still have a place in your program particularly if you have a lot of weight to lose. But doing hours and hours of cardio will cause you nothing but pain and metabolic damage. It’s painful and ineffective, so why submit yourself to that?

The exception to this is of course HIIT (or high intensity interval training) cardio. This is where you alternate work-rest intervals to raise and lower your heart rate. You can do HIIT cardio on the treadmill, cross trainer, rower, or doing a circuit of body weight/weighted exercises (think burpees, kettlebell swings, push ups). HIIT has amazing fat-blasting potential and you only need to do it for 20 minutes to maximize its effects.

Check out this article for more on HIIT training and an example of how to do a HIIT workout:

http://www.builtlean.com/2010/06/04/high-intensity-interval-training-hiit-best-cardio-to-burn-fat/

Make the change today! You will thank me for it 🙂

With love,
B. xx

PROGRESS UPDATE NO. 1 – “Strive for Progress Not Perfection”

Standard

The results from my first five weeks of training are IN! And I’m pretty stoked! I felt like I was getting leaner, but seeing the result in numbers is very motivating.

I started off my journey on 8th September at 18.5% body fat. My results from yesterday, the 15th of October showed I have decreased this to 16.2% body fat – a total loss of 2.3% in five weeks. Inevitably I have lost some weight and some of my lean muscle mass as well. The goal is to stay the same weight on the scale but increase the muscle mass and decrease the fat percentage. My trainer said it’s common with the first phase of training, but as the training gets harder my muscle mass will increase again.

My main problem areas that we noted in the initial assessment are my hamstrings, calves and stomach. On all of these areas I have lost 3-4mm in five weeks. My trainer said he couldn’t ask for a better result in that time frame – so I must be doing something right!  I’ve also lost 3mm off my quads and 1-2 mm off most areas in my upper body (which is not as much of a priority at this stage).

Although these stats indicate overall body fat loss, they also show that I have been able to make positive changes in the way my body functions. My calf measurements were showing that I had poor sleeping patterns, which I have able to fix through supplementation. Getting a better sleep has not only made me feel amazing during the days, but it is reflecting in my body composition. Also, the decrease in my hamstrings shows that I have been able to decrease my exposure to environmental toxins and/or improve the detoxification process in my body. I have probably achieved this through strict clean eating and switching a majority of my beauty and skin care products to certified organics.

Overall, I’m happy with the results. I have been pretty disciplined with my diet and training, making sure I commit fully to every session, so it’s good to see that what I’m doing is working. 🙂

I also started my next training phase yesterday! This phase is much harder – I’m starting to decrease reps and increase the weight. There are also more big compound movements like squats, dead-lifts and chin ups. I LOVE this kind of training so I’m really looking forward to this phase. And another plus side of increasing the intensity of training is… more carbs! I now get two carb meals a day, pre and post workout. Can’t say no to that!

I think the first phase of training has taught me to not be too hard on myself. No one is perfect. We’re all going to have slip ups. I tend to be a perfectionist in a lot of things, and my diet and training is no exception. But it’s important to strive for progress, not for perfection. We’re all human after all. I’ve had some amazing results so far, so I can be assured that I’m on the right track 🙂

With love,

B. xx

“You don’t make friends with salad” – my experience with vegetarianism and body composition

Standard

I want to share what I have learnt about the relationship between vegetarianism and body composition. This is a subject close to my heart, as I was a vegetarian for 8 years. Ethically, I would still prefer to be a vegetarian. However after discovering early this year that I am allergic to gluten, I found being vegetarian and gluten-free too difficult and restrictive. A lot of the protein substitutes I was eating contained wheat, and so I made the tough decision to incorporate some meat into my diet to replace the lost protein. It was tough at first, but with the amount of training I was doing, I knew it was important that I consumed adequate protein, and found that including meat was the best way to do this. I have found that my decision has enabled me to grow muscle and improve my fitness in a way that wasn’t possible when I was vegetarian.

The photos on the left are from when I was a vegetarian. I still ate a lot and exercised regularly by playing sport, running and going to the gym, however as you can see I was very skinny and had little muscle tone. The photos on the right are both within the last month. I have been eating meat for 6 months now, and I go to the gym 5-6 times a week. Although I’m still petite, you can see I now have visible muscle definition and I look healthier. There is about 9kg difference in weight between the photos.

From my personal experience, I don’t believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet can lead to optimal body composition (by which I mean a low body fat percentage and high lean muscle mass). The reason for this is largely protein. Protein is the building blocks of life, and you certainly need it to build muscles. As a vegetarian it is difficult to meet your protein requirements and furthermore, the vegetarian protein sources are absorbed by the body differently and are not ideal for supporting muscle growth.

I was actually very conscious of my protein as a vegetarian. I made sure I ate protein with every meal. I trained hard in the gym and ate a lot of food, but it still took me a long time to put on muscle. Inevitably, this also meant it was harder to lose body fat, because the more lean muscle mass you have, the greater your ability to metabolize fat. As soon as I started incorporating meat (I still only eat chicken, turkey and some fish) I noticed a big difference in my ability to build muscle and lose fat. I feel stronger, leaner, and healthier.

I see all too often people choose to be a vegetarian or vegan to be ‘healthy’. They believe meat is not healthy, and so cutting it out will be better for them. Well, I agree there are things about meat that can be unhealthy – such as not choosing free range or grass fed meats. However, simply cutting meat out without replacing it with other protein sources is not good for your body. I can’t stress the importance of eating protein enough, even if you aren’t trying to build muscle. It is still has an important role in replenishing and repairing your body’s cells. If you are a vegetarian and you don’t eat enough protein, chances are you are not healthy. The chances that you have flaky nails, brittle hair, dry/dull skin or you get sick or tired all the time are pretty high too. These are NOT signs of good health. These are signs of deficiencies.

Being a vegetarian is hard work. It is not simply cutting out meat. It requires the careful management of foods to meet your macronutrient requirements, when there are restricted options for you to choose from. I honestly believe it took me 5 years to perfect my vegetarian diet to the point I no longer got sick all the time. Even still, my flaky nails didn’t go away until I started eating meat several times a day. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and you’re meeting your protein requirements and living healthily then I commend you – it really is hard.
What I’ve shared in this post is just my personal experience. I know there are several bodybuilders out there who promote that they have achieved their physique on a vegetarian or vegan diet. I think what they’ve done is amazing -but they are the minority. Being naturally petite, I don’t think I could have achieved the body composition I have today (or the physique I am still striving to achieve) if I had remained vegetarian. No matter how hard I trained and how much I ate, I was only able to see significant increases in muscle tone after introducing meat.

I don’t discourage the vegetarian or vegan diet, but it is important to do it properly by monitoring your protein and other nutrients. And depending on your goals, it may be the one thing getting in the way of you achieving them. It certainly was for me.

With love,
B. xx

Note: Any negative comments on vegetarians or meat eaters will not be approved – this is a positive space. However if you have any questions, feel free to get in contact with me  🙂