One of the most common questions I get is “Tammy, what diet plan do you use?” When I first started my health transformation, I was a strict clean-eater. I needed to do that to learn about nutrition and how my healthy body was going to work. Along the way, I also learned that I started to wear deprivation like a cloak on a martyr…not a good look on anyone. (That sounds like a future blog post.) Things needed to change. Now, I’m all about finding a balance that works in my life. I have goals in the gym, physique goals for the stage, but this is also how I want to live. Borrowing a phrase from a comment made on this blog a few years ago…”food is fuel and sometimes you need diesel”. I’m now a flexible eater. My friend Colin explains…
In my first guest blog for Tammy I talked about how we don’t really have a weight loss problem in this world like most people think but it’s more of a “keep the weight off” problem. We talked about why most diets fail long-term and we talked about the importance of keeping calories as high as possible while losing weight. If you missed it I recommend checking that out before reading this as it will help make this article and the rest of the series to come make a lot more sense.
Okay so now you know to keep calories high. You know that weight loss shouldn’t be taken too fast. But even with that knowledge most will still be set up to fail. Why? Because most of the fitness world is preaching restriction to lose weight. No gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol, no processed foods, no soda, no diet soda, no anything with artificial ingredients, nothing with GMO and the list goes on and on. Basically if you aren’t eating nothing but free range chicken breast (no skin of course) with fresh broccoli and 5 times filtered water from the Appalachian Mountains you are doing it wrong and you’re going to die.
Like I said last time, if your diet is going to work it must be sustainable. Are you really going to be able to sustain a diet that banishes all the foods you love? Nobody has infinite willpower. Maybe you can go a week or two or even a couple of months without pizza, cookies, wine, whatever it is your favorite foods are. But eventually you’ll snap, and since you don’t practice moderation you binge. Then you’ll feel guilty, feel like a failure, give up and go back to the way things were. (Tell me that doesn’t sound familiar…)
This is where flexible dieting comes in. It’s what I use and what I teach and utilize with my clients. This is a form of dieting that doesn’t make any foods off limits, and I even encourage people to have a little fun and enjoy what they love. The key is it must fit within your designated numbers. How much you can have completely depends upon you and your body. Someone with a higher metabolism can enjoy a little more and get away with it, while someone with a slower metabolism who is on very low calories will have to be much more conscious. But I believe it’s important to allow yourself your favorite foods to improve adherence in the long-term.
Now the biggest criticism I usually get when I talk about flexible dieting is that “You can’t tell me eating a Twinkie is the same as eating a bunch of vegetables.” Because I do preach that as long as you hit your macronutrient requirements results will be the same. But the thing is I’m not saying a Twinkie is the same as vegetables. What I’m saying is if eating that Twinkie and fitting it into your numbers keeps you from feeling restricted and binging and helps you stay on track, then it is just as good. I’d argue it’s BETTER in that instance, actually.
When it comes down to it, hitting your numbers is the most important factor when it comes to losing weight, regardless of where it comes from. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat plenty of nutrient rich foods, because they are certainly important. But it does mean you can have your cake and eat it too (I guess that’s what that means???) There are multiple studies that show whether your carbs are complex or simple, body composition and even most health markers are the same if your macronutrient intake is the same. (1, 2) People really like to demonize sugar but as we are starting to discover, it’s not necessarily the sugar that seems to be the problem in sugary snacks but actually the lack of fiber in them (more on that later.)
Now if you are new to all this you might be thinking “that’s great, but what the heck is a macronutrient?” Well I’m glad you asked. Everything we eat has some sort of macronutrient breakdown. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate and fat. 1 gram of protein has 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs has 4 calories and 1 gram of fat has 9 calories. This is how the calorie count to everything you eat is made up.
With flexible dieting AKA IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) you have a certain number of protein, carbs and fat that is your goal to eat in a day. You can eat anything you want, but it has to fit within these specified numbers. No foods are off limits with this style of dieting. At first with no experience this probably sounds like a daunting task. Indeed it will be difficult and you won’t nail it right away. But in time as you get better at it this teaches you more about nutrition and your body than any textbook could possible teach you. The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to get close and be flexible with your dieting. So that you aren’t feeling like you’re on a diet!
The best part is you can have a little bit of the foods you love on a daily basis as long as it fits your numbers, so it teaches you moderation. Many people agree that some foods in moderation are okay, but since they are so restrictive with their diet, when it comes time to eat those “cheat” foods they don’t know what moderation is and they binge. This helps eliminate these experiences, and does away with even needing the term “cheat.” It takes away the “good foods vs. bad foods” approach and creates a healthy relationship with food. It allows you a way to eat in a way you can continue to eat the rest of your life, so you can finally lose the weight and keep it off.
Now one big complaint I’ll usually get when someone starts this type of diet is that they don’t want to track or don’t mind doing it for a bit but they don’t want to do it long-term. I get that, I really do. But what almost always ends up happening is that person finds that once they get good at it they only spend 5-10 minutes a day actually tracking, and being able to enjoy their favorite foods without feeling guilty and the feeling of finding a way they actually enjoy to lose weight is so great they don’t mind it at all. But even if you do eventually want to do away with tracking, this system teaches you so much about nutrition that you eventually should be able to eat intuitively without the need to track anymore. But I find it unlikely for that to happen without spending a decent period of time tracking and learning. You must learn about nutrition and your body first.
Okay so now you’ve learned a little more about what flexible dieting is and how it can help you enjoy your diet so you can have success long-term. But now I’m sure you’re wondering how you figure out what your numbers should be. Which is exactly what I will talk about next time!
If you are looking for more information from me you can follow me on Facebook and you can also download this free guide to help give you some direction. This will also put you on my email newsletter where you will get daily emails for a little motivation, guidance, and possibly a small kick in the rear from time to time… Warning – I tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. So if you are super sensitive you may want to pass. But if you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll love it.
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