FLEXIBLE DIETING

Don’t you dare think about a pink Elephant right now. If you start thinking about a pink Elephant I will be extremely upset. So again, please, please, please – whatever you do, do not start thinking about a pink Elephant.

As hard as you may have just tried I bet you started thinking about a pink Elephant. And if you didn’t before I bet you did just now after I mentioned it again.

What’s the point of all this pink Elephant talk?

This is what happens to most of us when we “diet.” We give ourselves all of these strict rules to follow about what foods we’re allowed to eat, not allowed to eat, what’s healthy, and what’s not healthy – that we end up obsessing about it and constantly thinking about our diets all day long. Specifically the foods we’re “not allowed to eat.”

So what happens?

A constant cycle that looks like this:

Diet — Fall off the wagon — Diet — Fall off the wagon — Diet — Fall off the wagon 

Thus, extreme frustration and “ah f*ck it syndrome” kicks it.”

WHAT IS FLEXIBLE DIETING?

One of the best things about flexible dieting is that it gets you away from the expectations of having to be perfect with you nutrition to succeed.

As the name would have you believe it’s a less rigid approach to “dieting.” There’s no strict rules you have to follow, no 30 day challenges, no foods you’re allowed to eat versus foods you’re not allowed to eat – anything is acceptable as long as it fits your macros IIFYM (more on this in a moment). Now this isn’t about justifying eating junk food but instead recognizing that you can still get a healthy body without having to follow a strict, all-in, 100% or nothing chicken and broccoli diet.

Flexible dieting is trying to get you to stop thinking about food as good and bad, clean and dirty, allowed or not allowed and instead by a foods macro nutrients. Thus, the acronym IIFYM (if it fits my macros).

Ok, so now you may be wondering WTF macronutrients are?

There are 3 basic macronutrients that most people are familiar; protein, carbohydrates, and fat. I’m going to add 1 more to that mix because people love it, alcohol. Each macronutrient represents a unit of energy or calories.

  • Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Carbohydrate: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
  • Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories

For example a pop-tart has 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, 37 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of protein. 

85/15 grass-fed beef has 240 calories, 17 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbohydrate, and 19 grams of protein

1 cup of whole raw grass-fed milk has 160 calories, 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrate, and 9 grams of protein

By doing a little math (boooooooo math!) You can see how all the macronutrients of a pop-tart add up to the 200 calories in it. 

  • 5g fat x 9 calories per gram = 45 calories
  • 37g carbohydrate x 4 calories per gram = 148 calories
  • 2g protein x 4 calories per gram = 8 calories
  • 45 + 148 + 8 = 199 calories

Now I know what you’re thinking. That’s all wonderful information Justin but just tell me how much I’m supposed to eat, what I’m supposed to eat, and when I’m supposed to eat with flexible dieting.

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR CALORIE NEEDS

There are tons of formulas out there that can help you estimate – keyword estimate, how many calories you need to be consuming each day for weight maintenance, loss, and gain but I want to keep it super simple here and avoid as much math as possible. 

WEIGHT LOSS

  • Sedentary lifestyle: bw x 10-12
  • Moderately active lifestyle: bw x 12-14
  • Active lifestyle: bw x 14-16

WEIGHT MAINTENANCE

  • Sedentary lifestyle: bw x 12-14
  • Moderately active lifestyle: bw x 14-16
  • Active lifestyle: bw x 16-18

WEIGHT GAIN

  • Sedentary lifestyle: bw x 16-18
  • Moderately active lifestyle: bw x 18-20
  • Active lifestyle: bw x 20-22

Examp150-poundound male or female trying to lose body fat that lives a sedentary lifestyle. 150 x 10-12 = 1500 to 1800 calories per day.

Ok, now here’s where we get in the weeds a little so stay with me. Because flexible dieting is all about meeting your macro’s you’ll need to figure those out.

DETERMINING YOUR MACRONUTRIENTS

Do you remember that body type article I wrote a few weeks back? If not, don’t worry about it but I’m going to use it for reference. Based on your body type we’ll determine your macro’s or how to divide up the calories you’re consuming each day.

Ectomorph 

  • 50% carbohydrate
  • 30% protein
  • 20% healthy fats 

Based on the 1500 to 1800 calories example from above your macro’s would look something like this.

  • Carbohydrates: 1500 to 1800 calories x .5 = 750 to 900 calories. Divide this by 4 calories per gram and you get 187.5 to 225 grams of carbohydrate per day.
  • Protein: 1500 to 1800 calories x .3 = 450 to 540 calories. Divided this by 4 calories per gram and you get 112.5 to 135 grams of protein per day.
  • Healthy fat: 1500 to 1800 calories x .2 = 300 to 360 calories. Divide this by 9 calories per gram and you get 33 to 45 grams of healthy fat per day.

Mesomorph

  • 40% carbohydrates
  • 30% protein
  • 30% healthy fats

Using the example of the 150 pound sedentary person looking to lose body fat their macro’s might look like this:

  • Carbohydrates: 1500 to 1800 calories x .4 = 600 to 720 calories. Divide this by 4 calories per gram and you get 150 to 180 grams of carbohydrate per day.
  • Protein: 1500 to 1800 calories x .3 = 450 to 540 calories. Divided this by 4 calories per gram and you get 112.5 to 135 grams of protein per day.
  • Healthy fat: 1500 to 1800 calories x .3 = 450 to 540 calories. Divide this by 9 calories per gram and you get 50 to 60 grams of healthy fat per day.

Endomorph 

  • 20% carbohydrates
  • 30% protein
  • 50% healthy fats

Using the example of the 150 pound sedentary person looking to lose body fat their macro’s might look like this:

  • Carbohydrates: 1500 to 1800 calories x .2 = 300 to 360 calories. Divide this by 4 calories per gram and you get 75 to 90 grams of carbohydrate per day.
  • Protein: 1500 to 1800 calories x .3 = 450 to 540 calories. Divided this by 4 calories per gram and you get 112.5 to 135 grams of protein per day.
  • Healthy fat: 1500 to 1800 calories x .5 = 750 to 900 calories. Divide this by 9 calories per gram and you get 83 to 100 grams of healthy fat per day.

Note: Here’s a great tool from James over at healthyeater.com that can help you with determining your macro’s.

A SUPER SIMPLE APPROACH TO FLEXIBLE DIETING THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE MATH

Can flexible dieting help you lose fat? Yes.

Can flexible dieting help you maintain your weight? Yes.

Can flexible dieting help you put on lean muscle? Yes.

Can flexible dieting help you to enjoy your food more and to stop obsessing about perfection? Yes, it can.

So yes, flexible dieting can be a great way for you to reach your health and fitness goals without having to worry about being perfect with your food choices.

However, I don’t want to do all that math. And I definitely don’t want to log food all day long. And I just don’t want to have to think about what I’m eating that much.

So here’s a simpler approach for flexible dieting and one that has worked for my 1 on 1 clients that I feel will work for the majority of the population.

Step 1: Take your measurements

Take your weight, girth, before and after photos, and maybe body fat percentage. You’ll need these numbers as a way to measure progress.

Step 2: Become familiar with what foods are protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat

You can use this super simple food chart as a way to familiarize yourself with some of the healthiest food choices in each category.

Step 3: Get your serving sizes right

The food chart above has some recommendations for serving sizes but below is a quick outline that if followed consistently will help you drop body fat and improve general health.

Men

  • Protein: 1 to 2 palms
  • Vegetables: 2 fists
  • Healthy fats: 1 to 2 thumbs
  • Starchy carbs and fruit: 1 fist

Women

  • Protein: 1 palm
  • Vegetables: 1 fist
  • Healthy fats: 1 thumb
  • Starchy carbs and fruit: 1 fist

Note: If you consider yourself a total noob to nutrition and want to use the hand measurements I do recommend picking up a small food scale so that you can get really good at eyeballing measurements. This is s great way to learn serving sizes quickly without having to weight and measure stuff for the rest of your life.

Step 4: Eat for you body type and goals

Deciding on our goals can be tough. Often we try to do too much at once. We want to lose fat, but also put on muscle, run a faster mile, oh and improve our crossfit times, oh yeah, and have more energy.

Just pick one. What is the most important goal that you have right now. Is it losing fat? Building muscle? Performing better? Just general health? Just pick one goal and train for that.

Above I gave you an eating outline for general health. If fat loss is your goal you may want to adjust what is above and include starchy carbs post workout only.

If building muscle is a priority you may want to start eat larger servings of protein or healthy fats.

ECTOMORPH

Because ectomorph’s usually have a higher carbohydrate tolerance this means they can usually handle more carbohydrates. A solid meal for the ectomorph would include:

Men: 2 palm sized servings of protein, 2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 3 fist sized servings of carbohydrate, and 2 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 4 to 6 eggs
  • 2 to 3 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 2 cups of raspberries
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato
  • Half an avocado

Women: 1 palm sized servings of protein, 1-2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 2 fist sized servings of carbohydrate, and 1 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 2 to 4 eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1 apple
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1/4 avocado

MESOMORPH

The mesomorph usually does will on a balanced diet (think Zone diet). A solid meal for an Meso might look like this.

Men: 2 palm sized servings of protein, 2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 2 fist sized servings of carbohydrate, and 2 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 4 to 6 eggs
  • 2 to 3 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1 cup of raspberries
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato
  • Half avocado

Women: 1 palm sized servings of protein, 1-2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 1 fist sized servings of carbohydrate, and 1 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 2 to 4 eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1/4 avocado

ENDOMORPH

Because an endomorph has a lower carbohydrate tolerance a nutritional approach that favors healthy fats, veggies, and proteins with limited high sugar fruit, grains, and starchy carbs.

I recommend that the endomorph looking to drop body fat follow two separate approaches to their nutrition. Any meal that does not follow a workout will contain mostly protein, veggies, and healthy fats. Post workout meals will add a source of carbohydrate other than a vegetable.

Men, any meal not following a workout: 2 palm sized servings of protein, 2 fist sized servings of vegetables,  and 3-4 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 4 to 6 eggs
  • 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 3/4 to 1 full avocado

Men post workout: 2 palm sized servings of protein, 2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 1 fist sized serving of low sugar fruit or starchy car, and 3 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

  • 4 to 6 eggs
  • 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 3/4 avocado

Women, any meal not following a workout: 1 palm sized servings of protein, 1-2 fist sized servings of vegetables,  and 2-3 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 2 to 4 eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 to 3/4 avocado

Women post workout: 1 palm sized servings of protein, 1-2 fist sized servings of vegetables, 1 fist sized serving of low sugar fruit or starchy carb, and 2 thumb sized servings of healthy fat.

An example breakfast could be:

  • 2 to 4 eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups of mixed vegetables
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1/2 avocado

The recommendations above are just a starting point. Because each of us operates differently you may have to adjust and fine tune the recommendations to fit your lifestyle, goals, and needs.

Step 5: Assess and don’t guess

Success breeds success and one way you will be able to see success is by measuring what you’re doing. Not only your results but your behaviors.

Retake your measurements every 2 weeks and make adjustments as needed to keep progressing. If you’ve been consistently practicing the general healthy eating habits outlined above but progress has slowed what adjustments might you need to make to keep progressing?

I also recommend using a habit tracker like this to assess how consistently you are practicing specific habits or behaviors. Maybe you haven’t progressed as much as you would have liked this week but take a how look at how consistently you made it to the gym or including veggies with each meal – does that have something to do with it?

A quick note: Progress will stall and that’s ok. Plateau’s are inevitable but keep staying consistent.

SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Oh man, you’re going to hate me for this but here goes nothing. 

You tell me. What do you think you should do?

Just pick an approach that you feel you can comply with 90% of the time and stay with it for a few weeks, measure progress, and make adjustments as you go. 

Most “diets” are going to work. It doesn’t matter much if you decide to eat 2, 4, 6, or want to practice intermittent fasting to lose fat. It doesn’t matter as much as you think if you eat carbs after 7pm. It doesn’t matter that much if you eat white or brown rice. It doesn’t matter that much if you are Paleo or not Paleo. What matters is the total calories, protein, carbs, and fat that you consume and we’ve covered two ways you can approach getting those number right.

Before you decide to take on any eating approach I’d like for you to ask yourself 6 things:

  1. Is this approach easy for me to implement into my lifestyle (i.e.: Are you confident you can stick to it 90% of the time?)
  2. Has this approach been proven to be effective
  3. Is this approach sustainable for me over an extended period of time. Not just the next 3 months but for years down the line.
  4. Will I enjoy this approach to healthier eating or lifestyle for that matter. If you don’t fall in love with the process it’s very likely you will not make much progress.
  5. Will this approach to nutrition make me go insane?
  6. Does this approach to nutrition need me to go “all or nothing,” is it too rigid, and is it realistic?

There should be no forbidden foods. No cheat days. No confusing rules. You should never feel guilty for going “off your plan.” Eating should be enjoyable, easy, and effective for you based on your goals. 

Long story short eat more real food in the right amounts and do this consistently and you’ll do pretty darn well for yourself. 

Chat soon,

Justin

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