“What is this ‘flexible dieting’ that you speak of?”
Flexible dieting is basically what the name implies; allowing yourself to be flexible with your diet by not sticking to eating the same exact foods every single day. The monotony of a diet can be the biggest reason why people cheat on them in the first place and why they’re not realistically sustainable in the long term. Flexible dieting aligns with the concept of ‘IIFYM’, which you may have heard of.
“Okay, so what’s IIFYM?”
IIFYM stands for ‘If It Fits Your Macros’. This means that as long as you are hitting your desired range of macros at the end of the day, you are technically allowed to eat whatever you want to fill those numbers and still reach your goal, no matter if your goal is losing fat or gaining muscle. Macros stand for macronutrients; the three macronutrients that make up calories are protein, fats, and carbohydrates. One gram of protein and carbohydrates is 4 calories, while one gram of fat is 9 calories. By trying to hit a certain target of protein/fat/carbs each day, you are directly counting your overall daily caloric intake as well.
“It sounds too good to be true that I can eat whatever I want and still lose weight, but I guess it theoretically makes sense. So I just try to hit an exact number of macros every single day down to the exact gram? Wouldn’t that be really hard to be so precise all the time?”
Yes and no. While getting as close as possible to your desired range of macros would be ideal, it really just comes down to overall caloric intake at the end of the day that determines if you’re going to gain weight or lose weight. The shift of macronutrient ratios can affect certain variables such as performance in the gym, the amount of you muscle you retain onto in a caloric deficit, and etc. However, purely from a standpoint of gaining weight or losing weight, daily or weekly caloric intake is the only thing that matters.
“So now you’re saying I just need to stay under a certain limit of calories if I want to lose weight. Why do macros even matter then?”
It really depends on what your goals are and how serious you are in committing to them that will dictate the degree in how important macros are. Having an adequate protein intake is always healthy to keep your muscles present no matter if you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or regular person just looking to lose weight. Having a protein intake around .6-1g per lb. of LBM for untrained individuals is a good rule of thumb. For trained individuals who are concerned about gaining/retaining muscle, somewhere in the 1-1.4g per lb of LBM would be more ideal. The ratio of carbs and fats that will be best for people will just vary from person to person. Some people respond better to high carbs/low fat while others respond better to low carbs/high fat. Generally, most people seem to respond better to the high carb/low fat approach but it really just varies so you can’t be 100% sure. Your best bet would be to start off with a moderately high carb and lower fat approach, give it some time to see how you like it and how your body responds then you can decide then if you need to make any adjustments with the ratio.
“I see what you’re saying there. Still though, if the goal is to be under a certain calorie limit, wouldn’t the deeper deficit you’re under mean you would just lose that much more weight?”
Theoretically, yes. Keep in mind though that the goal is to make this into a long term, sustainable and realistic lifestyle. While it is is true that you would lose a lot of weight initially if you dropped your calories by a large amount under your maintenance level, after awhile your weight loss would plateau. Once your weight loss plateaus you are forced to either drop the calories down more or do more cardio if you want to keep losing weight. If your calories are already so low from the beginning, you don’t have much room to keep dropping them down before they start reach dangerously low levels to where you physically cannot drop them anymore without experiencing serious adverse health effects. These effects would include destroying your hormonal balance and metabolism, which would result in severe metabolic damage. So when calories can’t be dropped anymore, more cardio has to be done. Eventually that will reach such a high amount that you can’t add anymore to that either without experiencing the same side effects as dropping the calories too low, since cardio directly manipulates calories. So when calories can’t be dropped anymore and cardio can’t be increased anymore but you STILL have a lot more fat to lose, this is when people are effectively stuck in a plateau with no choice but to gradually increase calories for awhile to get their metabolism back in a better position. Unfortunately, instead of doing that often times people will just give up hope and say how they’ve “tried everything to lose weight” and went to such extreme lengths with no success, therefore thinking that it’s physically impossible for them to get lean and that it’s just not in their genetics. This is truly unfortunate because while genetics can be important with the rate at which someone loses fat and how low they may have to drop calories, EVERYONE (barring legitimate medical conditions) can lose weight and get lean enough as long as they take the proper approach and give themselves enough time.
“Oh… Damn. That doesn’t sound good at all. So what IS the best approach?”
Dropping your calories by slow and steady increments over a long period of time is the best way to lose weight for multiple reasons. You will retain onto more muscle, your deficit won’t be as big so the diet won’t be as ‘difficult’ in nature, and it makes it more sustainable/realistic to incorporate into your lifestyle long term. Find your maintenance level of calories that you need to maintain your current weight, then lower them by about ~300-400 to get in a slight deficit which should start promoting some fat loss. Stick with those for about 2-3 weeks before making any more drops, weekly changes are usually not necessary. Aim for 1-2 lbs. a week on average. It will might be closer to 2-3 lbs. when your first start out depending on how deep of a deficit you start off with, but after some time the weight loss should slow down. To retain onto more muscle near the end of your cut it will be better to aim for more .5-1.5 lbs. a week. When your weight does plateau and it is time to make more drops, drop by about ~100 calories pulling mostly from carbs/fats.
Of course every situation will vary as no individual is the exact same, but these are basic rules of thumbs that you can start with and tweak from there. Also, while fiber isn’t a direct macronutrient, it is important to track in addition to your macros if you want to optimize results. Dietary fiber will come from carbohydrates and it can be derived from a variety of sources. About 25-30g is what is recommended for most people.
“That’s good to know. How do I find my maintenance level of calories though?”
There are some websites that you can input your stats into that can give you a rough estimate. Your best bet is to use one of those to give you a general idea of where to start at, and do some slight adjusting from there.
“Well I gotta say, this was a LOT of info but it was VERY helpful and good to know. I think I understand the concept of flexible dieting and IIFYM now. It will take sometime to get used to and fully incorporate it into my lifestyle, but it definitely sounds doable. So since I can technically eat whatever I want to reach my numbers, I want to switch it up from the boring foods and eat some out-of-the-box, tastier options to meet my numbers. What recommendations do you have?”
You came to the right place my friend. On this website you will find reviews on various macro friendly/high protein food items that are definitely more unique compared to your normal chicken and sweet potatoes. These include items such as protein ice cream, protein bars, protein chips, protein bread, and basically any other item that typically doesn’t contain a lot of protein but does for the reviewed product. Not every review is necessarily an item with high protein either. Some reviews are just over items that are really low in calories, or items that are typically very high in calories but are significantly reduced for the particular product. If any of the products catch your eye, there are direct links to purchase them in bulk.
In addition to reviews of various macro friendly snacks, I will also list a variety of healthy recipes that are macro friendly as well. This could include anything from pancakes to muffins to cookies to brownies to cake to whatever.
I hope you all enjoy your time here, and best of luck with your fitness and/or weight loss goals utilizing flexible dieting!