Are You Inflexible With Flexible Dieting?

I’ve noticed a trend lately. So many of us are gung-ho and all-aboard to jump on the flexible dieting train only to turn it into exactly what it’s not: a dogmatic and super restrictive diet. Maybe you take your food scale to restaurants with you or you can’t leave the house without your protein powder, or perhaps you have MyFitnessPal loaded on your iPhone more than Facebook; Either way, there is a likely a problem with the extreme degree that some are following “flexible dieting.” The kicker is in the name…FLEXIBLE!

I often get asked what the difference between flex dieting and the paleo or primal plan is. It has still taken me a while to craft the perfect response but I’m pretty darn close. While paleo and primal and vegan and other dietary preferences tell you “what” to eat, flex dieting tells you how much to eat. It’s the process of tracking your caloric intake while consuming nutrient dense foods along with some non-nutrient dense foods. All of this takes place with successful results, provided you stay within your macronutrient guideline. By not restricting your diet (i.e. omitting breads or legumes), it’s assumed that an athlete can never fail at their diet thus leading a path towards a more balanced and healthier relationship with food.

Is that definition out of a dictionary? Nope. Is it real life? Yup. The main point is that flex dieting shouldn’t take over your life in a way that leaves you a slave to your meals or the food scale. You should be able to enjoy yourself, attend social gathers, go on vacation, all while eating in a way that supports your goals and health. The problem lies in, you likely have lost sight of the goal.

Now let me be clear, this IS NOT IIFYM. Yes, you may hear me say “if it fits your macros,” but this is not about peanut-butter-and-jelly covered pancaked with a mountain of oreos and cereal crumbled on top. The folks who post nothing but these types of food posts and brag about #gainz are eating like assholes. Same can be said for folks who eat nothing but fake sugar, fake foods that have zero calories and the like. (How can chocolate sauce have zero calories!!!) On occasion is fine, but please don’t let the bulk of your diet come from these items. If you are guilty of the following, it’s okay. Just be sure to bring back the veggies and lean meats and all the stuff that’s good for you.

So how can you get back to being flexible? For starters, when you eat out, have a general plan of what  you can eat to fit your perimeters at that meal. Then aim to stick to your plan and let it go (like Elsa said). If you have modest macros, that might mean veggies with a protein entree like fajitas without the tortillas while our gains-train friends might be topping their plates with burger and fries. To each their own. The restaurant likely has the data logged in MFP and if they don’t, it’s not worth stressing over. Find the closest estimation you can and pick the middle man (i.e. When I eat an old fashioned donut I pick 3 types and log the average calorie choice). Pretty simply right? Sadly, for newbies, eating out can be overwhelming all together and left to be avoided because they can’t hit their macros dead on. It’s not the end of the world. Besides, you are likely eating out to enjoy a life moment with friends or family, not to obsess about the perfect fit to your diet that day.

On to the scale. When starting out counting macros, I tell my clients to weigh everything. Totally normal when starting out because chances are, you don’t know what 4oz of chicken or steak looks like. Once you are comfy with these portions, eyeball it from there.  There is undoubtedly a time and a place for traveling with your food scale, and that’s when shit starts to get serious and you’re in comp prep.

What happens if you don’t hit your macros spot on or you have 10g of carb left and 1g of fat, what should you eat? Shoot me now! I’m sorry, but if you are asking these questions, you need to pull up your big girl and big boy pants and figure it out. At first it takes time and adjustment and I’m happy to help. However, if you are seasoned flex dieter, (i.e. more than 2 weeks), you’ve got the hang of it by now. You don’t and won’t need to hit your macros within 1g every day. 5g +/- in either direction is totally okay and more so if you are gaining. Plus, asking people what to eat is like asking someone to wipe for you. It’s almost shocking how many people ask these questions. I also like to consider the question as somewhat limiting (you are asking because you “only have X left” and isn’t that restrictive in itself?). I realize the point is to hit your macros, but hear me out. I said “try.” You aren’t trying if you are asking me now are you?

Lastly, and this is really the sole purpose of my post: Get off of MFP and enjoy your life, food, friends, family, workout, job, dog, weather. MFP is my favorite tool for coaching and tracking, don’t get me wrong. BUT, you better believe between that app and all of the other social media apps out there, it’s sucking the life out of us! Go outside and play!

So you get my point(s) by now hopefully. By being so inflexible with flex dieting, you’re setting yourself up to be just as restrictive and ritualistic as those who follow tilapia and broccoli tupperware diets. Isn’t that likely why you left (insert: paleo, clean eating, competition prep diet) and switch to flex dieting in the first place? Take a chill pill (and no you don’t have to log it) and enjoy the process. Keep your macros in mind and do your best but otherwise, live the flexible life!

RestoreSara Nelson