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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”

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A few people have asked me how I organize myself to ‘meal prep’.

Meal prep is tough work – it takes a lot of organization and a lot of time. I’ve figured out a few ways to make the process more efficient, so I waste less time cooking and more time… well, eating!

Here is the step-by-step process I use to prep my meals for the week:

1. Write a weekly meal plan.

I plan out exactly what I’m going to eat for all six meals of the day, for seven days of the week. I do this by breaking it into protein, fats, greens and carbs, so I know I’m meeting my nutrient requirements for each meal.

Note: I eat the same six meals every day for a week. You don’t have to do it this way, but I find it easier to plan for when every day is the same.

2. Grocery shopping

I calculate how much of each type of meat I’ll need to get me through that whole week. For instance if I eat 150g raw meat 5 times a day, then:
150g x 5 = 750g per day. 750g x 7 days = 5.25kg.

Note: I do this separately for each type of meat, this is just an example of how I calculate it.

I then go and buy all the meats (I get a variety of chicken breast, turkey, and salmon depending on what meals I’ve planned). The butcher looks at me like I’m crazy, but that’s ok. He doesn’t ask questions.

I follow the same process with my fats and veggies. I usually buy veggies for half the week and do another veggie shop mid-week so they stay fresh.

3. Label your bags

I buy plenty of little snap lock bags which I label with the day and the meal number e.g. ‘Monday 2’.

4. Prepare the meat

I cut all the meat up into 150g portions, weighing it as I go and putting it into the corresponding snap lock bag. I then freeze all of the meat except what I need for the next two days.

5. Cook for two to three days at a time

I do a big cook up usually every second day. Some people cook for 3 days, but I’m just cautious of leaving food in the fridge for too long so prefer to cook for 2. It’s important to cook a few days in advance, or you will end up cooking all the time and won’t have the meals ready if you’re going to be out all day.

Note: The only meal I don’t prepare is meal 1, which I cook in the morning each day.

6. Invest in a good carry bag (e.g. six pack bag)

Having a refrigerated carry bag is important so you can take your meals with you and be prepared wherever you go. If you aren’t prepared, and you get hungry when you’re out, you are likely to make bad choices.

Here is an example of how I plan out my meals to determine how much of everything I need. This is one day. I times the quantities by seven and there you have it – everything I need for the week!

PROTEIN GREENS FATS CARBS
M1 3 Eggs 1tbsp Butter
M2 150g Chicken Zucchini, Carrot 1tbsp Coconut Oil
M3 150g Turkey Mixed Salad ¼ Avocado
M4 125g Salmon Spinach 1tbsp Coconut Oil 150g pumpkin
M5 150g Chicken Tomatoes, Capsicum, Kale 1tbsp Coconut Oil
M6 150g Chicken 1tbsp Coconut Oil

The most important things are to keep it simple, quick and easy for yourself. I buy herbs and spices, lemon and limes so I can chuck these on as I’m cooking to add flavour without much fussing around. The harder you make it, the less likely you will be able to maintain it.

Happy eating!

With love,
B.xx