Would you like to eat what you want and get shredded?
This is the basic premise of the “flexible dieting” approach. It’s also known as “if it fits your macros” or “macros diet plan”. This is because it focuses on the protein, fats, and carbohydrates of your diet – ‘you don’t need to worry about anything else’.
What is it?
Flexible dieting takes the calories-in, calories-out approach to the logical conclusion. You only have to keep under your maintenance calories in order to lose weight. IIFYM/Flexible dieting suggests that you don’t have to worry about anything else – just balance your calories and macros and you can eat anything to achieve that.
After all, the macros are the bits of your diet structure that make up calories, so it will work: you’ll lose weight if you stick with IIFYM and keep your calories/macros on track. There are good examples online (the most popular being Matt Ogus) so it must work, right?
The Problem with Flexible Dieting
“Flexible” dieting just isn’t a good idea.
It can be helpful in losing weight and its one of the best ways to diet as a beginner who is still trying to get used to practicing self-discipline. It doesn’t stop you eating what you want – you just have to balance the macros. Getting all your calories from birthday cake is fine: you’ll still lose weight – shredded YouTube gurus do it!
Well, the problem is that it works if you’re only concerned with fat loss. The health problems it brings if pushed to the logical extreme are awful. If you’re only worried about your macros, then you can eat all your carbs as sugar, all your fats as melted butter, and all your protein from hot dogs.
The problem with this? It’s disgustingly toxic for your health, you’ll crash your hormones, increase your risk of diabetes and your blood will be 40% lard. The problem with flexible dieting is this: a total disregard for the composition of calories and macros.
We’re going to dig into this a bit more
Why a Macro Isn’t a Macro
A calorie is a calorie, but the source counts.
To start with, a fat isn’t just a fat. Words like “fats” or “carbs” don’t describe anything specific. They’re umbrella terms for a huge variety of different compounds. Saturated fats and Omega-3 fats fall under the same banner, but they have totally different effects on your body.
If you’re going to track macros, you need to understand that each macro breaks down further. Fats are Saturated or unsaturated (and there are mono- and poly-unsaturated fats), carbs are sugars or starches (and fiber – but that’s weird), and proteins are actually just combinations of 21 different amino acids. It’s not as simple as getting your carbs in.
The short version is this: calories and macronutrients will determine how much you lose/gain, and what that weight is, but it’s a small part of your overall diet for health and performance.
What’s Left to Fix?
Micronutrients are a key part of any diet. A flexible diet totally steamrolls their important in the diet and prioritises macronutrients. The problem is that macronutrients are far less important for your health.
Deficiency in a variety of nutrients is going to be a problem if you’re living on cornbread and protein shakes. Even from a practical point of view, it’s going to hamstring your progress in the gym and your weight loss –a lack of vitamin B, D or Omega-3 fats will hamper recovery and progress. (Spoilers: protein shakes don’t contain much vitamin D)
Can Flexible Dieting Work for You?
Flexible dieting can work. It just depends on who you are and what your goals are.
The main group that should use it are those transitioning from a “normal” diet (the one that got them fat in the first place) to a healthy diet. It’s easier if you take the route of flexible dieting then slowly clean up your food choices. Jumping in head first with a restrictive diet is a fast way to fail.
A certain level of flexibility is good for everyone, however. If you take a healthy diet and treat yourself now and then with a cake or a kebab, you won’t die or get diabetes. You’ll feel like crap and carry some extra water weight, but that’s your choice. Where it starts to be a problem is when these ‘cheat’ foods are the majority.
Try and aim for a 90% clean diet but don’t worry if your last 10% is foods that you enjoy. If your diet drives you nuts and you feel too restricted, a little fun here and there is going to be a big help.
Flexible dieting teaches us that the best diet is the one you can stick to! You don’t need to live on fast food and protein shakes, but you can learn from it and add elements to your own diet when you’re bored of chicken and broccoli. Just keep it balanced!