What is Flexible Dieting?
This is the most common question I receive on all channels and I want to devote a post and some time to this.
Part I will be the simple explanation of Flexible Dieting and Part II will be the sciency portion (yes I realize that is not a word)
Flexible dieting (or what I prefer to call 'Flexible Nutrition') is called many names:
IIFYM (If it Fits Your Macros)
Flexible Nutrition (Because I dislike the word 'diet' - the remainder of this article will call it this)
So what exactly is Flexible Nutrition?
Flexible nutrition is NOT (I repeat) NOT a diet.
It is a nutrition philosophy/lifestyle in which a person is prescribed a daily macronutrient target (macronutrients = protein/carb/fat + fiber) based on their specific goals. As long as these target numbers are met, the foods selection is based on personal preference.
Thus, the term flexible.
Why Not Meal Plans?
Sure, meal plans can add up to your specific macros each day - but meal plans pose 2 problems::
They are restrictive
They are a means to an end
Restriction Restriction almost always leads to a disordered relationship with food. How many of you know someone who follows a 'meal plan' given to them by a 'coach' or nutritionist that they cannot deviate from? This kind of lifestyle almost always leads down a path of food fear, food obsession, disordered relationships with food and yes, includes binging. Tell someone they cannot have something and they will likely want it more. Tell someone they CAN have something - and they may or may not choose that based on the best needs of their body and goals.
I lived on 'meal plans' for 3 years and NEVER deviated. Because of this, I developed very disordered relationships with food, binging disorder, purging, not eating - you name it. There is NO NEED for this type of living or eating. Eat the foods you want and love - all within your goal set.
Meal plans as a 'means to an end':
So you are on a 'meal plan'. Will you do this for life? What happens once you 'reach your goal'? Do you go off the meal plans? And then what happens?
Meal plans teach you nothing about nutritional value of food, macronutrient/micronutrient content and most of all, teach you nothing about how to maintain your current eating for LIFE.
Can't I just lose weight without counting?
Sure - many people can. But most people can't. Most people do not recognize the amount of macronutrients they are intaking on a daily basis by intuition alone. With any goal, there has to be some calculated steps involved. Your options are restriction or flexible no matter what nutrition philosophy you follow.
The beauty of flexible nutrition is that you can follow most any nutrition philosophy and still reach your goals! For example: I am a believer in 'real foods' (aka: paleo) and I am easily able to follow flexible nutrition. Macros are macros are macros.
The BEST part about flexible nutrition is that it also teaches you how to be intuitive with your eating. When you log, weigh and measure and track your intake, you learn very quickly what, say, 4oz of meat looks like or 1 cup of rice. You learn what foods are satiating and what are not. You learn that you have to fill your day with mostly nutrient dense foods to hit your numbers and have some room for 'fun foods' along the way.
By learning all of these tools - you are able to maintain your healthy lifestyle for good.
How Do you Determine Your 'Macros' for you Goal?
There are many great resources out there for you to be able to figure out your own macros. If you need help, hire a coach that will help you LEARN the what, when, why and how of flexible nutrition so that you will be able to go it your own without relying on someone else.
You will hear multiple opinions and strategies for determining macros: BMR x activity level, % of body weight, etc. For sake of keeping things simple, I am going to show you the 12-14 x body weight calculation (starting your fat loss on anywhere from 12-14x body weight in calories)
The goal is ALWAYS to 'diet' on as many calories as possible. Why? Well if you can drop weight on 2000 calories vs. plummeting down to 1200 immediately then why wouldn't you? And further more - once you plateau (and we all do) and are only consuming 1200 calories, where do you go next? You have no room to drop/adjust to.
That being said, if you can start off your 'diet' (when I say diet, I mean creating a deficit of calories) higher and still get results, do it!
I will walk you through an example scenario.
Example A: Female, 25 years old, 5'6', 185lbs, Goal of body fat loss, consuming around 2500 calories per day, is an endomorph (gains weight easily) does 3x a week of 30 minutes on the elliptical and has a desk job.
Because she is lightly active and an endomorph (hard to lose fat), I will start her off on the lower end of 12-14 at 12x bodyweight in calories (I will also recommend more movement/workouts but that is another post).
185*12 = 2,220 calories per day
With this number in mind, here would the calculations I would use to determine her macros:
1g per pound of body weight for protein (recommended) = 185g
1g per pound of bodyweight for carbs (I am keeping her on the low end of 1-1.3g per pound of body weight since she is an endomorph and also does not do a lot of strength workouts at the gym) = 185g
185 grams x 4 calories (4 calories per gram of protein) = 740
185 grams x 4 calories (4 calories per gram of carbs) = 740
720 calories left (9 calories per gram of fat) 720/9 = 80g fat
So her starting macros would be:
From here, we can make multiple adjustments based on how her body responds each week. If she is dropping consistently, I will leave her macros the same. If she is not dropping or is gaining, I will cut her macros back further. On her 'non training' days, I will drop her carbs to around 0.5x body weight.
What happens if you are consuming less than 12x body weight in calories?
Ah! The million dollar question. MOST people I work with are consuming less, and I mean MUCH less than even 10x body weight (the lowest I like to go when in fat loss) in calories trying to shed fat. However, most of them are not seeing results and are frustrated. To compensate, they add more exercise, cut calories further and for some reason cannot seem to drop, or may even be GAINING!
Why? Well....this is a whole different post that I will write on reverse dieting: the process of slowly and methodically adding macronutrients to increase metabolic capacity. Any time you 'diet' or consume less than you expend, your metabolism slows. Eat less and less and less trying to shed weight and your metabolism slows further and further and further.
So if example A girl came to me and was eating 1200 calories per day and had been doing so for say 6 months with no results, we would begin a reverse diet to rebuild her metabolic capacity. She may have to forfeit her goal of weight loss for some time during this process HOWEVER, many people drop body fat when they are fueling their body with what it needs!
Check out this video from Coach Paul Revelia that explains in depth what happens to your metabolism when 'dieting'
I HIGHLY recommend Sohee Fit's 'How to Count Macros' eBook if you are interested in pursuing this on your own as well. She has great, simple, easy to follow information in this book and it is inexpensive.