The Beginners Guide To Flexible Dieting (IIFYM)

Through countless media outlets, we’ve been led to believe that the bad foods we eat – you know – pizza, French fries, ice cream, and chocolate cake, are the sole reason we are gaining fat.

But you know what?

We’ve been lied to.

The Misconception of Bad Foods

Let’s start here:

Foods can’t simply be classified as “good” or “bad” — “clean” or “dirty”.

There are no bad foods. Just foods.

Having a piece of cake on its own does not make you fat — consuming too many calories, carbs, and/or fat does.

Obviously with some common sense, we can recognize that some foods may be better for health and performance than others. And some eaten in excess may be worse than others.

But looking at a food as either good or bad is a short-sighted view.

Because nutrition is contextual.

Individual food items do not determine a good nutrition plan.

We need to widen our thinking and look at the bigger overall picture – the diet as a whole.

And rather than categorizing foods as either “good” or “bad”— we need to look at it based on our goal, and how it fits into the grand scheme of things.

By banning all of our favorite foods, and imposing unnecessary restrictions, all we are doing is setting ourselves up for failure…


The Problem With Restrictive Diets

Thing is – lots of diets can work for losing fat, provided they get you in a caloric deficit.

Where most diets fail, however, is in lack of adherence.

While you may lose weight and see results following a restrictive diet in the short-term, it’s not uncommon to regain the weight lost shortly afterwards — taking you right back to square one.

This is because restrictive diets simply aren’t sustainable in the long-term.

If you don’t enjoy how you’re eating, and have too many restrictions in place, you’re always going to be focused on when the diet will end or when it will be over.

This creates a poor mindset, which leads to failure.

And it doesn’t matter how great your willpower is either, because if you don’t enjoy your diet, and have to cut out all of your favorite foods – eventually you are going to break, and fall off the wagon.

Adherence really is the most important underlying factor of any diet or nutrition program, because if you cannot successfully adhere to it and follow it consistently in the long-term, then it doesn’t matter how good the diet is, because it will never be sustainable, and you aren’t going to follow it long enough to see results.

And even if you do get results — If you can’t eat like you are today for the rest of your life, then you simply aren’t going to maintain your results.

That’s why it’s important to find an approach that fits your lifestyle — is enjoyable and maintainable – a way that you can eat indefinitely.


Enter — Flexible Dieting

What is Flexible Dieting?

With flexible dieting, essentially you have a protein, carbohydrate, and fat goal you’re aiming for each day (personalized to you), and you eat accordingly to hit those numbers.

The other phrase that is interchangeably used with flexible dieting is “If It Fits Your Macros” – or “IIFYM” for short.

Whenever you hear someone talking about “hitting their macros” or “fitting ‘____’ in their macros,” they’re referring to flexible dieting in some form or another.

Now, regardless of what kind of diet you follow — you’ll be hitting certain macronutrient numbers, whether you are aware of what those numbers are or not.

The difference with a flexible dieting approach, is that you have freedom and flexibility in selecting the foods that make up your diet, without certain foods or food groups being banned or restricted.

You simply eat a healthy, balanced diet, with the odd treat in moderation, as it aligns with your nutritional goals.

Essentially, you make your diet a lifestyle – not a temporary period of suffering through unnecessary rules and restrictions.

This type of eating makes adherence much more realistic, and sustainable in the long-term, which of course leads to better results.

What Makes Flexible Dieting Awesome?

It Gives You Freedom.

What foods you eat, when you eat, and how frequently you eat, are all dependent on your personal preference, and lifestyle.

Rather than being fixed to the clock as you await your next next meal, and having to pack Tupperware with you every time you leave the house for an hour, you can have freedom over food choices, and a life outside of the kitchen.

This can be incredibly liberating.

You can avoid unnecessary things like:

  • Missing out on family outings, social gatherings, or vacations because of fear of going ‘off-plan’, or ‘breaking’ your diet
  • Battling against cravings for no good reason
  • Eating 6 meals out of Tupperware each day


You Can Still Have A Social Life.

If you have a social event to attend, and you’re restricted to a “clean foods” only diet, it’s pretty likely that the food being served won’t fit within the allowance of your plan, so you won’t be able to enjoy the food being served.

This means you have 3 options:

  1. Stay at home by yourself.
  2. Bring your own food of Tupperware to the event.
  3. Say ‘fuck it’, and eat all of the food you set your sights on, which essentially means ‘breaking’ your diet, because you’re either on your diet or you’re not.

All of these sound like pretty shitty choices, to me.

Whereas if you’re following a flexible diet, it’s simple – you just make smart choices. No foods are off limits, so you choose foods that allow you to stay within your goals.

You can still go out with your friends and family on a Friday or Saturday night, without any stress or worry of it interfering with your diet.

Also Read: How To Track Macros When Eating Out


You Can Practice Consistent Eating Habits Over the Entire Week.

Many people who follow a “clean” eating approach will restrict themselves to eating nothing but wholesome nutrient-dense, clean foods throughout the week, and then one day per week allot themselves a cheat meal where everything is fair game, and they go all out. There are no limits -- it could be a large pizza, or an entire tub of ice cream, with a dozen cookies to go with it.

Now to be clear here – when I talk about a cheat meal, I’m not talking about eating sugar or some other food deemed “unclean” by a guru. I’m talking about eating more calories than you planned on eating, with complete disregard to the nutritional content of the food.

The urge to cheat like this usually happens as a result of being overly restrictive throughout the week with a limited selection of “clean” foods, which often leads to the urge to binge eat.

With a flexible diet, there’s no need to have an all-out binge, because there’s room to include some “cheat” foods (in moderation) whenever you like, so cravings don’t build up and cause the need for a big release.

Rather than following a "clean" diet throughout the week, and then blowing it with a big binge on the weekend, you can follow the same eating approach all seven days per week.

Being Less Strict Leads To Better Results.

By not having a bunch of restrictions set in place, it essentially means that you never have to eat “off-plan” or break your diet.

There is still room to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation.

This makes for a much more sustainable way of eating that allows you to be consistent in the long-term.

Consistency being the real key here.


How To Start Flexible Dieting

By now, the benefits of flexible dieting are clear, and you're probably eager to get started.

So lets walk through a few simple steps to get you going on the right track.

Step 1) Determine Caloric & Macronutrient Requirements.

The first thing you need to figure out is what your calorie and macronutrient goals are.

You can learn how to calculate these using the links below.


Step 2) Look At Meal Composition.

Your basic goal once you determine your macronutrient requirements, should be to choose a few foods you enjoy from each category (proteins, carbs, fats), to use as staples in your diet to help meet your daily macronutrient targets, and comprise your meals.

Keep in mind that no single food is mandatory, and it’s best to choose foods that you enjoy most to maximize the chances of you adhering to the diet long-term and making it easier to follow.

With that in mind, here are a few examples of some high-quality food sources you can use on a regular basis:

(Note: This is NOT a comprehensive list).

Protein Sources

Lean protein sources should make up the majority of your intake. There is nothing essentially wrong with protein sources that contain more fat… you’ll just have to account for the extra calories from the fat.

Some good examples include:

  • Chicken/turkey breast
  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Whole eggs
  • Egg whites
  • Salmon
  • White fish
  • Plain non-fat greek yogurt
  • Whey/casein protein powder

Carb Sources

Non-processed carbs that are high in fiber should make up the majority of your intake.

Go with things like:

  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes/sweet potatoes
  • Whole grain breads
  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Lentils/beans
  • Lots of veggies

Fat Sources

Proteins, depending on the source, will contain some 'tag-along' fats in them, so you shouldn't need to add a ton of extra fats to your diet. Use some of the following to round out your fat intake:

  • Omega-3 fish oil
  • Nuts/nut butters
  • Avocado
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coconut oil


Structuring Your Meals

Everyone has a different lifestyle, commitments, as well as eating preferences. This means that one diet which might work awesome for one person, might be completely unrealistic for another, depending on differences in lifestyle and preference.

And that’s why it's important that you choose a meal frequency and breakdown that works best for you personally.

I generally recommend between 3-6 meals for most people – dictated primarily based on personal preference and schedule.

You might be someone who finds that eating several small meals throughout the day keeps your energy levels higher.

Or you might be someone with a busy schedule, who prefers eating larger meals because they allow you to feel fully satisfied.

Both options are equally fine -- pick the one that fits best for you and will allow you to enjoy your diet the most.

Aim for an adequate serving of protein in each meal, along with some form of fruit or veggie.


Step 3) Track Your Intake.

Learning to track your macros can seem like a bit of a daunting task. But with a bit of practice, it will only take you a few minutes each day.

And the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I’ve written about how to track macros in detail before, and you can find everything you need to know below:

==> How To Count Macronutrients (A Comprehensive Guide)

==> How To Track Macros When Eating Out

Priority Scale When Tracking

When you're tracking, here's what you want to focus on in order or importance:

#1) Hit overall calories for the day – calories still determine whether we gain or lose weight.

#2) Hit protein targets for the day. Protein is vital for recovery purposes and the retainment of lean tissue, therefore you don’t want to to fall short on it.

#3) Get enough micronutrients (veggies + fruit, nutrient-dense carb sources, variety of fats.)

#4) Hit carb and fat targets. Carbs and fats have a bit more room for buffer. Since they have an inversely correlated relationship, it’s fine to trade off some of your carb intake on some days in turn for a bit more fat, provided that you remain within your caloric range. However, I wouldn’t recommend going extremely low on either side (carb or fat), as its best to have at least a moderate amount of both macros.


Tips For Success With Flexible Dieting

Plan Ahead.

Before you go completely free-balling, try planning out some of your meals or making a meal plan composed of foods that you enjoy, which allows you to meet your macronutrient ranges. Having a bit of structure to go off of will make things simpler in the beginning stages.

If you have no idea what you are eating, and simply wing it the day of, it becomes a lot easier to go over or under on certain macros if you aren’t planning carefully.

If you’re a larger male with a lot of muscle, your intake is obviously going to be significantly higher, which means you will have much more wiggle room with your macros. You may even have to purposely eat more at the end of the day, if you find you end up being short on macros.

If you’re a smaller female on the other hand, or pushing through a caloric deficit, your intake is obviously going to be lower, which means you might not have as much flexibility in terms of crushing a bowl of ice cream to finish the evening and fill an extra 30g of carbs.

This just means more careful planning is required and you may need to be a little more conservative to make sure you don’t wildly overshoot your macros.


Exercise the 80/20 Rule.

Just because you can eat a bit of "junk food" on a flexible diet, and still reach your physique goals, does not mean that you should aim to eat as much as you can possibly fit in to your macros.

Flexible dieting is all about moderation.

I like to use the 80/20 rule, where as long as at least 80% of your food intake comes from high quality nutrient-dense whole foods, the other 20% of your intake can be filled with whatever you want to meet your calorie and macronutrient goals.

Erring closer to a 90/10 range -- where 90% of food intake comes from high quality nutrient-dense whole foods, and the other 10% is whatever you want, may be an even better approach.

Focus first and foremost on hitting your baseline requirement of healthy wholesome foods for the day, and if you have room left in your macros for the day and feel so inclined – round out your calories with something that is more of a treat. This could be something like a bowl of ice cream or a cookie – or whatever suits your fancy, really.


Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, a flexible eating approach makes things much more enjoyable, and easier to stick to, which leads to better long-term results.

As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t see yourself following a diet for years to come, then it probably isn’t a good diet for you, because you’ll never stick to it.

Find an eating approach that fits your lifestyle – one that is enjoyable and maintainable – and a way that you can eat indefinitely.

Questions on flexible dieting?

Pop them in the comments below!

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