IIFYM vs. Paleo: How People Ruin Everything

In Blog Posts by Danny Lennon Comments

IIFYM vs. Paleo: How People Ruin Everything

The world of nutrition advice is amusingly confusing one.

The idea of giving advice to someone, by nature, should mean you’re helping them.

But instead what we see is arguments between different “teams” who hold slightly different approaches.


“Content is King but Context is God”

There are certain nutrition concepts/philosophies that could actually be really helpful for certain people, when applied in the right context. And to steal a phrase from social media genius Gary Vaynerchuk, while content is indeed king, context is God. This is exactly the case with nutrition.

Sure, while your actual nutrition recommendations (content) are important, when and who you implement them with (context) is the real deciding factor of success.

What’s “the context”?

I just think of it as the 3 W’s: the who, the when and the why.

  • Who – metabolic health, digestive health, history of disordered eating, adherence probability, lifestyle, life commitments, etc.
  • When – time frame, age, training cycle, before/after gut repair, in/out of season, etc.
  • Why – immediate goal, long-term goal, previous health, the alternative, etc.

Remember, content is king but context is God.

How People Ruin Everything

This post is actually nothing to do with me comparing different dietary approaches (or “teams”), like IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and Paleo, to see which is best.Comparing them would be grade-A, fucking dumb. You don’t have to be on one “team” or the other, just understand and accept each for what it is.

Problem is so many people, even those who are “followers” of these teams, don’t actually understand the real idea behind the concept.

And that’s what makes the two examples in the title so fitting of the point I want to make. And that point is this:

Clueless people say dumb shit. That dumb shit in turn often gets used by an equally clueless person on the opposing “team” in an equally dumb way: as ammunition to bash the “opposition”.

Although I don’t believe I’m any particular “team”, people know I’m pretty big on looking at food quality and nutrient-density and basing the diet on unrefined foods. Because of this I get asked questions about things like IIFYM with people presuming I’m going to call everyone who uses that approach (or other ways of flexible dieting) a bunch of clowns.

I don’t.

And it should be becoming abundantly clear by now anyway but let me explain why.

IIFYM: yes or no? Paleo: yay or nay?

Here’s a quick test to see if you’re paying attention: To answer these questions what do we need to consider?


Who Are These “Clueless People”?

There are two types of clueless people in these dietary approach debates:

  1. The ones who say dumb shit
  2. The ones who use the dumb shit comments as a reason to attack the concept rather than the person who said it.

Let me give a couple of examples.

The Dumb Shit Comment

This dude says that if you want to get ripped you can eat pizza, ice cream and doughnuts all day “as long as it fits your macros”. If that’s you, I’ve got news for you: that’s NOT what the concept of IIFYM was ever supposed to be. That’s just you being a knob.

Take a look at where this whole IIFYM concept originated.

A few years back, on a bodybuilding.com thread, a guy by the name of Eirik Stevens became sick of the ever-growing number of questions from forum “newbs” about whether specific foods were or weren’t “allowed”.

“Is a [insert any food] OK to eat on a cut?”

In order to give people an easy way to think about “good” and “bad” foods for losing body fat for example, they were just told they could eat the banana (or grapes or yogurt or cheese or biscuit or whatever) as long as “it fits into your macronutrient targets”.


From this, the acronym IIFYM was born. And as a general concept it’s a helpful, quick way of saying to people new to body comp nutrition: “hey, you can reach your body composition goal even if you eat that certain food, as long as you keep your calorie and macro numbers in check”.

And to be honest, that’s true.

If you work out your macros to lose weight and you consistently hit those, then you can include poorer quality foods and still get leaner.

But here’s the thing: it was NOT someone saying “you can eat absolute junk all day everyday as long as you hit your macros”. That is clearly not optimal for creating real body composition changes.

If you ever hear Alan Aragon talking about IIFYM or flexible dieting he points this out. He points out that the true concept of flexible dieting is that 10-15% of the time you can eat pretty crap quality foods and still reach your body comp goals, provided you fit it into your macros.

Think about that.  That leaves you with eating 85-90% of your calories coming from whole, unrefined sources.

So what does this all mean?

Well it should be clear that if IIFYM is used as a tool in the way it was intended (i.e. you can have some discretionary calories from “not so good” sources, provided you hit your intake targets and still achieve body composition goals) then it can be a pretty useful, simple message that works for metabolically healthy people.

Again, it’s CONTEXT.

It’s not the concept of IIFYM that is crap, it is the way certain people (both pro- and anti-IIFYM’ers) misinterpret it that leads to problems.

Because you’re a lean 22-year-old bodybuilder who eats Ben and Jerry’s everyday, don’t claim that everyone can do this or that focusing on whole, unrefined foods is rubbish. Context my friend.

Similarly though, if you do believe in only eating whole, real-foods, that’s cool but don’t the mistake of making  a straw-man argument to claim IIFYM is stupid because it encourages people to eat junk all day. That’s not what it is. It may be what some clueless dudes claim, but it’s not what the true experts who encourage flexible dieting say.

Again, context. If someone uses IIFYM as it is intended and their goal is solely body composition, then let them at it.

Avoid Misinterpretation

I already mentioned how we shouldn’t misinterpret IIFYM as “eating junk all the time”. The same principle goes with the Paleo example.

A “Paleo-type” approach may be a great template to start with for some people.

But the reason it’s likely a good approach for many people is that it improves the overall quality of the diet. More vegetables, fibre and protein tend to be eaten, and less highly-processed, extremely palatable, high-calorie foods. Not because it bases food choices on whether a caveman ate it or not.

Understand the context.


  • Content is king but context is God.
  • Context is the who, the when and the why.
  • Clueless people say dumb shit. Don’t be one of those people. Understand how the concepts are intended to be used.
  • Don’t make gross generalizations, “strawman” arguments or use the comments of idiots to support your views.

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