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What is flexible dieting?

Keeping in shape: weight loss is a numbers game

Flexible dieting, sounds a bit strange doesn’t it?

By definition, dieting isn’t supposed to be flexible. It’s about cutting things out, restriction, sticking to a set plan and summoning bucketloads of willpower in the hope you’ll see the numbers on the scales budge.

Meanwhile, being flexible suggests the opposite.

There’s no rigid rules, the approach sounds relaxed and, you’re encouraged to pick and choose the foods you want to eat.

No wonder then that the concept of flexible dieting sounds like an alluring, if not fantastical, oxymoron amid the sea of strict, boring diets that permeate the health and fitness industry.

But what exactly is flexible dieting?

When it comes to weight loss, it really is a numbers game. You’re probably aware, but in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories then you consume.

Quite simply, it’s a straightforward equation of calories in versus calories out.

In essence, the concept of flexible dieting takes this principle and says you can eat whatever foods you like as long as what you eat is within your daily caloric needs to achieve your goals.

Taking it a step further, most proponents of flexible dieting will also recommend that within your daily calorie quota, you need to try and hit specific macronutrient proportions, ie a certain amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

If you’ve ever been on a traditional diet before, you probably found that you did great to begin with and had no problem sticking to it.

However, at some point you likely got bored, it became inconvenient fitting it in with your busy lifestyle and was difficult to follow.

As hard as you tried, quitting was inevitable.

The beauty of flexible dieting though, is that you can create your own nutrition plan that works around your lifestyle, and it allows you to eat a diet that is based more around the foods you enjoy.

This is what I love about flexible dieting, the freedom and variety.

However, the concept can be misinterpreted and abused.

For example, if you’re given a free-for-all on what you’re allowed to eat, what’s to stop you from exclusively feasting on doughnuts, chocolate and chips as long as it’s within your calorie quota? Technically, there’s nothing.

However, will you look healthy, feel great and full of energy just eating these processed foods?

Probably not. This is because not all foods are equal in terms of the nutrients they supply, and most processed and junk foods, like the aforementioned, tend to be lacking in the vital micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) we need for optimum health. Therefore, it’s very important to include plenty of nutrient-dense foods when you design your flexible diet: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats such as avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds.

These types of foods, for the most part, should be the basis of your diet, but they don’t have to be all of it, and that’s the point of flexible dieting — you can have your cake, and eat it too, as long as it’s within your calorie quota!

Food is, after all, a social tool and enjoying different flavours and the experience of food is important.

Eliminating those that you love is rarely a long-term solution.

How much time have you spent staring at the tubs of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer section of the grocery store, or longingly looking at the cookie jar sadly telling yourself that you can’t have them.

We all know how the story ends: weeks of deprivation, then at some point you crack and eat the forbidden food.

You not only chastise yourself and feel guilty, but you derail your progress too. None of this is ideal.

With flexible dieting, no food is off-limits, no food is labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as long as you can get the portions to work within the context of your caloric needs, you’re free to enjoy what you like. Calculating your daily calorie quota and designing your own flexible diet is fairly simple.

There are lots of website and apps out there designed to help you figure out and track the numbers.

I’m personally a fan of MyFitnessPal.com and IIFYM.com. To begin with, it can take a little time to meal-plan and make your macro and calorie quota work for you — enlist the help of a nutrition coach if you struggle at first — but once you get the hang of it, it really is the ultimate tool in freeing up your diet and allowing you to lose weight whilst enjoying a variety of foods.

Becky Wright is a qualified personal trainer, nutritional therapist and international bikini fitness champion. She has worked with clients worldwide, including royalty. Contact her at www.beckywrightfitness.com or becky@beckywrightfitness.com