5 Reasons You Should Try Flexible Dieting & How To Get Started

Flexible Dieting - also known as IIFYM or counting macros - is one of the greatest practices I adopted along my health journey. I found Flexible Dieting after being completely exhausted and bored by eating the same 5 foods that I was taught were "clean" and I wanted to try an approach that didn't leave me so unsatisfied. Flexible Dieting is the approach of tracking the 3 macronutrient groups you eat throughout the day, and staying within a specific range for each one: Protein, Carbs, and Fat. Flexible Dieting is NOT an excuse to eat a bunch of junk food, but it IS a way to incorporate some of those foods you need to feel mentally sane without sacrificing all of your progress.

5 Reasons you should try it:

  1. It's FLEXIBLE! No food is off limits... well, unless you're allergic then obviously don't eat it! Not only do I find this to be a great practice physically, I also think it's an important way to view food psychologically. There is no reason to fear food. There is no single food (i.e. bread, potatoes)  that is going to hinder you from progressing despite all of the fear you've been taught to have of carbs or fat. *shudders at the thought of white rice*
  2. It's informative. You start to learn the importance of the proportions of your meals. Yes, the portions are also important, but the proportions are equally valuable to learn and follow! Your body needs the right balance of protein, carbs, and fat to operate efficiently. Sure, you may lose some weight from just counting calories, but if you consume all 1800 calories in the form of pop tarts, you're not going to see half as much progress as you would from eating the right ratio of protein to fat to carbs. 
  3. You learn more about your body. The more practice you get with counting macros, the better you get to know your own body and how it reacts to certain foods. Counting macros can immensely grow your awareness of exactly what you're putting into your body. You can recognize what variables are changing each day and how those variables effect things such as your weight, your energy, your water retention, etc. 
  4. You recognize serving sizes. You ever measured a serving size of peanut butter? Talk about depressing. HOWEVER, it's important to recognize these things! When you start counting your macros, you have to measure your portion sizes and you will probably realize you've been eyeing a lot of your portion sizes all wrong. It's good to understand what a serving size truly looks like. Thanks to flexible dieting, I like to think one of my hidden talents is that I can perfectly eyeball the exact amount of ounces in any cut of meat. #kindofabigdeal 
  5. It's sustainable, but not forever. This "diet" is not really a diet. It's more of a lifestyle approach to learning more about food and using food as a way to reach whatever goal you may have. I've counted macros for the sake of both losing weight AND gaining it (yes, I intentionally gain weight sometimes). You don't have to have that diet-hangover feeling of eating painfully low-carb. You can approach it as quickly or slowly as you want, but the great part about counting macros is that it is sustainable unlike many other diets that require you to cut out half the foods you love cold turkey and probably result in a massive relapse at the end of it. 

If I've convinced you to try it but you don't know where the heck to start, you're in luck (unless you're bad at math)!

First you'll need to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. I've found this website to be the best way to quickly calculate your TDEE. This is the most accurate online calculator that I've discovered thus far. There are other ways to calculate your TDEE using a Dexa Scan or Heart Rate Monitor, but those things cost time and money and they're really not that necessary. 

Now that you know your TDEE, you need to determine your goal. Weight loss? Cut 300-500 calories from your TDEE. Weight maintenance with some body recomposition? Don't change a thing. Muscle gain? Add 300-500 calories to your TDEE. Whatever calorie number you have now is what you'll be using to calculate your macros. 

Next, you need to know how many calories are in each macronutrient.

1g of protein has 4 calories.

1g of carbs has 4 calories.

1g of fat had 9 calories.

We'll use my numbers as an example for how to calculate macros: my TDEE is around 2,100 calories and I weigh 135lbs. I don't want to lose or gain any weight, so I am sticking with 2,100 calories when I calculate my macros.

Calculate protein first.

I recommend eating around 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. I personally choose to eat around 120g of protein per day.

(Bodyweight x .9) x 4 calories per gram = # of calories from protein per day.

120g of protein x 4 calories per gram = 480 calories from protein per day.

TDEE - Calories from protein = remaining calories distributed between carbs and fat per day

2100 - 480 = 1,620 calories distributed between carbs and fat per day

Decide what percent of your remaining calories you want to come from carbs and fat. I personally recommend somewhere from 60-70% carbs and 30-40% fat. 

Remaining calories x .65 = calories from carbs per day

Calories from carbs per day / 4 = grams of carbs per day

1,620 x .65 = 1050 calories from carbs per day

1050 / 4 = 263g carbs per day

Remaining calories x .35 = calories from fat per day.

Calories from fat per day / 9 = grams of fat per day

1,620 x .35 = 567 calories from fat per day

567 / 9 = 63g fat per day

Now I have my macros! 120g Protein, 263g Carbs, 63g Fat

Disclaimer: I know this might sound like high numbers to some of you ladies, but it's important to understand science says I don't need any higher protein than that and it's GOOD for an active person to eat a higher range of carbs. YOU DON'T HAVE TO FEAR CARBS. Also, I've put a lot of time into growing my metabolism so I can eat that much without gaining weight. 

A few final tips:

  • Use the app MyFitnessPal to track your macros throughout the day- it's free and it's got the best food database!
  • Pick a range of grams of protein, carbs, and fat per day rather than just one rigid number. For instance, mine are 100-120g protein, 230-260g carbs, 55-65g fat. You don't have to hit one specific number, but you should stay within a range.
  • Trust the process. Whatever macros you try, give yourself at least 3 weeks of consistently hitting your macros before changing them up or down. 
  • Understand progress isn't always linear. Our weight can fluctuate for many reasons beyond just food, so don't be discouraged just because you gain 2lbs one morning. Drink some water and keep being consistent!
  • Don't be afraid to experiment with different ranges of carbs and fat, but keep your protein intake consistent no matter your goal. Some people respond better to high carb and others to high fat. 
  • Listen to your body. If you're not hungry, you don't need to force feed yourself. If you're absolutely starving and low energy, that's a sign you should be eating a bit more!
  • Don't be that person who brings a food scale to restaurants. Live your dang life. 
  • Again... CONSISTENCY. Consistency is everything!
  • After your first 3 weeks of consistency, start incorporating an untracked meal every week!

If you want my help:

  • One-On-One Nutrition-Only Coaching: working with me on a weekly basis as I coach you through calculating your macros, choosing your food choices, changing your mentality on food, and reaching your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, increasing metabolism, etc.) with constant email communication/support. I do all the thinking, you're responsible for the follow-through.
  • Build Your Own Meal Plan: more extensive information on building a meal plan, my grocery list broken up by macronutrient group, a template to create your own meal plan, and a list of my favorite macro-friendly brands and snacks.