Why Tracking Calories or IIFYM Isn’t for ME, (but it may be for you!)

There is nothing I hate worse than basing the happiness and effectiveness of my day on a number.

Because honestly, I just hate numbers. I always have!

And don’t even get me started on Sudoko, ya’ll, because the fact that it is A GAME is seriously mind-boggling. As a creative, word-oriented person, the harsh constraints of numbers were just never something I really enjoyed dealing with.

Now, look. I’m not crazy. I know numbers are necessary in life, money, taxes, reports, analyzing things, etc. I use them when I have to! But if there’s anytime I can eliminate being trapped to a constraint of a number, I will relish in it.

My Fitness Pal- the Calorie Counting King

from MyFitnessPal.com

Over the years, we’ve all been taught that when it comes to losing weight, it’s calories in, calories out. That it’s virtually impossible to lose weight without doing so, and apps such as My Fitness Pal have people glued to their smartphones, inputting every bite of what they eat in hopes of a magic calculation that could get them their dream bodies.

While this is actually really helpful for some people, especially those, just starting out in a healthy lifestyle, it has the potential to be damaging, as well. Especially for people who already are at a healthy weight.

Because let me tell you something. I did this. For a long time. Back before I was truly educated on the science and actual effective workouts. And I was actually in the WORST shape I’ve ever been in.

Why? Well, it was my thought process behind it. I trusted the magic calculation without trusting science. If I knew it was the weekend and I was going to go out, I would skip meals and use my calorie “quota” on alcohol and snacks instead. Healthy? No. But I was staying under my alotted calorie count!

While this is an extreme example- can’t you see how something like this may not instill healthy principles? 

It sure didn’t for me. And it actually hindered my progress.

These days I know that skipping meals encourages fat GAIN, and alcohol greatly inhibits muscle growth. And keeping your muscle and building more is THE KEY to fat loss, because that is what will take your metabolism through the roof. Muscle BURNS fat at rest. It’s an amazing thing, really.

But you can’t build that muscle on 1,200 calories a day.

And at 5’2″, my calorie quote was always around that number. Man, these days, if I only ate that many calories I just literally couldn’t function. I’d probably end up in the hospital! My workouts are generally pretty intense, causing my metabolism to rage 24/7.

So much so that the other day, I went around 4-5 hours without eating while at work with my fiance and literally CRIED because he wanted us to run an errand before we went to get food. Yes. I cried. It was sad. It was an emotional moment. I neeeeed food.

In calorie counting’s defense- I do think it’s wise to be aware of the calories, ingredients, and nutrient profiles. I’m in no way telling you these things don’t matter at all- but all I’m saying is it may not be wise to judge your entire day’s success rate by fitting into an arbitrary calculation made by a computer.

My philosophy is- if you’re working out effectively, these 20 calories, or 100 calories aren’t going to make a diddly squat of difference. If you’re doing things to prevent metabolic damage, your body will be running like a furnace and there is no need to get that obsessive.

And the best way to prevent metabolic damage and keep your body running?
DON’T RESTRICT TOO MANY CALORIES. AND LIFT HEAVY.

Especially if you’re working out a lot, restricting your calories too much just isn’t going to help you. Your muscles need the food!

This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the weight loss industry, IMO.
So when it comes to calories, definitely use them as a guideline to be aware. No, you probably don’t want to eat 2,000 calories on a chicken finger meal at Chili’s. But the high calorie count in an avocado? Don’t stress. It’s not going to cause you to gain weight. I promise.

The IIFYM Debate

Now, unless you are a complete beginner to fitness, you’ve probably heard of the concept of tracking your macros, or IIFYM- “If it Fits your Macros.”

The whole premise behind it is to track your Protein, Fat, and Carb grams in the food you eat, and that each person has a magic “ratio” of macro counts that will help them lose fat while retain muscle. It allows people to not necessarily cut out entire food groups, and lets them incorporate treat foods, as long as they “fit their macros.”

I actually think it’s a good idea in principle! Some fitness pros I really admire such as Layne Norton swear by it. And the crazy thing is, the more I learned about it, I realized I was actually kind of doing that anyway, but without the actual tracking part!

You see, I have personal guidelines for myself in which I make a point to keep my protein intake at least 20g per meal, and I shoot for about 4-5 small meals a day. I also try to eat a veggie with each, and fruits sporadically throughout the day. I eat plenty of healthy carbs and fats. I use nutritional timing, and try to keep the majority of my simple carb intake before and after workouts. All of these things work for me, and I had to experiment to figure it out. I also studied some great material including Precision Nutrition that helped me get on this track.

But the crazy thing is, I’m sure if I actually calculated my protein/carb/fat ratios, it would be pretty similar to something that the IIFYM site would spit out at me, I just never actually did that step.

And I don’t want to.

And I suppose that’s where I differ in opinion. Because one of the main issues I have with tracking/counting methods, is sometimes there isn’t much room to listen to your body. For example, I’ve heard people say they were starving, yet all their macros/calories were used up.

Something tells me that it’s wiser to just eat than to trust an arbitrary computer generated number in this case? That your body is sending out a message that you need to answer.

I believe there is a very large difference between setting meal guidelines for yourself, and letting yourself be RULED and DEFINED by these numbers. i.e.- getting depressed because you went “over” your carb macros for the day.

It seems to me that the people that get emotionally affected in this way may develop a mild version of disordered eating, of feeling like the “control” over their food is more important than properly nourishing their body. That’s the only thing that scares me and that makes me uneasy about it. 

Now, if you are a bodybuilder or figure competitor, I actually think IIFYM is the best way to go about it, because I’ve seen it allows them to get to an extremely lean BF% (that is necessary in these situations) in a healthier way. And if you were going to track, I think doing it the IIFYM is probably more effective than just calorie counting alone.

But for the average person just wanting to be fit, and even lean, I’m really not sure if it’s necessary!

It’s not worth it to me, anyway. But like I mentioned earlier, I just hate numbers. 😉

I want to make it clear that this post isn’t to discourage anyone from experimenting with what works for them, I just want to show people that it’s simply unnecessary to track to make progress.

2 years of my progress! No tracking, Lifting 3X a week. Treating myself. Very minimal cardio. Yes, it's possible.

2 years of my progress! No tracking, Lifting 3X a week. Treating myself. Very minimal cardio. Yes, it’s possible.

You can make progress both ways, but if you hate tracking and it makes you stressed out/depressed, then seriously, please don’t do it. You don’t have to. I’d rather have my personal sanity than compete, or strive for a single digit BF%. It just doesn’t make me happy. At this point I’m more focused on maintaining my healthy habits and developing more positivity towards my body instead of trying to hate it into looking “shredded.”

But I know you’re not me.

The great thing about the world we live in is we all have different mindsets, habits, and opinions. So you may be thinking- “You know, this doesnt sound too bad! I love numbers! I want to try this!”

Here are some signs it may be for you:

  • If you really want more structure in your diet plan
  • If you are able to use the numbers as guidelines instead of a set RULE
  • If you LOVE numbers and calculations and they are comforting to you
  • If you’re able to forgo your numbers every once in awhile to enjoy social settings and relax

Honestly, if it makes you seriously happy to track/count and you don’t have a mental breakdown if you’re not 100% “on track” daily, then by all means, do it!

So is it for you? Maybe! And that’s fine if it is! We all have different things we enjoy. I’ve spoken lightly on this topic before without being able to fully explain my reasonings, so I wanted to write this post to show people my side on it, again, not to “attack” people that do these things. But to offer another alternative that personally has proven to be more effective on my sanity. 🙂

But just remember: These are GUIDELINES and TOOLS- not LAW. 

And as always, as you become more accepting of your body as it is right now, and develop healthier mental attitudes, you will be drawn to what is more fulfilling on a deeper level than simply getting as lean as possible. You will be able to experiment and find the things that make your soul happy, whether its not tracking, IIFYM, Paleo, Veganism, or anything else.

Because life is too short to let your diet define your life. Define your life by your actions, your thoughts, your goals, your dreams. Let fitness and health be a part of you like sleeping and breathing is. That’s the ultimate goal. 🙂

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14 thoughts on “Why Tracking Calories or IIFYM Isn’t for ME, (but it may be for you!)

  1. Chelsea says:

    Love the post!!!! I feel that tracking can make people super OCD about it, and actually effect progress. Why depend on a number to make you happy. I use to be this way. Always hungry. Always weighing myself, always counting everything and I could not go over EVER! But now I count to make sure I’m getting enough in. I know what number works best – meaning when my workouts feel the best and I don’t feel sick from eating too much haha. And if I’m hungry and go over the “normal” amount, I’m okay with that. I take it as, obviously my body needs more that day. If I don’t count I always end up eating double my normal amount haha so it just helps keep me accountable for what and how much I’m eating 🙂

    • janinecdemichele says:

      It makes me happy to know that you got the point! 🙂 Counting isn’t INHERENTLY WRONG- as long as it is a guideline and not a steadfast rule that causes nervous breakdowns, haha. 🙂

      Seems like you have the perfect balance!

  2. HealthNutFittie (Chelsey) says:

    This post is so on point with where I’m at. Tracking macros led me to feeling more restricted than anything. If I didn’t hit the numbers I would feel guilty. I am happily two days into not tracking and you are extremely inspiring through this process!! 🙂

  3. Ange @ Cowgirl Runs says:

    I love this! I have a history of disordered eating, so I can’t really allow myself to track because I’ll take it way too far and then I’ll start starving myself and shaming myself. Learning to listen to my body and feed it what it needs has been so important to getting healthy and eating “normally”.

    • janinecdemichele says:

      I totally get where you’re coming from. It’s not fun. And a healthy, fit lifestyle SHOULD be fun because you are treating your body well, right? Where does guilt, shame, binging, and starvation fit into a healthy, balanced life? It doesn’t. So glad you are able to see that! Keep on that road, girly!

  4. Megan @ Meg Go Run says:

    Great post! I do track my cals/macros daily but they are a guide, not a rule. What I eat and how much of it depends not only on my workout of the day but how I feel. Using the numbers as guidelines keeps me on track. I go over some days. I go under some days. It all must even out because I have been able to maintain my weight and build muscle along the way!

    • janinecdemichele says:

      Glad you enjoyed! Yes, the important thing is to keep it as a guideline if you are going to track. Guidelines are great- freaking out over 1 gram of carbs is not! It’s so important to listen to your body, glad you are able to do that while tracking 🙂

  5. jodybicondoa says:

    I love this post. I don’t know what to do anymore. I do need and thrive off of some rules, but I am sitting most of the times on my phone trying to calculate, fit things in and figure out how to use up my fats, proteins or carbs.
    I’m going to dinner tonight and I’m calculating what I’m eating. My friends are getting annoyed because instead of hanging out, I’m on my phone figuring out what I can eat.

    I’m confused as to what to do. Part of me knows I won’t eat enough food if I listen to my body. I also don’t like being in MFP most of the day. 😦

  6. latelykelcey says:

    I LOVE this post. Thank you for writing! I follow the “clean-eating” way of living since it has given me tons of energy and insanely helped clear up my skin.. also.. i just feel 100x better when eating wholesome foods. I tried IIFYM but it make me 100x more psychotic with counting and numbers and it made me feel more restrictive than ever. Sometimes i wanted carbs but if i didn’t have any more carbs left i HAD TO eat protein and i was still very unsatisfied. Now, if i want carbs or fats I have it in a wholesome source such as sweet potatoes and natural peanut butter, bananas and almond butter, etc… and i feel satisfied and confident about my food choices. So far, I have been doing much better with clean eating (still counting calories but not obsessive about it) and then I allow myself a Diet Coke or two on the weekends :). I think that is more balance than what IIFYM preaches. Thanks again for writing!

    • janinecdemichele says:

      Thanks, Kelcey! It’s definitely true that you have to find what works for YOU. A lot of people preach that “THIS IS THE ONLY WAYYY” and it can make people feel like a failure when it doesn’t work. Glad you found a way to be healthy without crossing into obsession! 🙂

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