In 2009, I wasn’t thriving. My health had been in decline for a few years. Forget about size and appearance for a moment – other things were more important to me back then when I was at my rock bottom health wise…
- I couldn’t walk any distance without feeling out of breath. (Stairs? OMG- no.)
- I was eating to feed stress, not eating for nourishment.
- I spent too much time getting dressed in the morning because most of the clothes I had were too tight.
- I wouldn’t buy new clothes because I knew the “next diet that I’d start tomorrow” would work.
- I was on meds for high blood pressure. There were more meds coming. (My doctor had a list of upcoming things to treat in my file.)
After years of yo-yo dieting, I knew there wasn’t an easy fix, but I believed I had to start with food. You probably have that same instinct, too.
Before I learned about flexible dieting, I tried other programs.
Some were successful – for a minute. I would lose a little weight, but it all came back – plus a little more.
I didn’t really understand how to adjust those programs to fit into my life long term.
I know each program that failed me had success stories, so I assumed the problem was me.
But that wasn’t true. They just didn’t “fit” me. They were too restrictive. They were too hard to make work with my busy adult life.
When I started working with a bodybuilding coach, he taught me about flexible dieting or flexible eating. We used it to change my body composition for my sport. Over time, and in phases, I gained muscle and lost fat.
Flexible dieting is different. It’s not a “diet” program like the others, but actually a way of organizing what you eat based on what your body needs and your goals.
Instead of using limited food lists, you set daily limits on the amounts of each macronutrient you’ll eat. (“Macros” is slang for macronutrients.)
Macros are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. All foods have macros because they are the source of our energy – calories.
One gram of protein has 4 calories. So does one gram of carbohydrate. One gram of fat has 9 calories.
Beyond the calories they provide for energy, our body needs each macronutrient for different functions.
Flexible dieting uses macros to provide a structure to plan meals for each day. Each person’s body requires a unique combination of proteins, carbs, and fats to function optimally.
When you want to change your body by losing fat or building muscle, you adjust your macros to support what you’re doing with exercise. Nutrition and exercise are programmed purposely to work together toward one goal.
To change your body, macros and movement work together over time. But the nutrition piece is the hardest one for many people to maintain consistently. This flexible approach was easier for me to stick with long enough to reach my goals. I’m still using it.
You may have heard the phrase “if it fits your macros” used by people who are posting pictures of foods that aren’t considered “diet foods”. What is that about?
Think of your macros like a budget. You may already work on a budget with your finances. You know you need a certain amount of money to pay the bills and then you have a certain amount of money set aside for fun stuff.
If you approach your nutrition the same way, you can use most of your macros budget for the nutritious foods you need, but set aside a few carbs and fats for that ice cream you want after dinner. It will fit in your macro budget.
Psychologically, I was able to stick to a portion size of that treat because I knew what my daily limit was for carbs and fats. I also learned after just a few weeks that sticking to my macros, no matter what I ate, had positive results.
My old food mindset would chime in to tell me I was “cheating”. But my new food mindset (food is fuel) was taking over. To stick with this long term, I needed to avoid feeling deprived.
Using this approach, you’ll look at food differently. It’s all an energy source and there are no moral judgements to be made about a “good” food or a “bad” food.
You’re allowed to eat what you want if it fits in your macros for that day. Over time, I realized I didn’t have guilt about food anymore. My mindset had changed.
That said, most people who use flexible dieting DO eat mostly whole foods. Remember – the macros are the fuel, but the micronutrients in those foods promote good health.
When you take a flexible approach, you can eat what you want to eat. If your macros are balanced properly based on your metabolism and your goals, you’ll find yourself choosing mostly whole foods – vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, etc.
What you choose is based on personal preference, food intolerances, or food allergies. There are no food lists – you build program with your favorite foods and add in new food items to hit your macros or if you’re just getting bored.
While you can choose anything, you’ll probably build a customized food list that fits your macro budget with foods you enjoy eating. You’ll have treats included so you won’t feel deprived.
You probably won’t have room in your macros for an entire bag of tortilla chips, but you’ll make room for some if that’s something you just need to have. Quality of life matters, too!
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Hi! I'm Tammy! I was a busy, stressed, and unhealthy teacher until I decided to take control of my health. I did not become an athlete until I was in my 50's!
I earned personal training and fitness nutrition certifications, then retired from teaching to dedicate my work life to fitness education for other busy women over 40.
My results are obviously not typical because most people don't train to compete as a bodybuilder.
But I believe everyone can make positive changes with healthy habits! Each of us has a unique combination of strengths and challenges that need to be considered to customize a program that will work for us. Science-based principles, flexibility, and consistency make all the difference.