Say Hello to Flexible Dieting
After getting a lot of ‘umm you shouldn’t be eating that, you’re on a diet!’ and ‘nice to see you enjoying fat Friday’ as I delve into the box of treats brought in by my colleagues each week, I have decided to pull together a water tight case in an attempt to help at least 1 person realise that I can in fact have my cake AND eat it (& still reach my fitness goals).
You gotta be open-minded about flexible dieting though, I’m about to challenge a lot of myths out there that you will have inevitability heard and maybe even taken as gospel at some point in your life… so if you’re happy with what you’re already doing & getting the results you’ve always wanted, then maybe skip the rest of this post!
Before I start rambling, don’t think for a second I’m saying that ‘diets’ don’t have their place in the world. They’re a great tool to use in leaning down to achieve something with a deadline, & you can do it as fast as you like if you’re prepared to die for the cause, but it’s not sustainable. It’s for a short-term goal – for a big event/holiday/competition. It’s not a forever thing – this is key. Diets are temporary.
So we have to look for other ways to keep in shape in the long run, because it would be pretty poo to undo all your hard work once you hit your short-term goal because you just can’t do it anymore.
1. How many times have you been ‘on a diet’?
2. Did it work?
3. Did you still enjoy going out for meals with friends and make lifestyle gains?
I’m guessing you’re answers look a little like this:
1. More times than I can remember
2. It worked for the duration I did it for but when I stopped so did my progress & ended up back at my starting point
3. No – I was worried about eating anything naughty and derailing myself.
If I’m right, this post might be exactly what you need.
Introducing Flexible Dieting
So what is flexible dieting? Well it’s not actually a ‘diet’ in the traditional sense and in order for you to fully understand, you need to rid yourself of the following phrases you may be over familiar with:
because it’s quiet frankly, a load of BS.
How does your body know that the fat it’s digesting has come from a chocolate bar rather than an avocado… or that the protein you’re eating has come from a shake rather than a chicken breast? It doesn’t.
Your body will use the protein for muscle growth & repair, Carbs for energy and dietary fat for a number of bodily processes no matter where it came from. Each of these food groups are ESSENTIAL! You cannot cut out any of them and expect to be healthy, so forget the idea that Carbs are the devil. There are no bad foods!
These essential food groups are called macronutrients.
Most foods have more than one macronutrient and there are some foods that are more nutrient dense than others (which you will typically perceive to be healthy or ‘clean’ foods).
However, from a body composition perspective, the body will absorb the protein from a chicken breast in the same way as it will absorb the protein from a cheeseburger. But, it is important to consider that if you go for the cheese burger, chances are that you’ll also be consuming added fats & carbs too – which is fine, as long as you’re accounting for them.
See where I’m going with this?
With Flexible dieting/ If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) you can go and buy a cupcake alongside an oh so British cuppa tea, eat it & heck even maybe enjoy it a little without feeling remotely guilty, because it will actually be helping you to achieve your fitness goals. Yes, you can lose weight if you enjoy that cupcake – mind blowing right?
How does Flexible Dieting work?
I know so far all of this seems to go against everything you’ve heard in the fitness industry over the last few decades, so you’re probably thinking this woman has lost her head – but what if I told you that I actually flexible dieted my entire comp prep for 15 weeks and lost 15lbs to get to stage. Do I have your attention now?
If you’re still thinking I’m one of those raving lunatic preacher dudes, standing in the street wearing just a loin cloth and telling you how much happier you’d be if you sold up and went to live in the desert eating squirrel’s you’d caught in a home-made trap, then here’s the science for ya.
Forget the ‘Rules’
Flexible Dieting simply strips away the rules that have minimal impact & focuses on the fundamentals, such as the causes for fat loss and weight gain = calorie deficit and calorie surplus.
Your body needs energy (calories) in order to function properly and survive so without you even lifting a finger, you are burning calories. Your continuous heart beat, brain function and ability to breathe, is all fuelled by calories. Therefore your body will already burn a certain amount of calories in order to keep you alive before you’ve even hit the gym. This is known as your basic metabolic rate (BMR) & if you hit this number of calories consistently every single day then your weight will not change. Therefore, this is your starting point.
Then you need to think about your goals – do you want to lose weight or gain weight? Lets assume you’re here due to the allure of the word ‘diet’ in the title and that you want to lose weight. If I’m wrong, the principals are the same just opposite.
To lose weight we need to put ourselves into a calorie deficit & to gain we go into a surplus.
Using these figures as an example, if your BMR is 2,000 calories days and you decide to eat 1,500 calories, you will be in a 500 calorie deficit from food alone… but because your body needs 2,000 calories to function on the everyday stuff like staying alive, it will look to find these missing calories from an alternative source – your fat stores – your body is burning it’s own fat for fuel. This is fat loss. This is how calories work. That’s literally it – well almost.
You need to decide on how much of a deficit you want to put yourself into. I recommend eating as much as you possibly can whilst still being in a deficit just as a starting point – you can then track your progress weekly and tweak accordingly.
The more you eat in the initial stages, the more room you are giving yourself to move should your progress stall.
You don’t want to start off slashing your cals down to 1,500 a day straight away (example figures) because after 8 weeks or so your body will adapt, fat loss will stall and you’ll need to make your deficit bigger.
This might happen few times on your fitness journey and therefore after a few months of increasing your deficit, you’ll end up on zero cals and a ton of exercise – that is not sustainable & defeats the whole point of why I’m telling you this in the first place.
I promise you, you will not be a happy bunny.
So do yourself a favour and don’t try to make it to the finish line as quickly as you possibly can, the slower you do this, the more sustainable it’ll be, and you’ll maintain your progress for longer (if not forever!).
Be 80% Wholesome, 100% Flexible
Nonsense I hear you cry! To a degree yes, you’re right. You can’t spend all week eating McDonald’s just because IIFYM because you’ll be missing out on the micronutrients and daily requirements, such as vitamins and minerals found in wholesome foods like fruit and veg. So as a guide, you should be eating 80% of your daily intake from wholesome food sources and the other 20% can be whatever you fancy – Just as long as it fits.your.macros!
Therefore, if you want to eat chocolate every day, do it! Chances are you’re more likely to stick to this lifestyle than some fad diet that you do for a few weeks and then pile it all back on again = long-term sustainability = continued results = happier you.
Calculate your own personal nutrition plan in my next post!
Nutritional Requirements Vs Nutritional Guidelines for Flexible Dieting
As far as I’m concerned, there are two main aspects to flexible dieting; nutritional requirements & nutritional guidelines.
Nutritional requirements are like the ‘rules’ of your flexible dieting. For example you must meet these in order to see physique development & progression. Without doing so, you’re wasting your time. Playing the guessing game as to how much protein, carbohydrate & dietary fat you’re consuming means you’re basically guessing as to how your results will turn out.
Don’t waste your time.
Each day, you will need to hit correct amount of protein, carbohydrates & fats that you’ve calculated accordingly to your goals.
This will mean your body is essentially receiving the same consistent nutrients each day & this in turn will allow you to tweak your intake accordingly each week when you check in with yourself, in an educated and calculated manner to keep moving forward and see continual progression.
The nutritional guidelines of flexible dieting are the things that you should be doing whilst meeting your macronutrient guidelines. Obviously we want to improve our physic, but at the same time we also want to be healthy. Therefore it’s important to be mindful of our insides too whilst flexible dieting, such as digestion, gut health, bodily functions, and energy levels, moods, training intensity and performance for example. A healthy body is always going to perform better than one fueled by processed food. Not to mention you’re more likely to stay fuller for longer on more nutrient dense foods such as fruit and veggies because you can eat more of them, as they have less macros in them!
When meal prepping, you should aim to include the following in your plan as a foundation, to keep your body ticking over – then you can start thinking about planning in the fun stuff!
1-2 portions of fruit per day
300 – 400g of green vegetables per day
15-20g fibre per 1000 cals in take inclusive of your carb count.
How to Physically Track your Macros
Now then, here’s the quick and easiest part of this whole thing.
Tracking your intake will not take up your entire day! All you actually have to do is keep a reasonably accurate & up to date food diary. Because I’m always on my phone, I use the free MyFitnessPal (MFP) app to scan in all the meals straight from the food packet’s bar code rather than using the search function. It’s just a tad quicker.
The app has an extensive list of supermarket items as well as popular restaurant meals too. It literally takes approx. 30 seconds to track in your lunch.
Weigh the ingredients and select the exact quantities; you want it to be as accurate as possible after all. If you weigh your food once cooked, then you need to find the cooked value in MFP. The same principle applies if it’s raw. These small details are very important.
Eventually after a few months of doing this, you’ll actually learn what nutritional quantities are in certain foods (especially if you’re anything like me and tend to eat the same sorts of things across the week days at work) and will be able to start eating intuitively without ruining your progress. Basically – it’s so easy; I’m calling you lazy if you don’t.
Check In with Yourself
& finally, this might be obvious but you need to be consistent so make sure to track your progress/results too.
You might have calculated your macros and realised that your body actually responds differently to certain foods and calorie intakes. So over a few months you will need to consider tweaking your plan to keep seeing results. Make sure you pick the same day and time each week, to check in with yourself. Take pictures/measurements/weight etc. to see the effect it’s having on your body.
Continuous progress is so motivating, so it’s important to monitor it. Looking at your achievements over time will keep you going. Particularly when you’re having a bad day, but can you imagine yourself a year from now? How hot do you look? How proud are you?
Trust me. It’s worth it.
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