Clean Eating vs. IIFYM - An answer for the idiots that still don't get fat loss - IIFYM

Eating Clean vs Knowing WTF You Are Doing


If you ask 100 different people what exactly “clean food” is, you will likely get 100 different answers.

On the far left side of the debate, you will find those that say that “clean food” is a myth, a term used by ignorant dieters that simply do not know enough about nutrition to form a cohesive opinion on the subject. It is not uncommon for these people to criticize “clean eaters” with a snide remark such as, “do you wash your food with Windex to make sure it is clean?”.

Again, the far left.

On the far right side of the clean eating debate, you will find those that take the idea of clean food to the extreme. This is where things can break off into several tangent camps that have their own high and mighty definition of what clean food actually is. Examples might be vegetarians, vegans, paleo followers, organic only, raw only, local only, or any combination of these. I actually know a vegan that only eats raw, locally grown, organic food, and feels like her method is the only true way to eat clean; that anything else is just irresponsible.


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Most of us lie somewhere in the middle which is why I am writing the article.
It is the goal of this author to put an end to the debate within the IIFYM and flexible dieting community as to what “clean food” actually is. I am not so grandiose as to believe that I alone can change an entire industry overnight, especially one that has so many saboteurs within its own ranks, and one which has been blindly lead by endless amounts of unqualified gurus selling snake oil and lucky charms. At a bare minimum what I do intend to accomplish is to clear up any misunderstanding or misconception within the walls of this macro tracking website, IIFYM.com.

When it comes to the IIFYM and flexible dieting community, we all have some idea as to what clean food is (even those trolls among us that only want to stir the pot) but many of us have a hard time explaining our view points to those that disagree with us without a food fight breaking out.

As the admin of this site I feel it is my responsibility to clean up the confusion, so from this point on, anytime I (me, Anthony Collova, the owner of IIFYM.com refers to “clean food” or “clean eating” this is my official and IIFYM.com’s official caveat and definition:

For the purposes of IIFYM.com, the term “clean food” is only defined only as it pertains to the physique of the individual, within the realm of tacking macro nutrients as a means to alter lean mass, fat mass and body composition. The term “clean food” does not speak to the health of ones organs, longevity or quality of life, nor does it have an interest in the importance or validity of claims related to the ingested state of the food, be it raw, cooked, pasteurized, chemically treated or genetically modified, nor is the location for which the food was grown, slaughtered, sold or ingested relevant.

Simply put, IIFYM defines clean food as any single ingredient food item

That’s it.
Any single ingredient food item.
Grilled chicken, Steak, rice, fruit, veggies etc.

The IIFYM definition of “clean eating” does not care if the food is organic, if it is raw or if it is micro nutrient dense. It does not distinguish between sucrose or fructose, does not care about the GI Scale and is not concerned with whether the food is healthy or not.

“But Anthony, what about Butter!? It’s a single ingredient food? Is butter clean?”
You bet your macro tracking ass it is!!
Try eating butter as a single ingredient and see how much of it you can cram down your throat in one sitting. I dare you!

“So then I can add butter to my baked potato, right?”
Nope. Not if you want to keep it clean! Add butter to that potato and it is no longer a single ingredient food. Get the picture?

Butter to my Baked Potato

“But what if I want to eat butter on my potato, are you saying butter will make me fat?”
Absolutely not! Butter doesn’t make you fat. Eating in a caloric surplus makes you fat. If you want to add butter to your baked potato, be my guest. Just make sure that you track those calories (more specifically the macros) and don’t go over your numbers.

“Wait, are you saying it is ok to eat clean food & track macros? I thought IIFYM was all about eating dirty food and Pop Tarts?”
Isn’t that what IIFYM.com has been saying this whole time? Eat the foods you love, track your macros, and lose weight at a steady and predictable rate without sacrificing muscle? Regardless if you like pizza and wings, or egg whites and brown rice, as long as it fits your macros, you can eat it!!

For me, this is ALWAYS what eating clean has meant; eating foods that are void of calorie dense sauces that are easy to track and high in micronutrients. Foods that are higher in quality and lower in fluff.

Are there some foods that will straddle the line between clean and “dirty”?
Sure. Rice cakes for example. Most people would agree that rice cakes are a pretty clean carbohydrate source however if you look at the ingredient in a rice cake there are several. Not just rice.
There will always be foods that go against my definition of clean, so it is up to you to tweak it as needed.

Try not to get locked in to a black and white, cut and dry mind set when it comes to tracking your macros, remain flexible, and remember, regardless of what side of the clean eating vs IIFYM flexible dieting debate you fall on, if you are not tracking your macros, you are only guessing.

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  • Nathalie Smith

    Love this!!!

    • icelove

      True , but still as u mention above only a few ppl knows exacty how manage their macros and how to compose a diet . on the other hand if they have just stick to some of those dogmas supporting raw unprocessed food due to high satisfy that foods offer its pretty hard to overeat at the point of obesity something pretty cmon by just eating w/e . another thing is that obesity is not the only concern exept the macros that can be settuped perfecty and u may even become ripped by just sticking to them there is a vast of mineras /toxins/vitamin deficient that can occur due to the idea of iifym . ofc its ok to enjoy a chocolate cake if it fits your macros or even if it not ocasionaly but a calorie at the end of the day is not just a calorie and a heathy balanced diet shoud be first priority customized on everyones needs

  • Mackenzie

    PERFECTLY said. Love love love. People get lost in the multiple definitions of “clean” — most of which are completely warped and extremist –but I see it in the same way as you do. Props for writing this out so well! Totally going to link to it from my recipe blog 🙂

  • Robert

    Do u guys have a app for iPhone the iifym calculator would be nice

    • kevvFIT

      True talk bro…you should really consider having an app for calculating macros. ..you would make a trailer load of cash on that man…! Make it like noom but for macros

      • Carl

        Mike Vicanti’s app, OTR, is the best macro app out there. Check it out.

      • Celina

        MyFitnessPal has the ability for you to track your macros, it’s what I use.

  • Andres

    Definitely, I have seen so many people around with eating disorder and mood changing like hell , IIFYM keep u sane , still enjoy food u like ,. And I used to eat lot of egg whites and chicken cause theyre superfood muscle buliding but i did an allergy test and found out bad things reaction in my body, so clean doesnt mean good for your body ,,,keep it up guyz, cheerz

  • Diane harb

    Love this website!!

  • Julie

    Love that you defined “clean” because i get bored with food easily but I know I have to remain “clean eating” so this is a good stay on track website that doesnt allow the guilt to come through.

  • Actually, Anthony, my ricecakes are 100% brown rice LOL

    good article, mate 🙂

  • John

    There are better foods to choose from. Macros are not the only thing to consider. Also must think about micronutrients that come in better quality foods.

    • Perhaps you do not understand IIFYM all that well

      • kellye

        I don’t understand it at all. I’ve always been taught to count my calories and I’m curious if there’s a book or something that can tell me how to calculate my macros for my own personal needs and goals and put it in terms I can understand lol. I’m no dummy by any means but the whole macros and iifym is a little difficult to understand. I know once people get the hang of it that it’s simple. I’ve just got to get to that understanding of it

        • amy

          CARBS, PROTIEN AND FAT

  • Ashley

    How do I figure out what macros are in food so I can count them?

    • Rebecca

      Most people use my fitness pal which is pre-programmed with food, (people also add to it). If I ate an apple and want to log it in it tells me the macros and cals of that apple.
      Also if you’re cooking something, like a lasagna or a cake, you can add ingredients specifically so that it tells you the macros and cals of that food. If you know how many servings it can provide, put that in and it will tell you the macros per serving; it’s great.

  • sharon preston

    Not to be dense but I am honestly confused by your statements above. You state:

    “Regardless if you like pizza and wings, or egg whites and brown rice, as long as it fits your macros, you can eat it!! For me, this is ALWAYS what eating clean has meant; eating foods that are void of calorie dense sauces that are easy to track and high in micronutrients. Foods that are higher in quality and lower in fluff.”

    So are you saying it is best to eat clean ie “foods void of calorie dense sauces” and track those macros or is it ok to “eat pizza and wings” if they fit your macros?

    • Clarissa Boldt

      I second that! I was a bit confused too. Maybe I need to go back and read it again. Maybe he’s talking about home made pizza and wings, it would be easy to track the macros if its homemade…

      • Jadi

        I def think he meant it’s better to eat clean and avoid sauces that are high in your caloric intake. The less sauce you eat, the more actual food you’ll be able to eat. It’s very difficult to eat at a satisfying rate when you spend say 500 calories a meal just on sauce.

  • David J.M.

    Really enjoyed the article. Eating “clean”, by your definition (single ingredient foods) is a great way to get the nutrients you need and attain your goals. You can get the macros right off the package, or any of the hundreds of websites. Then there are the multitude of apps and programs which store tens of thousands of foods with all the nutrient information and give you the fancy little graphs. I really like a program named VidaOne.
    When I comes right down to it, there are less than 50 foods that I eat on a regular basis. Far less than that when cutting. I simply use a great variety of healthy spices to change things up and keep my nutrients fresh, fun and interesting.
    Keep up the good work, Love the website!

  • alma

    Great article! Now this is the true definition of clean eating. I agree 100% makes perfect sense!

    • T

      Huh

  • what a great article! This has really helped define what clean eating is when explaining it to friends.

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  • I love this! I am new to IIFYM and this is so simple. I definitely will do this and keep it clean with foods. Article is just awesome!

  • This is Mental

    This site is excellent for people who want to justify why they are getting the slowest results possible. Eat all the shitty food as long as it fits your macros. ya. or eat properly and get twice the results in half the time. Shut up with this shit already and let me enjoy my pop tart.

  • TheTanksConditioning

    CAN I GET A FUCKIN’ AMEN! i have so many people to tag on this link when i post it up on my facebook page…..

  • Tara

    How do seasonings like salt and pepper play into the one ingredient rule? If I add salt to my chicken or rice, does that really affect my results? Or does that only apply when combining macros?

  • Roman Lopez

    As a former anorexic person, with still a few fallbacks rom time to time, it is very difficult to track my macros because it takes me back to that anorexic state

  • My take would be this is too narrow a definition of clean. Clean commonly refers to unprocessed foods, meaning the combination of unprocessed items still renders a clean item. I wonder if you have defined “simple” foods not just clean foods. Meaning it’s simple to count macros with individual items but limits your definition to a very narrow spectrum.

    I’m not a macro counter but this kind of clean sounds really stark. Who would eat a plain potato when drizzling hot butter stands at the ready to transform it into a heavenly encounter?

    Is it just the economics of making the counting simpler or is there more going on?

  • k

    a baked potato with literally nothing on it would be the driest most boring thing ever. So… no salt on anything? No pepper? try eating lettuce with nothing on it. “if it fits your macros” means if it fits your macros, whatever it is, you should be able to eat it… right??

  • Theresa

    Ok you can’t eat pizza burgers and chicken wings all day long and be lean and fit but if you had some that fit into your macros then perfect. Just not your sole caloric intake! My weakness is kettle corn or just plain ol popcorn. Great article.

  • Jeff S.

    To those confused: if you CAN and DO track the macros in the food AND it does not exceed your target numbers it is clean. Of course foods rich in micro nutrients are better than foods void of those, but this definition leaves wiggle room for comfort foods that will not harm fitness progress.

  • Jose

    Anthony that is the best example on how you defined clean eating, short and to the point “Any single ingredient food item” thanks for all your info!!!

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  • Newbie IIFYM

    I had amenorrhea for seven months. 5 days ago I started to track my macros, and my period came. I guess it was because I was not eating enough macronutrients, love IIFYM.

  • Steph

    Thank you for this! When I was working with a personal trainer last year, everything had to be completely plain and I couldn’t even eat a potato because it wasn’t a “good carb”.
    It came from the earth, in a true form. What isn’t good about it!? Give me my damn potato!

    I did lose weight, but I felt deprived, cranky and miserable. Now I am doing it a much better way, and I’m losing and still happy!

  • Dawn Johnson

    Love the article. I think we need to take the word “diet” out of our vocabulary as a whole. It should be about making healthier choices and lifestyle changes that work.

  • neuyogi

    Like sharon and many others, I am confused by the article. What does single ingredient mean when it comes to meals? because pizza doesnt seem single ingredient to me. Even oatmeal, often gets eaten with something. I wish he gave an example of a single ingredient lunch or dinner.

  • Megean Meehan

    I love this article. Thank you Anthony!!

  • John

    Great artical. Ive just swapped from clean eating to eating healthy but relaxing what those food choices are. Im now not avoiding thing i love like cheese pasta and bread. My question is do you allow for a slight over or under on any of the macros. For instanse today ive gone slightly over on protein under on carbs and fat bang on. I could eat more carbs but my total calories will be way over and im trying to keep in a deficite

  • Anthony

    I don’t disagree with anything above, but I’m still a firm believer that selecting the almost more than obviously better choices of food sources (brown rice as opposed to a pixie stick for carbs, for example) to hit your macro nutrients will yield better results than using sugary comfort foods. Sure, you can still get results using those foods, but at what cost? Nevertheless, you touched on this in the article so, fair enough, you gave a disclaimer.

    Good read and thank you.

  • GK85

    I loved this article man!

    I track my macro’s now for about 1,5 year, the time before that, i was eating so little, lost a lot of weight doing so, but felt so out of shape, even tough i was at my lowest weight in 5 years.

    Now 1,5 year later with tracking my macro’s, doing lifting programs, i am only 5 kg lower than i was before i was tracking, but lost about 10% bodyfat.

    I love the fact that i can almost eat everything i want, as long as i can stay within my macro’s.
    I do prefer eating more dense food, cause i love eating, and what better way to eat food that fill me up, are not too high in calories so i can eat all day long.

    If i had to weigh my food over a week compared to 8 years ago, i am eating about 3 times as much weight in food, but not gaining weight anymore (well not mentionable besides the holding water weight) and actually still going down, slow and steady, and lowering my bodyfat while at it.

    I still have a long way to go, being on 20% bodyfat and want to lower it to a 12% so my fatbelly is gone.

  • beatriz

    Hi,
    Reading this article I decided to track my macros to loss weight! But now that I have started I am not sure about if I am doing it well. I am confuse…
    My objetives are 1300cal with 40% carbo (120g) 30%proteins (90g), 30%fat(40g) but sometimes I don´t know if I should priorize low calory intake or fulfill my macros.
    For example: If I am already full and ok with 1200 cal but I didn´t reach the goal of 120g carbo, Should I eat more carbo even if it implies to increase calories to 1300? Or Is it ok as far as I am below the calories per day?
    I said carbos, but it could be some of the others…
    It would be great if you could give me some hint.
    (By the way I am not english speaker so I am sorry for the errors!)
    Thanks!

    • Hayley Clark

      Your most important 2 figures are your protein and your total cals. If you find youre struggling to meet your macros in any one day look to fulfil the protein element and total calories. If it continues for any length of time you would need to look at if your cals and macro breakdown was really right for you.

  • Monica

    Basically you’re saying eat within your macros and your good .. And eat “simple” foods . I believe I get it

  • Melody Bentley

    I really loved this article just now!! This fits “life”. I was getting caught up in all the tangles of different sugars and which one is good and same with carbs. I can’t wait to get my custom Macro blueprint back and plug it in to my fitness pal. It will then be MY RESPONSIBILITY to enter every bite that goes into my mouth and try to be consistent with my exercise. Wish me luck and good luck to all of you in the battle to become our best!!

  • omg i’m so confused everyone says different shit.. I really don’t understand the point of counting macros? If calories is what matters, then why track macros what am i looking for?
    I have lost 30 pounds so far. 22 pounds in the past 1 1/2 to 2 months and my highest macro is carbs, but it’s good carb sources like whole foods, legumes, fruits, vegetables, grains, and tortilla wraps which is a ore questionable source..
    My main protein comes from beans or legumes usually kidney beans and/or chick peas which is higher in carbs than protein. I eat beans, with avocado, tomato and spinach on a whole grain tortilla wrap everyday, so i eat pretty balanced my meal has a good source of carbs, protein and fats but still i’m highest in the carb department and I’ve still lost 22 pounds in a month and a half to two months. I’ve lost 30-32 pounds total with carbs being my highest….
    People who are vegan recommend 80(carbs)/10(protein)/10(fat) I don’t personally follow that but they are all fit and lean all year.. People who are body builders recommend people eat low carbs or lower carbs than protein, yet people from both group see results. I don’t follow either and i’ve seen results. I don’t restrict a macro, count calories, count macros and i’m not strict with working out and i’m not on a set workout plan i just go for a run, bike ride, or play tennis here and there a few times a week…Sometimes not at all, yet I’ve lost 30 pounds and 22 pounds fast just with eating clean whole foods, eating plant-based and eating intuitively so i’ve seen results just by eating healthy when i’m hungry stopping when i’m full and like i said i eat my carbs…I just don’t get it and i don’t get which is right.
    Should i just keep doing what i’m doing?, should i add more protein to my diet then carbs, When you count macros what are you looking for? Also how do you feel about carbs in general, is the reason i’m seeing results because i’m eating my carbs from clean carb sources? Why would one count macros and why would that be more important than calories? Does that just go for bodybuilders because they are trying to build muscle therefore need their protein higher than their carbs?

    • Alicia P

      I know this is 3 months later, and I hope you’ve found your answer by now, but if not…
      When people are tracking macros, the main goal is to know what your body is using as an energy source. Low carb people should be eating enough fat for their body to use as energy (“KETO DIET”). Low fat eaters need to make sure they have enough carbs for their body to use. When the balance is off, your body could eat up muscle mass, which is counter-productive to most, if not all, fitness programs. Protein intake should be around 1g per body weight (as a general rule, most people use their entire body weight, but others may use their lean body mass (LBM) to calculate this). Calories only get you so far… you could literally eat anything with any amount of fat, carbs, or protein to hit your calories… even if it’s just rice cakes, but then your carbs, protein, and fat will be out of sync, and your body will run off of whatever is surplus and possibly store the rest as fat or eat up your muscle mass. Getting an accurate idea of what your body needs for the carbs/protein/fat ratio is the healthiest way to maintain or lose weight without losing muscle mass or starving yourself of needed nutrients etc.

  • Alicia

    I love when people say “I can have this cookie…it fits into my macros, so ya” so no. Yes it will fit into your macros without you packing on the pounds and im not in disagreement with that portion of the discussion. What about additives? Hydrogenated oils? In my book, if you are looking to live a long-term healthy lifestyle then crappy processed foods should be avoided. “Chemically treated, genetically modified” foods? Those food are not even effing foods and they’re certainly not in the category of “single” ingredient foods. It’s out of laziness that we say “well as long as it fits into my macro counts, then I’m good” . You know what, that’s OK. I will never run out of spinach.

  • I’m only a few weeks into this IIFYM diet / lifestyle but I’ve seen weight loss already that I’m pretty proud of. I’m just going to sum up what I understand and hopefully it’s correct and will clarify what a few posts have been confused about. Simply, I think tracking your macros is and has been great for me because I know my body is burning more fat and not more proteins from my muscles because I’ve been hitting my protein targets. That’s what’s important with macros. Also, the calculator gave me a good target for daily calories and now that I’m tracking every meal on MyFitnessPal, I’ve been at best a few hundred below target and at worst been under by 50 calories. That’s helped with the weight loss. If I get hungry during the day, I can choose a healthy or not so healthy snack(s) but plan to be under my calorie target at the end of the day. It’s really great because I haven’t had too many moments where I’ve felt hungry and not been able to eat something. I think this is great so far. As far as the clean foods, taking in the definition here, the cleaner the food, the easier it is to track all the ingredients as well, so I’m I fan. I’m enjoying this so far and hope the progress continues. — there is one thing I am confused about, why are there fat targets and why are they more than the carb targets? That part sounds counterproductive?

    • Holli

      Do you track your macros through MyFitnessPal? Or did you purchase the extra part of the app?

      • Suzanne Nelis Bladek

        You can use MyFitnessPal: Go to the 3 dots, bottem right corner. Go to nutrition, 1/2 way down that screen, at the next screen top right is macros.

  • Dani

    The only confusing part about this article is the putting a single ingredient food on top of a single ingredient food makes it no longer clean. According to that logic a salad with romaine lettuce (single ingredient) tomatoes (single ingredient) carrots (single ingredient) and cucumber (single ingredient) isn’t clean anymore. If that’s the case then just screw calling anything “clean” at all, it’s a useless label that doesn’t do anything to help anyone determine what healthy food is…which may be the overall point after all.

    • pharmdkathy

      I believe that is the point of the article.
      “Clean” eating is a term thrown around by many with no true definition. To me clean eating is preparing my own meals (from scratch) with ingredients I know and measure and avoiding preservatives.
      So if I want a pizza, I make my own crust with flour sources I can track.
      I don’t eat out much, but if I do, I TRACK IT!!!!

  • Mark

    Great article. To the point and it was very clear. There is no miracle food, ingredient diet or menu. Track what you eat and be smart and honest with yourself

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