Reader request: WTF are macros, and how does #IIFYM work?!


Before I started my whole fitness journey (can I call it that without sounding like an absolute wanker?), I used to do a lot of eye-rolling at people who tagged every single meal with #IIFYM when posting it to Instagram. It just seemed so ridiculous, right? And, to a certain extent, it is. Read what my trainer Niamh has to say about it over on Lovin' Dublin. But in another way, macro counting has really helped me keep my diet on track – and by allocating a certain ratio of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in my diets, I've been able to eat a lot of what I want, while also losing weight, gaining muscle and, most importantly (I have to put this in cos Niamh won't let me focus on weightloss!), feeling really good.

Whenever I talk about macros – either here, or on Snapchat – I get an influx of questions about WTF I'm talking about. And I'd just like to say: I'm sorry. It is confusing, pseudo-scientific speak that's not entirely helpful, and just makes it look like I'm now placing myself among the #fitfam elite, and speaking in #fitspeak that no one else even needs to understand.

So I'm going to break it down for you, as best I can. Now, bear in mind: I'm not a nutritionist, and I'm not a personal trainer. I haven't studied for years in order to understand properly how the body works, and how our nutrition is broken down. If you Google it, you can probably find better explanations – but as I get asked, and I have a reasonable understanding, I'm going to give it a go. (If I say anything that's totally wrong, please, do let me know. Nicely.)

What are macros?

Here's the science bit – although, not really. Macro is just an abbreviated way of saying macronutrients – essentially, the building blocks that make up everything we eat, and that we need for our minds and bodies to function properly. There are three macronutrients: proteins, carbs and fats. So, when we're talking about macros, that's what we're talking about.

How do you calculate them?

This, to me, is a mystery. I've no idea; I use MyFitnessPal, the app, to input everything I eat – and it magically shows me how much of each macronutrient is in each food. And I'm constantly surprised: for example, a teeny tiny Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough 'Wich* (from the sharepack, in my defence) contains 10g of carbs and only 1.1g of protein. I would have thought, honestly, that the protein count would have been higher – it's made of cream, people! Three tomatoes, on the other hand, contain 6g of carbs. It's, frankly, baffling.

How many of each should I be eating?

Again, this totally beats me. (See? I told you I didn't know everything...) Your required macros will vary based on gender, activity levels, weight, body fat... It's a minefield. Niamh, my personal trainer, tells me what my macros should be, each week; at the moment, I'm working on around 130g of proteins, 40g of carbs and 70g of fats per day, which comes in at around 1,300 calories. Again, I'm making guesses based on my loose interpretation of the science, but I'm on low carbs because we've discovered that higher carbs make me hold on to body fat, and low calories because I'm still trying to shift another two-odd stone.

I don't know how easy it is to figure out your own macros; there are calculators online, but most of them (I gather) require payment – but your best bet is to enlist the help of a personal trainer at your gym, and ask her/him to give you a hand. (If you want more information, email Niamh – – and tell her I sent you!)

So, er, what's IIFYM then?

This is a fun acronym (*sarcasm*) that the #fitfammers have adopted that means, "if it fits your macros". It's basically a way of explaining that macro counting is a really good way to keep an eye on your what you're eating, while also eating a bit of what you're craving. So, if you really, really want that extra teaspoon of Nutella, you can have it – as long as you then compensate for that spike in carbs by making sure your next meal is carb-light.

I find that it really helps keep me on track, knowing that I have targets to reach and that I can reach them through planning my food carefully. Sometimes, if I'm really prepared, I'll even fill in my day's food the day before using MyFitnessPal, so I know exactly, before I've even woken up that morning, whether I have any space for an extra treat.

#IIFYM is, essentially, the social media hashtag for macro counting or, as it's also known, flexible dieting (for obvious reasons). I use it on my foodie pics because I hope it might get me some more #fitfam followers, which will then shame me into never giving up the quest for a totally, utterly healthy life.

Still confused?

Well, I told you I wasn't an expert – read Siobhan O'Hagan's take instead! And feel free to ask questions in the comments, as always!

*This was sent to me as a PR sample. For more on my attitude to freebies and payments, check out my disclaimer! (But you should know: I never look a gift ice-cream in the mouth.)