Flexible dieting is science's godsend when it comes to achieving results while still enjoying foods you love. It's a method of dieting that is concerned with meeting your daily macronutrient and caloric targets for your goal and hence allows for a range of unrestricted foods to be consumed to meet these requirements. However, it's not all chocolate, ice cream and Pop-Tarts and there are still some areas where attention to detail is a must or else you're doomed to fail. Where a lot of people go wrong with the practice is through 'getting cheeky' and bending the rules.
Our 57 year old Equalution client, down 16kgs and 50cms in body measurements.
This was achieved through independently selecting foods of her choice meeting our strategised macronutrient and micronutrient intake requirements set on a weekly basis according to her progress and goals.
So what are the rules?
While fat loss or fat gain will boil down to calories in vs calories, this will not come at the expense of favourable body composition and overall good health. So with that being said:
1. Macros must be met
Macronutrients, as the name suggests, are required in large amounts by the body as they are nutrients that provide calories or energy. There are three macronutrients in nutrition which are proteins, fats and carbs and are required for growth, metabolism and other bodily functions.
Protein: Our recommendation for protein intake in a moderate body fat and training load would be roughly 2.2-2.8g per kg TOTAL weight (about 1-1.25g per pound). For a very low body fat or very low calorie or High training load = 2.4 - 3g per kg TOTAL weight (1.1-1.35g per pound). For a high body fat, high calorie, or low training load = 1.6 to 2.2g per kg TOTAL weight (.75 - 1g per pound). The strategy will vary person to person but at the very least, X amount of protein should be aimed for which will play a very important role in retaining muscle mass, ensuring favourable body composition as opposed to 'skinny fat' through muscle loss.
Fat: Fat is an important macronutrient for protecting organs, maintaining cell membranes, promoting growth and development and absorbing essential vitamins. We recommend a fat intake around 20-35% of total daily calories, it should be no more or less than this bracket when flexible dieting.
Carbs: This macronutrient is the optimal source of energy for the human body, particularly for brain and workout fuel. With that in mind, its important to note that carbohydrates are what the brain runs on for energy and is why following a low carb diet for a prolonged period of time is detrimental. Carbs SHOULD NOT be cut (with the exception to being part of a comp prep/usually peak week strategy) and will make up the remainder of your macros once protein and fats are met.
2. Micros must be met
Flexible Dieting/IIFYM doesn’t cease to regulate the vitamins and minerals one’s body needs in order to maintain gut health and regulated digestion as well as your overall energy and bodily functions. Like macronutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are also tracked daily and are essential for optimal body function. The best way to ensure micronutrient requirements are met each day is generally through the consumption of nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. Most flexible dieters aim to have 1-2 serves of fruit a day and 2-3 serves of vegetables and where there is difficulty in making up a micronutrient a multivitamin supplement can be taken.
Fibre: Most importantly of the micronutrient group is fibre which is a top priority for flexible dieters. Like micronutrients, fibre is also important for optimal body functions particularly digestion. It is a type of carbohydrate though doesn’t digest like one and has a dual benefit as it also has a thermogenic effect. Fruits and vegetables, as well as some breads and grains, are amongst foods that are high fibre and micronutrients so you’re able to kill two birds with one stone! The recommendation is no less than 20g of fibre per day, so roughly 15g per 1000 calories NO less.
3. A calorie goal will be adhered to
An overall calorie goal is adhered to and will be the make or break of whether the goal is achieved. If wanting to lose body fat then a calorie deficit is required (consuming less than expenditure) if muscle gain or weight gain is desired then a calorie surplus is required (consuming more than expenditure).
So what are the no-no's?
A few simple errors can change the game of attaining results and an optimal practice of flexible dieting. In our opinion, flexible dieting doesn't have to mean 'be flexible' as in fit in all the sweets and candy you can - but simply recognise that your body has a NUMERIC REQUIREMENT for a goal and YOU CAN use foods of YOUR choice to meet these within reason. The fluff ups can include:
1. The 20/80 practice:
This is the reverse of an optimal 80/20 practice of flexible dieting which sees that 80% of your diet is made up of wholesome foods that assist with satisfying the 'rules' like lean meats, fruits, vegetables and 20% of foods for the soul like your favourite baked goods, chocolate or icecream. The 20/80 approach would mean making a regular habit of substituting fruits, veggies, lean meats etc for processed/calorie-dense/ soul food. While there is NOTHING wrong with processed food and absolutely NO inability of the body to lose body fat eating ONLY processed food, it is just good practice to have a balanced 80/20 approach with 80% being lean meats, veggies, fruits etc rather than it being 20% it's also likely with a lack of balance that micros will not be met optimally.
2. The calorie-free food view:
For some, they can go wrong in a practice of daily/frequent consumption of foods believed to be calorie-free or negative calorie. ALL food is made up of energy and while there are foods that are very low usually given they're water-based like cucumber, tomato, lettuce, watermelon etc THEY ALL CONTAIN CALORIES. Excessive consumption or 'extra' foods in volume without acknowledging the energy content can increase your daily caloric consumption. Our rule of thumb for an under or over reasonable threshold is 40 calories which is the equivalent of about 2 cucumbers so say you're munching on what you think is 'calorie-free' foods all throughout the day there's a chance that you can counteract your calorie deficit.
3. The ignorant picking:
Mindless eating or picking without tracking or accounting for it can increase your calorie intake daily and counteract your deficit.
4. The 'fat' choices:
Although the body doesn't recognise food as good or bad and instead registers it for its caloric and macronutrient value there are still some foods that are considered a poorer choice and not ideal when trying to lose weight. While you CAN fit a burger into your macros for example, selecting the double beef, fried haloumi and double cheese with creamy mayo burger with a side of cheesy fries won't be an optimal flexible dieting practice on a regular basis. On a dine out menu there will always be 'better' choices than others and always opting for the worst one (calorically and macronutrient wise) regularly won't be favourable. Not only may it make it impossible for you to meet your macros for that day but the meal may be way over what you truly think its caloric value is.
Attempt to accurately deconstruct a burger
A generic entry your calorie tracker may give you
Another point to this is making poor decisions for each meal of the day, while in your calorie tracker it might look satisfactory it may not be in practice or given the true calorie and macronutrient value of the meals. So this might mean having 3 dine out meals in a day, all underestimated and all in conjunction not meeting your goal intake needs. E.g McDonald's breakfast, sushi lunch and Italian pasta dinner neglecting protein and leaving your calories off, fats and carbs high for the day. This on a frequent basis isn't ideal.
5. The diner in denial:
Continued from above there are some people when flexible dieting that underestimate the calorie value of a meal through a miscalculation or selecting of an incorrect and low generic entry from a calorie tool. The optimal way to account for dine out meals is usually by the deconstruction of each component.
E.g. a burger:
6. The negligent bevvy consumer:
This is those who believe their skim cap 'doesn't count' or 300mL of unsweetened almond or skim milk daily 'doesn't have an effect' as mentioned above all food contains calories and can counteract your deficit.
7. The macro not calorie chaser:
This is a confusing topic, but usually when you're hitting your macros you're likely to hit your calories though different factors given all calories aren't created equally, food choice can vary and tracking errors may happen which can mean that you can over or under your calories though have met macros. Don't go chasing your macronutrients at the expense of e.g. going over your calories. At the end of the day calories in vs calories out will always determine whether you lose or gain weight.
Calories if counting macros (4 calories per gram protein x 21) + (4 calories per gram carbs x 5) + (9 calories per gram of fat x 9) = 84 + 20 + 81 = 185 calories.
ACTUAL Calories= 206.
8. The blow out eater:
This can be a once a week cheat meal, binge or uncalculated 'refeed' but if overdone and frequent can counteract a weekly deficit robbing the flexible dieter of results despite a week of diligence.
9. The poor tracker or guesser:
Largely relating to dining out as mentioned above, it's possible to underestimate quite significantly the macros and calorie for a meal by guessing or selecting an off generic entry in a calorie counting tool.
Some people also leave themselves a calorie allowance when not tracking a meal and will eat way over that which can hinder results.
10. The double eater:
This is mainly applicable to shift workers or those with odd eating schedules but it is possible to be overeating daily due to double eating within an 'awake block'. Our advice is to give yourself a 24-hour window and consistently meet your calorie and macronutrient requirements in that window.
In conclusion, flexible dieting is essentially the 'golden diet' in the health and fitness industry. It's not just a diet but science in that it's the way our bodies work when it comes to transforming aesthetically and achieving optimal health. It is not a fad nor gives rise to many adherents ‘winging it’ but is a scientifically calculated way to achieving your goals that won’t fail you.
While there are some dietary conditions that require additional application of tweaking to requirements such as thyroid issues, no one is an exception to the rule and this method of dieting isn’t subject to failing a minority. We've heard every issue under the sun about carb sensitivity and severe metabolic damage where individuals can’t surpass a certain amount of calories, as experts in this field we can certainly vouch for science trumping all of these speculations.
We praise, live, breath and hail Flexible Dieting for the balance and sanity it’s restored in dieters as well as removing the ridiculousness of categorising food as ‘clean’ or ‘junk’, ‘healthy’ or ‘’unhealthy’ its abolished. BUT, there is an ideal practice and therefore some rabbit holes that can hinder results if you get caught and are making errors such as those we've mentioned above.
Bottom line, you can have your cake and eat it too but don't get cheeky with stretching the limits.