You might have seen a photo of a friend with a new set of abs on Instagram accompanied by the hashtag #IIFYM. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, “IIFYM” stands for “if it fits your macros,” something that was previously popular in bodybuilding circles and is now spreading to other people who are looking to lose weight. It’s a diet that involves counting your macronutrient intake instead of your calorie intake. Interested in trying it out for yourself? Read on for the basics.

What are macros?

Macros, short for macronutrients, are the three chemical substances that your body needs to survive: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Carbohydrates are the fuel that give you energy. When you eat carbs, your body turns them into glucose and stores them as glycogen (energy reserves) for when you need it (e.g., when you’re going for a run). If you don’t end up using it, it gets stored as fat. While low-carb diets are very popular nowadays, you can’t eliminate carbs completely from your diet, especially if you’re active.

There are good carbs—whole, unprocessed or unrefined—and there are bad carbs—processed and refined. Good carbs, of course, are much better for your body. Whole-wheat bread and starchy vegetables are good; white bread, pastries, and other sugar-loaded treats are bad, causing a spike in your blood sugar then an eventual crash. Fruits and vegetables are mainly good carbs.

Protein is the building block of muscle and is crucial for tissue growth and repair. Good sources of protein include fish, chicken, occasionally pork and beef, beans, and nuts. Bad sources of protein are processed foods like hotdogs and sausages and those that are high in saturated fat (a big juicy steak should be seen more as a treat than a daily dish).

Fat—the good kind—help protein do its job, store energy and nutrients, and protect vital organs. The bad kind are responsible for clogging arteries, leading to heart disease. Good fat comes from olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, avocados, and most nuts as well as fatty fish like salmon.

How is counting macros different from counting calories?

The reason people count calories is because you need to make sure you’re burning what you take in. But weight loss isn’t as simple as calories in-calories out. The quality of the calories counts for something.

The number of calories you need per day depends on a number of factors, like your age, height, weight, and level of activity. But let’s say you need 1,500 calories per day. If you were merely counting calories, you could use your calorie allotment for the day just eating fast food and having cake for dessert—it’s mostly bad carbs, not at all nutritious, your blood sugar spikes, and you get hungry soon after but you meet the numbers.

On the other hand, if you were counting macros, you would be getting some protein, some carbs, and some fat, so you have a fairly balanced diet. You can eat whole-grain instead of white bread, which have about the same number of calories, but whole-grain has more fiber and a lower glycemic index, which means you’re fuller for longer and you don’t experience a spike in your blood sugar.

What are the pros and cons of counting macros over counting calories?

Counting macros may make you more mindful of what you’re eating instead of just how much. You’re more likely to eat a more balanced diet when you keep macros in mind instead of just calories. The down side is that it can be a tedious process involving a bit of number crunching.

How do you count macros?

First things first, you need to figure out the ratio of macronutrients that you need. If you exercise for an hour or less daily, it’s 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs. If you exercise for a up to two hours daily, it’s 30-25-45.

Then you need to determine how many calories you need. Look for an online calculator that takes your age, size, activity level, and weight loss goals into consideration. When you have that number, compute your ratios.

You can look for a macro calculator online to determine exactly how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat you need each day. There are many apps you can download to track your daily intake.

If you want to get a feel of it before going strict with the numbers, you can eyeball it. For every meal, one-fourth of your plate should have lean protein, one-fourth should have whole grains or starchy vegetables, and half should have non-starchy vegetables.

Fat can come in the form of some vinaigrette or a little bit of healthy oil on your lean protein. It’s not an exact science, but it’s enough to get you started.

The ratios all depend on your body’s specific needs. No two bodies are alike, so you may have to make adjustments to find the golden mean where you feel satiated and energized. And remember that whole, all-natural foods are always the better option, no matter what diet you decide to try. Visit Healthy Options, the largest organic retailer in the Philippines, to stock up on food items to help you meet your goals.