Flexible Dieting Explained
“Flexible dieting”, “IIFYM” or just “macros” are terms that are thrown around on the regular in the fitness industry as of late. But, what do these words mean, and more importantly – does flexible dieting even work?
In a nutshell, flexible dieting involves meeting certain macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) targets that are based on your body composition goal at a particular time. Basically, it’s the Rolls Royce of calorie counting – it provides us with a little more detail for a (potentially) better end result. We also recommend tracking other nutrients (such as fibre and water) to ensure that you aren’t JUST surviving off doughnuts and chocolate thick-shakes.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are components of a diet that are required in large amounts (hence the prefix “macro”) and/or have a calorie value. Regardless of whether you practice flexible dieting or not, you are still consuming macronutrients on a daily basis every single time you consume a calorie containing product – you just might not know it.
There are 4 macronutrients:
1. Protein = 4kcal/gram
2. Carbohydrates = 4kcal/gram
3. Fat = 9kcal/gram
4. Alcohol = 7kcal/gram
Just to be clear, alcohol is only included as a macronutrient because it has a calorie value, NOT because it is required in large amounts – contrary to popular belief.
What is the REAL difference between tracking macros and counting calories?
A calorie, by definition is the amount of energy required to heat up one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. In order to lose weight, you need to consume less calories (energy) than you burn, and vice versa for weight gain.
Simply put: calories in – calories out = energy balance
2900kcal – 2500kcal = +400kcal (positive energy balance or weight gain)
2500kcal – 2500kcal = 0kcal (neutral energy balance or weight maintenance)
2100kcal – 2500kcal = -400kcal (negative energy balance or weight loss)
Therefore, when we are exclusively talking about weight movement or maintenance – a calorie IS a calorie regardless of the source. In saying that, a calorie IS NOT a calorie when we are talking about body composition. When we say body composition, we are referring to muscle vs fat proportions. This is where tracking macros (rather than counting calories) comes into play.
Person A consumes 180g protein, 310g carbohydrates and 60g fat per day
Person B consumes 2500kcal per day
We know that Person A is also consuming 2500kcal per day using the above macronutrient calculations (go ahead – do the calculations yourself) so we have information on both energy input and macronutrient content. However, we only have energy input information on Person B. For all we know, Person B could be consuming 80g protein, 275g carbohydrates and 120g fat – and if that is correct, they’re going to have a bad time.
Let’s assume that 2500kcal is a calorie deficit for both subjects – meaning that they are aiming to drop some weight. Person B is straight out not consuming an adequate amount of protein. A diet high in protein (especially in a calorie deficit) will:
1. Increase satiety
2. Increase thermogenesis
3. Preserve lean body mass (LBM)
Optimally, Person B would also adopt a higher carbohydrate to fat ratio to fuel training sessions, boost recovery and improve overall performance. That being said, fat is still important (and essential) for things like vitamin absorption, hormone regulation and brain function – we just don’t need it in copious amounts. Ultimately, it all really comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. What is optimal, does not necessarily work well in practice. Implementing realistic targets to increase dietary adherence will be the overall winner.
Now you have a basic understanding of flexible dieting, it’s time to briefly discuss WHY it has the potential (providing that you’re adherent) to work for you. Flexible dieting is effective because it is:
1. Adjustable – the ability to adjust your macronutrient targets (thus controlling your calorie intake) when your progress stalls or when your goal changes means that you can take control of your diet and results.
2. Flexible (derp) – there are zero restrictions on food groups or nutrients, allowing freedom of choice. This means that you can have your cupcake (or at least a portion of it) and eat it, too.
3. Sustainable – the above combined factors means that flexible dieting is maintainable for the long-term.
So, in summary:
• Create a MyFitnessPal account.
• Say goodbye to the insulin fairy (you’re too old for that now).
• Post some junk food on social media and hashtag #IIFYM.
In all seriousness, just give it a try! If you find this information is a little overwhelming or if feel like you need some guidance – we’re here to help.