Is flexible dieting the answer to a healthy weight? Are you looking for a way to design a nutritional program that is tailored to your body’s unique needs? One that allows you balance and flexibility when it comes to eating and gives you permission to finally ditch the diet mentality.
If you are tired of starting the same old diet on Monday, only to be frustrated, hungry, and disappointed by Wednesday, then you’re ready for a major nutritional mindset shift that will produce long-lasting, positive results.
What is Flexible Dieting?
The flexible dieting lifestyle is a method of eating that focuses on meeting your macronutrients, or your required protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake for the day, all within your individual daily caloric requirements needed for fat loss.
Each macronutrient is assigned a caloric value with carbohydrates and protein having four calories per gram and fat has nine calories per gram. In addition to being aware of daily caloric needs and goals, flexible dieters also track their macros.
For example: 2000 calories a day could break down into 150g Protein, 170g Carbohydrate, and 80g of Fat. If you tend to eat more carbohydrates, another approach could be 100g Protein, 220g Carbohydrate and 80g Fat.
How is the Flexible Dieting Lifestyle Different From Other Diets?
Known as the “anti-diet” in most fitness and nutrition circles, this way of eating takes away the “all or nothing” mentality, as well as, the “good and bad” classification of foods that typically comes with dieting.
Instead, it teaches you to view food (macronutrients and micronutrients) for what they are—nutrients for your body. Other diets can be restrictive, rigid, have complicated rules, and most lack long-term maintenance and sustainability (beyond the first 3-6 months after completion of diet).
And although there are some exceptions, most of these diets take on a “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight loss.
The flexible dieting lifestyle, on the other hand, focuses on customizing your daily meals to meet your individual needs, allows for the occasional treat or indulgence, and loosens up the expectations that you will eat “perfect” every day. It also prioritizes sustainable, long-term results over the initial fat loss.
The Flexible Diet Lifestyle Doesn’t Dump You in Maintenance
This method picks up where many other diets leave off: by taking the maintenance phase of many of the restrictive diets and making if the basis of the entire program. And when you consider this way of eating is not necessarily a “diet,” rather a lifestyle, it’s easy to see how people who struggled with food before adopting flexible dieting, really learn to relax and enjoy eating again.
Benefits of the Flexible Dieting Lifestyle
This method is best known for its:
- ease of use
- long-term success
Flexible dieting allows users to tailor their food choices, so they fit into their current lifestyle, while still allowing them to meet individual goals.
It also has a built-in forgiveness system that takes away the guilt if you decide to indulge in your favorite meal. No need to go off your diet to enjoy a treat!
And, since nothing is off-limits with this way of eating, the feelings of deprivation that often accompany more traditional diets tend to disappear and instead, are replaced with a newfound freedom and appreciation for eating.
However, just because you can “eat what you want,” doesn’t mean you should ditch the sound nutritional knowledge of balanced eating. After all, most people can’t get away with choosing junk over healthy meals if their ultimate goal is fat loss.
The appeal then is the freedom that comes with knowing you aren’t expecting absolute perfection and strictness in your dieting behavior.
An Off Meal is Not Cheating with the Flexible Diet
A flexible dieter understands that a single meal outside of their “regular” or normal meals for the day is not going to ruin their diet. If they were at a special event, for example, they would enjoy themselves, eat what is being served (without worrying about whether it is on their diet) and go about their day.
Whereas a person on a very restrictive diet, like the HCG diet, may avoid the situation altogether or binge on the special meal and then be derailed from their plan, which consequently starts the downward spiral of bingeing and severe restrictive dieting behavior.
Probably the most impressive feature of flexible dieting is that it focuses just as much on maintaining fat loss, as it does on achieving it.
Some may even say it focuses more on the maintenance phase. And when you start with the end in mind (or the maintenance phase) it will be easier to create healthy, long-term habits that fit into your everyday life.
Tips to Help You Get Started
For any fat loss diet to work, there must be an imbalance between calorie intake and calorie burning, there needs to be sufficient protein, it should provide some essential fatty acids, and ideally, it should be paired with a fitness plan that includes daily exercise.
Individual caloric needs. Weight loss requires a deficit in calories. Simply put, you must take in less than you expend to lose fat. Determining your daily caloric needs based on your height, weight, and level of daily activity is the only way a diet will truly work.
You cannot adhere to a standard 1200 or 1500 calorie per day diet if your individual needs require you to eat at least 2000 calories a day to even survive.
Calculate your individual caloric and macronutrient needs and then roughly plan how many meals you want to eat on a “typical” or average day.
Once you have these two components, do your best to spread your macros and calories throughout the number of meals per day. And finally, consider using an online food tracking program or app to help you meet your goals.
The 80/20 method: Another way of approaching flexible dieting is to look at your day from an 80/20 philosophy: 80% of your calories/meals come from quality, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods (with the goal to include protein at each meal) and the remaining 20% from foods you choose to indulge in.
Macros at each meal: Each meal ideally will contain an ample amount of lean protein, a moderate amount of fat, an unlimited amount of vegetables, some fruits, and a moderate amount of concentrated carbohydrates (starches). Protein at each meal helps persevere muscle, carbohydrates keep your energy levels up, and adequate fat intake helps with hormone synthesis.
Different carbohydrates: complex and simple. Additionally, complex carbohydrates can be broken down even further into fibrous (consists of mostly vegetables) and non-fibrous (often referred to as starch-based carbohydrates and found in things like bread and potatoes).
The importance of fiber: both soluble and insoluble. Women need 25 grams of fiber per day and men need 38 grams of fiber per day.
Some top sources of fiber include:
- Beans (all kinds)
- Whole wheat flour
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
Eat what you want: in moderation. At times, flexible dieting can feel a bit like putting together a puzzle. When you first embark on this way of eating, learning how to enjoy a variety of your favorite foods while fitting them into your daily macros, takes a bit of practice and planning.
However, if you’re looking to feel your best on a daily basis and perform optimally in any fitness or sporting event, then you need to learn how to make quality choices when planning meals (and still allow room for your 20%).
The flexible dieting lifestyle is not an excuse to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. If you approach this method of dieting with the mentality that you can eat junk just as much as you consume nutrient-dense foods, you’ll have trouble hitting your protein, healthy fat, and quality carb macros for the day.
Not to mention the lack of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet as a result of eating too much processed food.
Tracking your daily macros and calories. Until you become a master at eyeballing portions and macros, tracking your daily food in an app or using an online program that counts calories and figures macros for you, is the best way to ensure you’re meeting your goals.
With that being said, it’s important to remember that you do not need to hit your macros dead on every single day. After all, this plan is about being flexible and focusing on the long-term results and sustainability of eating foods that taste good and satisfy our body’s needs.
What Users Are Saying
“Yes, it definitely works. I went from 225 to 198lbs without losing muscle. However, there are smart/sustainable and bad/inefficient ways to approach the diet. The catch with IIFYM is that while you can technically eat anything you want, it still has to fit within your macros at the end of the day.”
“I think everyone is aware that you’ll feel like sht eating only junk food. The reason it keeps getting brought up is because it proves the answer to a question that is repeatedly asked. No one ever said it was a good idea. We all know we need vitamins and minerals and protein. If the question is “can I eat anything and still lose weight?” then this is the proof for the answer “yes.” The question was not “can I eat junk food and lose weight and be healthy” because everyone already knows you can’t. There’s no point in talking about his experience on that diet because we already know what he must have felt like!”
“I think the best way to force a cleaner IIFYM is to make fiber one of the macros. It would be impossible to get 90%+ of your carbs from doughnuts this way if you have to hit 40g fiber per day, for example (unless you are on a bulk). You can still fit a few tasty treats in, but you just won’t be able get crazy with it.”
Is the Flexible Dieting Lifestyle for You?
If you’re ready to get healthy, enjoy eating again, and achieve permanent results, then it’s time to consider flexible dieting. And the best part? You can start today.
So, pack up the quick-fix diet books, toss out all the rigid “rules,” relax, and work on finding some balance in your life. After all, flexible dieting is a lifestyle change that can lead to optimal health and a sustainable way of eating that lasts a lifetime.
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Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a fitness expert with 20+ years of experience. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Exercise Science and a Master’s degree in Counseling. She’s spent her life spreading the word to and educating people on the importance of health, wellness, fitness, parenting and mental health. She specializes in the mind-body connection, with a focus on how our mental and emotional well-being impacts our physical fitness and health.