Flexible Dieting: The Do’s & Don’ts

Flexible dieting or the trend of “if it fits your macros” or “IIFYM” is  a very popular nutritional method now popularly used by individuals. Done right it can be a great method for people to get the results they want, and is also sustainable which is something a lot of weight loss methods are not. However in can also be done extremely inefficiently.

People have no issue with losing weight, it is usually keeping it off they find the hard part. One of the main reasons this usually happens is because the nutritional approach used is something the person cannot maintain or sustain. They most likely don’t understand what it was that worked for them to get their results, and they also do not have any actual tangible lifestyle habits ingrained to  help make their nutritional approach a long lasting approach. Not understanding calories, or nutrients and being too rigid – are all flaws of the crash dieting approach that leads to weight rebound however flexible dieting done right has the potential to be the answer most people are looking for.

However as stated above there is inefficient way of doing it, and a right way to do it. I will explain both below.

What is Flexible dieting?

It’s an approach where an individual has a calorie goal, and potentially macronutrient targets (protein, carb and fat) and once they meet these targets, they can be flexible in their food selection and choices.

Sounds great in theory but when flexibility is taken to the extreme and nutritional intake and health are disregarded, this is when consequences occur. There is a lack of understanding around food quality, digestive and gut health, metabolic health, cardiovascular health and the possible impact nutrient deficiencies can have. This unfortunately is the common approach taken by many. More detail given below.

The “Inefficient” Approach

In my opinion the wrong approach is one where someones stays within their goal targets, except they completely disregard food quality and nutrient needs. Its becomes a case of “look what I can fit in to my calories”. This is where you see 70-80% of someones intake taken up with poor nutrient quality foods such as biscuits and chocolate. There is no thought toward protein intake, vitamin and mineral status, keeping yourself feeling full vs feeling hungry and your relationship with food. Eating this way often leads to over eating or binge eating as things such as not feeling full, having the taste for more (think wanting more and more chocolate) and having a poor food relationship are usually present.

Yes you may lose weight initially if you control your calories, but when energy dips, motivation and drive becomes low, you start to feel hungry, you have stubborn body fat etc then any result you achieve will most likely be short lived when you start to over indulge and can no longer control what you eat. There are numerous health implications caused by being nutrient deficient, and when the quality of your food intake is constantly poor it is only a matter of time before you feel its effects. 

Neurotransmitters responsible for your brain health and nerve function, cell health and hormonal conditions are all effected by what you eat – always take that in to consideration.

The “Correct & Effective” Approach

This approach follows a more structured approach that is health conscious and  health focused, but is also enjoyable. This approach prioritises protein and nutrient intake, and the majority of intake is based around nutritious foods. Most people think of nutritious food as being “boring” but when you know what to eat and when you are creative it is far from boring and monotonous. Foods such as all fruit, frozen fruit, dark chocolate, peanut butter, oats and whey protein, home made chips, grilled and seasoned meat, stir fry vegetables, jasmine rice, sourdough bread etc are all examples of nutritious and also very tasty food.

When you understand calorie balance and nutrient breakdown, it gives you so much control due to its simplicity. You know that no food is “off limits”, you just know theres a difference between high nutrient based foods and low nutrient based foods and they will have different impacts on how you feel, your mood and your hunger levels. However you also know you can fit “nicer” foods in when you feel like it.

This approach is great in its ability to remove the restrict and binge mentality that a lot of individuals who want to lose weight have. It looks past the “black and white” thinking of viewing food as “good vs bad” and goes a long way to empowering people to have control over their food intake. A guideline to go by here is roughly the 80/20 rule which means 80% of your intake is based around nutrient dense food inclusive of your protein, vitamin and mineral needs and the other 20% is yours to use freely on what you like.

Example:

Female wanting to lose fat on 1500kcal

20% = 300kcal

In theory and application, 300kcal would give you a chocolate bar and 2-3 biscuits per day along with the rest of quality food you eat. If you did this in moderation every day or when you needed it, it would stop you from constantly restricting all the stuff you like and help you avoid the self destruction on the weekends when you binge hugely on everything in sight. Binge eating leads to massive consequences both physically and mentally e.g. your body image, gut health, mental health toward food and possibility of further restriction in order to damage control. It’s a circle of doom, and it should be avoided at all costs.

An all or nothing mindset is usually the rock most people perish on, so learn to have more control than this type of mentality offers.

View my rough guidelines below: