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  • Haley Schlechter, RD, LDN

The Flexible Dieting Stretch

Flexible dieting has done what no other diet has done before: sound appealing. By nature, people hear flexible and are given the impression the diet is lenient and easily altered. You might even be left with the impression that anyone can do it, but how true are these impressions and, more importantly, is the diet even effective?

The diet:

On the worldwide web, Flexible dieting has been used interchangeably with something called If It Fits Your Macros or IIFYM on many weight loss and body building sites. The diet is characterized not by what particular food items you eat but rather the macronutrient composition of those foods. You start by calculating your total energy (calorie) needs. Then you decide on a macro nutrient ratio (carbs, fats, proteins) that fits your goals. Once you’ve completed those two steps, you start tracking what you are eating in order to reach your macronutrient and calorie goals daily.

You can eat whatever food you want as long as it fits your carb, protein and fat requirements for the day. I know what you’re thinking… pop tarts. According to this diet, the carbohydrates from pop tarts would count the same as the carbs from brown rice. Sound too good to be true?

A dietitian’s perspective (AKA Science)

This diet is looking more at your total intake as a whole rather than individual food components which I can get behind. Flexible dieting is not exclusive, meaning all foods are allowed, which myself and most dietitians would agree is important. This is because science has shown time and time again that the more restrictive a diet is, the less effective it is long term. Greater restrictions also lead to some pretty terrible relationships with foods, like binge eating. Flexible dieting allows people to enjoy things like going out to eat and going to parties without the normal stresses of a restrictive diet. As long as it fits your daily macro goals, you’re fine. So in this regard, I think this diet has the potential to be sustainable.

You may be able to guess some of my obvious issues with this diet. Pop Tarts and brown rice are not the same. Yes, the carbohydrates from both will be processed similarly BUT brown rice contains other important nutrients, like fiber and magnesium that are not only important for general health but will also keep you fuller longer than a Pop Tart ever will. Food is more than just carbs, fats and protein. You still need to eat your vegetables. With that said, if you want a pop tart it can and should fit in your diet, just in moderation. It is the people that take this diet to the extreme and only eat highly palatable foods (fried, processed, or nutrient lacking foods) that ruin this option for many dietitians.

Further, the only thing that is flexible about is diet is that it is open to all food options. It requires some serious tracking of all foods consumed as well as a general understanding of nutrition. Time and nutrition knowledge are pretty (extremely) lacking in this country. Many people do not know how to identify foods containing carbs, fats and proteins, let alone understand how to estimate how much of each are in a food or what a true portion size looks like. This means you would have to accurately use a food tracking app or program to log your foods. Every meal you have to stop and log what you are eating to check if it does, in fact, “fit your macros”. Long term, this could either be unsustainable for those lacking time OR if meticulously (opposite of flexible) and diligently recorded, it could educate you on basic nutrition to the point where you would not need to physically track using an app. It’s a toss-up.

Moral of story: Whether you are dieting to lose, gain or maintain weight, the best diet is always going to be the one you can adhere to LONG TERM. If you like the idea of being able to eat the greatest variety of foods by tracking your intake throughout the day, this could be a very effective method for you. Understand that you need a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and fats in order to meet ALL of your nutrition needs though! If you are not interested in having to track intake throughout the day and do not feel you would be accurate in logging, I would explore other options.

Want to know what dieting methods I commonly use in practice? Stay tuned for future posts!

Grow Strong My Friends!

Have Questions? Ask!

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