If you haven’t yet heard of flexible dieting, you’ve probably at least seen the ubiquitous memes on Instagram saying things such as “What if you could eat the foods you enjoy while losing weight” along with the caption #IIFYM.
While these memes are certainly amusing, they represent a nutritional concept that many people take very seriously: flexible dieting. Otherwise known as IIFYM, or “if it fits your macros”, flexible dieting creates a personalized target of calories, macros (protein, fat, carbs), and fiber for an individual to meet every day. As long as those specific numbers are achieved, then food selection is based on personal preference.
To figure out your numbers for each of these categories, you can use an online calculator to input things like your height, weight, activity level, and fitness goals. The tool will calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate) so you can figure out the percentages for your macros based on your goals and activity level.
So is flexible dieting for you? Read on to learn about the benefits of a flexible diet as well as some common misconceptions surrounding this nutritional concept.
The benefits of flexible dieting
One of the main benefits of flexible dieting is that this approach takes away the psychological stress that can come with strict clean eating diets. Body Type Nutrition shares the perfect example of what can happen with a diet that is too restrictive:
“Tell me I’m not allowed to eat cookies and I’m gonna want to eat a cookie. I might manage to resist for a while, but eventually I’ll crack. And when I do I’ll probably end up eating a whole pack because mentally I will have failed my diet so might as well go all out.”
A diet that lacks flexibility is typically not sustainable. Restricting calories or certain food groups can cause too much deprivation, which leads to cravings for the foods and drinks that you tell yourself you can’t have. The end result is ultimately giving into these cravings, causing many people to label themselves as a failure because they couldn’t stick to their diet.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Obesity studied 82 obese subjects to investigate factors associated with weight management, especially whether the satiety value of food as a part of a weight maintenance diet would affect self-regulation of food intake. The study found that with all subjects, success in weight management was most strongly associated with a greater increase in the flexible control of eating. It was concluded that flexible dieting led to a decrease in uncontrollable eating and psychological distress.
Additionally, many experts argue that a flexible diet can be healthier than a strict meal plan due to the variety of food choices. Eating a wide range of foods enables you to consume all of the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that are essential for a healthy body. Breakingmuscle.com states that, “If you only eat the same foods every day you are restricting yourself to a specific range of micronutrients.”
Flexible dieting misconceptions
One of the biggest misconceptions about flexible dieting is that you can eat junk food 24/7. It’s easy to see why some might think this, however, based on what certain flexible dieters share on the Internet. For example, Instagram is plagued with so-called flexible dieters constantly posting pictures of pizza, brownies, doughnuts, etc. Just about anything that looks irresistible but is the farthest thing from healthy. These photos are usually paired with hashtags such as #IIFYM or #flexibledieting.
See, the thing about flexible dieting is just because it fits your macros doesn’t mean you should eat bad for every meal. A proper flexible diet allows you to indulge in cheat meals on occasion, but your macros should really be met with quality foods such as lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Breakingmuscle.com explains this point by saying, “The fact is, in order to actually hit macronutrient numbers that are conducive to building muscle, losing fat, and improving performance, it would be impossible to only eat junk.”
Another common misconception is that flexible dieting is a diet when it is actually a nutritional concept. Many people use flexible dieting synonymously with macro counting, not understanding that counting macronutrients is merely one method of controlling your diet in line with your goals. Other methods that can be used with a flexible diet include protein and calorie tracking, portion control, and mindful eating. The core of this nutritional concept is having a flexible mindset and using your knowledge and resources to make appropriate dietary choices.
Is flexible dieting for you?
Flexible dieting can be an effective approach to nutrition if done correctly. This nutritional approach gives you the freedom to enjoy your favorite foods every now and then without feeling guilty and without compromising your progress. But with those cheat meals comes the responsibility to ensure that the majority of your macros come from healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
Those who have had success with flexible dieting share tips to get the most out of IIFYM, which include:
- Avoid eating out: Food options at restaurants come with a lot of ambiguity, which can make tracking macros and sticking to your plan challenging.
- Experiment with different eating patterns: As mentioned above, flexible dieting does not mean strictly tracking your macros. Try different methods and eating patterns to decide which one best fits your lifestyle.
- Make measuring a habit: People tend to underestimate the calorie content of the foods they eat, which leads us to believe that they will underestimate the macronutrient content of foods as well. Using a food scale until you get a better grasp on the macro content of your food intake can help you stay on track with your dieting goals.
- Take advantage of IIFYM’s purpose: It might be hard to believe, but you can still reach your health and dieting goals by giving into cravings! As long as you don’t abuse it, IIFYM’s premise of indulging in that piece of chocolate cake every once in awhile can be beneficial.
- Take a break from tracking: Measuring and tracking your macros can become exhausting over time, so once you get the hang of things try taking a break for a few days to give your mind a rest.
What do you think about flexible dieting? Share your thoughts in the comments below!