I currently subscribe to a flexible dieting approach to nutrition and have been for several years. Flexible dieting is also known as IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and my coach and mentor, Dr. Layne Norton and the BioLayne team are teaching the world the science behind it all one day at time.
Flexible dieting does not really mean anything though except that we track what we eat. It isn’t a specific diet. There is no magic of certain foods at certain times or avoiding carbs or fat or lot’s of protein or anything extreme. All it means is that I currently keep track of what I eat. I know what I take in daily in terms of protein fat and carbohydrates. I also track fibre and the sources of protein, fats and carbs to ensure they are varied. I’m careful to include variety of all things as best I can but I do have my usual go to staples and favourites.
I adore eating delicious food. There are many foods I find delicious and they include apples, pineapple, fresh local greens especially lettuces and sprouts, Caribbean sweet potato, butternut squash, root vegetable and potato chips, high quality medium rare beef tenderloin steak, juicy perfectly roasted or grilled chicken breast, artisan dark chocolate, coconut milk ice cream (I’m intolerant to dairy or Ben & Jerry’s would be on this list), and natural peanut butter, coffee and varieties of sea salt to name a few of my favourites. I just like these things and they like me.
When I choose my foods there are 5 things that generally guide my choice:
- Will it satisfy me?
- my hunger level
- my cravings
- my energy requirements
- How will I feel after eating it?
- Palate (breath, lingering taste in your mouth)
- Overall wellness
- Will it support my goal?
- Does it into my daily nutrition goal?
- Have any added benefit? (perhaps a nutrient that would support fertility or boost immune system?)
- Is is readily available and appealing to me? (ideally without causing too much harm to my surrounding or better yet, is it supporting a local cause like my local farmers)
- Does it look good, taste good and do I want it?
- Is it ready or will it be ready when I need it to be?
- Is it within my budget
I don’t always meet all 5 but they are factors I consider. The thought process is pretty well automatic for me and for the most part actually happens mostly without me being aware of it. This just takes some practice but you can do this too.
I track what I eat because I have specific goals I want to achieve and right now diligently tracking is the best way for me to gather the information I need to know to make the changes that need to me made to achieve what I want to achieve. Monitor, measure and manage as we say. Tracking this way isn’t something I will always do or have always done but it comes in very handy when you need specific data about your body. If you think about it, it’s the same thing as tracking your run times or your heart rate when working on fitness goals or your temperature and menstrual cycle when gather information about your fertility.
My love for whole nutritious food is something that’s been with me a long time. When I went to school for holistic nutrition I became even more aware of all the wonderful benefits of phytonutrients (compounds in plants) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) of nutritious food choices. What I also became aware of is how extreme this love for whole food (or “clean eating”) can be and how it can become too extreme and even obsessive. Don’t get me wrong, I adore eating fresh, whole, unprocessed and locally sourced food more than almost anything because else (because of all of the above 5 reasons) but with anything, once something becomes too extreme and you start using phrases like never, always, must etc. when describing a nutrition strategy it can be come an obsessive (and potentially restrictive) path. We can easily become obsessed with only organic or only whole foods or no carbs or no fats or lots of fats or only certain fats or only certain meats or fish or blah blah blah. On that note, have you heard of Orthorexia?
When I took my sports specific nutrition program, the focus of the teaching (and my learning) shifted from a holistic, all natural and nourishing approach to more outcome based nutrition strategies so things like fat so, muscle gain, improved endurance and better recovery. The curriculum had less focus on the actual micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) and more focus on the macronutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrates). What I mean by that is the importance was less on say the amount of vitamin C needed (although still very important) and more about the carbohydrate quantity in a pro or post-run meal. We did discuss much about the specific breakdown of the macronutrients like amino acids and glucose though which is really fascinating. All of it is interesting in that for our body to perform optimal as a machine (athlete) the bigger picture in terms of how much you eat of each nutrient is a very (most?) important factor and I think this is often lost when focusing too much on “eating clean” instead of what you need to function optimally (and reach your goals).
It’s important to know that nutrition all works synergistically and my point is one nutrient on it’s own is not necessarily better than the rest. Similar obsession to the holistic “health food” thought process like I mention above where no sugar is allowed (btw carbohydrate is glucose which is sugar) or when eating for fat loss or “on a diet” and one focuses only on macronutrients. Sometime you will see people get too hung up on this and starts entirely eliminating certain macronutrient groups like avoiding carbohydrates or fat or overeating (or under eating) protein. Again, unnecessary.
Flexible dieting teaches you what your needs actually are. You learn what and how much of eat nutrient is in the food you eat. You learn the value of the source you choose, how much protein and fat is in dark meat vs white meat, how many carbohydrates are in rice vs. potato vs. apples vs. gummy bears. This is something lost on many, we just don’t learn it and are instead bombarded with ‘diet’ fads.
Another reason flexible dieting is so great is that you can make it work according to how you want to eat – What you enjoy, can afford, can digest and what satisfies. If you have special dietary needs you can accommodate those and still ensure you get the right amount of each macronutrient and calories. As long as it also fits appropriately into your macronutrient guideline and meets your appropriate needs, go for it.
This means that you can potentially eat the way you currently eat, maybe with just a few tweaks and still meet your goals. If you want to eat pre made frozen dinners and a Rockstar and you can make it work go ahead. If you only want to eat whole food that’s fine too. If you love to live on chicken and asparagus (not sure why?) or if you want all of the above or if you want to eat the same thing everyday that might be ok too. If you don’t feel great in general or after eating a certain way you may want to reconsider your choices. Think about your digestion, satiety, nutritional needs, energy, cravings, mood, overall health etc. but if it all works well for you then who’s to say eat something else and why.
What you can do is tune into your body signals (via body awareness, blood pressure checks and regular lipid profiles etc) and if you do, I suspect you may notice that your nutritional needs may not being met when following a very restrictive or nutrient poor diet (I’ll write about this in more detail another time) and from a nutritionist standpoint though I would urge you to include variety, fresh vegetables and fruit and aim for whole foods mot of the time.
The other good thing about flexible dieting is that there is no all or nothing mentality to it. Eat pizza one meal, eat salad the next. It doesn’t really matter so long as you work within your nutritional ‘budget’ and guidelines. There is no such thing as a cheat meal or a cheat food. That said, there are some more nutritionally dense food choices and you would likely benefit from the majority of your nutrition coming from those nutrient dense choices but this doesn’t label any food bad or good, just maybe fine and better. The important point here is knowing and understand your needs and goals and learning how to eat to accommodate them.Choose according to your needs and enjoy.
Whether you choose flexible dieting, following a meal plan or intuitive eating, I urge you to keep things in check. Abandon the obsessive behaviours, do you research (not everything you read is true or up to date), tune into your body, feel good about your food choices and find balance.
On that note, enjoy your Easter chocolate (in moderation or iifym, if you want it)!