I hope you all know what macronutrients (macros) are, but just to cover the basics. Macros are what make up your calories, which are your protein, carbohydrates, and fat intakes.
Calories are the unit measurement of energy
1g Protein = 4 calories
1g Carb = 4 calories
1g Fat = 9 calories
So if a diet consists of 160 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbs, and 80 grams of fats, the diet has a total of 2160 calories. Got it? Great, let’s proceed.
Flexible dieting and IIFYM are commonly believed to be same. The truth is that IIFYM and flexible dieting are not the same things. IIFYM is not a diet, IIFYM stands for “if it fits your macros”, it is just a way to quantify your food intake, which just happens to be the most accurate way of doing so, as you’re tracking by the gram by weighing out each individual food. Flexible dieting, on the other hand, is a concept. IIFYM or tracking macros is simply one way (of many) in which to apply this concept.
Why Flexible Diet Is Important?
Flexible dieting can mean different things to different people. Someone who has been restricting certain foods for years and then learns about IIFYM (macro tracking) is going to feel amazingly relieved at the fact that they can now enjoy foods they love on a daily basis (within reason) and still reach their body composition goals, so as long as what they’re eating fits their macros and they are applying the 80/20 rule as best as they can.
The 80/20 rule means 80% whole nutritious foods, and 20% fun foods.
On the flip side, take someone who’s never tracked a macro in their life, say like a relative or a good friend. They come to you and tell you they just started exercising twice per week and want a little advice on fat loss. If you tell them to download a certain app and to begin tracking their macros from one day to the next, they won’t see that as flexible, they will see it as rigid, because they’ve been eating freely all their life. So as you can see; flexible is subjective, it depends on the person, its all about context.
Flexible dieting is simply how you quantify your food intake for your goals and lifestyle. This can be done by tracking calories and protein only or going by portion sizes, or full on macro counting etc. As long as the diet is not restricting food groups or certain foods because you see them as “bad”, then that is flexible dieting, in my opinion.
In order to be flexible though, you need to be educated on what is in foods, and the best way to learn this is by tracking macros, but it doesn’t mean you need to do it for the rest of your life, 365 days a year.
So What Method Of Flexible Dieting Is Best For You?
Remember, everything in context. To elaborate lets picture a girl whose name is let’s say Madison, who’s been restrictive with her food choices for years. Madison once ate what she wanted, but when she got into fitness, she immediately dropped foods she loved out of her diet, and for good.
For the record, the word diet is simply defined as the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. So technically everyone has a diet. Madison had a diet, all she did was change her diet. But when someone says “I am dieting”, most of us in the fitness community interpret that as the person being in a calorie deficit or eat a salad or something like that, where one restricts themselves of food or calories (to a degree) in order to begin weight loss. But it does not, nor should not mean to restrict oneself only to specific foods or to cut out certain foods. No foods are off limits, there are just smarter choices, hence the 80/20 rule.
Back to Madison, who is now suffering and has developed an eating disorder, is eventually taught that no foods are off limits. That if she makes smart choices, she can still enjoy her favourite foods in moderation so as long as her macros are in order. She’s given MyFitnessPal (or FatSecret app), taught how to track her macros, and now she’s free as a bird.
Now let’s take a story of a guy called Yash. Yash is just getting into lifting weights. Who is a little overweight and so his goal may be to lose 20lbs? Are we going to have him track macros right off the bat? We could, after all, if you want to make a change in your physique and/or health, it’s going to require some changes to your dietary habits. No longer can we just eat everything in sight?
But another method would be to simply have him “clean” up his diet; reducing the amount of beer he drinks, as well as soda. More veggies & fruits, more protein sources if he doesn’t do well with that, to begin with, limiting “eating out” from 5 days/week to 2 days/week, for example. While still eating enough to fuel training, and keeping an eye on the scale to ensure a roughly 1% of body weight loss per week.
Either of the above strategies will work. But as I said before, tracking macros for a period of time will help teach the individual to see what’s in food, rather than labeling something as good or bad, or healthy or not healthy. There aren’t any bad foods, just poorly structured diets. You could even combine the two approaches I just mentioned, having Yash track calories and protein only, but still making sure he consumes plenty of veggies and fruits, while not restricting any foods, moderation is key.
Real Life Story:
Personally, for me, I was much like Madison. Ate what I wanted, like you probably do or did, to be restrictive because I thought things like cookies and pizza were off limits if I wanted to get jacked and shredded. Then eventually I was shown the IIFYM way and tracked macros for years in some form or another. Most days I would track each meal, even if it wasn’t measured to the gram, or even if it was merely a guess of how much I was eating. Point is, I was always tracking in some form or another.
Now, this makes sense, if you’re currently trying to lean up for summer, a quick mini cut (4-6weeks of cut) perhaps, or maybe you’re getting ready for a photo shoot or physique competition. For most cuts or dieting phases, I recommend tracking calories & macros gram to gram, as I do myself. But, for simply bulking or maintaining, I personally think it is not required to track everything gram to gram, so I stopped tracking.. and nothing happened lol. I still make gains, I didn’t blow up into a balloon, nor did I start losing weight (which was my fear as I am typically an under-eater by nature). I track my body weight to ensure I’m eating enough to gain weight over time. But I’m still a flexible dieter, I ensure I get at least 30g of protein per meal, I eat 3-5 meals per day depending on the day, I eat fruits, veggies, I eat till I’m full but not overly stuffed, I eat what I want, where I want, even consume little bit of alcohol and sometimes I keep a tab on the back of my mind of how many calories I’ve consumed thus far. That’s easy to do and be pretty accurate when you’ve tracked macros for a period of time, and that about does it, that is my flexible dieting strategy.
Also Read: How To Make Your Diet Chart Like An Expert?
When I begin a mini cut, I track my macros to ensure I’m in the appropriate deficit, as there is less room for error at this point, and since hunger becomes an issue, I want to make sure I have my nutrition in place to help decrease hunger and fatigue as much as possible. When I’m out of the dieting phase, I return to my good old habits. Habits that were built by tracking macros for a period of time and learning what’s in foods, as well as finding an eating system that works with me and my schedule.
Final Words Regarding Flexible Dieting:
I’m not saying this is the best way to approach your flexible dieting lifestyle. Perhaps you’ve tracked macros before but found a different system that works with you and your personality. You may even track macros year round, more power to you. But personally I believe that we all have limited willpower, so if tracking macros during your bulk are becoming tiresome and just getting in the way, then just stop. As when you diet you’re already going to be distracted at the thought of tracking. Couple that with less food and more hunger, and you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Trust the things that you’ve learned about nutrition enough that you’ll be okay if you stopped tracking. You can ease yourself out of tracking by tracking only calories and protein for a while, or just calories etc. Or you can trust your habits completely and stop altogether, as I did. If you don’t mind tracking macros at all year round and it isn’t getting in the way of living your life in any way, then you should keep doing that if you want (sometimes I like doing it).
My main point in all this is that you have to find a way of flexible dieting that works for YOU. For many, this is IIFYM. Probably because you cannot get any better than quantifying what you eat than by tracking by the gram. Any system will work if you are consistent with it. But don’t be ignorant either. Many people who’ve never tracked macros will say things like “I don’t believe in macros”, or “I don’t do macros”. But that makes absolutely zero sense.
Everybody does macros, it just comes down to whether you track them or not. Do you prefer and get results tracking portion sizes? Good. Prefer tracking all 3 macros to the gram? Good. Prefer tracking calories and protein only? Good. Prefer tracking calories only? Good. Prefer not tracking a damn thing but simply just making smart food choices with the occasional “fun” food? Good. These are all methods of flexible dieting. Do what you like. I hope you all know what macronutrients (macros) are, but just to cover the basics. Macros are what make up your calories, which are your protein, carbohydrates, and fat intakes.
Yashovardhan Singh is a fitness coach with GetSetGo Fitness and a former national football player. He likes to keep a no-nonsense approach to fitness by applying scientific literature to provide results to his clients. Reach him at [email protected] for coaching.