Are you going to be hitting the stage to show off a hard earned physique, hitting the platform to put weeks and weeks of training to the test, or getting ready for a photo shoot to show off that sexy 6 pack you’ve been fighting to achieve? How about a young male/female wanting to improve their overall health and body composition?
Through DM’s, emails, and comments, I get this question quite often actually. Should I be counting/tracking my macros. Finally, when a good friend of mine and old training partner sent me a message asking me to look over his macros he was thinking about starting for himself after reading a few of my older articles I felt like now would be a great time to go over what is counting macros or Flexible Dieting,who should use it, when it might be important or ‘the right time to do it’, advantages and disadvantages, and how to incorporate it into life.
What are Macros?
Macros, simply macro nutrients for short, which are protein, fats, and carbs. They are the bulk of our nutrition and calories. Don’t get them confused with micro nutrients, those are the vitamins and minerals inside of our macro nutrients. They give us daily energy, help us recover from exercise, help body functions, and overall support life. To break it down even more our “Macros” contain calories, or ‘units of energy’. Protein and Carbs typically contain 4 calories per 1 gram, where Fats are a denser at 9 calories per 1 gram.
What is Flexible Dieting?
First off, I don’t want you to look at it as just another ‘diet’. Look at it as a whole new way of eating. More of a nutritional concept vs fad diet.
Flexible Dieting consists of a balance of your macro nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) as well as typically hitting a fiber goal. Once all of those are in order it leaves food preference, and selection up to each individual. This can be applied whether you are dieting, maintaining, or looking to add some weight onto the body. Simply put, Flexible Dieting is Calories in vs Calories out. You may also see the popular acronym IIFYM. That simply is short for If It Fits Your Macros.
Should I be Flexible Dieting?
Now, this subject really is going to fall into personal preference. I myself have been FD for over 2 years pretty much straight through. I have taken a few small trips where I don’t bring my scale with me, yet I still follow the main practices, just a bit more loose and guesstimated. I originally started counting my macros because I am a competitive power lifter and I wanted to become bigger in my weight class without having to constantly cut, bulk, cut, bulk, etc. It has allowed me to start very close to my weight class, allowed me to increase my metabolism, and minimize fat gain. I did this by taking things very slow, as a rush is not needed. In 2 years, I find myself sitting only 10 lbs heavier than I was when I started, eating hundreds of calories more, and walking around with similar body fat %. So, I think Flexible dieting is fantastic option for someone who is looking to really take charge of either weight gain or weight loss who wants to do it in a precise manner that allows you to track data, and adjust progress. I prefer this style verse the typical eat everything in sight till I gain 20 pounds, then spend the next few months dieting and doing copious amounts of cardio to lose all the fat I just put on my body.
So, Dusty only competitive lifters should count macros? Not at all. Awhile after I started counting, I worked with a family member on Flexible Dieting. I showed them the in’s and out’s of how its done, and why it was important. This particular family member doesn’t exercise, nor has aspirations of being ripped. There only goal was to lose some unwanted pounds. By showing them the value of being aware of portions, how much they should be eating, and the correct amounts they should eat, they were able to make simple lifestyle choices for a HUGE impact on their body composition, and numbers on the scale. I find that Flexible Dieting can actually make a greater impact on people with little to no activity level, that just need help with food. Flexible Dieting really exposes things like underrating protein and fiber, which imo are two very big factors in healthy lifestyles.
I find Flexible Dieting can work for the 20 something gym goer that wants to put on some muscle, or the 60 something just trying to live a healthier life.
Now, Flexible dieting does not need to be followed FOREVER. The beauty of this nutritional concept is that it’s always teaching you. Teaching you correct portions, amounts of protein, fat, and carbs in food, god sources of fiber, and how to balance them all together. You don’t want to have to weigh food for the rest of your life, and you don’t want to be the person that wont have cake at the wedding because it wont fit your macros. It teaches you the most important quality in any sort of diet, and that is BALANCE. As with everything in life there is a time and place. If you are needing to make weight for a meet or show, or need to cut down for a photo shoot then those would be excellent times to count macros to help keep progress moving forward in a track able manner, but if you are away on a honeymoon, or out of town escape, maybe just traveling in general, or out to eat with family(depending on the situation) then there is a time to just ENJOY LIFE. In those instances, I will still focus on eating good amounts of protein and fiber, but I wont worry as much if I happen to get dessert when I normally wouldn’t. You need to have a diet that works for you, and not the other way around.
Advantages of Flexible Dieting
- Allows you to know exactly how much food you are taking in
- Allows you to balance your caloric intake and make adjustments depending on goals and current state
- Freedom to enjoy more foods well dieting, instead of following a restrictive diet
- Can get creative with food choices and food timing
- Learn how your body handles various amounts of foods, and food timing o hit
- Provides targets or structure to hit each day
- Optimize body composition
- Healthy Relationship with food
Disadvantages of Flexible Dieting
- Hard to weigh everything, or travel with scales
- Can lose sight of micro nutrients
- Time consuming
- Hard if your device dies
- Can develop a OCD way of eating
How to make Flexible Dieting work for you.
First question you need to ask yourself is this. Is it the right time for me to start flexible dieting? or Can I reasonably add this into my routine without causing a total life change? I only bring those two questions up as I want to see everyone have complete success with Flexible Dieting. If you have loads of life going on and you are worried that adding one more thing into the equation could send you into stress city then I don’t want you to try it, get overwhelmed and then have a bad taste in your mouth for Flexible Dieting.
I am not one who takes his scale out to eat with him, but if you want you, feel free to give you that extra level of support. Flexible dieting should be made as just one other tool in your arsenal. For example, I recently went traveling out of town. I chose not to bring my scale. Why? One, because I was on food trip and that was the main focus, and two I didn’t want to be bothered by weighing things out, and carrying a scale with me.
Whenever I travel, or go out to eat, or just eat something I might not know the breakdown I always approach it the same way. Protein becomes my focus. Typically when traveling or eating out protein is the lowest macro found, so I always try to either add in extra protein or make sure to bring some protein supplements with me.
With Flexible Dieting and weighing things out for a long time you begin to be able to judge the size and weight of things without actually using the scale. That way when I get a chicken breast brought out to me, I can look at it and make a judgement of how much it might weigh. After that, you can either chose to enjoy yourself and eat what you would like, or knowing things like butters, heavy sauces, pastas, deep fried items, etc can and potentially will have hidden fats and carbs. With your knowledge of Flexible dieting you can navigate a menu and find items that might be high in protein and lower in fat/carbs. Looking for things such as sea food, lean cuts of meat, lots of veggies, little sauces, and separate ingredients.
When eating out or even if its something brought into the house like pizza or a dessert dish, but remember that one meal is not going to make or break your diet. Flexible Dieting I feel does a great job at food association and making you realize that you don’t need to sit down and eat an entire cheesecake in one sitting. Enjoy your piece, track it objectively, and move on with your day.
Last thing I will say about eating out, or just guesstimating in general is I typically will over estimate on carbs/fats and under estimate on protein. The objective is not to get spot on, but to just get close to make an account for what your actually eating.
Hopefully this article helps relay some more information on what IIFYM or Flexible Dieting is, pros and cons, and how to add it into your life. Being able to still go out and enjoy yourself verses restricting foods because they are not labeled “clean” or fit in your diet. I believe you should be able to enjoy anything you want as life is short. I enjoy the fact that Flexible Dieting allows me to enjoy, but doesn’t let me get crazy which I know is unnecessary.