Flexible Dieting – Yay or Nay?
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“How often can I cheat on my diet?” I bet this question crosses your mind every time you walk by a pastry shop. The clean-eating dieting regime that you have taken up has helped you lose quite a good amount of weight but you don’t get to eat your favourite ice-cream anymore and that makes you sad. As strong-willed as you are, it really makes you wonder, “Can I eat my favourite foods on a regular basis and still lose weight?” Well, flexible dieting is the answer. Flexible dieting, commonly known as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), is a dieting strategy that advocates that you can have whatever you want to have (a slice of pizza or donuts), as long as you fit it into your daily macro-nutrient numbers, without affecting your body composition goals. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. The case of clean eating Clean eating is a very simple concept. This revolves around eating minimally processed, low GI (Glycemic Index) whole foods. Simple sugars, refined grains and “unhealthy fats” (pizzas and burgers, anyone?) are a big no-no. The idea is to eat as “clean” as possible and follow your diet to the T. Problems with eating clean: As much as clean eating would be the best way to go about on a diet, it does have some problems – Too much fibre: Consuming too much fibre can be as uncomfortable as consuming too less, when on a diet. If you’re someone on a high carb diet, having too much fibre via clean, minimally processed foods can lead to problems like GI (Gastro-Intestinal) distress and malabsorption of certain minerals. Cheat meals/days: Most people tend to visualize a cheat meal as an all-you-can-eat American buffet where they cram down as much food as they can down their throat like it’s the last meal they are ever going to have. This kind of intermittent binging can hinder your fat loss goals over the long run. Not to mention that cheat meals can turn into cheat days which then turn into cheat weeks and before you realise, your diet goes down the drain. If you are stuck at a plateau or want a break from your diet for a day or two, calculated refeeds would be a slightly better option. Dieting isn’t supposed to be so hard We know that fat loss depends on a very simple equation, calories in vs calories out. Consume less calories than you burn and the scale starts tipping to the left. The nature of foods doesn’t have any impact on the rate of fat loss if calories and protein are equated at the end of the day. Enter IIFYM: Flexible dieting/IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) is a more flexible way of dieting which involves the simple counting and tracking of your daily macro-nutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) irrespective of the nature of the foods you eat. Just hit your target macros by the end of the day based on your goal and you’re good to go. Even if you are eating out, guesstimate the amount of macronutrients present in the food and log them as such, keeping in mind that a difference of a few calories won’t impact your goal in the long run. But wait! Don’t start piling up on pop-tarts and whey protein only to meet your daily macros! Just like clean eating, IIFYM has its own set of problems, if taken to the extreme. Problems with IIFYM Do not Donut: If a person decides to eat only simple sugars/processed foods to meet his/her daily requirements, chances are that their fiber intake is going to be very low and that could cause a host of gastro-intestinal problems. Constipation, for one. Think before you Pizza: Processed foods tend to be very calorie dense with no/very little micronutrient availability. Hence, including a lot of processed foods in your diet can lead to micronutrient deficiency, and neither are they as satiating, which can lead to further binges, especially when dieting down. What you can do: The key here is to find a balance between the both. If we are to hit a body-composition friendly macronutrient breakdown, we are going to be eating a lot of ‘clean’ foods by default. General recommendations would be to follow an 80-20 split, wherein 80% of your daily caloric intake should come from minimally processed, whole ‘bro’ type foods and the rest can come from whatever your guilty pleasures are. Benefits of flexible dieting: Sustainable – The key to the success of any diet is its sustainability in the long run. Research has shown that having flexibility in our food choices can help us in losing body fat while not feeling food-deprived and maintaining a healthier body weight in the long run. Less deprivation, less binge episodes – When you feel like you are not allowed to have something, that is what you want the most. It’s basic human psychology. With IIFYM, no food is off limits. You can have whatever you want if you fit it in your macros. Hence, less binge episodes. No more ‘Mr. Odd Man Out’ – Imagine going to your boss’s party and pulling out your Tupperware of brown rice, chicken and broccoli while everyone else is having chicken wings and a good time. As a flexible dieter, you figure out what you can eat beforehand based on the macros that you have left. That way, you still stick to your goals and aren’t labeled ‘anti-social.’ Conclusion: Being on a diet doesn’t mean that you have to suffer, no. Now, if you’re someone who doesn’t have cravings and can do perfectly fine on a strict clean diet, then more power to you. But if you can’t, you can still achieve your goals by tracking everything you eat and exercising moderation. Yes, it’s meticulous to log everything at first and may seem futile, but with time, it becomes second nature. Have that piece of cake you were eyeing for so long, then go to the gym and crush your goals. Author credits-Sandeepak Ghosh References- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11883916 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25903250 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10336790 Lyle McDonald: A guide to Flexible Dieting