This is part one of a series on Flexible dieting. My hopes are that through this series you learn the basics that make up flexible dieting, why I believe in it, ways to improve your metabolism, and how you can make it work for you (tips and tricks included!). In this first post, we’ll cover what exactly flexible dieting means as well as introduce you to the important concepts of both Macro and Micro nutrients. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on the upcoming posts in the series!
Low-carb, Low-fat, Paleo, Gluten Free, Clean Eating, and now flexible dieting?! What does this all mean? It seems every day in the health and fitness industry a new “fad” diet is being pushed in your face. You desperately want to lose weight, build muscle, or simply live a healthier life, but where do you begin? If you are like many people, your ambitions and questions take you to the wonderful world of Google. Unfortunately, that’s where the vortex of diet and nutrition information overwhelms the majority of people; you try something that you can’t adapt into your lifestyle and end up falling flat on your face right where you started. So what do you do? Which diet is right? Well, to put it simply and politically correct, there is no right answer for everyone. I will be the first to say that if you enjoy what you are doing and you are seeing the results that you want to see then by all means stop reading here. BUT, if you aren’t enjoying how you are eating, what you are eating, or not seeing the results you want to see, then follow this journey with me.
What Is Flexible Dieting?
Flexible dieting, or what is more commonly referred to as “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM), is a way to eat what you want, when you want, with no food restrictions, and make the physique changes that you want to see. Anytime you have a certain physique goal in mind, you will inevitably have to count calories, but you do not have to starve, or eat the same foods every single day! Have I sold you yet? If so, let me explain the basics. If not, don’t worry! There’s hope for you yet!
With flexible dieting you have 4 goals. To reach an allotted Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Fiber intake daily. What your daily intake should be is based on your activity levels, goals, sex, weight, body fat percentage, and current metabolic rate. You can calculate how many grams of each of these macronutrients you need to take in per day. That’s it!
As long as at the end of the day you “hit” these given numbers you can do by eating whatever foods you wish. If you wish to do so eating the healthiest foods on the planet, great! If you choose to do so eating the healthiest foods on the planet all day and then a big bowl of ice cream at night, great! So yes, you can eat whatever you want! But (you knew there’d be a “but”!) to reach your fiber goal, protein goal, and to have a balanced diet that provides all of the nutrients you need, you will need to make smart and appropriate choices.
You won’t be able to reach all of these numbers eating junk food all day, but you can reach these numbers without totally swearing off birthday cake or a chocolate brownie. That’s the “flexible” part of “flexible dieting”! No longer are you told “You can’t eat that, you’re on a diet!”. So in short; there is flexibility in your food choices, but overall you still need to be mindful of “health” foods. This approach creates a healthy balance for the mind and body with a variety of nutrients and food choices. Lack of deprivation,restrictions,“bad” foods, and overall an easier way to fit your nutrition goals into your life rather than fitting your life into your nutrition goals!
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients, or macros, are nutrients that are needed in large amounts to provide energy (calories) for your body. These are the foundation of your diet and make up your total daily caloric intake.
- Protein: Protein is composed of chains of amino acids which perform many of the essential functions in your body. This macro is essential for building muscle, and preventing muscle loss in times of dieting. Proteins can be comprised of any combination of 20 amino acids. With 9 amino acids being “essential” (meaning you need to get it from your diet), and the other 11 being “non-essential” (meaning your body can produce these on its own).
You’ll often hear proteins classified as “complete” or “incomplete”. This refers to whether the protein sources contains an adequate amount of all 9 of the essential amino acids (complete), or not (incomplete). In order to make things even more confusing, you’ll sometimes hear people use the term “high-quality protein”. This takes into account how easily the protein is digested in your body and how well your body can use it. The actual measurement for protein quality is on a scale from 0 (lowest) to 1 (highest), where egg whites are considered the standard and score a 1.0 and something like vegetables, although healthy, score a lower because the protein in them is not as complete. With this in mind, the majority of the protein that goes towards your “protein macros” should come from high-quality, complete protein sources such as eggs, lean meat, fish, dairy and whey protein.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs are the macronutrient that will generally comprise the bulk of your calories, and act as your body’s primary energy source. Historically, people relate a low-carb diet to fat loss, but we are here to promote a healthy intake of carbs to fuel your body while losing fat. The most important carbohydrates with respect to dietary intake are the monosaccharides which includes glucose, fructose and galactose. Like amino acids in protein, monosaccharides can be combined together to form other types of carbohydrates. (An example of this is lactose which is made from the combination of the monosaccharides glucose and galactose.) Commonly, people use how many monosaccharides are bound together in order to classify carbs into the terms “simple” or “complex”.
A simple carbohydrate means that the carbs are either in the form of a monosaccharide or disaccharide. Most people would refer to these simply (no pun intended!) as sugars. Your simple carbs come from things like fruit, juices, sodas, and anything that contains sugar (aka all of the delicious treats out there). Complex carbohydrates (or polysaccharides) are when more than 2 monosaccharides are bound together. Complex carbs typically don’t produce the same sugar increase in your blood stream, provide more nutrients, and provide longer lasting energy than the sugar rush from the simple carbs. You can find complex carbs in things like whole wheat breads and pastas, sprouted grains, and vegetables. There is room in your physique goals for both types of carbohydrates, but we’ll get to that in part 2!
- Fat: While often overlooked when compared to protein and carbohydrates, fat is extremely important for overall health. Fats are classified based on whether they are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or saturated. Without going too much into the chemistry (we don’t want to scare you off yet!), each type of fat has different benefits when it comes to your health. Research continues to show numerous benefits of consuming the right types of healthy fats (in moderation of course!) further dispelling that crazy “low fat” craze! For example, monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil and avocados, have been shown to have positive effects on your cholesterol levels! Yes you read that right, eating fat can improve your cholesterol levels! Of the many polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 has garnered the most attention for its numerous health-promoting effects, particularly when it comes to cognition and heart health. Good sources of healthy polyunsaturated fats include fatty-fish (think salmon), walnuts, and natural peanut or almond butters, and chia seeds.
Lastly, we have the dreaded saturated fats. Unfortunately, saturated fats have long been thought to directly contribute to poor health, but current research is suggesting that this may not in fact be true. While saturated fats should not make up the bulk of your fat intake, some saturated fats, such as coconut oil, may actually have significant health benefits. Coconut oil for example is almost completely comprised of saturated fat, but it may actually help prevent cardiovascular disease, as well possessing antimicrobial (bacteria killing) and antiviral properties among multiple other benefits coconut oil may provide!
- Fiber: For the sake of flexible dieting, fiber is counted as another macronutrient, but really it’s just a type of carbohydrate. Fiber consists of non-starch polysaccharides, such as cellulose, which is found in many types of plant foods. Fiber is classified as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber can be dissolved in water, so it tends to slow down digestion. Insoluble fiber, like the name suggests, does not dissolve in water, so therefore they add bulk to your stool and tend to increase the rate of digestion and promote regularity (prunes anyone?!). Fiber is an important component to flexible dieting to help keep you full longer, promote the intake of proper “complex” carbs, control blood sugar levels, and provide many other health benefits.
What about Micronutrients?
When people dismiss IIFYM as the “poptart” diet they are dismissing the fact that aside from the macrornutrients, it is stressed to intake a quality amount of micronutrients as well.
Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals required to maintain equilibrium within the body. They are considered “micro” because your body doesn’t need a large quantity of these like it does macronutrients. There are a large number of micronutrients and it’s next to impossible to keep track of these on a day-to-day basis. But by eating a well-balanced diet and including a variety of vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, and lean meat sources you can be sure you’ll be getting all the micronutrients your body needs.
And that my friends is the introduction to flexible dieting! Stay tuned for more information including: what are good food sources to choose, how do you get started, and tips for counting macros, putting meals together, and making it all work for you.
Readers: Have you tried any crazy diets in the past? What were your experiences? If you have any questions about flexible dieting, leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to cover it later on in the series!