I'm not about to get all preachy on you, and I'm definitely not about to profess that I'm any kind of nutritionist or dietician. But I'm here to tell you about a way of eating that could completely change your life. No kidding - this really is a game changer on so many levels.
People that know me will know how cross I get when I hear of people doing crazy tea detox diets, juice diets, the 'eat celery only for 3 days a week' diets. They're crazy, and they might work in the short-term (as far as helping you shed a load of water, and quite possibly muscle, along with a teeny bit of body fat) but they're not designed to be long-term. To be frank, I wouldn't go near them.
I found out about flexible dieting through some fitness enthusiasts I started following on Instagram last summer. Up until then, I had tried so-called 'clean eating', that lasted about 5 minutes. A cheat day turned into a cheat week. I tried doing the 'no sugar' thing. No thanks - seriously, no chocolate ever again? Well that just sucked the joy out of life. If you're relating to any of this, please do read on, I promise I'm going somewhere... Oh and let's not get me started on people referring to foods as 'good' or 'bad'; 'healthy' or 'naughty'; and associations with guilt, having to 'earn' food or, on the other hand, having to burn it off the moment it's touched your lips. How is that a good relationship with food? When you stop and think about it, how often are you subjected to this on a daily basis? Doesn't paint a pretty picture, does it?
Flexible dieting (often referred to as 'IIFYM' or If It Fits Your Macros) is, I suppose, quite a mathematical and scientific way of looking at your nutritional intake. But while the sciencey and mathy bits took me a few days to get to grips with (not my finest moments at school), the trade off is now having an extremely healthy relationship with food. Here's some basics to get you started (and some CRACKING news for anyone who has struggled on a diet)
- Flexible dieting means you can lose weight by eating what you want. No more horrifically crazy diets or tea-toxing. Anything goes, in moderation.
- Your calories are based on YOU. Your activity, how active (or sedentary) you are, how tall you are, your age etc etc.
- Calories are all made up of three primary macronutrients - protein, fat and carbohydrates (things like alcohol and fibre are a little different). While calories are still important, how you make up those calories is more important. You'll get by each day by counting macros. Finding foods you like to fit your macros is actually like a fun puzzle!
- Flexible dieting works whether you're looking to lose weight, maintain a weight or gain weight. Once you've cracked it, it's perfect in all scenarios - so it's completely sustainable. And because you're never having to deprive yourself of that doughnut, or bowl of ice cream, you're less likely to fall off the wagon.
- It requires you to get to grips with what most foods are made up of, as far as its macros (macronutrients) go. I never believed I was an idiot when it came to food, but I was surprised to find that certain things I liked actually were much higher in carbs, for example. Do I still want them? Hell yeah. Can I make them fit my macros? Hell yeah!
- It's easy in the early days to get carried away and just add all the foods you want to eat. But you'll soon start to realise that you aren't going to feel amazing if your only source of carbs is from endless bags of haribo. It's not to say they can't make up 20% of your carb allowance, if that's what you want.
- Foods just have different nutritional values; no foods are good, bad, naughty, nice. Gone are the days of feeling guilt for eating a doughnut. You track it, (fats and carbs, by the way) and you account for it. You wanted it, you had it! Simple!
- Flexible dieting will improve your relationship with food by a zillion percent. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but you really will look at what you eat differently, and in a much better light.
- Personally, I follow a 80/20 rule with mine. 80% of my diet is filled with 'whole' foods - often referred to as clean eating, but that isn't really a phrase that means anything. It's stuff like tonnes of green veg, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fish, rice, quinoa. After I've figured out about 80% of my eating day, I fill the other 20% with the stuff like a doughnut, ice cream, some chocolate, a bit of cake to celebrate someone's birthday, a glass of wine.
- It's called flexible for a reason. Sticking to your calories is a guide, one day you might be a little over, the next a little under. On a saturday, you might want to eat more. That's fine... it's flexible. That doesn't mean that you should consistently under or over-eat, but I almost guarantee that overeating won't happen regularly. You won't be living a life of deprivation, and having a bit of what you fancy, every day should you wish, goes a really long way.
- Flexible dieting isn't for everyone - but if you're chasing a goal and not getting anywhere, I'd really urge you to try it.
- And lastly, it's not really a diet. It's definitely more of a lifestyle choice. You have control and choice, you can get that control back and enjoy having choice again.
Want to get started? There are calculators to help you figure out what your daily energy expenditure are (this is the basis for which you'd work out what you need for fuel, based on your goals of trying to lose or gain weight). Try http://whataremymacros.com/ to get started. The My Fitness Pal app will be your best friend for helping you to track (a word of caution, if you've calculated any exercise you'd do into your macros calculation, don't add exercise into MFP again - it's double-counting) .
If you want to know more, I'd really recommend you invest in this little book by James H Mayfield. At the time I wrote this, it was less than a fiver. Probably less than your lunch cost!
All of this has been written from my own experience and some snapshots from James' book that I refer to every time I'm changing my goals - I give myself a refresh and I'm reminded that this is THE best choice for me, the doughnut-loving weight lifter. This is literally a snapshot - there is so so SO much more to flexible dieting than I can summarise here, but I hope it has whet your appetite to find out more.
I hope you take something away from reading this, and I'd love to hear from you if you have any questions or want to tell me about your experiences.