Ask yourself this: Can you see yourself eating your current diet in 6 months time? If not, then your diet is not sustainable and you will fall off the band wagon at some point.
Most of us can stick to a strict diet for 10-12 weeks, but how many of us can honestly say we don’t start shovelling down a few pizzas, cookies and beers when the diet comes to an end, and quickly pack on half of the weight we lost? I’m willing to bet almost all of us have encountered this phenomenon, but this doesn’t have to be the norm.
A lot of diets also incorporate cheat meals. These aren’t a bad way to stay on track if they fit into your daily macro goals. However, they are often misinterpreted as a chance to eat anything you want, and as much as you want – I’ve been there before and there’s a tendency is to eat until you feel sick. The name ‘cheat meal’ also insinuates that you’re doing something bad and may even encourage poor eating habits for the rest of that day.
There is a better method to dieting that crushes cravings, enables you to eat what you want, and yet still enables you to get the body of your dreams. Read on to find out everything you need to know about flexible dieting.
Why do we often see a post-diet rebound?
Let’s first try to understand the root cause of the common dieting problems.
A typical fat-loss diet usually specifies foods that are off limits: pizza, burgers, brownies, cookies, and breakfast cereals are just a few examples of foods that might be banned on a typical diet plan. For the duration of your diet you are usually able to eat ‘clean’ most days; if you follow the prescribed diet, you will blitz body fat and see some great progress.
However, what usually happens when the diet comes to an end? You unbuckle your macro-counting collar and treat yourself to all those forbidden foods. What results is a huge binge where your macros and calories are all over the place. Your body simply can’t deal with this sudden and extreme change in diet, and you will pack on a f**k-ton of fat as a result.
The same catastrophic fat-gain can occur if you slip up and eat one of the foods forbidden by your diet. Most people think that their day’s dieting is ruined if they eat a slice or two of pizza, or gobble down an oh-so-tempting Oreo, and as a result just think f**k it I’ll eat the whole pizza and family pack of Oreos and get back on track tomorrow. Do you really think a slice of pizza or an Oreo can ruin your diet? Highly unlikely!
Luckily there is a way you can eat these foods and eliminate cravings. Read on to find out how…
What is flexible dieting?
Flexible dieting is a method of dieting that has proven to be both effective and sustainable for long-term fat loss. Everyone interprets flexible dieting slightly differently, but here are Train Eat Gain’s four commandments for flexible dieting:
- No foods are forbidden
- You must consistently hit your daily calorie goal
- You must consistently hit your macro goals: protein, carbs and fats
- Eat enough fibre: aim for 14g per 1000 calories consumed
In order to make sure flexible dieting is healthy in the long-run, we also recommend you do the following:
- Eat everything in moderation – vary protein, carb and fat sources
- Eat balanced meals containing carbs, proteins and fats
- Limit simple sugar consumption to before or after workouts
- Keep sodium (salt) intake below your RDA (6g per day for healthy adults)
- Consume plenty of vitamins and minerals
Providing you practice the principles listed above, you can eat the foods you want and prevent those belly-bulging binges that will ruin your long-term progress.
The advantages of flexible dieting
There are three main advantages of flexible dieting over a regular diet that excludes certain foods or food groups:
1. Achieve body composition goals with ease
Providing you follow a structured training plan and consistently hit your macros, you will achieve your desired body composition.
2. Eliminate binging
With no foods off limits, you’re allowed to eat so-called ‘dirty’ foods in moderation, which crushes cravings and prevents unhealthy binging.
Eating without specified forbidden foods means that your diet won’t need an end. All you need to do is count your macros, and adjust your macros depending on your goals. Counting macros is a small price to pay for being able to eat what you want whilst building the body of your dreams!
Ask the expert
With these clear advantages over ‘clean’ but unsustainable diets, it is easy to see why flexible dieting is growing in popularity. One of the key proponents of flexible dieting is Dr. Layne Norton, a natural bodybuilder who has established himself as a renowned nutrition-guru (his PhD was in Nutritional Sciences). We were lucky enough to get his take on the advantages of flexible dieting over regular ‘clean’ eating diets:
“The biggest component for long term success is hard work and consistency. I’m not against ‘clean’ eating, what I’ve observed however, after working with thousands of clients is that it just simply is not reasonable to expect someone to stick to only certain foods year round. If there is no flexibility, I found that people would have enormous binges & cheat meals. No one has infinite willpower, and thus I want people to have a system in place that allows them to consistently make progress even when they decide to eat ‘cheat’ foods.”
Dr. Layne Norton | BioLayne.com
So can I just eat pizza, popcorn and protein shakes?
Whilst you could eat a lot of junk food and still hit your macros, these are not foods we recommend eating to excess. Typically foods such as donuts, pizza and popcorn are high is sugar or salt, and very low in fibre and vitamins.
Fibre is critical part of a healthy diet. It is particularly useful at negating the effects of high GI foods, making them behave like slower GI foods when combined with fibre. Vitamins are essential for good health in all areas, so make sure you’re still eating lots of different fruit and veg. As always, eating everything in moderation is fundamental to a healthy sustainable diet.
We suggest that traditional healthy foods still make up the majority of your diet (see what we recommend here), but you can occasionally eat other foods as long as they fit into your macro and micronutrient goals. We definitely do not recommend you exclusively eat snack food, as you will not get enough health-critical nutrients and will almost certainly consuming way too much sugar and salt.
A final note: Flexible dieting is NOT for everyone
Flexible dieting is not right for everyone. It can be very effective, but ONLY if you have your hormones in check. If you have healthy levels of hormones such as testosterone and insulin, you will already be relatively lean and your body will be able to handle the carb-induced insulin increases from flexible dieting. However, if you are overweight, then you MUST get your hormones in check and your body fat down before you can effectively implement flexible dieting.
Use the following steps to incorporate flexible dieting into your current lifestyle:
- Balanced diet: Eat all foods in moderation
- No forbidden foods: Consume any food, but in moderation
- Take accountability: Track and hit your macros consistently
- Don’t forget the micronutrients: Eat the correct quantities of salt, fibre and vitamins
We generally stick to 1-ingredient whole foods for 80% of our diet (following our 1-80 rule), but allow ourselves to be a little flexible every now and again – this way we get the long-term health benefits of eating unprocessed whole foods, whilst ensuring we can stick to our diets without binging or gaining excess fat.
C.F. SMITH,D.A. WILLIAMSON,G.A. BRAY,D.H. RYAN, Flexible vs. Rigid Dieting Strategies: Relationship with Adverse Behavioral Outcomes, Appetite, 02/2002, Volume 38, Issue 1
Layne Norton photo ref: Natalie Minh, BioLayne.com