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 or simply Counting Macros) is simply the counting and tracking of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) to achieve a body composition goal.

In a nutshell, Flexible Dieting 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. For overall better health, 80-85% of your diet should come from nutritious whole foods

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

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What Are the Benefits?

As I’ve mentioned 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 Counting Macros

1. Calculate your Macros

If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person and want to understand the process, then check our 130-page book: The Macro Solution or read the guide on 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.

You'll Love Our Macro Solution Program

Step-by-step ebooks, or fully customized personal macros coaching. Now with complete vegan edition.

    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

310 Comments

  1. Jen 3 months ago

    Followed plan for 8 months and have lost 35lbs. Current stats: female, 5’7”, 135lbs, approx 23% body fat, 50yrs old. I workout at CrossFit 3-4 days a week. I’m currently happy with the number on the scale. I’ve reached a point where I would like to add more lean muscle mass, but not necessarily lose more weight. I’m concerned that changing my macros count to the “gain” count will increase overall weight and not just muscle. I’ve worked so hard to lose the 35 pounds, and I’m nervous to switch up my macros. How can I maintain this weight loss and add more muscle mass??

    Reply
    • James 3 months ago

      Hi Jen, congratulations on your outstanding results! Your situation is exactly why we wrote the Muscle Gain edition of the Macro Solution. To be honest it is tricky, but it is possible to slowly gain muscle without gaining much fat. That’s what the Lose 10% setting on the calculator is about. In your case your macros would probably be at the “Gain” level on your crossfit days, but then be on the Lose 10% level for your non-workout days.

      This is what we do when we create custom macros for clients (or personally coach them). They have as much as 3 different sets of macros for different days.

      You also would want to start using fat calipers to measure body fat (which, by the looks, you might already be doing), as the scales tell you nothing about your body composition.

      Reply