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Flexible or inflexible dieting…What’s the difference?

What’s so flexible about dieting anyway?

When I think of flexible dieting, I think about big haired individuals wearing spandex doing stretches to 80’s music…. Nothing to do with flexible dieting, it’s just an amusing image my brain conjures up.

So, what exactly is flexible dieting? First let’s discuss dieting. Dieting for me is rather a negative word that alludes to an individual often engaging in a fat loss quest of some description. I don’t however particularly like the word. Your diet refers to the food you eat, therefore dieting is not a good word to use. I prefer to use the term ‘fat loss nutrition’. This tends to put a positive spin on it, in that, nutrition is about feeding your body and being healthy. The fat loss aspect just means eating food with the purpose of fat loss in mind. I know this seems like inconsequential waffle, but in the real world most fat loss attempts fail, not because they are poorly conceived, it’s that they are poorly executed due to the lack of adherence, which, is largely down to loss of motivation and becoming negative in your mindset.

Dieting, or fat loss nutrition in itself is not a complex notion. It is all about creating a negative energy balance within your body. This causes you to use your own energy stores to make up the deficit you have created. Voila! You have lost fat…. or sugar…or muscle… oh wait maybe it’s not that simple…. In actual fact it is that simple. If you wish to lose body fat you must create an energy deficit. The subtle art of retaining muscle, being healthy, and maintaining performance whilst dieting, is for another article. For now, let’s just stick with the basics. If you know that you must create an energy deficit to lose fat, you must accept the fact that you need to expend more energy than you ingest, this will reduce body fat energy stores, which is dieting means. Therefore, there is nothing flexible about dieting. You are in an energy deficit or you’re not. Which means you will use stored body fat, or you won’t, it really is that straight forward.

Why is it so damn hard then?

If it really is as simple as I’ve stated then why is there a multi-billion pound industry trying to sell you everything under the sun to achieve this unsurmountable task? It’s because losing a decent amount of body fat comes down to a load of hard work, controlling your food intake for an extended period of time, daily consistency, and the ability to control urges to eat poorly. It is by no means an easy road to walk, I just said the concept was simple.

The concept of flexible dieting

Due to the fact it’s damn near impossible for the average person to achieve long lasting significant fat loss, the various fitness gurus out there have devised a multitude of approaches for you to follow to break that plateau, and actually lose some fat. If after two weeks of eating nothing but chicken salads and quinoa, I wouldn’t be surprised if you fell off the wagon. Most people on diets complain that eating the same thing is boring and therefore they crave junk foods. You then give in to urges, and hey presto, the diet failed and you’re back to your old habits. Flexible dieting allows you to eat some of the things you like some of the time. Your ‘dieting’ meal could be a jacket potato with tuna mayo and salad. This meal is made up of protein, carbs, and fats. Flexible dieting could be you eat your tuna salad, but you swap the mayonnaise and potato for something like a chocolate bar, as long as it matches the calorie and macronutrient values. The basic concept is trying to allow you to lose fat while having what you want. Therefore, as long as you’re in an energy deficit, you will still lose bodyfat whilst eating chocolate. Sounds amazing! and it really does work.

Come on get on the band wagon!

On paper this sounds like the perfect diet, and honestly it should be the way we all live our lives; you eat some of what you want, with some of what you need, with a degree of self-control. It actually is a really healthy approach. The issue is that life isn’t that easy. It still requires the four elements I listed above

“a load of hard work, controlling your food intake for an extended period of time, daily consistency, and the ability to control urges to eat poorly”

You’re still required to work hard and not make poor dietary choices. This is the tough part. Firstly, have you ever had some dessert and gone back for 2nds and 3rds? Sometimes when food tastes too good we cannot control cravings, especially when you’ve been dieting for a long time, your hormones take over, you are not in control, and therefore you binge. Secondly, there are life constraints, social pressures to eat and drink, emotional eating, the list goes on. Thirdly, most people are simply not educated enough in food composition to make sensible choices, this is not your fault, it just isn’t taught in schools and at home. With these complications you can see the flaws in flexible dieting. Like I said earlier, it is not the concept that is flawed, it is the execution. This is why stricter dieting can just be a simpler option. You remove temptation, you remove the serotonin effects of eating for pleasure, you remove the need for detailed food knowledge, you keep tight reins on the intake.

Flexible or rigid? You decide

This takes you back to the start. Successful fat loss comes down to the individual’s ability to adhere. If you need a little cake to adhere in the long term, then have it. If you need it all planned out and all temptation for you to succeed, then do it that way. Neither way is better. Neither way is worse. The best diet is the one you can stick to and will fulfil the basic requirement of a fat loss nutrition plan, it creates an energy deficit.

My thoughts

As a pro-natural bodybuilder, I have put myself through numerous fat loss phases for competitions over the years. Some have worked better than others and I have learned what works best for me. I wouldn’t necessarily use the same approach with my clients, it is about what works best for them. I tend to stick quite rigidly to my food (i.e. not flexible) but I have worked out what foods I like and tend to eat them year-round, I just have less of it when I want to lose fat. I do include some less ‘diety’ foods like kids’ cereal, white rice, simple sugars, and occasional refeeds with fish ‘n’ chips. I also have an enormous amount of self-control and consistency which is why it works for me. Other people cannot handle even a few ‘treat foods’ without losing the plot. My advice is work out what you like which covers normal foods and some treat foods and learn to control your portion sizes. Keep these quantities consistent and see how they affect your weight over a period of 4-8 weeks. Then, when your bodyweight and food intake is stable i.e. not going up or down, lower the quantity of food you eat in small increments to create your energy deficit. This for me is the most sensible way to achieve a sustainable fat loss nutrition plan.

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