When folks who are new to IIFYM (Flexible Dieting) first start, the biggest mistake I see early on is not understanding how to properly plan and log meals.
This took a lot of getting used to for me. IIFYM is basically a game of food-legos. We aren’t just counting calories, we have to eat a specific amount of carbs, fat, and protein as well. (And precision matters — a lot). This often means getting pretty creative with your meal planing.(Weightix.com is my project where my staff of virtual coaches will build this plan specifically for you — check it out)
Logging everything in advance, and planning your meals either in the morning (before you eat anything) or even the night before, gives you the time you need to properly fit all the proverbial legos into their slots.
At first, this kind of planning is going to feel really awkward and may be a little confusing, but it doesn’t take very long to get used to it. The thought processes end up looking a little like this:
“Hmm.. trying to plan my meal tomorrow.. I’ve figured out breakfast and lunch already… but for dinner, I have 570 calories left, 70 protein, no fat, and 70 carbs… What foods even exist that fit that?… Answer: not much.. I’m going to need at least a LITTLE bit of fat… let me go change what I’ve planned for breakfast and lunch to decrease the fat, so I’ve got more available for dinner.”
“Uh oh.. I got to dinner and still have 70 protein available, but I can’t think of anything I want to eat that has that much. I could have some extra eggs for breakfast to spread that protein around better.”
“Oh no.. I planned to the end of the day but I still have 20 carbs left, 100 calories, no fat, and no protein… What can I eat for a snack at some point during the day that fits that? OH!! Light popcorn!”
As you can see from the examples above, if you don’t plan your meals in advance, you’ll end up getting towards the end of your day and realize that you screwed yourself over earlier on… and you will end up eating outside of your plan.
Alternatively, if you plan your meals in advance, you can do all the jiggering needed to make things fit exactly right. You can also plan around foods you have on hand. (Note that this is why it’s critical that you weigh your food. You may find that adding or subtracting even a half-ounce from a serving-size can help you make your numbers work).
If you have a specific food you simply MUST fit into your meal plan (pizza, a candy bar, a family meal, etc.) — add that food FIRST, and then build the rest of your menu around it (adding, subtracting, and changing foods and quantities until everything is balanced and fits). This way you can eat the foods you like, but still stick to your plan!
I know this sounds really confusing — but apps like MyFitnessPal make this really easy. Just go to tomorrow’s entry for your food diary, start entering the foods you plan to eat, and hit the “Nutrition” button on the bottom of the screen to see how much you’ve got left of each macro. (Note that you’ll need to flip over to the “Nutrients” tab after you hit the Nutrition button). Go back and add / remove / change foods on each of your meals until the ratios are perfect. (Keep checking that “Nutrition” button to see how different foods affect your ratios).
Once your numbers all show “0 left”, you’ve got your PERFECT meal plan ready for tomorrow! Note that it’s okay to be off by a LITTLE… +/- 50 calories, +/- 5 on the protein and carbs, and maybe +/- 2 on the fat are all okay.
That’s it! You’ll get good at this quickly, you’ll find the foods that YOU like to eat regularly, you’ll learn which foods are good for which scenarios, and you’ll never find yourself scrambling at the last minute to figure out your menus.