Flexible Dieting... How "Flexible" Is It Really?

By Stephanie Dane

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Diets.

This concept is far from new. Rather, it has been around well over 150 years. In fact, the first low-carb diet was invented in 1863. Less than 30 years later, the government first offered advice in regards to balancing proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Soon after, life insurance companies reported that being overweight raised the risk of death. In 1916, the Department of Agriculture came up with the five food groups. Around World War II, charts showing ideal weight-for-height emerged. The 1920’s brought on the “counting calories” diet trend… followed by the “Cigarette Diet” (Oh yes, there actually was one of these!), the Cabbage Soup Diet (1950’s), Adkins (1970’s)… the list continues, and gets even more - um… creative.

Over the decades, the dieting trends have grown exponentially… yet, so has the obesity rates. Seems backwards, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the obesity rate be decreasing as we offer more solutions to manage it?

Some diets focus on macronutrient restrictions, usually fats and/or carbohydrates; others restrict specific types of foods (dairy, grains, refined sugars, meat, etc). There is no denying that dietary restrictions make everyday life more challenging. Whether you’re traveling for work, enjoying a meal out with friends, celebrating a holiday, or when a craving kicks in for something you’ve prohibited yourself from having… sometimes the mere thought that you can’t have something - makes you want it even more! 

If the sole purpose of beginning a diet is for weight loss, consider your goals (both short term AND long term). Maybe you’ve experimented with various diets in the past, or even researched some… only to conclude that they are too restrictive and unrealistic for your lifestyle. 

So…now what?

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Enter flexible dieting.

“Flexible dieting”, or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM), provides a more sustainable solution to living a healthy lifestyle. This approach allows people to stick to foods they enjoy, and offers flexibility when traveling or in social settings. Flexible dieting revolves around tracking your macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates), as well as total caloric intake. It’s important to be mindful of micronutrients as well, including daily recommended fiber intake. 

Benefits to Flex Dieting/IIFYM:

While the premise behind IIFYM is the ability to eat something (anything, really) as long as it falls within your macros… it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to eat an abundance of foods with empty calories. Yes, this lifestyle offers the ability to fit a treat into your diet, so long as the majority of your food make-up is comprised of healthy, nutrient dense foods (think the 80/20 or 85/15 rule). So, it does support balance and moderation that many other restrictive diets don’t allow. The flexibility it offers is also important from a mental standpoint. You want to ENJOY your journey! If you enjoy your journey, you’ll want to continue. Personal enjoyment is one of the largest contributors to success, so it really is an intricate part of the process! 

Another benefit to flexible dieting can be modified to your goals, regardless of how small or large they are. This method can be used to gain healthy weight, lose just a few pounds or even a substantial amount of weight. It can also be used to maintain your current physique, if that’s a goal as well.

Although IIFYM does offer flexibility compared to other diet trends, that’s not to say it’s easy. Any modifications to your current lifestyle will take some time to adjust and require some change on your end. The journey of weight loss is not easy; especially when you consider the task of keeping it off long term (the piece that the majority struggle with).

It’s important to mention that flexible dieting is NOT a prescribed meal plan. This approach is designed to teach people how to eat for their goals using everyday foods. Nothing is off limits; you’ll reach your goals by learning portions, reading food labels, and understanding what foods offer “more bang for your buck.”

Bang for your buck? Are you talking about how much a food costs? 

NO. Let me explain further :)

With IIFYM, you work with a set number of macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and calories. Those numbers will be based specifically on YOUR GOALS. Let’s think of our macros in terms of money for a moment; your child receives $30 for lunch money for the school week. If they spend their money responsibly, spending no more than $6 per day… right? Let’s say they spend $5 for lunch.. and then splurge after school one day by going for pizza with friends and the spend the remaining $25. They’re out of money for the week and it’s only Monday! 

The same concept applies for macronutrients. YES, you can have that Poptart or donut for 400 calories… but with the amount of calories and fat in one serving, think about how much more volume food you could have for the same amount. Healthier choices will support your goals and keep you satisfied for a longer period of time. Sometimes an occasional treat is worth it. But it might be hard to achieve your goals, hit your macros, and feel satiated if you splurge on empty calories daily. 

There are a few tools that are extremely helpful in tracking macronutrients and total caloric intake: 

1.     Downloading an app such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It, or Evolve onto your smart phone

2.     Tools to measure/weigh your food, while you learn to judge portion sizes: measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a digital scale Don’t be overwhelmed at the idea of measuring your food - once you begin, it becomes very easy. And after a period of time, you’ll be able to gauge simply by looking at a food what the portion size is

This is truly a lifestyle who’s results are dependent on the choices you make. Undoubtably, it can be tailored to match your goals. There isn’t a one size fits all… which is the beauty of it :) 

If flexible dieting sounds like an approach that may fit your lifestyle, but you’re not quite sure where to begin, consider working with a coach. A coach will help determine you to determine the macronutrients needed to achieve your goal, using variables such as your lifestyle, age, gender, activity level, body type, and so forth. 

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Do you wish you had someone to REALLY support you FULLY to reach your goals through:

  • EXERCISE (specific to your unique life!), 
  • NUTRITION (specific for your unique body and goals!)
  • Accountability and mindset coaching
  • An approach that takes your long term health and lifestyle into account
  • Peer support from other like-minded women?

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