Flexible dieting – could it work for you?


First and foremost – flexible ‘dieting’ isn’t a ‘diet’ – it is a concept or approach to managing your nutrition.  Sure, it can be adopted as a new habit whilst trying to lose weight or build muscle, but, it is a habit that can also enable you to live the life you want and maintain your results for the long term.                                                                                                

What does flexible dieting mean?

Flexible dieting is a practice that is exactly that – flexible.  It assumes you have an awareness of your calorie and macro nutritional needs to reach your goal or maintain your current position.  Within those needs, providing you eat wholefoods 80% of the time, the other 20% you can eat what you wish.  It doesn’t label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (something I feel we really shouldn’t be doing) and it doesn’t ban foods or demonise food groups.

When should it be used?

It can be used regardless of the outcome you are looking for i.e. weight loss or muscle build, but also as a way of life once you have reached your goal and want to maintain results.  Too many ‘diet’ plans ban foods or demonise food groups, think Atkins, Keto, Paleo, gluten free, diary free etc.  Whilst yes, these see results, mainly in the short term for some people, this is ultimately because you are cutting calories by cutting out entire food groups..  These restrictive diets are often very unenjoyable experiences and can encourage ‘boom’ and ‘bust’ with food. Once people complete these crazy diets they do a 180 and binge on the foods they’ve been deprived of. They can also encourage negative emotional links to foods(i.e. carbs are ‘bad’), and can mean that once you have hit your goal and get back to ‘normal’ you either don’t have the education or knowledge to sustain the results.

Could flexible dieting it work for me?

For me, this it is what enables me to balance everything – work, life, socialising and passions.  I like socialising.  I like going out for dinner AND drinks with friends & family.  I like having no 2 days the same.  But most of all, I REALLY like food – ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food.  Sometimes life means I am put in situations where ‘staying on the straight and narrow’ or eating the way I am told to by the health gurus isn’t possible.  I am also of the opinion, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle has to work around me, not the other way around.  The approach means I can still enjoy food, make informed choices and make small adjustments to allow me to continue doing certain things.  It could work for you if:

  • you have a busy schedule and routine and planning ahead isn’t something you can rely on
  • you like food and appreciate the occasions and events that revolve around it
  • you like to enjoy a drink
  • you want to continue enjoying certain foods regardless
  • you don’t want to be faced with the worry or guilt of ‘falling of the bandwagon’

So I can eat anything?

Well no, depending on your goal or plan, you need to adhere to the principles so that you:

  • hit your calorie intake regardless
  • hit your protein intake regardless
  • eat wholefoods 80% of the time to ensure you are getting the micronutrients your body needs

What you do with the other 20% food choice-wise though is up to you.

But what about people on Instagram eating doughnuts for breakfast?

Instagram has somewhat glamorised the idea of flexible dieting, much like it has #cheatdays.  You will see pages of peoples #foodporn – doughnuts, waffles and ice-cream tubs overflowing with extras labelled with the tags #flexiblediet and #iifym (if it fits your macros).  Two things to note here:

(1) Yes, people practicing the flexible dieting approach may be eating these things but they are within a calorie / macro controlled diet and should only make up 20% of their overall daily nutrition

(2) IIFYM doesn’t take in to account the 80/20 rule and as a result food quality is often neglected and micronutrients and fibre can be severely lacking

So in summary, flexible dieting is a realistic, sustainable approach to nutrition whether you are trying to reach a specific goal or maintain results.  It is great for busy people who value social occasions and want nutrition to work around them not the other way around.  It also educates you around food quality, nutritional content and portion control all extremely useful tools for the long run.  Consistency is key to getting results, and, in my opinion you are more likely to stick to something that is sustainable and works with your lifestyle.   

Get in touch if you have any questions about this or how it can work for you.  All my online personal training / nutrition plans use this approach as I firmly believe it is how you can have the best of all worlds.

All views are my own.