Flexible Dieting Is About Creating Sustainable Habits
Flexible Dieting is an approach that places an emphasis on energy balance and ratios of macronutrients.
It's an approach that has a lot of experts backing it as a superior approach to that of traditional (read clean) dieting approaches. But is it all that it's cracked up to be? Is it without consequence? The answers may surprise you.
As a personal anecdote, flexible dieting single handedly helped me mend a damaged relationship with food. I went from spending a whole year without eating burgers and thinking that was a great idea to understanding that one bad or good meal won't break or make my dieting success. If you find that you treat eating as a chore, filled with anxiety and guilt, flexible dieting just might be the answer you're looking for.
In reality, it's not sexy or special. It's a technique that simply allows you to place emphasis on calorie and macros rather than the specific foods you're eating. It allows you to forget the stigma of most foods you're friends enjoy but somehow you've demonized for yourself. If eating sucks for you, then flexible dieting might be the answer.
Flexible Dieting Can Change Your Relationship With Food
Unfortunately, many people who follow a traditional strict diet, often develop a dysfunctional relationship with food.
By being so strict with intake, any deviation from typical intake can manifest in depression, poor body image and guilt. I've personally been there and it's a rough situation to be in. You want to be able to enjoy food by yourself and with friends but there's this nagging voice in your head or a literal feeling of your body changing because you've eaten something "unhealthy." It's rough and there often seems like there isn't anything you can do about it.
Fortunately, by placing an emphasis on macronutrient and total calorie intake, rather than strictly adhering to only specific foods, Flexible Dieting can all but abolish this sort of unhealthy relationship with food. It's sort of a strange shift in perception regarding food. Rather than simply labeling certain foods as "good" or "bad," you're classifying foods and ingredients as a certain amount of calories and a certain ratio of macronutrients.
Pizza is a common one. Original perception for me at least was always that pizza was "a bad food" and thus when I ate it, I binged and then felt bad about it. Now, my perception is more so that it's a common food that tastes good, comprised of primarily carbohydrate and fat. From here, I typically make a pact with myself regarding eating pizza.
When I plan to eat pizza, I typically make sure that I have a small snack before or after eating the pizza, comprised of protein and fiber. Doing so allows me to 1. make a subpar meal in terms of nutrition a decent one and 2. I fill up a bit on protein and fiber so that I eat less pizza overall.
In this situation, I've transformed a shitty meal in terms of macronutrients into a beneficial one, while being able to enjoy the pizza without feeling bad about it.
Being able to consume desirable food and not feel bad about it, can actually motivate you to stick to your diet, not too mention allow you to be happy while doing it while not depriving yourself of things that are enjoyable in life.
Typically people only stay on diets until they've reached their goals. It's what happens after the diet ends that really matters. If you lose 10 pounds on the diet, only to gain it back and then some a month later, the diet was a failure, not a success.
Flexible Dieting Does Create Habits That Can Be Negative
Despite the fact that Flexible Dieting can mend a bad relationship with food, it can also create one.
The fact that IIFYM (Flexible Dieting) allows you to consume less than optimal foods as long as it fits, can begin to create bad habits that are sustained after cessation of the dieting plan. If you aren't eating these high calorie, highly enjoyable foods in moderation, you can begin to create habits that end up making you worse off.
This is especially important for people that don't have a good grasp of how nutrition and metabolism works. People see successful flexible dieters eating pizza and poptarts and have a hard time understanding that 80% of the time, these people aren't eating pizza and poptarts. Their consuming large amounts of quality foods such as lean protein and fiber rich vegetables.
Consuming ice cream and pop tarts multiple times a day while your on the diet and being within your macronutrient goals, may work for some time but can become a bad habit. If you happen to cease diligently tracking, these habits may continue and can wreak havoc on your physique and your emotions.
The keystone of a successful diet, in my opinion, is the level of sustainability it provides. How you respond once you've "stopped dieting" matters more than anything else. As I mentioned earlier, I'm of the belief that if you lost weight on a diet and then gained it all and then some back, the diet was a failure.
Think for a moment of two different individuals, starting in the same position in terms of ability, body weight and mental standpoint with regards to nutrition. Both begin to practice flexibile dieting.
Person 1 places a primary emphasis on healthy foods, such as lean protein and fiber rich vegetables. However, each day, they allow themselves to eat foods they enjoy such as pizza, ice cream, popcorn, etc. yet, within their calorie budget. This person tracks diligently but knows eventually he won't want to track intake anymore.
Person 2 does not place a primary emphasis on quality foods and eats junk all of the time, yet still within their calorie budget.
In this situation, which do you think will be more successful, long-term, once they've decided to "stop dieting?"
If you guessed person 1, you're probably right. Consider for a moment that you probably won't want to track calories diligently for the rest of your life. In the scenario above, person 1 has created positive habits of eating beneficial foods most of the time, while indulging some of the time. Doing so puts them in a prime position to be able to stop tracking intake, since their focusing on low calorie density foods most of the time. The chance that they will significantly overeat calories is small, even if they aren't tracking. This scenario creates a habit of intuitive eating that makes sense for the goal.
Person 2 on the other hand has created bad habits. If they stop tracking, it will be quite easy for them to over eat. Consider for a moment how many calories are in a pizza. Having 2-3 pieces isn't too bad since, depending on the pizza, it might set you back 400-500 calories. However, if you aren't tracking, it's quite easy to let things get away from you. Now you're eating 5or 6 pieces of pizza on top of some appetizers and maybe beer. You've turned what was an acceptable amount of food for a meal into enough calories for an entire day.
Just focusing on calories and not the quality of the food your eating is a huge mistake that those new to flexible dieting make. Just because it's acceptable to eat some of the time doesn't provide permission to just eat whatever you want. Be rational and reasonable and you'll be able to use flexible dieting to your advantage.
Verdict On Flexible Dieting
The attractive thing about Flexible Dieting is that you can consume more of the foods you desire, while still being on track with your diet.
However, typically people only stay on diets until they've reached their goals. It's what happens after the diet ends that really matters. If you lose 10 pounds on the diet, only to gain it back and then some a month later, the diet was a failure, not a success.
Flexible Dieting in a sense, saved my life. It's freed up tons of mental resources knowing that it's okay to consume foods that I once labeled "unhealthy."
Just remember that if you aren't in control, it's easy to let things get away from you. In fact, I've experienced just that. Otherwise, it's a great technique to release yourself from nutritional pergatory and finally take back the reigns. In no time you'll have the physique you desire and you'll do with ease and enjoyment.
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