What is Flexible Dieting?

July 30th, 2014 by


“Flexible” Dieting …

(perhaps a bit long, but read it)

The term “flexible dieting” has become very popular as of late and many people associate it with the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) way of eating, which if you’re a regular follower of LBC (and CWT) you already know we don’t quite subscribe to that application. 

What we often see these days is people “bragging” that they’re a flexible dieter and down with all the “clean eaters”. There has become so much dietary polarity on the internet in recent times with the “IIFYMers” on one side and the “clean eaters” and “bros” on the other. And if you CHOOSE to eat “clean” you’re called a bro and the #doyouevenscience hashtag is condescendingly thrown at you. IIFYMers, like clean eaters however, have become almost arrogant in their position, behaving like the enlightened and scoffing at anyone who takes a different approach.

What these myopic viewpoints fail to consider is that flexible dieting and “clean eating” are not mutually exclusive nutritional strategies. You can be a flexible dieter AND a “clean eater” (I am putting the term “clean eating” in quotations because while there is no universally agreed upon definition for this term, most of us know what we’re talking about when it’s used). You can subsist on a diet of predominately whole foods and STILL be a flexible dieter. I figured this was common sense, but you know what they say about common sense …

But I am getting off track here. Here’s the issue I take with all of this, “rah, rah, flexible dieting, I get to eat whatever I want.” I get that. We’re all for breaking away from unnecessary dietary rigidity, abolishing the Good Foods vs Bad Foods list and so on. However, I think many of these people bragging on flexible dieting are missing the entire point of flexible dieting, at least in terms of how WE define it.

Flexible dieting is not simply being able to eat whatever you want (whole food, single-ingredient foods or otherwise “unclean” foods). Sure, that’s flexible in the sense that you don’t have to eat only X number of foods and not have any dietary variety; sure, that’s flexible in terms of food choices. So, this is the counter to the “clean eating” dogma. But just as I’ve written many times about the Diet Prison, just being able to eat a larger variety of foods does not mean you’re not still in a Diet Prison. What you see so, so often is simply the substitution of one dietary prison (food type/good vs bad food rules, etc.) for another dietary prison – math, excel sheets, and calculators – all to “fit it into your macros”. How is that “flexible”? You’re still locked into a significant type of dietary rigidity. Now I get that some dietary rigidity is definitely required, as after all, the AMOUNT of food consumed is the primary driver of what happens with the physical appearance of your body and we need to control that, but this is still not all that “flexible” my opinion. In fact, as I mentioned, it is potentially just another prison … even if you can’t see the prison bars around you. We’ve had several clients try their hand at this or leave to try it only to come back. Why? They wanted no part of the numerical obsession. Point is, it’s not for everyone.

I’ll add that the last thing a long-term or serial dieter needs is more numerical obsession; too much focus on details and not enough focus on mastering behaviour and process.

THAT is not “flexible” dieting.

Flexible dieting is much bigger than simply allowing more variety into your diet; flexible dieting, REAL flexible dieting is a MINDSET and an ATTITUDE towards food, dieting, etc. In my opinion, this anal retentive need to perfectly hit macronutrient goals for the day is majoring in the minor. Being an obsessive number cruncher and calculator carrier does not line up with the MINDSET of flexible dieting. “Oh darn, I’m a few grams off from the macros my diet says I have to have, so I can’t have this.” Sure you can, who cares? It’s REASONABLY CLOSE. Adjust elsewhere in the day.
Hit your calories first and foremost. Get reasonably close to your macro goals. You do NOT have to perfectly “fit your macros”. Just as clean eating is not a fat-loss requirement, neither is perfectly hitting your macros.

The mindset of a true flexible dieter is that of a lifestyle, not a set of rules. It’s a way of thinking about food, diet, exercise, your fitness journey, etc. When you go out to eat at a restaurant with your spouse, friends or family, you can relax and just enjoy the meal for what it is, a good meal. You’re not thinking about the macros and calories, you’re not plugging the meal into an app to count it, you’re not pulling out a pocket scale to count everything. That’s the difference between the mindset of a dieter (IIFYM, clean eating or whatever your dieting permutation is) and the mindset of someone living a healthy/fitness lifestyle – a true flexible dieter. And that’s the change that will lead you to be in long-term control of this area of your life. Isn’t this what we all want?

There is nothing “flexible” about going out to a restaurant for a big, fat cheeseburger and having to fit it into your macros.

Summer BBQs? Flexible dieting is going and relaxing and enjoying an off plan meal without worrying about how much protein, carbs, fat or calories you are about to eat. Forget your calculator or your portable food scale? “Oh darn, I’ll be back. I have to go home and get it.” What is so flexible about that? That’s just another prison.

I went out for lunch today with my wife to an authentic Mexican restaurant. Here’s a picture of what I ate. You expect me to “fit this in my macros”? How do you suggest I do that? Even with a laptop, Microsoft Excel, a food scale and a calculator in my pocket. Since I can’t, should I have chosen another restaurant? Really flexible there.

No. I saw this for what it was – an off-plan meal on a sunny afternoon that I sat down to enjoy without even one thought about macros or calories. Next meal? Back on my plan. That is flexible dieting – a mindset. You’ll know when you’re a flexible dieter and it has little to do with food variety.