You’ve likely heard of IIFYM, or “if it fits your macros”, right? Well, if not, you’re in for a treat. Also termed flexible dieting, IIFYM has been the big craze for the past year or so, and for good reason.
Flexible dieting is exactly as it sounds; having a flexible approach to your diet or nutrition program. I’m a huge fan of this way of eating. I use it; my clients use it; and most people who I know who use it get tremendous results, not just in their appearance, but also in their relationship with food.
Many people will challenge flexible dieting and say that it doesn’t work, but that is either due to their opinion on not liking the method or because they are just not utilizing it correctly. Flexible dieting works for a very simple reason, and that is the basic rule of “calories in versus calories out”. Of course genetics play a role, but this is how you lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight and it’s a basic rule of thermodynamics. If you eat more calories than your body expends during a day, you will gain weight. If you eat less calories than you expend, you will lose weight. If you eat the same amount of calories that you expend, you will maintain your weight and there will be no change. This is why ANY diet works; it’s about caloric restriction.
The reason I love flexible dieting is because it’s more than just about the external results; it’s about the relationship you develop with yourself and food. If you are the type to eat the same meal, or two different types of meals 5 to 6 times per day, and then on the seventh day you engorge yourself with all of the junk food you “couldn’t” have during the week (I was once one of these people), you need to try flexible dieting. The practice of 6 days eating “clean” and then having a “cheat day” is called an eating disorder. It’s called binge eating, whether you want to agree with it or not. We just label it as acceptable in this industry because so many people are doing it. The reason these binge episodes occur is because you are depriving yourself of foods that you like. You are telling yourself that you can’t have certain foods throughout the week, but that, on Sunday, you can have as much as you want. This leads to binge eating and weight gain. Flexible dieting solves this problem. It allows you to give into cravings or have certain foods that you wouldn’t consider favorable to your physique, yet after consuming them, you are still right on track with your goals because you hit your macronutrient values by the end of the day and your caloric intake is exactly where it needs to be.
Now I’ll be the first one to say that having 30 grams of carbs coming from skittles is nowhere near as beneficial if those 30 grams of carbs were coming from a sweet potato, in terms of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, it’s nice to know that if one day you’re craving some skittles, you could plug in 1 or 2 ounces of a serving and substitute them for a carb source coming from a meal that you just didn’t want to eat that day. And the best part is that you won’t feel guilty or like you just failed yourself because you had some junk food; you stayed accountable, plugged it in, and adjusted the rest of your meals to ensure your macronutrients were on point by the end of the day.
However, there are a few problems that I have with flexible dieting. In fact, let me re-phrase. I don’t have a problem with flexible dieting; I have a problem with the people who give flexible dieting a bad wrap. You know who I’m talking about right? Those people who post pictures on social media everyday of pop-tarts, candy, muffins, and the like and then hash tag flexible dieting. These people make me crack up. In my opinion, that is NOT what flexible dieting is supposed to be about. I like to give out the rule of “80/20”. Eat 80% of your macronutrients from nutritious, whole foods, and then fill in the other 20% with foods that you like and taste good, such as a piece of chocolate at night, or a few cookies after your workout.
Eating junk food every single day is not healthy at all (even though our “healthy” food now-a-days is sprayed with pesticides and injected with hormones). Processed foods cause inflammation within our bodies. Now, inflammation is our body’s natural and healthy response to an injury. If we fall down, get injured, and get a cut, inflammation and swelling will occur around that area. Then, white blood cells will come to protect it. After the wound has been healed, our inflammation response will go back down and return to normal. However, if you eat junk food and processed goods every single day, your inflammation response is never getting “shut off”, so to speak. You have constant and chronic inflammation with constant reproduction of immune cells, leading to impaired fat loss, decreased ability for your body to recover from a workout, impaired muscle hypertrophy, and increased risk of cancer, arthritis, and other diseases down the road.
Another problem with those who take flexible dieting from the wrong angle is their fiber intake. Fiber is very important. Fiber blunts the glycemic response, is thermogenic so it aids in fat loss and body composition, and assists in digestion. Fiber also helps you to feel full and satiated after a meal. If you consistently eat all of your carbohydrates from processed sources, you are likely very low on your fiber intake. For example, go compare 75 grams of carbs coming from a pop-tart to 75 grams of carbs coming from oatmeal. Big difference. As an experiment, go eat both at different times during the day and see which source makes you feel full, satiated, and satisfied for a longer period of time. I’ll put my money on the oatmeal.
I’ve had great results with flexible dieting; my clients have had great results with flexible dieting; thousands of people who I’ve consulted with about the method have had great results with flexible dieting. All I’m saying is, don’t knock it until you try it.
Here are a few guidelines that I would follow while using a flexible dieting approach:
- Fiber | Make sure you are getting 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
- Vitamins and minerals | Eat an abundance of fibrous vegetables everyday.
- Inflammation | Eat a serving or two of berries or healthy fats with high anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Follow the 80/20 rule | 80% of your caloric intake should be coming from complex carbs, complete protein sources, and healthy fats. The other 20% can come from “treats” or your favorite foods.
- Stay consistent.
Train hard and train smart.