Clean Eating vs IIFYM (Flexible Dieting)

I recently received a question asking about the difference between Clean Eating and Flexible Dieting (IIFYM - If it Fits Your Macros ) and which one is best for weightloss. This is quite an extensive answer and is crucial in developing a maintainable diet that still helps you reach your goals.

Let’s begin with definitions:

The term ‘Clean Eating’ is a very well-known but hardly understood concept. At its broadest definition, Clean Eating involves sticking to foods that are all-natural and devoid of preservatives and excessive sugar. Those foods are considered “bad”. However, when you start dissecting these bad foods, the definitions start to differ from person to person.
What is clean to a vegan, will not necessarily be clean to a vegetarian. Someone on a paleo-diet will not have the same clean foods as someone on a low-fat or low-carb diet. Thus, ‘clean’ is a very subjective term. Nevertheless, this way of eating is generally regarded as a very strict way of eating. You have foods that you are allowed to have and those that are bad and need to avoided by all means. This way of eating is highly-favoured by those who have a more holistic approach to food – viewing whole, unprocessed foods as a way of preserving and purifying the body.


In order to explain ‘Flexible Dieting’, we need to discuss the root of the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) concept. Macros, short for macronutrients, refer to protein, fat and carbohydrates/carbs. Caloric intake is also included in this. This eating method is considered flexible because there are no specific dietary rules, restrictions or allowances that you need to adhere to. There is hardly any strictness or structure that needs to be followed – there is freedom and flexibility to do what suits your personal dietary preferences.
The only requirement? Your total daily calorie, protein, fat and carb intake needs to fit into what you need for your goal. You can get these calories and macronutrients from whatever food sources you want (good, bad, clean, dirty, etc.) and consume them in whatever manner (meal timing, meal schedules, etc.) you want.

To figure out which of these methods is better, we need to weigh the pros and cons of each one;

Clean Eating is a very restrictive way of eating, but in the same sense, it is restricted to foods that are ultimately beneficial to your body and provide you with the essential nutrients and energy that your body requires. However, the discipline required to keep to the diet is often hard to maintain and most people who try and eat clean 100% of the time end up falling off their diet and regaining all if not more of their initial weight.

Flexible Dieting, on the other hand, provides a little too much freedom and when used incorrectly, can lead many to only eat junk and bad foods that provide very little nutrition to the body. The misconception is that this diet plan is a 24/7 cheat plan. In actuality, the IIFYM style of eating works out to be more like 80-90% ‘clean’ foods and 10-20% pleasure foods –provided they stay within your macro goals. This generally makes it more sustainable and ideal for most people. However, there is a lot of planning and calculating involved in setting up your meal plan.
You need to determine which ratio of carbs: proteins: fats is needed to help you reach your goals. The optimum ratio is 40:40:20 respectively.  Then you need to calculate the specific grams needed for each food source and make sure that whatever you eat is within that ratio. Thus, though flexible, this style is a little time-consuming. Apps like MyFitnessPal assist in this process but you still have to log each meal you eat every day.

Which eating style is better??

Both approaches can work!! It is only determined by your personality.

At its most basic, IIFYM is clean-eating with a little freedom and flexibility. What is important is making sure that your diet provides the total amount of calories and macronutrients that you need for your goals and overall health in general.

For example, in order to lose fat, you need to feed your body less energy than it burns. To do that, you need to keep yourself in a caloric deficit – which means eating less calories than you burn.
However, calories also include knowing your body composition and for that you need to focus on your macronutrients.
If you want to lose weight while maintaining as much lean muscle mass as possible, you need to:

  • Consume enough protein to preserve muscle
  • Eat enough carbs that provide your muscles with the energy needed to maintain intensity while exercising
  • Eat enough healthy fats which play an important role in hormone synthesis

At the end of the day, your nutrition is what helps your body reveal all the hard work that you put in at the gym. Keeping a balanced diet that fuels your goals is the difference between success and failure. It’s essential that you choose a diet plan that fits seamlessly into your lifestyle and personality.

Post Author: DesRay Ashen

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