In recent years there has been a popularization of a way of eating called Flexible Dieting or IIFYM (If it fits your macros, Macro's being Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, and arguably fiber) In this context, the word dieting means daily consumption of food, as opposed to a weight loss method. While flexible dieting is most popular among natural physique athletes, it can be utilized by the general population as well to help maintain a healthy body weight and composition. So you may ask, what exactly is flexible dieting? Below I will lay out the basics on flexible dieting and how it can be used to help you meet your body composition goals.
What Flexible Dieting Is Not
I will start by telling you some things that flexible dieting is not. Flexible dieting is not an approach that allows you to binge on sweets and alcohol on a regular basis. It is not an approach that favors the majority of your calories to come from processed foods. It is not a dieting method based on fitting as much "junk food" as possible into your macronutrient guidelines. While there will always be extremists, the majority of people who follow a flexible diet consume whole, unprocessed foods 90% of the time.
While many dieting methods are based on structured plans that must be followed to see success, flexible dieting has its roots in a more sustainable approach to eating. Some individuals prefer to eat a structured diet based off of a meal plan, while others may not be able to follow this approach. What flexible dieting does is allows an individual to eat the foods that they desire while staying within their macronutrient guidelines (Carbs, Protein,Fats, Fiber). You may think to yourself, WOW I can eat whatever I want?! While you can technically eat whatever you want within your macronutrient guidelines (macros) you will find that not all foods are created equal in terms of satiety or fullness factor. Think of the nutrient density and volume offered by a bag of potato chips vs a sweet potato. A flexible dieter would most likely choose the sweet potato the majority of the time, but if they are feeling like having a bag of potato chips, occasionally they would be able to fit them into their macros (macronutrient guidelines).
Healthier Relationship With Food
Flexible dieting creates a healthier relationship with food psychologically because there are no "off-limit" foods. Furthermore, flexible dieting can prevent bingeing or the "screw it" approach. Many times on a traditional "diet" there are off-limit foods that "should not" be consumed. If an individual does eat these foods they are more likely to say "screw it" and fall off their diet, setting back their progress. Flexible dieting tells your brain, "It's ok for me to eat these foods as long as they fit into my macros." When following IIFYM good and bad are no longer words associated with food, their macronutrient make up becomes more important.
How Starting On a Meal Plan Can Help With Flexible Dieting
For people who do not have a nutrition background flexible dieting may seem a bit overwhelming. You may think, how do I know what macronutrients each food item contains? While learning to follow a flexible diet or IIFYM (if it fits your macros) approach is not an overnight process, there are some things you can do to enhance the learning curve. (See how to get started below) With flexible dieting it is important that you can accurately gauge the macronutrient profile of a given food item. This can be done by one of a few ways. Some people prefer to weigh their food, while others choose to estimate portion sizes. Estimating portion sizes comes with practice which is why I believe starting on a structured meal plan, can enhance ability to estimate portions. Once you have been following a meal plan for a certain amount of time, you are better able to track macros without weighing food.
Pros and Cons of Flexible Dieting
As with every approach to nutrition, flexible dieting comes with its pros and cons. While in my opinion the pros outweigh the cons, I will list some below and let you be the judge.
- Allows individual to consume a wide variety of foods while still being able to meet physique goals
- Creates a healthier relationship with food, no "off-limit" food items
- Better facilitates dining out without worrying about "clean" food choices
- Promotes long-term success and sustainability
- Requires a good deal of willpower to keep track of foods on a daily basis
- Steep initial learning curve to get started
- Must be able to limit portions of high calorie, processed foods
How long do I have to follow a flexible diet to see results?
Being that flexible dieting is not actually a diet, rather just an approach to everyday eating, there is no specific time period to see results. What it really comes down to is, what are your goals? If you are looking to lose weight/body fat, you will have to ensure a calorie deficit, or if you are trying to gain weight/muscle you will have to be in a caloric surplus of some degree. What flexible dieting does is easily allows you to cater your diet to your goals. If you track you macronutrients and ensure you are in a deficit, over time you will lose weight and vice versa. IIFYM is more focused on the long-term sustainability factor rather than short term results, allowing individuals to maintain their desired level of leanness over time.
How to Get Started Flexible Dieting Today
While flexible dieting may seem overwhelming to someone just starting out, there are some steps you can take to get started today. There are many ways you can track your food items but the easiest way would be to download one of several nutrient tracking apps available for smartphones. You can start by tracking one meal per day to get a feel for it and slowly progress to two meals and finally all of your meals and snacks. Some people feel it is easier to track foods by weighing them but be aware that this may only be possible if you are home and have your food scale. Personally I weigh some of my food items, while I estimate others. This is the scale I use when I do weigh them. Next, it is important to determine the macronutrients that your body needs to meet your goals. While there are many calculators available to determine your macro intake, they are not alway accurate and can fluctuate. The best option would be to hire a qualified professional to determine your ideal macros. BeElite offers macronutrient coaching services through which we will help you determine the ideal macronutrient ranges to meet your goals and adjust them as your goals change.
Don't Forget The Exercise Portion
While a great amount of people have seen success with flexible dieting, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Exercise also needs to be taken into consideration. Proper exercise protocol, that is specific to your goals, must also be implemented. Coach Nelson over at Muscular Newtrition works with athletes and the general population to come up with exercise programs to help them meet their goals. Feel free to contact him to inquire about an exercise program to help you reach yours!
While flexible dieting may not work for everybody, many have seen success while following it. If you are struggling to see results with other diets, flexible dieting may be worth a try for you! If you found this article informative please don't hesitate to share it. If you have a specific topic that you would like me to address in the future please comment below. And until next time my friends, BE ELITE!