If you’re into fitness and interested in not only strength goals but also a change in your physique, as even the least superficial of us are, then you probably spend a lot of time learning about and planning your nutrition. What foods should I eat? What is going to get me ripped? What foods make me fat? When trying to answer those questions you come across myriads of meal plans and diet concepts, many of which are implying that you should radically change your diet.
Flexible dieting and “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) are terms that have been around for a while now when it comes to how to eat for supporting your training goals. In short, this way of eating (as it is not really a specific diet) does not exclude any food from your diet as long as your daily consumption of calories and macro nutrients is where it should be, according to what you want to achieve. That means bread, chocolate, beer and other traditionally “prohibited” foods when “on a diet” can be part of your nutrition.
When I say traditional, I mean the standard chicken-broccoli-brown rice approach to dieting. The one where you have cheat meals or cheat days in order to satisfy your cravings and make your taste sensors a bit happier.
I admit that when I started working out and taking close care of my nutrition I too followed this approach. And what I realized a few months in was that it is not sustainable.
It is often said that the best diet is the one you will follow. And realistically speaking, there is no one on the planet that will stick to a dieting pattern that consists of mundane and blunt food cooked in tasteless ways. Moreover if you are one of these people that like to cook and get creative with food, then you immediately find yourself at a roadblock. Sacrifice something you enjoy for your fitness goals?
I don’t like the word sacrifice. It carries a heavy meaning, too heavy to be used in such context. I think we all already give a lot of our time, effort and energy in the important parts of our life, like work and family, and that our training and eating should be something fun and enjoyable. Something we will keep doing in the long run.
That is exactly why I believe that flexible dieting is the only way to eat if you’re in the fitness game. The fact that by not restricting yourself and being deprived of your favorite foods is going to help keep you “in line” and not succumb to intense cravings which do a bunch of damage. In reality, flexible dieting is the best discipline-enhancement mechanism there is. No need to test your will power every single time you’re out and your friend is eating a slice of pizza.
There is no denying that eating has several aspects apart from the purely biological one. A social aspect, a psychological aspect, even a creative one. I like to cook and I like to try new things, explore and see how I can make something taste. And I enjoy doing that for others too. I don’t want this to be the reason that my fitness goals will suffer and I don’t believe it has to be.
I eat a bit of chocolate everyday, and on weekends I will have a drink or two when I’m out. I like all sorts of bread and I wouldn’t say no to a fatty sausage either. As long as all those foods fall within the range of calories I aim to consume on a given day then I am going to grab that bite.
Having said all that, I have to point out what I have found is the biggest trap one might fall into when eating flexible: reaching the other end of the spectrum. Making flexible dieting an excuse for not keeping your diet in check. Fruits and veggies, in my opinion, should be a staple in everyone’s diet regardless of what principle they follow. Calorie intake, whether you’re one that’s counting them or not, should be controlled. Macros should have a balance first and foremost for a healthy functioning system and then for any body-specific goals. Flexible dieting does not mean neglect the basics of good nutrition and good health, needs are still needs and numbers are still numbers.
I keep track of my calories and my macros, without overly obsessing over them, by using an app called Lifesum. It’s a late addition to my minimalist toolkit since I used to do that manually. I pretty much only care about calories and protein but I like to know what balance I achieve in case I need to improve something. By having a look at what I ate yesterday I see a few grams of butter (for cooking purposes), chicken thighs, sweet potato, olive oil, cheddar cheese, eggs, cottage cheese, dark chocolate among others. I even ate 16 calories over my intended intake, I wonder how long I’ll have to cut to burn that! Most of the foods I consume are what would be considered “healthy” even though I adhere to FD and IIFYM.
At the end of the day, it’s how you feel physically and psychologically that’s going to signal whether or not you need something from your nutrition. If that piece of cake is going to make you feel better then reach for it, just don’t eat the whole cake. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some teriyaki salmon to make.