Flexible Dieting: Benefits & How To

Flexible Dieting
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Why Flexible Dieting?

In the last few years, the concept of flexible dieting has come to the forefront of weight management/weight loss strategies. It is a relatively new technique that gives individuals greater control and freedom over their diet with less restriction that a typical rigid diet has. In this article we will explain what flexible dieting is and the benefits it has over other diet techniques. We will then provide you with the most appropriate guide as to how you can use this technique effectively; to ensure you know that you are getting the most from it.

What is Flexible Dieting?

Rigid dieting is an “all or nothing” approach to eating, weight, and dieting where extreme measures are taken’ to lose weight. Examples of this may be only having one meal a day. Pelchat and Schaeffer (2000) have shown that setting people on a monotonous (rigid) diet triggers food cravings without any nutritional benefit, illustrating the reason why individuals struggle on such diets.

Flexible dieting is characterised by a more graduated approach to eating, weight, and dieting (Stewart et al, 2001).

This technique scraps starvation methods, liquid only, baby food diets… the list goes on; and makes things simple and straight forward. The concept surrounds counting and tracking your macronutrients. This term gets thrown around a lot in the fitness industry and basically just means ‘large nutrients’, being carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Then you have your micro (small) – nutrients that consists of fibre, vitamins, minerals and water. Your macronutrients, by name, take up a larger proportion of your diet than the micronutrients.

Macronutrients have significant calorie values. 1 gram (g) of carbohydrates or protein contains 4kcal whilst 1 gram of fat contains 9kcal. So, you then add up the quantity of macronutrients you eat and then calculate your calorie intake. More on the technique will be explained later…

Benefits of Flexible Dieting

Research by Stewart et al, (2001) found that individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies report symptoms of mood disturbances and excessive concern with body size/shape. However, flexible dieting strategies were not associated with mood disturbances, or concerns with body size.

Research has also found there is a higher probability of successful weight loss during a one-year weight loss program when incorporating flexible dieting (Smith et al, 1999).

The same researchers also found there is a correlation of the relationship between flexible dieting and the absence of overeating, lower body mass and lower levels of depression and anxiety.

The Key Benefits of Flexible Dieting:

  • Control of your diet
  • Greater motivation
  • Positive state of mind
  • Greater levels of weight loss, especially long term.

The Technique

A lot of people think this strategy works on a daily basis, that weight will go down based on following your macronutrients correctly. This is not the case. Weight loss occurs when there is a calorie deficit over a medium to long term period, i.e. weeks and months. So here is our guide to getting the most out of flexible dieting…

First, use apps such as MyFitnessPal to calculate the daily calorie intake you should not be exceeding to reach your fitness goal, whether that be to lose or maintain body mass.

Then, multiply this number by 7, so you have a weekly calorie goal (as weight loss is a long term calorie deficit). You then have a weekly calorie intake you should not exceed and can base your macronutrient consumption around.

Next is our top tip. Most would just stick to a daily calorie goal and base their macronutrient consumption around this. However, this leans more towards rigid dieting. So this is where you need to plan around your life and tailor your calorie/macronutrient consumption around it.

The point of flexible dieting is that you can eat ‘bad’ foods occasionally, as long as they are in proportion/moderation and don’t lead to you exceeding the calorie limit for your goal. But by sticking to the same daily goal, planning can be difficult, meals can become the same and you end up avoiding having certain foods because of the limit you have set yourself.

So what we suggest is that you give yourself some days where your calorie total can be higher, and some days lower. As long as by the end of the week, the macronutrients you have consumed do not exceed your weekly goal. It is in this fashion that you can ‘treat yourself’ some days and get back on track with others. In this fashion you can tailor your diet around your social life or work life etc. We believe that by doing this you can keep to your diet long term and reap the benefits we mentioned previously.

Hopefully this has given you a greater understanding of what flexible dieting is, how you can use it effectively, and the benefits it has in comparison to classic rigid dieting.

References

Pelchat, M.L. and Schaefer, S., 2000. Dietary monotony and food cravings in young and elderly adults. Physiology & behavior68(3), pp.353-359.

Smith, C.F., Williamson, D.A., Bray, G.A. and Ryan, D.H., 1999. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite32(3), pp.295-305.

Stewart, T.M., Williamson, D.A. and White, M.A., 2002. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite38(1), pp.39-44.

About the Author

Connor Stead and Andrew Triggs are Sport and Exercise Science students who write about training, nutrition and supplementation in exercise. Their background in sport comes mainly from football where they coach and compete at university level. More recently, they have started giving training and nutritional advice through Instagram (@trainingwithscience).

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