As you scroll through your newsfeed you’ll most likely come across photos of burgers, ice cream, fast food, and restaurant meals with the hashtag #flexibledieting or #iifym. Naturally you’d assume that flexible dieting is some kind of cheat meal lifestyle that disregards health, but you find it hard to comprehend how people who look and feel great are eating this way.
With further investigation, you’ll discover that flexible dieting can be very different for one person to the next. To most, it is a matter of tracking their macronutrient intake to enjoy a wider variety of foods in their diet. For others it’s simply an excuse to validate eating a random yet exciting #flexbowl (check it out on Instagram if you’re confused – 38,584+ posts) or equivalent (ice cream with Nutella and cashews for me).
The problem is a lot of people who incorporate flexible dieting don’t even completely know what they’re doing. There is a definite learning curve when it comes to tracking your macros, figuring out the nutrient content of foods, being accurate with your selections, and maintaining a non-obsessive-compulsive approach to enjoying a wider variety of foods – whilst still dropping body fat.
I’ve written this article to give some insight to the stages of flexible dieting or rather, the phases of nutritional structure you can flow through, as you get closer to your goal.
If you are brand new to the concept of flexible dieting, your biggest priority is to learn about the nutrient content of foods you typically enjoy, whilst still eating towards your goals in the process. I strongly recommend following a meal plan that includes the foods you enjoy eating along with the measurements and macronutrient totals. This should equate to a daily macronutrient intake that is effective towards your goals and will be considered as your training wheels.
Using this meal plan as a guide, you can start to find easy alternatives like sweet potato instead of rice, chicken instead of fish, or coconut oil instead of flaxseed oil. Moving forward, you can start to make bigger adjustments such as adding salmon to your diet and removing the chicken and some flaxseed oil to allow for the increased dietary fat coming from the salmon.
In all cases, if things get too tough, revert back to the meal plan. You’ll spend most of your days eating a smaller variety of foods but will consider the benefits of being consistent.
After a few weeks or months of tracking your macros, you start to understand things a lot more, and get more creative. Your nutritional knowledge increases and you’re able to tell random people how much protein/carbs/fat is in whatever they’re eating; a banana for example (approx. 23 grams of carbs per 100g). You’re able to make stress-free adjustments and more importantly, you’re closer to your goal physique thanks to consistency over time.
At this level, you’re seeing the results you expect from your calorie/macronutrient intake consistency, and are able to mix things up a little more, making flexible dieting a little more flexible. At times you guesstimate the nutrient content of a meal. You eat out occasionally and are comfortable with a more relaxed approach to tracking your intake. If you start to notice that you’re gaining body fat you tighten things up and track more accurately.
This is a step in the right direction, and for some as far as they’d like to push it.
You’re probably thinking this is the level where flex bowls and fun foods are in abundance. To be honest it is typically “The Newbie” who is eager to enjoy these treats. However yes, at the advanced level you’re essentially very close to your goal physique, or are happy to maintain the way you look. At this level, given the hard work you’ve put in over time to reach it, you’re able to be a lot more flexible with your dieting.
This could mean an increase in restaurant meals that you can’t accurately track. It could also mean having days where you only track your protein intake or a step further; don’t track at all. It really is an individual approach however the overall goal is to be mindful to ensure the maintenance of your physique and good health.
The advanced level is not for everyone. It would be foolish to expect to be able to eat out often, not track some days, and still expect the results you may achieve from a meal plan (the level of ultimate accuracy). In a way, you almost have to earn the freedom of increased flexibility.
Flexible dieting will always be approached differently from person to person and that is totally fine. However think about what your physique or fat loss goals are. Are you close enough to enjoy being more flexible, or is it best to keep things simple, accurate, and consistent?
Eat towards your goals, enjoy variety, and create balance.
There will come a time where being more flexible with flexible dieting is the right step for you. However if you’re getting ready for a wedding, photoshoot, or bodybuilding competition, now probably isn’t that time (more on that later).