Flexible dieting, Macros, IIFYM…
Spend any amount of time on Instagram, and you’re sure to see these words. Most of the time, these hashtags accompany pictures of double cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream, and all the “off-limits” foods us serial dieters only dream of eating. How could people eat all that and still have such amazing physiques?
- You can eat that too.
Now, I’m going to burst your bubble.
2) You can’t eat that all the time, and neither do they.
Just like you only put the highlights of your life on social media, that is what #fitspo people do as well. Nobody wants to see pictures of me sitting in bed typing this blog, and nobody wants to see pictures of grilled chicken and broccoli. Social media is for the fun things in life, and anyone who wants to tell me a double cheeseburger isn’t fun can literally fight me. Let’s go.
Just kidding. I’m a wimp. Now, what’s flexible dieting all about? Okay, let’s get to it.
Calories In vs. Calories Out
When it comes to losing weight, it’s all about calories in versus calories out. It doesn’t matter the approach. You can go low carb, no carb, keto, paleo, eat clean, Weight Watchers, Beyond Diet, Whole 30. Hell, you could eat McDonald’s or Twinkies all day long (Please don’t do that.). Barring any health issues, if you are eating at a moderate caloric deficit, you will lose weight. Notice I said moderate – not extreme. Learn from my mistakes, peeps. On the other hand, you can eat organic, clean, gluten free, non GMO, low carb, vegan, or paleo all day long, but if you take in more calories than you burn, you will not lose weight. Period.
As you’ve probably realized by now, I’m not a fan of restrictive diets. When I tell myself I can’t have something – be it bread, dairy, fat, brownies, spotted dick (it’s a thing, you sickos), or whatever – it’s all I can think about. Not only that, but when you eliminate something from your diet, you may lose weight, but what happens when the period of weight loss is over? You either commit to a life without the foods you restricted, or you gain the weight back (and sometimes more). Yes, I know that there are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. If you are currently eating a restrictive diet and it works for you, congrats! You’re way stronger than I am. Most people don’t have that kind of discipline, and I applaud you for it.
Which brings me to another thing you really need to think about. What is your plan for after you lose 20, 30, 40 or more pounds? This is something I failed to think about for a long time, and I think it was one of the many things that contributed to my years of yoyo dieting. Most people, myself included, just go back to that old way of eating. This is why we gain all of the weight back and sometimes more. We have to get over this quick fix mentality. You are not done after you lose the weight. In fact, you’re just beginning. I would argue that it is more difficult to maintain at our goal weight than it is to actually lose the weight. So, we have to shift our thinking from this “I’ve got to get this weight off as quickly as possible!” mentality to seeing this as a lifestyle change. When you do, you can really begin to think about a long-term approach to health – one that doesn’t require you to live a life without spotted dick brownies. An approach that allowed me to transform my body from what you see on the left to what you see on the right.
That’s why I love flexible dieting. It’s all about eating good, healthy food the majority of the time while allowing the flexibility to eat those “bad” foods occasionally without getting off track. And by not restricting certain types of food, this style of eating is a sustainable approach for most people.
Flexible Dieting 101
Y’all, I’m going to be honest with you here. This involves a bunch of science, and I really don’t want to bore you. So we’re going to keep it as simple as possible, and if you want the science behind all of this, lemme know and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
The basic principle behind flexible dieting is that you track macronutrients to achieve a certain body composition. Most of my readers are looking to lose weight (cut); however, others have goals of maintaining weight or adding muscle (bulking). Whatever your goal is, it can be achieved with flexible dieting. In this article, we are going to discuss calculating your macros in order to lose body fat, but if it is your goal to maintain or bulk, your macros can easily be adjusted.
So what are macros? There are three macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbs. These macronutrients (or macros) make up the foods we eat. Your body needs all three macronutrients to work efficiently. More specifically, your body needs an adequate amount of protein to maintain or build muscle, carbs give you energy to fuel your daily activity, and dietary fat to protect your organs, support cell growth, and aid in digestion. #science
Let’s break it down:
Protein – 4 calories per gram
Carb – 4 calories per gram
Fat – 9 calories per gram
By calculating the proper macronutrient for your goals, you can maximize fat loss and minimize the muscle you lose in a cut.
But why does that matter? I just want to lose weight. I don’t care if it’s muscle or fat.
Yes, you do, and here’s why:
When we lose weight, we are going to lose some muscle. It’s just a fact of life. But we want to hold on to as much muscle as we can while shedding as much body fat as possible. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- When you concern yourself with losing weight (as opposed to body fat), you won’t get the look you are hoping for. You end up looking what they call “skinny fat.” You know those people who look really thin but don’t look toned at all? Yeah, that’s skinny fat. They may not have a lot of fat on their bodies, but they also lack muscle definition. Go ahead, Google it. Being skinny fat is a thing.
- The more lean mass we have on our bodies (more muscle, less fat), the more calories we burn in a day. In other words, the more muscle we have on our bodies, the more we get to eat. And let’s be honest, isn’t that what we all want?
So, we have to eat enough protein, carbs, and dietary fat to maintain muscle, give us energy, and to help our bodies function properly, and we also need to eat at a caloric deficit in order to lose body fat.
Calculating Your Macros and Calorie Intake
Before we calculate your macros, I feel like I should remind you that none of this matters if you are in a calorie surplus. Eating at a deficit is goal numero uno. Calculating your macros correctly will put you at the deficit you need while maximizing fat loss and preserving muscle.
Now that I’ve cleared that up…
There are approximately 4,296,302 calculators on the internet that will help you to estimate your calories and macros. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I used this one, but feel free to find one that works for you.
Simply enter the information and it’ll spit out your numbers. It’s as simple as that.
But what do all these acronyms mean?
BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate – BMR is the number of calories your body needs per day to keep it alive and functioning. I like to think of this as my “lazy ass” calories. In other words, if I were to lie in bed all day and not move a muscle, I would still burn x number of calories. That’s my BMR. The calculator estimates your BMR based on the information you input. Side note: Don’t eat fewer calories than your BMR. Just don’t. K?
TDEE – Total Daily Energy Expenditure – TDEE is the estimated number of calories you burn per day including exercise. Obviously, this is going to be higher than your BMR.
LBM – Lean Body Mass – This is the rest of your body (muscle, bone, connective tissues, and all that jazz) minus body fat.
Knowing your TDEE, you can determine how many calories you should eat per day. All you do is eat 20-25% less than your TDEE. Now, you can figure this all out yourself, or you can use the calculator, but a moderate calorie deficit of 20-25% of TDEE is optimal.
Plug in your weight, BF% (which you were supposed to calculate last week..mmhmm, shame on you if you didn’t complete that Action Item), your activity multiplier (don’t fib on this one), and your goal (cut, maintain, or bulk), and the calculator will magically spit out the number of calories you should eat each day to achieve your goals. It will also give you your macro split. Here is an example:
The goal here is to get as close to these macros as possible, but you’re highly unlikely to hit these numbers perfectly every day. That’s a-okay! We are looking to hit near that target without going over your calories.
“Rachel, there is no way I can get that much protein or that little fat in a day!”
Samesies! For someone who came from eating a diet severely lacking in protein, I totally understand. In fact, most women don’t get enough protein. If that is too much for you, it’s okay to drop it some, but just make sure to keep it at a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
For example: If you weigh 160, aim for a minimum of 128 grams of protein per day.
160 x 0.8 = 128
Play around with the macro calculator a little bit to fit your needs. Your main concern with tracking your macros is hitting that protein goal in order to maintain the muscle you currently have on your body while losing body fat.
This is way TMI! Can’t we just keep it simple?
Okay, so all this tracking can get a little overwhelming. I concur. But, I read this little trick on the interwebs the other day that might be just enough to get you started. If you prefer to ease into tracking your macros and this all seems a bit too much, try this approach I found from @cartergood on Instagram:
Multiply your goal body weight by either 11 (if you’re not very active) or 12 (if you are pretty active). The total is the calories per day you should eat. Then, multiply your current body weight times 0.8, and that is the minimum amount of protein you should strive for each day. This way, the only things you have to track are your calories per day and your protein. As long as you are hitting those two goals, the fat and carb intake should be within a reasonable range.
Current Weight: 185 Goal Weight: 140
140 x 11 (less active) = 1,540 calories per day
185 x 0.8 = 148 grams of protein per day
Got it? Good!
How to Customize MFP for Your Goals
Last week, you downloaded My Fitness Pal. Now equipped with your specific numbers in hand, you are going to customize your calories and macros in MFP.
Open the MFP app and tap More at the bottom, right-hand side.
- Tap Goals
- Tap Calorie and Macronutrient Goals
- Enter your calorie goal
Adjust your macros as needed. You may not be able to get the exact macros. Just get as close as you can while making sure the protein goal is almost perfect. Remember: you’d rather go over on protein than under – while staying within your daily calories.
And that’s it!
How to Make Flexible Dieting Work for You
Now that you are equipped with the tools you need to begin flexible dieting, all there is left to do is to give it a try. Here are a couple of reminders and tips:
- When it comes to losing, calories are king. You cannot lose if you are in a surplus.
- Hit that protein goal (or get pretty close).
- Aim for volume. Like I said, you could eat junk food and stay within your calories and macros, but these empty calories tend to leave us hungry in a few hours. By eating lots of lean meats, veggies, and fruits, our bodies stay full longer. This helps with cravings too.Treat yourself! Have a sweet tooth? Fit something sweet into your macros (I suggest Halo Top ice cream). Need a salty treat? Go for it! Just adjust your macros as needed.
- Plan ahead. This sounds obvious, but planning takes a lot of the stress and guesswork out of dieting. For example, I love to eat a big dinner, so I always plan backwards from dinner to breakfast. That way I don’t get to the end of the day and “run out” of calories and macros. My sister, on the other hand, loves a big breakfast and lots of snacks throughout the day, so she plans her day accordingly. Whatever works for you is fine…just make sure you plan.
- Be patient. Not only does it take some time to adjust to this new way of eating, but it also takes time to see changes in your body. My philosophy here is the faster you lose, the faster you’ll gain it back. Flexible dieting isn’t going to make you drop 10 lbs. in a week. In fact, no diet will make you lose 10 lbs. In a week. If the scale drops that much in the first week, the majority of it is water weight. Sorry to burst your bubble.
- Calculate your macros using the calculator, if you haven’t already.
- It. Is. Time. Take before pictures. You will be so happy you did. Take them from the front, side, and back. And please, for the love of all things holy, SMILE! Learn from my mistakes.
- Read number two again and actually do it. This scale won’t always move, the measurements won’t always go down, but the pictures always tell the whole story. Trust me on this one. If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to take regular progress pictures. Be like Nike and just do it!
Good luck getting started, and please feel free to message me if you have any questions.