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Macro-counting vs. intuitive eating: Which one will win in the battle for your diet?

To eat or not to eat, that is the question (Image via iWellness)

Trust me, I’ve tried every fitness fad in the book. From detox teas to purely liquid diets, no-carb diets, waist-slimming wraps, you name it. All throughout high school, I laid my hands on any tips and tricks that could get me my ideal body in the fastest way possible. Beside my consistent, crazy, daily workouts and healthy eating habits, I felt that whatever I was doing wasn’t enough.

With all the different trends and diets that circulate the media, it’s hard to decide what actually works and what works best for your body because we are all built differently. As an “IIFYM” (if it fits your macros) diet veteran and currently an avid “intuitive eater,” I’ve learned what helps me work toward my goals best and, at the same time can fit in with my chaotic lifestyle as a student. If you haven’t heard of either of these approaches to “dieting,” here’s the lowdown on both.

“IIFYM” is exactly what the name states. “If It Fits Your Macros” is one of the most common approaches to regulate our food intake in our current society. It’s a super accessible way of dieting due to our constant exposure to weight loss and calorie/food tracking apps. I discovered the app My Fitness Pal during my freshman year of high school. I first learned about it through the  “fitness” and “Instagram” models I followed at the time (which I consider so cringe now). The app is basically a food calculator or a calorie bank that tracks your calorie intake, calories burned, micronutrient, macronutrient and even your vitamin intake.

Based on your weight, age, height, gender and basal metabolic rate, the app tells you how much of each of these components you should be consuming to reach your goals (weight loss, muscle gain or maintaining your weight). IIFYM preaches flexible dieting, which is why it attracts so many people. Wanna eat a pint of ice cream and still lose weight? If it fits your calculated macronutrients (grams of carbs, fats and proteins) and calorie intake, go for it. Most people who track their macros tend to prepare meals in advance so that they aren’t tempted to go outside their diet.

Whether you’re strict or lenient about your nutrition, IIFYM is a great way to learn what exactly is in the food you’re eating. You might even be surprised at how much you over eat or under eat. With IIFYM, I got a good grip on how my body reacts to certain foods and what kinds of foods I should generally be eating.

It’s definitely beneficial to see what’s inside the food you eat for a month or two depending on your goals, but IIFYM has it’s cons just as every diet does. Although it started out as a good thing, tracking my diet through My Fitness Pal actually became a harmful habit after a few months. I really believed I would be using that little app on my phone to track what I ate forever, but it turned out to be neither a realistic nor a sustainable form of regulating my eating.

‘Wanna eat a pint of ice cream and still lose weight? If it fits your calculated macronutrients (grams of carbs, fats, and proteins) and calorie intake, go for it.’ (Image via Business Insider)

After seeing a significant amount of muscle gain in my body just after tracking for a couple months, I made the mistake of tracking for almost three years straight. I lost touch with keeping a balanced diet and fell into the cycle of eating super clean for a solid couple days, then treating myself to a “cheat” day—a binge eating episode. I lost touch with my hunger cues because I was focused on hitting all the numbers to meet my macro and calorie goals. Restriction can be a good thing, but only for a certain period of time.

For the short term, IIFYM is very helpful for those with specific goals. It presented a great take on flexible dieting, but hindered my relationship with food after a while. If you want to kick your diet into gear for an event coming up within a couple months or so, the IIFYM diet is an awesome place to start, but I’d suggest beginning it with precaution and saving it for short-term goals. Unsure of which approach to take after realizing IIFYM wasn’t for me at the time, I went back to researching what I could do to help my body and mind heal.

Thanks to Pinterest, I then came across intuitive eating, which is a natural and basic approach. I really can’t even consider it a diet. No rules to follow or numbers to count. It was almost ironic practicing eating intuitively because it brings us back to how we ate as infants. Before we were trained to believe potato chips are terrible for us and cake is a “no-no” food, we were a lot more in tune with our hunger cues. If we were hungry, we cried and whined. If we weren’t, we didn’t aimlessly eat simply because our bodies didn’t need any food.

Following two simple rules, I began to practice eating intuitively: eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. Simple as it sounds, practicing this way of eating forces you to make a conscious effort to pay attention to your food. I found this approach helpful with not only my physical but also my mental well-being. Intuitive eating in the long runs helps you become more conscious of the food that’s in front of you, eating whatever you want in good proportions (stopping when you’re full), and not forming a restrictive mindset towards food.

It’s simple: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. No guilt (Image via Lifehacker Australia)

The beauty of intuitive eating is that it helps you cultivate a healthy lifestyle, not just a short-term diet, through food. When you give yourself the option to eat something instead of telling yourself you can’t eat something, you learn that eating is a choice. After about a year of practicing this approach to food, I’ve found that I don’t crave “bad” foods simply because I have the option to eat whatever I want. For the long-term, eating intuitively is a great way to become more in tune with your body and work toward whatever your health goals may be. It may not be as spot on and specific as IIFYM is, but just as beneficial.

So IIFYM or intuitive eating, which one is for you? Well, that’s completely up to you now. I’m not a dietitian, doctor or a trainer; I’m just an eighteen-year-old fitness and nutrition buff here to tell you my experiences. To learn which approach works best for you, take into account your fitness or lifestyle goals, your current mindset toward food and your body type. Becoming familiar with who you are will help you determine what you want. What works for that curvy, muscular Instagram model may not work for you. With whatever approach you decide to follow, remember that we all grow in different ways, different paces and live completely different lifestyles.

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