Flexible Dieting Made Simple
flexible dieting made simple
“Flexible dieting” (also known as “IIFYM” or “If It Fits Your Macros”) first became popular among bodybuilders, powerlifters, and fitness enthusiasts, thinking there has got to be a better way to diet.
The fitness industry has long glorified “eating clean”, making it seem like the only way to get six-pack abs was by eating chicken, broccoli, and rice 6x per day. The industry made it seem like it was totally normal to bring your tupperware of meals with you to restaurants, totally normal to turn down wedding cake to stay on track with your diet, and totally normal to skip out on social events with food you “can’t” eat.
If you weren’t suffering from your diet, you just weren’t dedicated enough.
We see the same underlying belief of “you need to suffer” with so many diets and cleanses out there that eliminate entire food groups, cut out all carbs, and slash calories.
But what if you actually don’t need to suffer?
What if you could feel mentally clear and not focused on food while dieting?
What if you didn’t need to skip out on any social events involving food?
What if you could eat your favorite foods, even if they aren’t exactly “healthy”?
What if you could still see physical results, without depriving yourself of happiness?
Yes, it is 100% possible to follow a “diet”, that helps you achieve your fitness goals, keep mental sanity, and feel like your absolute best self.
Enter, Flexible Dieting.
What is flexible dieting?
In short, flexible dieting allows you to eat whatever foods that you want, as long as you meet your nutritional and caloric goals. There are NO food restrictions. There are NO labels placed on foods being “good” or “bad”.
You simply eat the foods that you want to eat.
Want tofu and asparagus for dinner? Eat it.
Want coconut milk ice cream for dessert? Have a scoop and freaking enjoy it.
Flexible dieting allows you to enjoy all of the foods that you actually like, eat foods that are at social events and holidays, and of course eat an array of different foods without limiting your food choices.
For example, here is what a day of “flexible dieting” (vegan diet) could look like.
Breakfast: Protein smoothie with 1 banana, 1 cup of strawberries, 1 cup of soy milk
Snack: 1oz of nuts
Lunch: 1 serving of tempeh, 4oz of sweet potato, ½ cup of mixed vegetables
Snack: 1 apple, 1 tablespoon of almond butter, 1 granola bar
Dinner: 2oz edamame pasta, ¼ cup marinara sauce, 1 serving of tofu, 1oz almond cheese, 1 cup asparagus
Dessert: 1 cup of coconut milk ice cream, 1 piece of dark chocolate
As you can see, the day primarily includes food that is nutrient dense, but some indulging ice cream and chocolate.
The point is that you can eat a variety of foods, based upon your preferences and even your cravings! You simply need to make sure that you stay within your daily caloric range and macronutrient breakdown.
How the Body Uses Food for Energy
Your body only recognizes the macronutrient and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) breakdown of food. Think about it… how would you body “know” that you ate ice cream? It doesn’t. It simply recognizes the macronutrients and micronutrients of the ice cream and uses the calories as energy. Of course, certain foods supply more nutritional value and micronutrients than others, but all food contains macronutrients that are recognized and utilized by the body for energy.
At the physical level, What will influence your body composition the most is not necessarily the types of food that you eat, but how many total calories you consume.
In order to lose body fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit.
In order to gain muscle mass, you need to be in a caloric surplus.
In order to maintain your current bodyweight, you need to be in a caloric balance.
The body uses three macronutrients as energy to carry out its functions: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Each macronutrient is comprised of calories, which are units of energy (heat).
One gram of each macronutrient equates to a certain caloric value, which ultimately makes up the total caloric value of a food.
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
So for example, if you were to eat 100g of apple, you would be consuming roughly 14 grams of carbohydrates, which would equate to 56 calories (14g x 4 calories).
How do you start flexible dieting?
Flexible dieting is based on meeting three criteria:
Caloric intake: How many calories your body needs to either lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight.
Macronutrient needs: How many grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat your body needs (to then make up your total daily caloric intake).
Micronutrient needs: Necessary vitamins and minerals required by the body to properly function and remain healthy.
In order to begin flexible dieting, you need to (roughly) know how many calories your body needs to maintain your current bodyweight. You can do this by keeping track of your weight throughout the week, while keeping track of your daily caloric intake for 1 week, then averaging out the total amount.
From there, you need to determine what your goal is. If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to be in about a 500 calorie deficit to lose ~1lb of body fat. If you are trying to maintain your current weight, eat the amount of calories that allows you to keep a steady body weight. If you are trying to gain muscle, you will need to eat in a caloric surplus ranging, with an increase of around 200-500 calories (depending on gender, bodyweight, training, etc.).
Now, you should have a daily caloric intake that indicates your goal.
With that caloric intake, you will then break it down into your macronutrient intake. Remember,
1g of protein = 4 calories
1g of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1g of fat = 9 calories
You will want to eat ~1g/lb of your bodyweight in protein. So, if you weigh 130lbs, you should eat about 130g of protein per day.
After calculating your protein intake, you will then subtract that amount from your daily total. Then, depending on preference and type of training, you can divvy up how many carbohydrate and fat you will eat each day.
Example: A female weighs 130lbs and maintains her weight on 2000cal per day. She wants to gain lean muscle and she strength trains 5 days per week.
Caloric intake for maintaining weight: 2000cal
Caloric intake needed to build lean muscle: ~250 additional calories (0.5lb gain per week)
Example macronutrient breakdown:
130g protein (2250-520=1730cal remaining)
275g carbohydrates (1730-1100=630cal remaining)
70g fat (630-630=0cal remaining)
Let’s talk micronutrients.
Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients required by your body to maintain proper bodily functions and health.
Just because you can eat any food that you would like with flexible dieting, does not mean that you should just eat “unhealthy” food.
Think about this…
You could eat pop tarts, cookies, and ice cream to fulfill your carbohydrate and fat targets. BUT, those foods do not provide anywhere close to the nutritional value of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc.
You still need to make food selections with health in mind first. Your overall health takes the top priority over everything else!
This is not to say that you can’t enjoy some treats every now and then. Just remember that too much of anything is a bad thing, and that you can have everything in moderation.
Why does flexible dieting work?
Diets typically fail because they are not realistic to maintain for the long term.
Are you really never going to eat sugar ever again in your life? No, come on. You can’t NOT eat wedding cake when you attend your friend’s wedding!
Are you really never going to eat refined grains ever again? Don’t tell me you're planning on not eating pasta on your trip to Italy!
Are you really going to “eat clean” every single day of your life? You’re probably going to get some insane cravings while eating only tofu, brown rice, and green beans.
Let’s be real, at some points in your life, you are going to indulge. You can’t just restrict certain foods or food groups out of your life for good. That is by no means realistic.
Flexible dieting allows you to live your life while still achieving your fitness and health related goals. There is no restriction, no guilt, no shame, no regret for not eating something truly delicious and memorable.
You don’t need to weigh/track all of your food.
Yes, keeping track of everything that you eat down to the gram may be the most optimal way to hit your caloric and macronutrient targets, but...
You can never know exactly how many calories you are consuming or burning in a day.
Many other factors play a role in food metabolism
How much you move around during the day (non-exercise activity) will vary day-to-day.
Not everyone wants to bring a food scale everywhere they go.
You will never be 100% on target when eating out at restaurants (and that’s okay!)
Somedays you may go a little over your macros, or a bit off target. No worries.
What is most important, is doing whatever allows you to be most consistent for the long term.
Consistency = results
If you are looking to still “track” your food without using a food scale, you can still do so. You can use measuring cups and good judgement, then track your food in an app such as MyFitnessPal. However, I would still recommend weighing your food for just a few days. This can help you better get a sense of serving sizes, and can help you “eyeball” portions more accurately.
You can also still practice intermittent fasting, the paleo diet, the raw food diet, etc., while following flexible dieting. The food choices are entirely up to you and should be aligned with your health situation, ethics/morals, and preferences. I personally combine aspects of the Ayurvedic diet, with flexible dieting, to achieve the best mind-body balance.
Also, meal timing does not matter. You can eat three big meals or seven small meals, as long as you hit your daily caloric needs and macronutrient targets. Total calories are what is most important overall, but I would suggest spacing out your consumption of protein (to keep levels of protein synthesis elevated throughout the day) and positioning majority of your carbohydrates around your workout.
Overall, flexible dieting is about allowing you to enjoy life and the foods you love, while remaining physically and mentally healthy.
Your health is most important at the end of the day, but you also need to have a healthy relationship with food, and with yourself.
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