What is Flexible Dieting? Here’s How to Get Started

My experience with many diets led me to believe some foods are good for you and some foods are bad for you. The way you lost weight was determined by the foods you cut out of your diet and so on.

Chicken + Rice = Good. Ice Cream + Lollies = Bad.

“Eat clean” used to be my mantra. Until now.

Flexible dieting has been recently gaining momentum as a revolutionary new way of eating.

Flexible Dieting Google Search

Flexible Dieting Google Search

What is Flexible Dieting?

Flexible Dieting (also known as If It Fits Your Macros) is simply the counting of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to achieve a body composition goal.

In a nutshell, Flexible Dieting IIFYM can be summed up in three steps:

Step 1: Calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) based on your current weight and exercise.

Step 2: Calculate your macros in ratios that help you reach your desired goal.

Step 3: Track your food intake and try to meet your TDEE and macro limits each day.

Counting Macros
Macronutrients or Macros make up the majority of our diets.

There are three main macros: Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate. One gram of each macro has a calorie value.

  • 1 Gram of Protein = 4 Calories
  • 1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
  • 1 Gram of Fat = 9 Calories

Rather than typical calorie counting (e.g. Eating 2000 cals a day) Flexible Dieters track macronutrients (e.g. Eating 150g Protein, 80g Fat, 170g Carbohydrate = 2000 cals) which more effectively influences body composition rather than just weight loss or gain.

Flexible Dieting follows the belief that there are no miracle weight loss foods. No good or bad foods, just macro ratios.

For example:

McGrilled Chicken Burger:

  • 25g Protein
  • 33g Carbohydrate
  • 15g Fat

OR

Brown Rice and Tuna 

  • 25g Protein
  • 33g Carbohydrate
  • 15g Fat

Both are the same macros and so both will achieve the same results in your body composition.

When food enters your stomach your body isn’t thinking “Healthy or unhealthy?” it is simply breaking down the food and processing the macronutrients.

Essentially, to change your body you can eat whatever you want so long as you hit your macro goals. This was demonstrated in the twinkie diet.

To maintain and improve overall health, although not necessary to change your body, I’d recommended tracking your fiber intake as well. This will ensure that you are getting enough micronutrients as well.

The American Heart Association recommends eating 14g of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.

iifym

What Are the Benefits?

As I’ve mention before I’ve experimented with a wide range of different diets. All of them have their merits but Flexible Dieting is by far my favorite (and one I continue to follow today).

Below I’ll give three reasons why:

1. Effective

The most important tool in weight loss is understanding that a calorie deficit is necessary for losing weight.

Although quality is still important, quantity is the greater determining factor in weight loss or gain. If you’re not in a calorie deficit you can eat all the “good foods” you want and go nowhere.

By tracking everything that enters your mouth you stop the guess-work and take control over how & when you reach your goals. Tracking, whether it’s your macros or calories, is hands down the most effective way to change your body. (Read about how Jim lost 88 pounds by doing this)

2. Flexible (Duh)

Flexible dieting is just that: Flexible.

By focusing on your macronutrient intake rather than eating certain foods you can still achieve your goals while enjoying life with everyone else. You can have your cake and eat it too! 

One of the challenges I’ve always found around dieting was the awkward social element. There’s only so many dinners you can bring Tupperware containers full of rice and chicken to without feeling like a complete a-hole. Research shows that a more flexible approach leads to less anxiety, and more successful weight management.

By allowing yourself flexibility you can join in on meals with families and friends, so long as you keep track of what you’re eating.

3. Sustainable

For years my cycle would look the same. I’d set myself a super restrictive way of eating and then “Diet, Diet, Diet, Binge…Diet, Diet, Diet, Binge”.

I had such an unhealthy view of eating and because of that I never really stuck to anything long enough to get results.

I didn’t realize that food is not just physical it’s also psychological.

Flexible Dieting is the first thing that I’ve been stick to consistently over a long period of time. From my research and experience, it seems to kill the “Diet, Binge” cycle many of us have found ourselves on.

Because you can eat whatever you want (in moderation) it’s more mentally & emotionally sustainable. 

How to Get Started

1. Calculate your Macros

If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person and want to understand the process, then check our new Flexible Dieting Solution or read the guide to setting your macros.

2. Count Your Macros

This way of eating is all about tracking and measuring your macro intake.

My Food Diary is a great app for beginners. For more advanced users, MyFitnessPal (iOS or Android)  is an option (although can be tricky to setup).

3. Buy a Food Scale

A lot of nutritional information is available on food packaging, however, a scale will ensure you accurately track what you eat.

Without overstating it, I feel flexible dieting has completely revolutionized what and how I eat. I love having the ability to eat with family and friends, I’m seeing great results and I can see myself doing this for years to come.

MORE: See how Ted dropped to 8.6 percent body fat by using flexible dieting.

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    Scientific Reference:

  • Smith, C. F., Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H. (1999). Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite, 32(3), 295-305. URL

298 Comments

  1. Debbie 1 day ago

    Hi. can you still have alcohol on this program? also, I have been tracking Macros in my fitness pal and in one part it says I still have a percentage of carb, fat, protein to get to but then when I go to macros the percentages show different. what should I be looking at , am I supposed to be reaching the calorie/macro on the view page. (I have set it up to show the macros I have remaining for the day.
    I hope that makes sense?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 6 mins ago

      Hi Debbie, you can have alcohol, but be sure to track it. MFP will add it to your calories but they won’t deduct it from your macros. You should take your alcohol calories from your carb allotment. As for tracking, you should be looking at grams and not percentages for tracking purposes. MFP is always changing percentages based on your total intake so far for a day.

      Reply
  2. Mike 5 months ago

    “When food enters your stomach your body isn’t thinking ‘Healthy or unhealthy?’ it is simply breaking down the food and processing the macronutrients.” –Food is much more than just macronutrients. Whole and minimally-processed foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, zoochemicals, and other health-promoting agents. Highly processed foods are missing a lot of these compounds while being packed with trans-fats, texturizing agents, stabilizers, and artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. If someone values their long-term health and what they look like on the INSIDE, they would be wise to compose 80% of their diet from whole and minimally-processed foods and leaving the other 20% for whatever they want. THAT is what flexible dieting is about.

    Reply
    • Mike 5 months ago

      People need to be taught to understand what they’re putting into their bodies and that food is not just macronutrients.

      Brown Rice and Tuna ingredients: Brown rice, tuna fish.

      McDonalds Chicken Sandwich ingredients: Chicken [Chicken Breast Fillets with Rib Meat, Water, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL), Wheat Flour, Bread Crumbs (Wheat Flour, Vinegar, Sea Salt, Baking Soda, Inactive Yeast, Natural Flavor), Potato Starch, Buttermilk (Cultured Nonfat Milk, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3), Salt, Citric Acid, Rice Starch, Palm Oil, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Natural Flavors, Spices, Baking Soda, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin]; Roll [Wheat Flour or Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour or Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Malted Barley Flour, Water, Sugar, Yeast, Palm Oil, Wheat Gluten, Dextrose, Salt, Contains 2% or Less: Natural Flavors, Corn Flour, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Peroxide, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Vegetable Proteins (Pea, Potato, Rice), Sunflower Oil, Turmeric, Paprika, Corn Starch, Wheat Starch, Acetic Acid]; Sauce [Water, Soybean Oil, Maltodextrin, Modified Food Starch, Enzyme Modified Egg Yolk, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Spices, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Lemon Juice Concentrate, Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavor, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA to protect flavor]; Tomato; Lettuce.

      Reply
  3. Michelle 6 months ago

    Hi there, I’m feeling a bit stumped. I’m a pescatarian (and at that fish isn’t even a daily thing in my diet) and I have no idea how to get 75 gm of protein per day, which is what was calculated for my macros on the low end of protein. I feel like 95 gm (the normal amount) is completely unattainable for me. I workout about 6 x/week which is a change from 2 months ago, and I’ve certainly upped my attempts to get more protein. But I think at my best day maybe I’m around 65-75 gm.

    Reply
    • Ted 5 months ago

      Hi Michelle, It is difficult for vegetarians to get all the protein in without going over on carbs especially. I would recommend a high-quality vegan protein supplement and do some research about how vegan athletes meet their protein requirements.

      Reply
    • SimplyMo 5 months ago

      If you are ok with using supplements, you can buy a lot a of plant-based/vegan protein supplements from chain stores like target and wal-mart. You’re not alone in struggling to hit your protein goals. I eat meat and I still have to use protein supplements

      Reply
  4. hcornetto 12 months ago

    I’m curious if, when counting carbs, it is done similar to how low carb diets do where the “net carbs” are calculated, or if this plan does not differentiate between carbs and net carbs.

    Reply
    • Ted 12 months ago

      Hi there, In a technical sense only net carbs are the carbs that are supplying energy so they should be counted, But, this is difficult because many nutritional labels and trackers don’t take this into consideration. It’s easier to just count total carbs and then use your fiber amount as a bit of a buffer. If you go over your total carbs by 15 grams, but have eaten 25 grams of fiber, you’re still in good shape.

      Reply
  5. Gina Visser

    Does flexible dieting only work for weight lifters & cross fitters? I’m not allowed to lift heavy, but I do have a bit of weight to lose so I’ve started a cardio and resistance training regimen, and would like to know if iifmm works for ‘normal’ active ppl as well as bodybuilder types. Can’t find anything on the topic.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Gina, It sure does and even works if someone does no exercise. Please see the weight loss edition of my book. It will guide you through the process step-by-step. https://healthyeater.com/ebook

      Reply
  6. Crystal

    I just purchased the personal coaching and filled out he questionnaire. I never received a confirmation that it was completed successfully. Should I fill it out again? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Crystal, Sorry I don’t believe there is a confirmation for that. I got it and just completed your plan and sent everything to you just now. If you don’t get the email, please let me know. I look forward to coaching you!

      Reply
  7. Veronica

    Sorry also I want both to loose weight and to gain muscle shall I buy both books?

    Reply
  8. Veronica

    Just want to know how do I know the food composition, I know I need 160 g carbs 100 protein and 39 g fat, but how do I know how much of those each food contains? Does the book help in that sense? Also I change my training everyday I might be doing 3 times a week running and twice some kind of workout with light weights, does my intake change? Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Veronica, It looks like you’ve bought the book. Thank you! 🙂 Reach out to me in the members only forum if you have additional questions after reading. And we can also talk about your goal of gaining muscle as well. No need to buy both.

      Reply
  9. Hozzy

    Nice write-up. Thanks for sharing. I have been using IIFYM a.k.a. Flexible Dieting for a while now and have lost 10 pounds of (mostly) fat! I wrote an article about the subject. Maybe there are different ‘cues’ in my article that will resonate with people! Hope this helps: http://ironandgrit.com/2015/10/24/if-it-fits-your-macros-iifym-flexible-dieting

    Reply
  10. ShemenSasson

    The link at the end of this section is broken; can you tell me where I might read about this topic?:

    “I had such an unhealthy view of eating and because of that I never really stuck to anything long enough to get results.

    I didn’t realize that food is not just physical it’s also psychological.”

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • JamesF

      The article was a great piece by Layne Norton. Unfortunately the site seems to have removed that article (and a number of others). We have linked to another good article about the psychological cues to eat.

      Reply
      • ShemenSasson

        Thanks!

        Reply
  11. Autumn

    I’m a little confused because if I choose the McDonald’s over the rice and tuna the McDonald’s has very high sodium which will make me bloat a lot. My daily sodium intake is 2,300. One meal would take up half of that easily. Maybe my macros are just off? I eat 1,200 calories a day. Protein is 135. Carbs are 60 and fat is 47g.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Autumn, That example was just comparing calories and macros of the two. Of course, the overall nutrition (micronutrients) of each is very different. It does seem like your macros are pretty low especially if you exercise daily.

      Reply
  12. JennyB

    Hi there, I am just coming off a 6week 10 lb weight loss based on restricted calories. I am ready to ease back into a higher calorie intake. Do I need to do it slowly to protect my body composition or can I go from 1200 calories to your calculator suggestion (about 2200) fairly quickly. I’m still looking to lean out a bit.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Jenny, Great job on your weight loss. It can be a good idea to ease into a higher calorie plan if you’ve been pretty restrictive for a time period. Perhaps add 100 more calories every other day and see how your body responds.

      Reply
  13. lopez2017

    I’d like to post this questions again: Hi, so if my initial calorie intake given to me by the calculator tool was 1,687 (221C, 95P, 47F) and I’m readjusting it to lose weight (1,345 calories), wouldn’t/shouldn’t my macros be adjusted, too? Or do they stay the same?

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi There, I’m a bit confused by your question. The calculator readjusts everything for you, macros and all, when you select “lose”.

      Reply
      • lopez2017

        Hi,

        Yes, it did readjust it for me! However, I’m referring to the line in the article “How to Calculate Your Macros” that reads: If you want to lose weight I recommend dropping your overall calories by no more than 20% to start with – So in the example, this would take the guys calories from 3,250 to 2,600 for weight loss.

        That is where I got 1,345 calories (1,687×0.2). I just wasn’t sure if I’m supposed to adjust my macros with this new calorie intake.

        Reply
        • Ted

          When you click “lose” on the calculator it deducts the 20% automatically fro your maintenance TDEE.

          Reply