Can Dieting Really Be Flexible?
Can you eat ice cream, cake, chocolate, doughnuts or whatever else you fancy, and still lose fat?
Or do you have to eat the same things all of the time, and eliminate anything containing sugar, or sugar and fats together?
My experience with flexible dieting
I used to do the Paleo diet.
I lost fat. I didn’t understand why it worked. I was losing fat, therefore I was happy.
I thought it was working because I was eliminating all of the “bad” foods from my diet. I wasn’t eating anything containing sugar. Whilst this isn’t a bad idea, it isn’t the actual reason why the paleo diet worked to get me to lose fat.
Fat loss is caused by a calorie deficit!
I know now that the paleo diet worked for me because it only allowed me to eat foods that were filling and lower in calories. Therefore, the chances of me getting into a calorie surplus were lower.
The paleo diet is a great way to eat if you want to do it.
There’s definitely nothing wrong with eating meat, fruit and vegetables. At least, 80% of your diet should be this way.
However… Paleo is restrictive.
Flexible dieting is… Flexible!
If you go to a social event like a BBQ or birthday party, the chances are quite high that the food on offer won’t fit with the way you like to eat if you’re following most diets.
This can lead to feelings of anxiety about social situations involving food, and regret after the event about the things you ate.
When you diet flexibly, you won’t beat yourself up for what you ate at the social event, it doesn’t bother you.
Tracking the calories you’re eating means you can fit foods you enjoy into your diet and still make progress towards your goals.
Yes, this even means you can eat chocolate, cookies or ice cream and still lose fat, or gain muscle.
You just need to know what your maintenance calories are, and then eat a sensible amount more or less than this number, depending on whether your goal is to gain or lose.
Click the link below to go to a site with a calculator which will give you a rough ballpark figure from which to begin tracking.
You’ll have to try eating this amount for a couple of weeks and see what happens to your weight. If it stays the same, that’s your maintenance!
Now, clearly it isn’t healthy to only ever eat junk food. You may lose fat if you stay under your maintenance calories, but you’ll be in poor health.
And it’s unlikely you’d manage to gain any appreciable muscle on a junk food diet.
To keep you healthy and enable you to build muscle or keep the muscle you already have, you need to consider the different macronutrients you’re eating to make up those calories.
You also need to ensure your diet allows you to consume sufficient micronutrients.
So what is the optimal split of macronutrients?
You need protein, fat and carbs, but what amount of each is best?
All food can be categorised as one of the above, a mixture of 2, or all 3 of them.
The amount of each that you eat also determines how many calories you eat.
- A gram of protein = 4 calories.
- A gram of carbs = 4 calories
- A gram of fat = 9 calories
How to split your calories up between the 3 macronutrients?
Firstly, you need to understand what each macronutrient is used for by the body.
Protein is for building and repairing muscle. It’s incredibly important you get enough protein when you want to gain muscle, as it’s the building blocks that the new muscle will be made from.
When you’re focusing on losing fat, you STILL want protein to be high because it improves your chances of hanging on to muscle and losing only fat (Not losing any muscle).
Protein is also more satiating (fills you up) and requires more calories to digest (thermic effect of food) so it’s a good idea to consume more of it when in a fat loss phase.
Fat in the diet is used to absorb vitamins, and is essential for proper hormone function.
Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy. They will allow you to have great workouts and also provide energy for processes like building muscle! They are not evil, nor do they make you fat.
They WILL make you fat if you consume enough of them to go over your maintenance, but then the same can be said for fat or protein.
How to work out your split
Take your maintenance calories, and add 10 – 20% for bulking, or subtract 20% for fat loss (you can subtract more for faster fat loss, but you may run into some issues).
We’ll use the example of a man (called Jack) weighing 170 lbs and wanting to gain muscle. His calories for that goal are 2,700.
For protein, you want between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per pound of your bodyweight.
To keep things simple, Jack goes for 1 gram of protein. For him, this will be 170 grams of protein.
There are 4 calories per gram of protein, so he will be eating 680 calories per day from protein. Subtracting this from the total of 2,700 leaves 2,020 calories to come from fat and carbs.
The next bit can be fairly individualised. It’s up to personal preference a bit. Some people prefer fattier foods like avocados, bacon, sausages etc. whereas others like to eat more carbs like pasta, rice, bread and sweets.
Fat should be between 0.3 and 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight. I wouldn’t go much higher than 0.6 grams for fat when in a surplus (when weight gain is the goal) as fat is the macronutrient most easily stored as bodyfat when in a surplus.
Jack like carbs, so for fat he chooses 0.4 grams per pound of bodyweight.
This works out as 170 x 0.4 = 68 grams of fat.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, so that comes out as 612 calories from fat.
We subtract this number from the calories we had left at the last stage (after protein) which was 2,020. That leaves us with 1,408 calories to come from carbs.
Carbs, like protein, have 4 calories per gram. So Jack will need to eat 352 grams of carbs each day (1,408 divided by 4) to stick to his predetermined macronutrient split.
I’ve got two more posts going into more detail on macronutrient splits:
Time to start
Give it a go for yourself or DM me on twitter if you have any questions.
Remember, the objective is not to fit as much crap as possible into our diets.
The objective is to allow ourselves to have ice cream sometimes, or to borrow macros and calories from one day and pay them back on the next. This allows our fitness goals and our lives to fit together more easily.
No bringing your own food to the party!