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The Lowdown on Flexible Dieting

Precision Orthopedics By Precision
July 28, 2023 | Health

When you encounter the term ‘Flexible Dieting‘, refrain from envisioning Jean-Claude Van Damme performing the splits while munching on a salad. The notion of flexible dieting is less about limbering up and more about strategic eating.

Much like other dietary trends swirling around the social media universe, flexible dieting, also known by its popular moniker ‘If It Fits Your Macros‘ (IIFYM), is under continuous scrutiny. The concept of flexible dieting is rather straightforward: Track your daily intake of calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), to reach your desired goals or fitness objectives, whether they be for weight loss, maintenance, or muscle gain. Literally quoted as ‘you can eat whatever you like, as long as it fits into your macros’.

That’s the gist, no frills.

However, some nuances of flexible dieting and IIFYM require critical illumination. To start, by simply meeting your daily calorie and macronutrient goals does this automatically make your diet healthy? 

The straightforward answer is a resounding, emphatic NO.

To elaborate this glaring ‘NO‘, let’s introduce our famous fictitious example character: Todd. 

Todd is a 43-year-old mechanic from Tucson. Todd is slightly overweight and has a deep love for experimenting with new diets. This week, he’s dipping his toes into the realm of Flexible Dieting.

After installing a calorie-counting app and setting his six-week goals, Todd is ready to start counting and tracking. His daily target is to consume no more than 2,200 calories, healthily distributed as 47% carbs, 33% fat, and 20% protein.

Todd begins his six-week journey by researching his all-time favorite meal, a classic McDonald’s Hamburger. To his delight, one burger matches his macronutrient breakdown identically – 47% carbs, 33% fat, and 20% protein! Each burger also contains only 265 calories!

Pulling out his trusty calculator, Todd calculates that he can eat approximately just over eight burgers daily and hit his calorie and macronutrient goals almost perfectly! But amidst his excitement, he overlooks a crucial aspect of his plan.

While Todd is successful in maintaining a caloric deficit and meeting his macronutrient goals, he’s unwittingly filling up on a cocktail of trans fats, high-glycemic index carbs, and an excessive amount of sodium. He’s also missing out on dietary fiber, and a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals vital for survival. While Todd might lose weight, the key distinction between healthy and unhealthy weight loss gets blurred.

This difference can be encapsulated by a simple concept: Empty Calories. These are calories from food and beverages that provide minimal to no nutrition. Sugary sweets, cakes, soda, margarine, alcohol, and even certain breads, are all examples of empty-calorie foods. In essence, these foods only provide one thing: energy (in the form of calories).

Any health-focused dietary plan must ensure that the calories consumed also deliver nutritional value. They not only keep you alive, but also allow you to reach your goals faster.

Let’s compare two similar ‘junk‘ food items – one leans towards empty calories, and the other offers way more ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to actual nutrition.

*The homemade version uses the same ingredients found in a McDonald’s Big Mac, but with healthier alternatives.

As you can clearly see, the homemade option surpasses all values in terms of overall nutrition, with more protein, dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It also contains less ‘nasty stuff’, such as overall empty calories, sodium, sugar, and trans fats!

Plus, we can assure you that the homemade version likely scores higher on your taste buds too.

Returning to Flexible Dieting, it does indeed work for weight loss! Any diet that allows one to maintain a caloric deficit for an extended period of time can promote weight loss. This includes intermittent fasting, ketogenic, low-carb, carb cycling, vegetarian, South Beach, raw food, Weight Watchers, and even ‘the convenience store diet’. Yes, you read that right. Famously, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks following a convenience store diet. He would mostly consume Twinkies, Doritos, and other sugary foods to build the bulk of his diet, yet he remained in enough of a caloric deficit to drop weight!

Would we recommend the convenience store diet? Of course not. We dread to think what kind of nutrients Professor Haub lacked in the 10-weeks following this diet. It’s paramount to remember that a diet’s long-term effectiveness hinges on meeting individual nutritional needs and targets.

Which is why flexible dieting can work well, but like all diets, should be viewed with a very critical eye.

Interested in learning about one of the healthiest diets in the world? Check out our article on the Mediterranean diet! Complete with some colorful, nutritious recipes to get you started!