I get a lot of requests asking for a breakdown of exactly what sort of diet I follow.
Since the Summer 2014, I've been using what is colloquially known as “If It Fits Your Macros” or IIFYM.
However, I really think a more accurate (and simple) description is Flexible Dieting.
So here it is – all the details about Flexible Dieting and why I use it.
It's not a diet, it's an eating system
In its most simple form, Flexible Dieting involves establishing a daily goal for the three macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein).
Then, you simply meet those numbers everyday.
It doesn't matter if your fat comes from butter, avocado, or almonds.
As long as the numbers add up, you're golden.
Think about that for a second.
Rather than eating ground beef and sweet potato like you had planned, it's not a big deal to grab a grilled chicken sandwich if you happen to go out for lunch that day.
You just switch carbs for carbs, exchange fat for fat, and substitute protein for protein.
Sounds easy right?
Well, it actually is.
I've been following this approach for around a year and a half and it's helped me:
- gain muscle without putting on much fat
- lose body fat without sacrificing muscle
- eat desserts without screwing up my diet
- maintain abs year round (!)
- enjoy meals at restaurants and family gatherings
- drink alcohol in moderation
And I'm not tired of it or tempted to switch programs!
Flexible dieting can be just as effective as any pre-planned diet, but without the undue restriction.
Essentially, Flexible Dieting is the most versatile way to make consistent (and sustainable) progress that I've ever come across.
And I have a lot to which I can compare it.
Been there, done that
Over the past 15 years, I've tried just about every diet out there.
For long stretches of time, I've religiously followed variations of low-fat, low-carb and Paleo-type diets.
I've even played around with being mostly vegan for shorter times.
But all of them had one thing in common – they weren't practical in everyday life, especially over the long run.
The above diets often lead to overpowering cravings and make it extremely difficult to find things to eat if you're away from home all day.
And how many of us actually spend our days within arms reach of a kitchen?
That's not to say they were without benefit, though.
- Low-carb diets taught me to ditch sugary drinks, excessive grains, and bullshit snacks.
- Low-fat diets helped me break my dependency on pizza, mac n' cheese, and french fries.
- Paleo diets helped instill the value of consuming tons of whole, un-processed foods.
- Vegan eating forced me to incorporate vegetables and superfoods into every meal I ate.
So with these lessons learned and good habits formed, I can now use Flexible Dieting in a responsible way to achieve and easily maintain the body I want.
Why I don't like traditional diets
Besides the restrictions…
There isn't a specific vegetable that “torches belly fat”.
You won't find a single food on the planet that “puts weight on you”.
There isn't a system of macro manipulation that can override the need to control how much you eat.
And you can't alter the number of meals you eat to trick your body into quickly building muscle and simultaneously shedding fat.
It's the sum of everything you eat over the course of the day, week, and month that determines body weight.
But I'll concede that most diets do work (for a time) because they get you excited to pay attention to what you're eating which leads to better choices.
And most decrease total caloric intake simply by eliminating a meal, food group, or macronutrient.
So combine these better food choices with below-maintenance calories, and you have weight loss.
But only for as long you can stick with the restrictive diet.
How long can you keep that up?
I thoroughly enjoy steak and eggs, but this dish can get a little boring after a year or two.
I'll be the first to tell you about how much I love low-carb dieting.
It all but eliminates hunger, provides stable energy throughout the day, and keeps my blood work in tip-top shape.
But finding suitable menu options can be a nightmare.
Sure, you still have options, but most need so many modifications it's ridiculous.
I felt like a robot programmed on repeat to say, “please take the rolls from the table,” “hold the fruit, toast, and hash browns,” and “can you put the dressing, candied pecans, and apple slices on the side?”
It was frustrating.
I would go to a restaurant, pay for a meal, and only be able to eat half of it.
Not to mention it made meals at home with my wife a challenge, as she isn't always as eager to adopt my various diets.
It's the same story with eating only “clean” foods.
Unless you're making the food yourself from fresh ingredients, good luck finding satisfying, healthy food on-the-go.
For most guys, being overly strict for long periods of time eventually leads them to cave and have that double bacon cheeseburger they've been fantasizing about.
Then, more often than not, that one slip leads to more and more “exceptions” and eventual derailment.
Who wants to spend the rest of their life like that?
With flexible dieting, you don't have to “cheat”.
Instead, you simply “adjust” for the occasional treat.
Why I choose Flexible Dieting
After everything I've learned and experienced, I think the perfect diet is chock full of whole foods and includes lean meat, plenty of fruits and veggies, some dairy, and whole grains to make up the rest of the calories.
Most importantly, the perfect diet must be practical and enjoyable!
So for me, demonizing and eliminating a nutrient or food group doesn't really work in the long run.
I enjoy beer, pizza, french fries, ice cream, and cookies too much to never have them again.
And I don't want the mental weight of feeling like I'm “cheating” on my diet.
But the real clincher is, diets only work for as long as you can keep up the habits.
With Flexible Dieting, I can enjoy foods I like without ever having that initially satisfying but ultimately discouraging cheat meal.
Flexible Dieting allows me to have a social life without being the guy at the restaurant eating a plain chicken breast and chasing it with a glass of water and a squeeze of lemon.
It just takes a certain amount of discipline to keep the less healthy choices to under 10% or so of your total diet.
Is Flexible Dieting for you?
A lot of guys think that if they follow a specific diet, they don't have to keep track of how much they eat.
While there is much to be gained by simply switching to a healthier diet, you still need to know how much you eat if having an above average physique is your goal.
In the end, it all comes down to appetite.
If you have a small appetite, you'll never self select enough food to put on muscle.
If you have a big appetite, you'll always gravitate towards eating too much for your weight loss goals.
Flexible Dieting is more flexible than you think
With the amount of freedom allowed by Flexible Dieting, it's taken on an image of being extremely high in carbs and junk food.
But tracking your macros doesn't mean that you have to eat bodybuilder levels of carbs or ditch the healthy food all together.
- You can use it for high or low carb diets.
- You can use it for bulking or cutting.
- You can eat as clean or as dirty as you want.
- You can avoid meat, dairy, gluten, processed foods, etc. and still track your macros.
Regardless of macro distribution, it's still important to track how much you're eating. At least until you're close to your ideal physique and experienced enough to estimate macros.
Essentially, Flexible Dieting is a way to fine tune, and allow some wiggle room, for any eating system of your choosing.
You can start today
With most diets, there's a huge learning curve.
Sometimes I forget that I've been obsessing over this stuff for the better part of 20 years, yet I'm still frequently astonished at how tricky certain aspects of dieting can be.
From the more casual dieter, I often hear phrases such as:
- “I didn't know X, Y, Z had so many carbs!”
- “How did they manage to get 71 grams of fat into a salad?! I thought I was eating healthy!”
- “Ugh, I don't understand how that's not Paleo!”
There's so much room for error with most diets if you don't have enough base knowledge and this confusion can often lead to frustration which isn't too far from throwing in the towel.
On the other hand, Flexible Dieting is very factual.
Did you eat it and did it fit your macros?
There's no gray area to consider and you don't have to read a book to figure it out.
All you have to do is download an app and start entering your food, which is just as easy as searching for a movie review in Google.
Work on getting the amount of food you eat under control today, and then clean up the quality as you learn the ins and outs of nutrition.
It's immediate, sustainable, and adaptable progress.
What more can you ask for?
Coming up in my next post, I'll explain exactly how I incorporate Flexible Dieting into my life and show you what a typical week of eating looks like.