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A Case For Looking Average

Why IIFYM Can Lead To Disordered Eating

Posted by NutritionMax - March 19th, 2016

In our modern society, we have an incredibly large population of people who are overweight/obese – roughly 60% of Americans. Conversely, a small percentage of us in the fitness community, and likely you, the reader, are the exact opposite – lean. And possibly too lean. Two polar extreme opposites.

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?

We all enter the fitness world with the mentality of self-improvement, tenacity and sheer ambition to achieve a goal. Some just want to feel good. Some want to be stronger. And a LOT just want to have abs, a bigger butt, or to be ripped to the bone. However, during the process, I believe the one commonality we all have is to be healthy.

Unfortunately, for many it seems that what once started out as a positive, awesome goal, ends up shifting gears and becoming the exact opposite of what they intended, either out of ignorance, misguided direction from peers, insecurity or that they just have a strong fastidious personality.

When you take your goal to the extreme, things have a tendency to go awry. We tend to ignore it or worse, deny it. And our life outside of health crumbles.

How Do You Know When You’ve Taken Your Fitness Goals Too Far?

Here are some signs:

  • Trying to reach ultimate leanness for no apparent reason (morning ab check anyone?)
  • Obsessive, incessant thoughts about food from severe caloric restriction (stomach is a bottomless pit)
  • Development of orthorexic behaviors (you're afraid to eat “unhealthy” foods)
  • Physical and mental burnout from too much gym time (you don’t know what a rest day is)
  • Heavy reliance on stimulants and pre-workouts multiple times per day to function (you NEED that daily caffeine IV)
  • Social seclusion (afraid/lose desire to meet with family/friends)
  • Displacement of hobbies, work and school productivity by food and workouts

And the most controversial one…Counting calories, macros and weighing food.

Outside of contest prep, recovering from eating disorders or having a hard time subconsciously meeting their caloric needs, there is hardly any other justifiable, logical reason I can garner in my mind to use MyFitnessPal. Unless there’s a clear purpose and tracking is used momentarily, I would call this disordered eating. If one’s mind is constantly preoccupied with math on a daily basis, how can one honestly believe that is 'being healthy'? Do you ever go out to eat and try to estimate the caloric and macro value of food every single day? And do you have extreme anxiety over being inaccurate. If so, I think there’s a clear problem…

The Problem With Calorie Counting & IIFYM

This would include practicing IIFYM, since that's what you're doing – counting. I will say one personal thought about IIFYM. It's a great strategy and I have no problem with it when utilized in the short-term. But just like counting calories daily, IIFYM used year round, long-term, doesn't seem appropriate as a lifestyle choice.

I believe if IIFYM is used chronically, it lays the ground work for the onset of disordered eating.

There I said it. And I'm saying it because it's probably very hard to accept that as a possible reality for many people. If you don't know any way other than the IIFYM way, then it comes down to education – learning and responding to coherent, inborn hunger signals. And learning the distinction between physical hunger andmental hunger.

I also believe the two most popular reasons people count calories and macros are out of fear of fat gain or to reach super lean status.

Achieving the latter for a brief stint of period is perfectly fine, but when that’s all you think about, it will inevitably encompass all the previously mentioned signs that you’ve taken your goal too far. What once was a healthy goal becomes an addiction to lose more fat and really pushes your body’s limit to the point where it’s literally hating you.

No one wants to be average. We all want to look awesome, feel awesome and exude awesomeness to everyone (even if you say it’s “for myself”) and I applaud that. Been there, done that.

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So Why Should You Settle For 'Average'?

I encourage you to resist being average. Create your own individual identity, leverage your assets and crush the world in an impactful, notable and respectable way. But do you think when it comes to body image, being 'average' might not be so bad after all? I do.

A lot of people in the fitness community are stuck to the far left side of the body image spectrum, that portrays figures beaming vascularity, striations and dryness. It’s done for a purpose, but what it isn’t done for… is a lifestyle.

People who revere their idols strive for this look. The media and fitness industry entice you to purchase sketchy, unproven and ineffective products to help you acquire the “exemplary” body type you desire. People are falsely deluded into thinking that it’s a body type that is sustainable or even necessary to begin with, in order to be respected or happy. Even more importantly, many strive for this without understanding or knowing the consequences and potentially damaging effects on your health.

While there is much diversity in results and symptoms among individuals, I am merely speaking about men and women who are in the ballpark numbers of less than 8% bodyfat (men) and less than 17% bodyfat (women), respectively.

How Do I Know If I Am 'Too Lean'?

Let me give you a short list of the potential ramifications of being too lean for your body.

  • Avoidance and lack of enjoyment at important life events, holidays and social gatherings.
  • Disenchantment from family and friends about your preoccupation.
  • Sacrificing other personal interests and time for people close in your life.
  • A restricted diet than is devoid of sufficient vitamins and minerals.
  • A restricted diet that fools you into believing certain foods are “off-limits”.
  • Chronic fatigue.
  • Poor physical performance and cognitive function.
  • Poor sleep.
  • Adrenal fatigue.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Severely lowered metabolism (easier weight rebound and poor carb tolerance).
  • Decreased production of hormones.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Risk for osteopenia/decreased bone density.
  • Loss of menstrual cycles (birth control just covers it up, so you never know).
  • Risk for developing eating disorders of all kinds (i.e. orthorexia).
  • Mood swings: irritability, despondency, HANGRY.
  • Depressed immunity and increase for infection/illness.
  • Gut bacteria imbalance and potential yeast overgrowth.
  • Leaky gut.
  • Poor skin.
  • Bradycardia (low heart rate).

And most importantly, missing out what life is supposed to offer – enjoyment

I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds remotely appealing. This doesn’t mean all of these will manifest being lean, but I guarantee at least one will. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have abs and look great. No one is saying you can’t have that, if that’s what you want.

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So What Are The Key Take Away Messages Here?

What I’m saying is, there is a large trade-off for chronic dieting and being well below average bodyfat. The one thing you are never told is that being unnecessarily lean coupled with chronic dieting is a stress to the body. A stress that you can minimize and, if you don’t, can lead to the aforementioned list of health complications like adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism.

No intelligent bikini/physique competitor will say there is nothing wrong with being incredibly lean and that he/she is healthy. That’s hardly ever the case. And for that, having an average bodyfat (13-16% for men; 21-23% for women) can allow you to avoid much of these dreaded side effects. So, before you attempt the trek to “flawlessness,” let me remind you, there’s nothing wrong with looking average.


Working out, eating well, feeling and looking well are ALL things we desire because your quality of life depends on it. But your life also depends on fairness. Exclusion of everything else outside of the health/fitness realm does yourself a major disservice. So, if your world revolves around the gym and food and shuns all other aspects of life (aspects which actually have a greater impact on your success and well-being), I strongly recommend a reevaluation of your priorities.

Or if you can do both, be ripped 365 days and live with prosperity and immunity, then you’re clearly just a super hero. And you can ignore this article.

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posted by NutritionMax
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NASM CPT, Master's in Human Nutrition
Precision Nutrition Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Justin Janoska is a professional fitness coach and a clinical nutritionist who specializes in helping people with challenging diseases. He runs an online coaching platform where he helps people like you reach build muscle or lose weight.

For an intimate coaching experience, visit

Twitter: NutritionMax
Instagram: nutrition_max

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Then you close with your picture and we have a problem. Guys like you and Scott consider yourselves "average". And you may be... "average natural bodybuilders". Guys like me see that and think, "Man, they're jacked to the moon. I'll never get there without my own gym or access to the proper enhancements".

Not saying you shouldn't be proud of how you look but you shouldn't try to sell yourselves as average.  

jcgadfly  Edit  Delete  Close

I know what you're trying to say but the picture still says "I'm just an average guy and you can be just like me" when most people should know they probably can't be.

NutritionMax  Edit  Delete  Close

Just because that's how I look now doesn't mean that's what I want. The message is mainly targeted towards those who strive for super lean status, and why it should be reconsidered - not to encourage it. I personally may not diet ever again in my life. 

jcgadfly  Edit  Delete  Close
  • Man, I hope you're joking. There are way too many real success stories for anyone to get inspiration from me.