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Flexible Dieting 101

March 31, 2015 | 0 Comments
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If you’ve ever flicked through fitness related hashtags or newsfeeds on any social media platform, chances are you’ve come across IIFYM or Flexible Dieting on multiple occasions. And chances are you’ve been privy to arguments about the validity of Flexible Dieting as a sustainable method of dieting for achieving health and fitness related goals. The team at Equalution have provided us with the necessary insights in order to learn more about this method of dieting, and allow you to determine whether this method is suitable for you.

Flexible Dieting has been a hot topic within the health and fitness industry in recent years and has not only been subject to criticism, but also misrepresentation stemming from a misunderstanding of the concept and its various scientific principles. When Flexible Dieters post images of Pop Tarts and Skinny Cow Ice cream on social media platforms claiming that this is how they are eating in order to achieve fat loss, obvious speculation arises as to the effectiveness of such a method as well as the predictable question of whether or not it’s healthy.

Is it possible to eat foods like that for fat loss? Yes. Does it compromise overall good health? Certainly not.

In this article we break down Flexible Dieting, explain what it is, how it works, and discuss why it is more than just a fad method of dieting.

Related Article: The Ultimate Female Diet Guide

Related Article: What Is An Intermittent Fasting Diet

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What is Flexible Dieting?

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) or Flexible Dieting is the contemporary label given to a method of dieting that involves meeting daily macronutrient, micronutrient, fibre and caloric targets calculated specifically for your goals by selecting from a range of unrestricted foods. Food choices are selected based upon their caloric and macronutrient values, rather than their categorization as a whole food or a processed food. For example, chicken breast doesn’t have to be consumed in excess and can just be incorporated as a protein source, and ice-cream doesn’t have to only be reserved for "cheat days"; it can simply fit into daily targets recognised as a carb and fat source.

It’s not too good to be true, nor is it unhealthy; incorporating a broad range of foods within your daily caloric and macronutrient allowance can still enable progression towards your health & fitness goals. Flexible Dieting allows for a shift in thinking whereby foods are not recognised as "good" or "bad" and instead the science of how the body deals with macronutrients and calories from any food source is regarded. Quite simply, the body recognises different foods for the food’s macronutrient and caloric value, including proteins, fats or carbohydrates. If you’re consuming less energy than you are expending (eating in a calorie deficit) you will lose weight. If you’re consuming more energy than you are expending (eating in a calorie surplus) you will gain weight[1]. 

Arbitrary food labels such as "Junk Food" and "Clean Food" are disregarded and instead Flexible Dieting focuses simply on eating to fulfill designated macronutrient targets, or "hitting macros", each day. The scientific principle surrounding calories in vs calories out is paramount to the success of Flexible Dieting, and therefore, the nutritional content of food becomes the golden information that adherents assess when selecting food options to incorporate into a Flexible Dieting plan[2][3][4].

What Is A Macronutrient?

Macronutrients, as their name suggests, are nutrients required in large amounts by the body as they are responsible for providing calories (energy). There are 3 macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates, which are required for growth, metabolic function and other important bodily processes[5][6]. Some foods are more macronutrient (and hence more calorically) dense than others, and while some foods are dominant in one macronutrient, most foods typically contain at least 2 macronutrients.

Protein: This macronutrient is responsible for cell repair and growth, enabling muscle growth and preventing muscle loss. Eating a diet high in protein will help control cravings by maintaining consistent blood sugar levels, keep you feeling fuller for longer and has the greatest thermogenic effect during digestion[10], meaning when it is digested protein requires the most calories out of all the macronutrients. A good guide for calculating one’s protein intake for a person with a moderate body fat percentage and training load would be roughly 2.2-2.8g per kg TOTAL weight (about 1-1.25g per pound). For an individual with a very low body fat percentage, eating a very low-calorie diet or participating in a high training load, protein can be calculated using 2.4 – 3g per kg TOTAL weight (1.1-1.35g per pound). For an individual with a high body fat percentage, eating a high-calorie diet, or participating in a low training load, protein intake can be calculated using 1.6 to 2.2g per kg TOTAL weight (.75 – 1g per pound). Studies have found a higher protein intake results in improved satiety, blood sugar control[11, 12], and helps increase and maintain muscle mass [13]. Lean meats and many dairy products are high in protein as well as protein bars and protein powders. When difficulty arises in meeting protein requirements supplementation can aid in meeting protein intake needs.

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Carbohydrates: This macronutrient is the optimal source of energy for the human body, particularly to fuel workouts [14]. With that in mind, it’s important to note that carbohydrates are used by the brain for energy and one of the reasons why diets low in carbohydrates over a prolonged period of time can be detrimental. In simple terms, a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate, with the primary difference between a sugar, such as glucose, and a low GI carb, such as brown rice, being the rate at which it is digested and absorobed into the bloodstream as blood sugar[15]. Fast digesting, high GI carbs such as sugars will give a quick instant energy spike as opposed to slow digesting, low GI carbs, which will provide a much longer lasting source of energy. From a caloric perspective, 1g of carbohydrates whether from high or low GI carbs will provide 4 Calories of energy. A good general guide for carbohydrate intake is around 45-65% of your total daily calories, or the remainder of calories after subtraction of total daily protein and fat requirements.

Fats: Fats are an important macronutrient for protecting organs, producing and regulating hormones, maintaining cell membranes, promoting growth and development and absorbing essential vitamins. The body can also use fats to provide energy, and hence they are arguably the most versatile and essential of all the macronutrients. A good general guide for fat intake is approximately 20-35% of total daily calories. One gram of fat contains 9 Calories, which is more than double the amount contained within 1 gram of a carbohydrate or protein[16].

What About All The Vitamins & Minerals My Body Needs?

Flexible Dieting doesn’t cease to regulate the vitamins and minerals your body requires in order to maintain gut health and regulate digestion, as well as your overall energy and bodily functions. Like macronutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are also tracked daily and are essential for optimal bodily function. The best way to ensure micronutrient requirements are met each day is generally through consumption of nutrient dense foods such fruits and vegetables. Most Flexible Dieters aim to consume 1-2 serves of fruit and 2-3 serves of vegetables a day. Where there is difficulty in consuming adequate micronutrients, multivitamin supplements can be taken in their place.

Fiber is also extremely important and is a priority for Flexible Dieters. Like micronutrients, fiber is also important for optimal bodily functions, particularly digestion. Fiber is classified as a carbohydrate although it doesn’t digest quite like one, and has the dual benefit of having a thermogenic effect when digested[7]. Fruits and vegetables, as well as some breads and grains, are amongst foods that are high fiber in addition to containing micronutrients, so both fiber and micronutrients can be be obtained by consuming these foods[8]. The universal recommendation for fiber intake is at least 20g per day[9].

How Do I Calculate All Of This?

The best starting point for calculating your daily calorie & macronutrient requirements is to use the Harris Benedict Formula and calculate your BMR (your Basal Metabolic Rate – the the energy your body requires from food for functionality without factoring activity). Then using this figure, determine whether you are sedentary (little or no exercise), lightly active (1-3 sessions of exercise a week), moderately active (3-5 sessions of exercise a week), very active (5-6 sessions of exercise a week) or highly active (6-7 sessions of exercise a week and/or 2 sessions with a physical job). Then multiply your BMR by the following:

– Sedentary: BMR x 1.2

– Lightly Active: BMR x 1.375

– Moderately Active: BMR x 1.55

– Very Active: BMR x 1.725

– Highly Active: BMR x 1.9

This calculation will give you your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) – the amount of calories your body requires each day in light of your level of physical activity, which provides the closest prediction of your maintenance calories. Manipulation of these calories into a deficit for fat loss (less than TDEE), surplus for weight gain (more than TDEE) or steady (equal to TDEE, adjusting when you begin losing fat as the body adjusts after a period of time) will provide you with your required caloric intake. From there, using the above information regarding protein, carbohydrate and fat quantities, you can calculate your macronutrient requirements. Is there a skill in strategising these numbers? Certainly, and the Equalution Team can assist in this process to not only help you in achieving your goals, but to also increase your metabolic capacity for optimum results and long-term sustainability.

How Do I Track My Macros?

The best way to keep track of your macronutrient intake is to use a calorie counting tool with a large nutritional database that is available across all platforms so you can access it from a number of devices. Arguably the most popular tool is MyFitnessPal; just be aware of user-generated databases where the caloric values of food entries are often inaccurate, and so too are the recommended daily macronutrient requirements that some apps formulate for you. Your best bet is to make your own calculations or have it done by a professional to avoid under or over calculating your required intake.

It is also a good idea to purchase scales to portion out your meals. While an extra gram or two is water off a duck’s back, it will bring attention to when you may accidentally be helping yourself to an extra serving or so when your eyes fail your judgment.

How Do I Eat Out?

Eating out should not be the anxiety-inducing experience that is so commonly avoided by many people adhering to a strict diet. Flexible Dieting facilitates socialising and lifestyle balance better than many other dieting methods through the ability to factor in your food choices without having to miss out on important social events. While there are many restaurants, eateries and take-out options that provide nutritional information for all of their food offerings, even if your selected eatery doesn’t supply this information, you can still stay relatively on track with your diet. The general guideline is to try to de-construct the meal and estimate its contents as best as possible to make it fit within your intake goals. For example, considering a typical burger, you can make a close to accurate account for this as follows:

  • 1 x Hamburger Bun
  • 1 x Beef Patty
  • 1 x Slice Cheese
  • 1 x Slice of Lettuce
  • 1 x Slice of Tomato
  • 1 x Tablespoon of Relish
  • 1 x Tablespoon of Mustard

 

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This is an example of how to account for the calories in a burger through deconstructing its individual components after seeing the items on a menu. Alternatively, steaks are always a popular option when dining out and you can ensure accuracy in your calorie estimates by requesting your steak to be dry grilled and without oils.

Can I Still Have Alcohol?

What’s Friday Night Footy without a beer? What’s a girls night in without a glass of wine? While we will disappoint you in revealing that alcohol is not an essential macronutrient, it can certainly still be factored into a Flexible Diet and not greatly hinder your progress. With that being said, this is provided that most of your essential macronutrient targets have been satisfied as it is not recommended to forgo essential macronutrients and micronutrients to dedicate 7 Calories per gram to alcohol… yes, alcohol is quite calorie dense! At around 65 Calories a glass, many Flexible Dieters will choose the Vodka & Diet Soda combination when factoring alcohol into their intake so as to not add any more unnecessary calories. So while alcohol plays an unimportant role metabolically, there are some people who enjoy it too much to eliminate it from their diet, and see it as unsustainable to do so. Flexible Dieting enables it to be worked within your caloric and macronutrient intake rather than be saved for a post-diet blow out. If enjoying a drink here or there is what enables you to achieve balance in your life and better adhere to your plan, then make it work for you. Just be cautious of overeating in the event of having a few drinks, pre-plan and stick to your goal macros instead.

What’s With All The Pop Tarts?

Flexible Dieters generally have the most balanced and sustainable relationship with food of all dieters. While they are commonly put down for seeming to lack discipline due to the flexibility in food choices available to them, and the fact that elements of their daily food intake would generally be considered "cheat meal" options, tracking food consistently for its numerical value and stopping at an allocated target number requires a different level of discipline, more so than it’s given credit for. In saying that, there’s a novelty in having a lean physique and chiselled abs and showing the world your Pop Tart and Ice Cream Sandwich for dessert. But the truth is, following Flexible Dieting and refusing to eat anything except Pop-Tarts would lead to an incomplete diet, and ultimately give you a horrible case of malnutrition. It is almost impossible to hit your protein, micronutrient and fiber goals without ensuring your diet includes some of the "good stuff". The common reputation that Flexible Dieters have when displaying their "diet food" is merely an excuse to show off their results without having to prescribe to a rigid, unexciting diet plan.

"sara

Our Equalution client and athlete Sara Pearson, who independently selected foods of her choosing to meet our calculated intake requirements set on a weekly basis according to her progress and goals. Sara incorporated a balanced range of foods from lean meats, protein powders, vegetables, ice cream, chocolate and protein bars. Sara was awarded her Pro Card for INBA Figure in Season A 2016.

Is This All Just Another Diet Fad?

Flexible Dieting/IIFYM is not a fad, but is instead a scientifically calculated method of achieving your health & fitness goals that won’t fail you. While there are some dietary conditions that require additional attention and lead to the tweaking of consumption requirements (such as thyroid issues), no one is an exception to the rule and this method of dieting isn’t subject to failing a minority. If you want to drown your acai bowl in chia seeds, or select quinoa over plain, boiled white rice, do what your heart desires, however don’t ignore the science of the numbers behind food and don’t feel like you need to save those two pieces of Dairy Milk Chocolate for Sunday’s cheat meal. Start looking at the facts and the numbers, and heal your relationship with food…it’s science!"Matt

Our Equalution client Matt who lost 50kgs following a balanced and flexible nutrition plan customised to his caloric and macronutrient requirements incorporating foods of his choice and preference.

Is Flexible Dieting For You?

If you have followed or are currently following a diet plan that reads chicken and broccoli for 6 meals at specified times during the day, and your plan is relatively "cookie cutter" irrespective of your lifestyle, body composition and personal goals, then you’ve not only been fooled, but also stripped of the benefit of allowing your nutrition plan to work around your life. Whether it be kids, your occupation, sporting commitments or your social life, all these factors can be accounted for and worked around to ensure you can still achieve success towards your health and fitness goals, and sustain your ‘diet’ for the long-term. If your diet doesn’t allow for life to get in the way, it sets you up for a countdown mindset, whereby you look at your diet as unsustainable and plan for when it’s over in order to get your life back.

If you want to leave the yo-yo diet cycle behind you, rid yourself of this thought process and move towards a greater intuition for simple adherence through Flexible Dieting. Quality, flexible nutrition that allows your to achieve your goals should be your priority, and Flexible Dieting is the perfect tool to allow this to occur.

If you’d like to practice eating flexibly according to the science of your body, drop us an email info@equalution.com

"EqualutionLogo" 

Related Article: The Ultimate Female Diet Guide

Related Article: What Is An Intermittent Fasting Diet

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References:

1. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor

2. http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2016/04/12/Australian-man-loses-70-pounds-in-100-days-of-potato-only-diet/1951460479572

3. http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-to-lose-weight-eating-only-mcdonalds-2015-10

4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2793831/you-eat-potatoes-slim-dieters-ate-spuds-lost-weight-long-stuck-calorie-controlled-diet.html

5. Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat". McKinley Health Center. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 20 September 2014.

6. http://sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Food-Function-and-Structure/Science-Ideas-and-Concepts/Macronutrients

7. http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/sites/default/files/Fibre-2014.pdf 

8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3032832 

9. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002470.htm 

10. http://www.equalution.com/1/post/2015/08/your-guide-to-protein.html 

11. Moran LJ, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Keogh JB, Clifton PM. The satiating effect of dietary protein is unrelated to postprandial ghrelin secretion. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2005;90:5205–11

12. Farnsworth E, Luscombe ND, Noakes M, Wittert G, Argyiou E, Clifton PM. Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:31–9.

13. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, et al. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr 2003;133:411–7

14. http://www.equalution.com/1/post/2015/11/-the-truth-about-carbs.html 

15. Extended use of foods modified in fat and sugar content: nutritional implications in a free-living female population. Gatenby SJ, Aaron JI, Jack VA, Mela DJ. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Jun;65(6):1867-73.

16. http://people.brandeis.edu/%7Ekchayes/bginfo.html

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