If you’ve ever considered changing your diet to lose (or gain) weight, you’ve probably heard of Flexible Dieting, also called Macro-Based dieting. It’s really not a “diet” in the traditional sense, but is instead a way of eating that focuses on calories and macro-nutrients to achieve your weight loss or gain goals.
Flexible Dieting converts make some auspicious claims, but the “advantage” touted the most is that you can eat whatever you want as long as it meets your calorie and macro targets. That’s right, let’s quote it:
You can eat whatever you want as long as it meets your calorie and macro targets
Obviously it’s better to eat nutrient dense foods, but pizza, ice cream, burgers, fries, cake, Twinkies — you name it you can eat it… as long as it meets your calorie and macro targets.
Macros is short for macro-nutrients:
Each macro-nutrient has calories:
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Fats: 9 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Each macro-nutrient has a specific function in the body:
- Protein helps repair and build muscle, tendon and bone
- Fat help produce hormones and maintain hormonal balance
- Carbohydrates hydrate and provide short term energy to your muscles
Calories are what your body uses for energy. If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, your body will draw calories from different sources, primarily stored fat. If you eat more calories than your body needs, the excess calories are stored as fat for future use.
How to Start with Flexible Dieting
Getting started is easy in that you don’t need any special foods or food preparation. But there are some things you need to know and do in order to get going.
- Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) based on your current weight and activity level. Keep in mind that any TDEE estimate you get no matter what the calculator is simply a starting place. It’s up to you to gauge your results and adjust accordingly. TDEE will also decrease as you lose weight, so you should revisit it every week or two as your weight changes.
- Calculate your macros according to your daily caloric goal. There are calculators available (like the one linked) but you can figure it out based on .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or 1 gram per pound of lean body weight if you accurately know your body fat percentage), .3 grams of fat per pound of body weight for losing weight, .4 grams for maintaining, and .5 grams for gaining, and the rest of your daily calories in carbohydrates.
- Track your food intake and try to meet your TDEE and macro targets each day. When you first start out, you’ll probably need a food scale and you’ll have to do a lot of label reading, but as you gain experience, you’ll be able to accurately estimate your macros for most of your meals.
The Benefits of Flexible Dieting
Unless you have some sort of disease or hormone dysfunction, if you eat fewer calories than you use, you will lose weight. Calories in and calories out are the sole determining factors when it comes to losing or gaining weight. If you aren’t eating fewer calories than you use, you will not lose weight. Being aware of and tracking what you eat takes guess-work out of your diet.
It’s right in the name: Flexible Dieting. By focusing on macro-nutrients you’ll be able to achieve your goals while enjoying the foods you like. You’ll be able to eat out and enjoy meals with family and friends, as long as you keep track of what you’re eating. Once you get used to tracking, it becomes second nature and easy. Most restaurants provide calorie information at a minimum, and some ever break out the macro-nutrients for you.
Flexible Dieting is easy to stick with because you get to eat the foods you enjoy. You aren’t on a “diet”, you are simply tracking what you eat toward a specific daily calorie and macro goals. One of the biggest challenges people trying to lose weight have is the diet/binge cycle. How many people do you know who have dieted and lost weight, only to gain it all back again?
Flexible Dieting is a sustainable way of eating. And because you get to eat the foods you enjoy, it’s easier to stick with than traditional dieting that only allow specific foods and caloric restriction.
Just because you can make progress by hitting your macros regardless of food source, that doesn’t mean you should eat nothing but junk. Although calories in and calories out are the ultimate determinants of body weight, you will be healthier by focusing on eating nutrient rich foods.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a donut, slice of pizza, or a Big mac every now and then, but even on Flexible Dieting, these types of food items shouldn’t form the basis of the food you eat.
Consider these two meals:
- 8 ounces chicken breast
- 8 ounces broccoli
- 8 ounces white rice
- 2 teaspoons of Smart Balance butter
Total: 600 calories, 30 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, and 25 grams fat
- 3 slices of Papa John’s chicken Alfredo pizza
Total: 600 calories, 40 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, and 20 grams fat
Now which one of these meals do you think has more of nutrients you body needs to function well and maintain health? While Flexible Dieting doesn’t make distinctions between “good” food and “bad” food”, your goal should still be to eat healthy.
Adjusting Your Diet and Slipping
- Flexible dieting can be used for different goals.
- If you’re trying to lose, eat fewer calories.
- If you’re trying to gain, eat more calories.
- If you’re training hard at an endurance sport, eat more carbohydrates
- If you’re training hard at a resistance sport (weight lifting, body building, etc), eat more protein
Unless you have a specific medical condition (like diabetes or celiac disease), there’s no reason to avoid specific foods. Choose foods you enjoy eating, but moderate your portions to fit to your caloric and macro targets. Your weight loss diet can be the same foods as your regular diet, but in controlled portions.
As far as going off script: it’s going to happen. That’s the biggest challenge with regular restricted diets. People fall off diet and then think, screw it, I might as well give up. Sooner or later you’ll probably have a day, even on Flexible Dieting, where you eat something you didn’t intend to eat.
Don’t worry about it.
Flexible Dieting helps you realize that an unplanned for candy bar or a cookie is only worth 100 – 200 calories. Big deal. You want that occasional candy bar? Have it. Just trim that 200 calories from somewhere else that day. That’s the beauty of Flexible Dieting – there’s really no way to fall off the wagon no matter what you eat, as long as you stick to your daily targets.
You haven’t failed, cheated yourself or broken any “rules” because eating some food that wasn’t planned can still be part of the plan!
The Problems with Traditional Dieting
Traditional diets tend to focus on the short term goal of getting results as quickly as possible. That’s OK though, right? Because you’ll only be on the diet, restricting calories and eating food you don’t particularly like until you reach your goal. But because you are restricting your diet so much, that won’t take long.
That leads to an “it will all be over soon” mentality that makes the whole ordeal just that: an ordeal. A struggle to slog through. A challenge to overcome. When you don’t enjoy your diet and set aggressive goals, it makes everything harder. And once people reach their goal, what usually happens? The go “off” their diet and the weight starts to creep back on.
And that’s why traditional diets almost always fail.
If you can’t stick to the diet and exercise habits that you used to lose the weight, probably won’t be able to keep the weight off in the long-term.
Studies have shown that meal replacement and weight loss shakes help people quickly lose weight by providing an easy way to control portion sizes and calories. But by using these pre-made shakes, people don’t learn to control calories, nor do they develop sustainable habits that will help them maintain their weight loss.
With Flexible Dieting, your weight loss diet is identical to your habitual diet — you’re just eating less. There’s abrupt transition from your weight loss diet to your regular diet, because the only difference is calories and macro-nutrients.
They key is to stop seeing your “diet” as something you only do until you lose weight. Instead, start to think of it as a long-term life style.