Whether you want to call it macronutrient tracking, IIFYM (if it fits your macros) or flexible dieting, it’s all the same concept: a method of ‘dieting’ (using that term very loosely) that revolves on meeting daily macronutrient intake targets and puts less of a focus on the foods you eat to reach these target numbers. Macronutrients are nutritional components of the diet that are required in large amounts: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Although flexible dieting isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan that applies to everyone, the vast majority of clients whom I have worked with over the last few years and have committed themselves to my knowledge and guidance, have all had great success with this method. Whether you are looking to lose body fat or add muscle mass, live a normal lifestyle, not be restricted of any foods and enjoy life can absolutely benefit from the power of flexible dieting. In the end it comes down to the discipline of the person, the amount of energy expended on a daily basis, and the numbers that make up this game. Even if you’re not suffering from an abused metabolism (think: under eating or yo-yo dieting for a number of years), you can learn a lot with flexible dieting and an educated coach. This method isn’t intended for a quick-fix but with patience, focus and a quality coach who knows what they’re talking about, you are way more likely be to successful with reaching your long-term goals.
The main three macros that I track during my flexible dieting programs are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. There are a few other elements that you will be mindful of during my programs including fibre, sodium, and water intake. I track the other values because I feel like those numbers can really dictate progress, especially when we are trying to change body composition (I’ll talk about that a little further). Flexible dieting is essentially a form of calorie counting, but to a more scientific, successful and customized level (1g of protein and carbs both contain 4 calories, and 1g of fat contains 9 calories).
A large misunderstanding with flexible dieting is that as long as you hit your assigned macros then you can eat junk food every day, as long as it fits. In short, yes, but it’s not entirely that simple. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the ‘calories in versus calories out’ fact, which is true, but when we dig a little deeper then we can learn that calories aren’t all the same. Like I mentioned above, 1g of fat contains 9 calories, where are proteins and carbs only contain 4 calories. So for some quick math:
2,000 calories = 222g fat
2,000 calories = 500g protein (or carbs, because they’re both 4 calories per gram)
In terms of digestion, satiation, performance and healthy body function, you’re going to probably feel a lot better with the latter of the two options. By no means am I saying that is successful, but we’re just looking at some simple math here and comparing the same amount of calories but with a completely different distribution.
In order to lose fat, you need to feed your body less energy than it burns. When you do this, it must get the energy it needs from somewhere, and its ‘go to source’ is its fat stores. This is an absolute scientific fact. When we’re talking strictly weight loss, a calorie is a calorie, regardless of where it comes from. You could eat nothing but donuts and chips every day and lose weight as long as you feed your body less energy than it burns. Now that isn't the purpose of my program, but you understand what I mean when I say that.
We know that if you solely want to lose weight, you can find out how many calories you burn in a day, make sure you’re eating less than that (putting yourself into a caloric deficit) and you’ll lose weight no matter what you eat. So then why count macros? Because when we’re looking at body composition (fat mass versus lean mass) then not all calories are the same. So in that sense, we want to lose body fat and maintain or gain lean mass. We want to consume enough protein to ensure your lean mass is being preserved and that your muscles are repairing after your workouts. We want enough carbohydrates to provide your glycogen stores with enough fuel and energy for training. And we need enough healthy fats to keep up with a healthy overall body function, including hormone synthesis, digestion and brain function. This is why we count macros and why it is superior to just counting total calories. Flexible dieting (tracking macros) allows you to focus on improving body composition instead of just dropping total pounds. And like I mentioned, what you actually eat to get to your set macros is of secondary importance.
When clients work with me, I try to set minimal guidelines and just provide some recommendations for their nutritional intake. I always recommend to get at least half of their daily calories from healthy, micronutrient-dense foods that they actually like, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts and seeds. I always tell clients to enjoy little indulgences. Like I’ll mention soon, if you’re craving ice cream or burgers, don’t feel like you cannot have them; work them into your daily plan and enjoy! With flexible dieting there really is no set meal timing. A lot of society now doesn’t follow a 9-5 Monday-Friday job, so being flexible with meal timing is very important. You should eat on a schedule that best suits your preferences and lifestyle. Your metabolism won’t slow down if you eat 3 meals per day instead of 7. Basically as long as you hit your daily macro numbers, doing it in 4 meals instead of 8, or vice versa, is fine. Now if you’re serious about your workouts, then nutrient timing does play a little bit more of an important role and a post-workout meal with additional carbs and adequate protein is definitely a good idea if you’re trying to build strength and put on muscle.
Another great benefit to flexible dieting is that no food is off limits. Whenever I work with clients, I always say that you can virtually eat whatever you want, as long as you’re not allergic to it. Based off my research, knowledge and personal experience, there’s definitely some foods that are common sensitivities with the majority of the population. But if you’re in the mood for cake and you follow a proper flexible dieting protocol, you are actually able to satisfy that craving but adjusting some numbers around for the rest of your day. The beauty of flexible dieting isn’t really dieting at all.
Without being restricted to foods like you would experience if you have followed any fad diet in the past, you’re way less likely to binge when you follow a proper flexible dieting protocol. One of the biggest reasons why people find themselves struggling with food relationships (think: good food versus bad food) or even eating disorders is because of deprivation. Think of a child: you say no to them and instantly they want to rebel and do/touch/eat what you just said no to. Adults are the same way; you tell them they cannot eat something and whether they originally wanted to eat it or not, now they feel like they have to go eat it, or have that cheat meal because that’s considered to be cheating on their diet. I truly believe that if you follow a proper flexible dieting protocol, there is no cheating; just fit your cravings into your daily allowance and you’ll stay on track towards your goals with virtually no setbacks. On top of all that, having the ability to eat your favourite foods in moderation keeps potential psychological imbalances (stress, purging) under control. People will no longer worry when these foods are put in front of them and will have the ability to keep them in their stomach without counteracting their caloric value.
In summary, flexible dieting works when you have the proper information, which is usually provided by an educated coach. There are simple online calculators that can spit out some generic numbers for you, but for true, long-term success that is completely customized to you and your goals, then working with an educated nutrition coach is definitely a smart choice.
If you have any questions about anything you just read, please know that you are more than welcome to reach out to me (email: email@example.com). My goal as a coach is to provide the research that I have learned so that I can educate the population with the correct information in order to truly reach their goals in the healthiest way possible.