Dieting culture is something that is very confusing for most people. The amount of information is so damn overwhelming and most of the information put out by the mainstream media is just the latest and greatest fad. But the biggest issue is still true: everyone wants fast results. The fitness industry has capitalized on this fact with “30 day challenges”, “cleanses” and other fads that reduce calories to extremely low levels and only allow you to eat a handful of different foods. Whether it’s a “meal plan” or a way of eating where you cut out entire food groups (demonizing carbohydrates, fat or both), these are sure ways to fall off the wagon and lose all faith in losing body fat, achieving the body you want and living the healthy lifestyle you’ve always hoped for.
Enter flexible dieting. Flexible dieting is just how it sounds. It is taking a flexible approach to nutrition, specifically dieting for fat loss. What do I mean by flexible? Let’s dive into this. What most people don’t understand is caloric balance. Most people simply don’t understand how many calories are in the food they are eating. So first, we have to begin tracking to understand how many calories (and where those calories are coming from) we’re consuming. Depending on where you are consistently calorically (after tracking for 3-5 days), how active you are and your estimated BMR (Basil Metabolic Rate) you will have an idea of your maintenance calories. From here we want to create a calorie deficit. In order for our body to lose fat, we must create a deficit. An effective and safe deficit is going to be around 300-500 calories below maintenance (this varies person to person, but generally speaking, shooting for a less aggressive approach out of the gate will lead to better progress in the long term). This is also dependent on the fact that you’re following a solid strength training program individualized for your lifestyle. If you need help with training, click HERE. We now have to begin to consider macronutrient ratios. Macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) are the three categories that are required in relatively large amounts for the body to live and that make up the calories you’re consuming. The first macro that we need to consider when dieting for fat loss is protein. Protein needs to be set at roughly 0.8g per pound of body weight (NOT the case for obese individuals). The reason we want to track for a few days out of the gate is to find out how much of each macronutrient you’re consuming. If a person isn’t getting anywhere close to the amount of protein they need, you may have to slowly increase protein over time until you get to that 0.8g per pound. Once we have this down, we want to shift our attention to the amount of fat we’re consuming. At least 20% of the calories we’re consuming needs to be coming from fat for optimal hormone health. Typically, when dieting for fat loss it can beneficial for that number to get to anywhere between 30%-50% for the simple fact that fat is more satiating (makes you feel fuller, longer). The rest of your macronutrients are going to come from carbohydrates.
Now, here is why flexible dieting is so beautiful. As long as calories and protein intake (0.8 g per pound of body weight) are equated, you can make up the percentage of fat and carbs however you’d like (so long as you’re getting at least 20% of your calories from fat for health purposes). If you’re a person that eats more bacon than bread, maybe you set your fats at 40-45%. Maybe you enjoy white rice and sourdough bread. Then you’d set your carbohydrate intake higher. The key here is to make sure that you’re taking calories into consideration. The key to losing body fat is being in a calorie deficit. Notice, I said BODY FAT, not just BODY WEIGHT. If you’re not eating enough protein and you’re not resistance training, when you put yourself in a calorie deficit you will lose fat and muscle over time. This will slow your metabolism and could have harmful impact on your hormonal and nervous systems.
Flexible dieting works a lot like a budget. You only have a certain number of calories and macros each day, so you have to find out what works best for you and live within your budget. What’s awesome about flexibility is that you can fit in foods you like and truly enjoy. And if you’re out with friends or on a date, you don’t have to be super restrictive. It’s about finding a nice balance. I like thinking about it in terms of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time we’re eating minimally processed whole foods. This is important for digestion, hormonal function, sleep, energy, performance… you get the picture. Eating whole foods is ESSENTIAL for health. That means out of ten meals, eight of them are including protein, veggies and the right amount of carbs and fat that fit your macros for the day. The other two meals can be “flexible”, or meals/treats that may be higher in sugar or more processed. I like to talk about the 80/20 rule in regards to flexible dieting because people still make the mistake of “fitting in” junk food on a regular basis. Although it may fit your macros, and you may still lose weight (if calories are equated and you’re in a deficit, you WILL lose weight), you will have more inflammation which could impair gut health, which impacts everything from hormones to mental clarity. While it is ok to fit in foods you enjoy that aren’t very nutrient dense, for overall health, try not to have back to back meals that are less nutritious.
Flexible dieting is awesome because it allows for dietary adherence. How? Because people who have non-negotiables can make these things fit in their weekly budget. That could include date night with their significant other, a night out with friends for drinks or just pizza and a movie. Whatever it is, you can make it work. (If this is something you need help with, click HERE.) People fail most often with dieting for fat loss because they can’t adhere to the “diet” or “meal plan” they are currently following. Flexible dieting is the answer to this because it allows you to eat foods you enjoy and keep non-negotiables in your week. BUT you have to realize that it is super easy to lose track of the things you’re eating and drinking. The next thing you know, you’ve gone way over your weekly allotted calories. This is ok sometimes, but if it’s something you continuously do, you will not lose body fat. This is why BUILDING AWARENESS is the first step. To make flexible dieting work for you, you have to track food intake, get comfortable with it, and pay attention to how certain foods are impacting your body in every way. Once you have mastered these techniques, you’ll be able to make flexible dieting fit your lifestyle. From what you’re eating, how many meals you’re eating per day, factoring in non-negotiables… you’ll be able to customize these things to best fit your lifestyle. Because as we know, if it fits your lifestyle, you’ll be more likely to adhere to the diet. And if you adhere to something, you’ll eventually make progress. Realize that building a solid foundation behind nutrition with flexible dieting takes time, consistency and a level of dedication to being a healthier you. Questions about flexible dieting? Shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.