Regardless of what diet someone may follow, everyone, in some form or another (whether they realise it or not), is incorporating ‘macronutrients’ into their diet.
The high fat low carb (Paleo) folks are paying attention to their fat intake while keeping their carbs ‘grain and gluten free’, the high carb, low fat Bodybuilders are paying attention to their carb intake to ensure the ‘spiking of insulin’ for ‘moar gainz’, and the ‘bulletproof coffee’ dieters of the world are [not] paying attention to how much butter they fit into their coffee (I couldn’t resist).
So then, why write this article?
People have a funny habit of taking an idea and becoming diehards of a certain approach and assume that because it works for them, it should work for everyone.
Unfortunately, It never is this black and white.
I want to share some insight into why sometimes, an ‘IIFYM’ style diet can backfire for certain people and why sometimes being ‘less flexible’ can be a better option for adhering to your diet.
This won’t be anything new or revolutionary to the IIFYM veterans. But, it’s not meant for them. This is for the majority of people who follow this style of dieting and don’t understand why they can’t control their hunger / cravings.
*Please Read This Before Going On
I know someone will read this and think I’m a ‘clean eater’ or ‘paleo’er’ or anything else’er, and I’m ‘bashing’ IIFYM.
I feel the need to state upfront that I am a proponent of IIFYM and use this method of ‘eating’ myself and recommend it to the majority of my clients. I also got into the best shape of my life following this approach.
This article isn’t bashing IIFYM — even though it may appear that way. I want to play devils advocate for a second and make the case that not *everyone* can follow this style of dieting without running into some issues and helping those people understand and identify those issues AND provide them with some practical advice that they can take away and apply.
The Problem With ‘Moderation’
A lot of people struggle with ‘moderation’. For many, it’s an all or nothing mentality — My good friend Mike is a prime example of this :
‘I can’t just have one or two slices of pizza, man. If I want to enjoy a pizza, it has to be the whole thing’
Luckily for Mike, he’s able stop at just one [whole] pizza. Others? Perhaps not.
For a lot of people, having just one cookie or eating in moderation becomes just as restrictive as omitting certain foods — ironically, for the majority of the people who struggle with ‘moderation’, simply removing that one food completely tends to work better.
We all have that one food that we can’t eat in moderation as it sets us off, losing control and overeating, more commonly referred to as ‘trigger foods’. The best thing to do is simply remove these foods from your house. James Fell refers to this as the ‘pain in the ass’ factor :
‘If I have Oreos in the cupboard, I’m going to eat some. Conversely, if they’re a mile away at the store this represents enough of a pain in the ass that I can ignore the call of the cookie. If the cookie is close, I will hear it. If it’s afar, the voice is muffled and easier to ignore.’
So what is it that makes ‘moderation’ so difficult?
‘Hyper-palatable foods’ is the fancy term for ‘it tastes fucking good’. Yeah, that’s pretty much as scientific as i’ll be getting with that.
Hyper-palatable foods are a combo of sugar, fat and salt (in the right amounts — also known as the ‘bliss point’.)
While the media will try to convince you that sugar is the devil incarnate, it isn’t sugar on its own that drives the ‘reward response’ — have you ever binged on table sugar? Exactly. It’s the combination of sugar, fat and salt that make foods ‘hyper-palatable’ and signal us to want more.
You’ve probably heard your friend say ‘dude, I swear they put crack in these Oreo’s’ — Well, to a degree, he isn’t wrong.
When we consume hyper-palatable foods [like the aforementioned Oreo] it lights up a series of mechanism in our brain collectively referred to as ‘the reward response system’ that make us want to consume more of said food. This is the same system that lights up when people take drugs, drink alcohol and have sex.
Foods, such as ice cream, pop tarts, cookies, cake, pizza etc — i.e the poster children of IIFYM — are the quintessence of hyper-rewarding foods.
Why This Is A Problem
In the book ‘The End Of Overeating: Taking Control Of Our Insatiable Appetite’, the author refers to a term called ‘Orosensory Self-stimulation’.
The term was coined by psychiatry professor Gerard Smith, and is used to describe the cyclical process in which eating ‘delicious’ foods leaves us wanting to eat more of those said foods (Oreo’s anyone?).
I think you know where i’m going with this.
The evangelical IIFYM’ers will tell you : ‘Just eat whatever you want as long as it fits, bro’.
While a calorie is most definitely a calorie and eating less will lead to weight loss and eating more will result in weight gain — the effect of the foods where those calories come from though, are most assuredly different.
Hence why so many people struggle to stop at ‘just one cookie’. By eating just the one, your brain has the neurological equivalent of an orgasm and you’re driven to eat one more, then another and then, eventually, the whole pack and your left filling the rest of your days macros with egg whites and protein shakes.
And those are the lucky ones -who can stop at one pack. The majority will start with just the one pack of cookies and before you know it, lose control and end up bingeing on everything else in their pantry.
Diet = blown.
The ‘seeking’ out of these hyper-palatable foods was summed up in the book (‘The End of Overeating) :
‘The more potent and multi sensory foods become, the greater the rewards they may offer and the more we learn to work for them. Much of the excitement takes place in the orbitofrontal cortex, the brain region where neurons fire in response to rewarding foods. The more someone wants to eat highly palatable food, the more activity we see in the orbitofrontal cortex. The excitement in the brain generated by these multimodal stimuli increases our desire for further stimulation. This is not the kind of language the food industry likes to use in its advertisements. But the science helps us understand what happens when we walk into many of America’s most popular restaurants. It explains how foods become hot stimuli.’
The Catch 22
The constant consumption of hyper-palatable foods over time changes our taste palate. We desire (and seek out) foods that meet the taste standards of the hyper-palatable foods and ‘normal’ foods don’t appeal to us anymore. Making it harder to go back to eating things like veggies as we’d rather eat the big mac in search of that dopamine hit.
As much as an IIFYM approach can be extremely beneficial in helping the majority prevent cravings and not have to restrict themselves during a diet, for some this can be a double edged sword.
For many people, trying to ‘satisfy their cravings’ by eating these hyper-palatable foods creates bit of a catch 22. The consumption of the initial bite creates the urge to want another cookie or treat and it will begin to niggle away at them, and they will be driven to eat another. You’ve probably heard of people who have ‘blown’ their macros for the day and have to now resort to eating egg whites and whey protein shakes to prevent them going over their macro totals.
One of the solutions to this problem is to simply avoid the ‘treat’ foods from the get go. Eating ‘blander’ foods which are low in palatability will help you avoid putting yourself into this dilemma.
I came across this extremely interesting study during research for this article.
The study had the participants consume calories via a bland liquid and calories were not restricted. This is the interesting part, not only did the participants lose weight, but their setpoint also reset downwards. The reason this is so awesome? It shows that someone who has lost a lot of weight can keep the weight off through following a diet that’s predominantly lower in palatability (I’ll expand on this point later).
Maybe the bro bodybuilders were on to something with their chicken breast and brown rice 6x a day ( I joke). But, lower palatable diets* are still one of the most effective fat loss tools. Any diet that can reduce the activation of the ‘reward response system’ in the brain, will stop you wanting to keep eating past a state of fullness.
*When I refer to ‘low palatable’ I don’t mean you need to literally resort to eating foods without flavour. I simply mean foods that are not chock full of sugar,fat and salt. There are plenty of ways of eating lower palatable foods that are delicious. ‘Healthy’ and ‘tasty’ are not, and should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
Hunger And Satiety
The biggest woe of the dieter is dealing with the issue of hunger.
Hunger is caused by the release of the (hunger) hormone’ Ghrelin. When our brains detect our [body] fat levels dropping or when our stomach is ‘empty’, Ghrelin is released. This is exactly why the leaner you start to get the hungrier you begin to feel (there’s a lot more to it than that, but for the sake of brevity this will suffice).
The more palatable the food, the less filling it is compared to a less palatable food (calorie for calorie) which in turn makes hyper-palatable foods less satiating. Hence, why you can eat a chocolate bar and 10 minutes later be hungry again while a [calorically] comparable meal filled with say protein, carbohydrates and veggies will keep you fuller for longer.
The Satiety Index
The Satiety Index was created to help assess the satiety effect of different foods. Foods that rank higher up in the satiety index are foods that keep you feeling fuller for a longer period of time and are foods that usually contain high protein, water and/or fiber content.
Low energy dense foods such as vegetables that contain high amounts of water and/or fiber take up more room in the stomach and are less calorically dense, this signals the brain that you are full.
It may come as no surprise that hyperpalatable foods like cookies, chips, chocolate bars etc rank pretty poorly on the SI index due to the lack of protein, fibre/water content.
Calorie dense foods (cookies, cakes and the like) also take up less space in the stomach compared to the amount of calories they contain, hence the lack of satiation.
To quote the study on the satiety index :
‘whole’ foods such as fruits, potatoes, steak and fish were the most satiating of all foods tested. Interestingly, many plant foods such as beans, lentils and potatoes contain anti-nutrients which can delay or inhibit the absorption of nutrients or affects gastrointestinal hormone release. These factors could contribute to their greater satiating powers.’
We can essentially ‘trick’ our mind into thinking it’s full by using low(er) calorie foods that fill the stomach like vegetables.
Now, I know some of you will be saying ‘well is this not just common sense?’.
Well, is it ?
It’s easy for someone who doesn’t understand these mechanisms to see shredded guys and girls posting photos of pop tarts and cereals with #shreddedbyicecream plastered all over, to assume that this is all they need to do also.
Don’t fall victim to ‘The Curse Of Knowledge’.
The Choice Conundrum
In Psychology there is a term known as ‘Ego Depletion’.
This term dictates that in Humans, self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.
Dieting is a form of this ‘resource expenditure’ due to the increased level of self-control and willpower having to be exercised.
The constant process of having to show restraint as your fellow co-worker tempts you with foods can lead to ‘Decision Fatigue’ — or, more aptly, what I like to call, the ‘AH FUCK IT Mode’ [patent pending].
You become ‘less rational’ and more prone to ‘acting impulsively’ — It is, essentially, ‘beer goggles’ with food. Whereas earlier you may have been able to ignore the seductive lure of that tub of Ben and Jerry’s in your freezer, a whole days worth of decision making and reacting to things outside of your control (life) by the end of the day, your ego is pretty much as depleted as can be and when ego depletion kicks in, restraint goes out the window and all you want is the ice cream.
For many people, the constant ‘working out’ what to eat that ‘fits their macros’ can lead to ‘decision fatigue’, and the ‘AH FUCK IT’ mentality kicking in.
So, how do we combat this ?
A Case For Meal Planning
This is where meal plans are a great way for you to decide and plan what you are going to be eating the following day / week in advance.
Having something to ‘adhere’ to or ‘follow’ will enable you to make better choices and stick to your diet as often time, the ‘Ah Fuck It’ mentality kicks in when we are overwhelmed with too many choices.
Preparing in advance will also ensure that you are consuming [enough] vegetables, fruits and other nutrient rich foods that you may not be able to get if you’re constantly on the go and eating out.
If you’re someone who hates having to track — preparing in advance can take away the anxiety of logging everything and just focussing on eating.
Time For Some Anecdote
Earlier, I spoke about the study that showed lower palatable foods helped people ‘reset’ their setpoint downwards and the participants of the study were able to keep the majority of the weight off after finishing the diet.
Now, I know that this is more to do with what people call ‘the settling point’ rather than an actual change in the persons biological ‘setpoint’ but I have found something pretty similar with my own weight loss.
I was a fat kid growing up (my dad owned a fast food joint — hyper-palatability was pretty much my middle name), and most of my teen life.
Now, I pretty much maintain 9–12% body fat year round, comfortably.
Even though there is a lot more going on, I can confidently say that eating lower palatable foods has helped me maintain a level of leanness that goes against my natural biology.
I believe focussing on lower palatable foods has ‘rewired’ my taste palate so I no longer crave or feel the need to eat the hyper-palatable foods I was so accustomed to eating growing up. I do enjoy treats here and there If I feel the need to, but I am much better at ‘moderating’ now.
One of my biggest pet peeves is reading an article filled with theory, but one that doesn’t provide the reader with actionable take aways.
I’m fortunately, not about that life. So, I wouldn’t be able to end this article without providing you with some take aways.
- Choose foods that are high in fiber so that you can eat a larger volume of food but consume fewer calories.
- Some food items to consider — Beans, vegetables (broccoli,cauliflower etc), ‘Protein Fluff’ with xanthan gum.
- Choose foods that rank high in the satiety index and ensure to use these items make up the bulk of your diet — White potatoes rank the highest on the satiety index and are a brilliant carb source for when dieting.
- Pre-planning your meals for the week or day is brilliant in reserving willpower. By limiting the amount of choices you have to make, you give yourself more chance of success.
- If you struggle with trigger foods, or you find it hard to consume hyper-palatable foods simply eat whole nutritious foods during the week and allow yourself a free meal on the weekend.
- Most people have that one trigger food that on consumption sets them off and leads to overeating. Simply remove this item from your house. Eventually, it will not even be on your mind anymore. But, if you still feel the need to eat the trigger food, restrict it to when you go out to eat. Having to pay for the food item will mean you will stick to just the one serving as opposed to having free reign of the item at home. Out of sight, out of mind works beautifully.
- Remember, people only have one or two trigger foods. So these should be removed or restricted in some capacity, feel free to eat any foods you are able to without losing control.
- If you’re someone who has lost a lot of weight and you do plan on keeping it off, there is evidence to suggest that you should be eating a diet that provides more volume. By all means fit in foods you enjoy, but make sure that the majority of your diet is filled with whole, nutritious, ‘low palatable’ foods.
- Prepare your meals in advance. The more you limit the choices you have to make during your day the less you are going to tap into your mental resources meaning when the more important decisions have to be made — you have enough *in the tank* to make a better informed decision.
- Finally, it comes down to your goals. Do you want to lose weight, or is the idea of removing a certain food item just too much for you? As much as the IIFYM’ers will promote the idea of ‘being able to have your cake and eat it too’, the reality is, this isn’t always the case.
As humans, we have the innate tendency to label things as to feel part of ‘a pack’ or tribe.
It helps us feel like we belong. So, the division of ‘Clean Eaters’, ‘Paleo-ers’, ‘IIFYM’ers’ etc. is inevitable. It helps us differentiate between our tribe and everyone else. It helps us feel safe to be amongst people who have the same beliefs as us.
Just go to any ‘fitness/nutrition’ forum to see this in action. You will see thousand comment threads of people vehemently defending their ‘beliefs’.
And yes, while some are clearly idiotic *cough*bulletproofcoffee*cough* the majority all have their pro’s and con’s.
My hope is that people start to realise every diet works. Find one that works for you, one that you enjoy and more importantly, one that you can adhere too. But, don’t become dogmatic and think that your way is the only way.
One final note, before I bring this to an end. People often confuse ‘IIFYM’ with Flexible dieting.
The irony is that ‘Flexible Dieting’ is actually not a ‘diet’.
Flexible dieting is whatever you want it to be.
I’ll leave you with this brilliant quote from my bro Jose Rosas
‘The reason why it [flexible dieting] is successful is because it’s exactly what you need from it in the manner that you need it.
Paleo, “clean”, vegan, vegetarian, somebody with an eating disorder, somebody who is trigger-happy with foods.
You adjust your diet to accommodate your needs.’
And THAT is what REAL flexible dieting is.
Thank You’s and Honourable Mentions
My Bro Claudio Espinoza for coming up with the name of the article
My Bro Michael Saad for the quote
James Fell of ‘Body For Wife’ fame for the quote (which I stole from one of his statuses)
My bro Jose Rosas of Alpha Training Protocols for his quote.
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