Alright, so today I want to take the time to discuss the diet (well, if you even want to call it a “diet”) of all diets…flexible dieting. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the practice, it is otherwise known as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and, in short, leaves absolutely no food off limits. Thankfully, a vast majority of those in the fitness industry have come around to it and no longer scold those who utilize it.
Although scientifically backed and proven successful by many people, flexible dieting was given the cold shoulder for the longest time. Nearly the entire fitness industry would consider eating anything outside of the bodybuilding norms ludicrous. Brown rice, chicken breast, tuna, veggies, and whole grains…what us flexible dieters like to call, “bro foods,” were the only foods.
Now, do not get me wrong. Flexible dieters still make up nearly 80% of their diets with the above wholesome, nutritious foods, but there are plenty—in fact, countless—other sources of calories that flexible dieters will have on a day-to-day basis. It’s all about portion control, tracking macros accurately and living a balanced life.
I know a lot of people are aware of the ins and outs of flexible dieting and may or may not have even given it a shot. Either way, being a long time flexible dieter myself and having my own opinions on why it is great, I wanted to compile a short list of what I find to be its best parts.
1) No food is off limits.
Of course I had to put this as the number one reason. I’m not even going to try and lie to here…nothing is better than being able to eat anything that I want. I don’t mean that from a social standpoint (meaning having the ability to go out with your friends and not worry about getting “the right” sources of calories; we’ll get to that.) I mean having the ability to say, “Hm, I’m in the mood for a piece of cake,” and actually being able to satisfy that craving.
Flexible dieting is all about numbers. When I’m bulking, maintaining or even cutting, I make it a point to get my daily treat of ice cream, pancakes, full-fat beef with cheese or other high-calorie treat. I just make sure that before I do so, I have my micronutrient, protein and fiber goals either met or in line to be met later in the day. That is the true beauty of flexible dieting; it isn’t “dieting” at all.
2) Packing meals to every event is not necessary.
How many times have you been invited to a family party, social event where food is being served or just anywhere that might have foods that are outside of the bodybuilding norm? With that thought in mine, consider how many hours you have spent prepping a week’s worth of meals for each day of the work week…so that you can eat the same thing at X o’clock every single day—probably more often than you’d like.
Well guess what? When practicing flexible dieting, you don’t need to have meals in Tupperware containers everywhere you go. In fact, you don’t need to have food with you at all, because another huge benefit to flexible dieting, outside of the ability to choose any source of food for the day’s calories, is that your macros can be hit at any time. This means that instead of having to have five or more meals, all spaced out, containing this macronutrient without this one…you can have whatever amount of meals at whatever times of the day that fit your schedule.
3) No more being oddly different.
Okay, so this kind of relates to the second reason I have listed above, but it applies more to the social awkwardness of healthy eating. Let’s face it…if you’re taking out a container of brown rice and chicken at a Superbowl party that is serving pulled pork sliders, wings and pizza, because, “you’re into fitness,” then you’re just doing it wrong (unless in contest prep.) Further, when asked to go out with friends to grab a slice of pizza or some ice cream, you don’t need to stay cooped up in the house and avoid them. Make sure that your numbers are hit or are going to be hit, and everything will be just fine.
Don’t get me wrong. I preach the fact that you should not care about what other people think, but having fun, letting loose and enjoying one day (especially a special event) without worrying about being 100% “healthy” is completely acceptable. Actually, when utilizing the practice of flexible dieting, this can be done more often than once in a while. I don’t recommend it, but if fiber, micronutrient and protein requirements are met without going over your recommended caloric intake, have at it!
4) Less deprivation…less binging.
One of, if not the, biggest reasons that people find themselves struggling with bad relationships with food or full-blown eating disorders is because of severe deprivation. Although I do mean deprivation of overall calories, I’m mainly talking about deprivation of favorite foods. It is a known fact that somebody that avoids delicious or his/her favorite foods will overeat them once given the opportunity. Further, a large majority of people that avoid these foods will find themselves stressing over their exposure to them and/or purging when they are consumed (through exercise, vomiting or compensating the next day.)
Flexible dieting comes into play here because if these foods are fit into a daily diet, there is no reason to overeat them at any time or place. On top of that, having the ability to eat them in moderation from day-to-day keeps potential psychological imbalances (stress, purging) under control. People will no longer worry when these foods are put in front of them AND will have the ability to keep them in their stomach without counteracting their caloric value.
5) It WORKS!
Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that tracking macros and hitting a surplus or deficit…ALL while consuming foods that you LOVE to eat, will lead you straight to your goals! The body burns fat or gains muscle as a result of the amount of energy it is given. When introduced to a surplus of calories and thus, more than it needs to sustain its current state, it reacts by storing the excess as lean muscle and fat. The lower the surplus, the less muscle built and the less fat stored. That is why we coaches like to find a surplus that will add just the right amount of mass without substantial amounts of fat gain.
Now, looking at flexible dieting from a cutting standpoint is no different. When the body is introduced to a deficit of calories, it reacts by burning reserved energy as its source of fuel. That means that after burning all of the energy it is given for the day, it begins to use fat (and sometimes, muscle) to fuel itself. Depending on the amount of energy (calories) taken away from a normal day, the body will either use fat (preferred) or muscle. Again, that is why we, as coaches, try to find that perfect deficit to maximize fat loss while helping clients retain all of their hard earned muscle. It is purely a numbers game and does not concern the names of foods consumed.
So, is Flexible Dieting for you?
As I said above, the only people that will not diet with flexibility are those approaching a big show. Could they? Absolutely! People can get show-ready while consuming cake and ice cream…but it is much harder to remain within caloric range and stay satiated while consuming those foods. So, to answer the above question…flexible dieting is for everyone. People that are looking to lose fat or add size, live a normal life, enjoy what they eat and see results should all practice flexible dieting. In the end, it comes down to the discipline of the athlete, the amount of energy expended and of course, the numbers that make up this game.
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