You know the deal with dieting, right?
You brace yourself, ready for the onslaught on what is sure to be pure hell.
You rid your cupboards of cookies, biscuits and chips (and by rid, that generally means eat them quickly so they’re out of sight!)
You stock up on expensive protein powders, meal replacement shakes and fat burner pills.
Out go the bread, the pasta and the cheese, and in comes the broccoli, kale, cucumber and all of green things, accompanied by the inevitable chicken breast and egg whites.
For the next six weeks, this is how it’s got to be – little food, little fun and no flexibility.
What if It Didn’t Have to be Like This?
This is how women have dieted for years.
Led on by the notion of the media that dieting has to be a miserable, sacrificial experience, and that if you’re not suffering, you’re doing it wrong.
Couple that with the advice you get from coaches and fitness magazines – cut carbs, eat nothing but protein and vegetables, do twice-a-day cardio sessions, and avoid alcohol, sugar, caffeine and anything tasty, and you have how today’s modern woman typically envisages a diet.
You know what though? This is not how dieting has to be.
These methods outlined above do “work” in terms of weight loss, but that’s about it.
Some of the weight you lose might be fat, but it’s also highly likely that a large proportion of this will be muscle mass, due to the insanely low calorie intake, and the lack of healthy fats and energy-boosting carbs.
Additionally, how long can you realistically stick to such a diet?
Two weeks? Maybe a month?
Possibly, if you’re really, really determined to drop pounds quickly, perhaps for a wedding, or holiday, you might grind out six to eight weeks, hating every day as you battle constant feelings of hunger.
The thing is though, even if you get to your goal weight, how long can you stay there for?
No woman in her right mind would want to carry on eating and living like this, not to mention the fact that it’s incredibly unhealthy.
No social life, no enjoyment, no energy and a lack of libido are all reasons why traditional low-calorie dieting sucks.
Here’s an Idea – Be Less Strict
The very idea of being “less strict” on a plan strikes fear into the hearts of many a dieter across the world.
“But I won’t get results”
“I have to stick to something extreme to get where I need to be”
“I’ve tried everything else and nothing works – not eating must be the only way for me to lose weight.”
“Suffering equals success.”
Unfortunately, these are all thoughts that go through peoples’ heads when the concept of allowing some flexibility and freedom when dieting is brought to the table.
Convinced that the only way to progress is to take drastic action, many women get into the vicious cycle of restrictive diets, followed by binges, followed by more restriction, more binging, and so the cycle continues.
The sad fact of the matter is, that the more often you diet, the more you’ll put on weight.
This sounds a little backward, but think about it –
If you do an extreme diet like this once a year, you might lose, say 10 kilos in 3 months. Over the next 9 months, you gradually regain all that weight, only to diet down again next year and lose another 10 kilos, then put it on again in the following 9 months.
Hey presto, five years down the line, and you might have lost a cumulative 40 kilos, but you’ve also gained that too.
Additionally, people who diet sporadically are actually more likely to be overweight than their non-dieting counterparts!! (1)
This could be due to psychological changes that happen when dieting, or the formation and growth of new fat cells in the excessive non-dieting periods.
Whatever way you look at it, strict dieting is not good.
Enter the Flexible Diet
The concept of flexible dieting is simple –
You eat an appropriate amount of calories to suit your bodyweight and your goals.
Within that calorie intake, you also need a suitable macronutrient breakdown. (Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate and fat.)
There are no banned foods, but you do need to ensure a minimum intake of fiber and a high intake of vitamin and minerals, which means you’ll be eating a lot of good quality, nutrient-dense food.
However, you can also include some “junk” in your diet, provided it fits in with your calorie intake and macronutrients.
Hold On! Junk Food? In a Diet?!
Yep, this is where the flexible diet beats all other dieting methods hands down.
Provided you’re sensible and don’t overdo it, including a little junk food in your diet will have no negative effect on your weight loss.
In fact, it will probably make your diet more successful.
Just digest that for a while……
What’s the number on reason you’ve stopped dieting in the past?
I’ll take a guess that it’s been because you’ve just felt miserable.
You’ve craved your favourite foods so much that all of a sudden, you’ve said “screw it, I’m done” – gone out and bought that box of donuts you’re been craving so badly, or cracked open a bottle of wine and drunk the whole lot.
See, when you’ve been told something is completely off-limits, and that you simply can’t have it, you just crave it more and more.
Those cravings build up, and in time, you crack. And when you crack, you don’t just have a little, you let go completely and binge on whatever it is you’ve been craving.
And that’s pretty much where your diet ends.
An Introduction To Moderation
We’ll go into the idea of incorporating junk food and alcohol into your diet much more in part 2 of this article, so sit tight for that one.
For now though, we’ll take a look at exactly how to set yourself up on a flexible diet, going through calories and macronutrients.
Why Calories are King. (Or Queen)
Whatever “diet” you’re following, calorie intake is the most important factor.
You can eat as healthily as you like, but calories still govern whether you lose or gain weight.
Eat more calories than you burn = gain weight.
Eat the same number of calories as you burn = weight stays stable.
Eat fewer calories than you burn = lose weight.
This constitutes 100% of weight loss, and it’s probably 80% of it for those of you who want more than weight loss (ie. improved body composition and performance through reduced fat mass and increased muscle mass, strength and performance.)
How Many Calories Do You Need?
To lose fat, your calorie intake depends on two things – your current bodyweight and your activity levels.
To find roughly how many calories you need, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by an activity factor. These activity factors are –
- Lightly Active (ie. sedentary job with 1-2 exercise sessions per week) = x10
- Moderately Active (sedentary job with 3-4 sessions per week, or active job with 1-2 sessions) = x11
- Highly Active (active job with 3-4 sessions per week, or sedentary job with 5+ sessions) = x12
This is just a rough guide to start with, and may require some tweaking as you progress, but to get you going, the above numbers are solid.
Meeting the Macros
Macros (macronutrients) are proteins, carbs and fats. Here’s a quick rundown of what each one does –
- Protein = builds and preserves cells (ie. muscle), helps keep you feeling full and has a big impact on metabolism.
- Carbs = main source of energy
- Fats = needed for hormone production and increased satiety
You need all three for optimum results, so seeing a diet that advises cutting or severely limiting one or two of these is a good sign it is a BAD diet.
Just like calories, you need a certain amount of each macro, and once again, this is dependent on bodyweight. Here’s what you should aim for each day –
Protein = BW in kg x 2.2
Fat = BW in kg x 0.88
Carbs = The rest of your calories.
Apologies, this is where you’ll need to do some maths. Grab your phone or calculator and let’s work through an example together –
Let’s take a woman. We’ll call her Fiona.
Fiona is 150 pounds (68.2 kg), works a sedentary job in an office and trains hard 4 times per week. (She fits into the x 11 activity factor.)
Calories = (68.2 x 2.2) x 11 = 1,650
Protein = 68.2 x 2.2 = 150 grams per day
Fat = 68.2 x 0.88 = 60 grams per day
Each gram of protein has 4 calories and each gram of fat has 9 calories, so to work out her calories from protein and fat we do
(150×4) + (60×9) = 1,140
We now have Fiona’s calorie intake from protein and fat each day. We can take this from her total calorie intake of 1,650 to find out how many calories she needs from carbs –
1,650 – 1,140 = 510
There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, so if we divide 510 by 4 we’ll get how many grams of carbs she needs per day –
510 ÷ 4 = 127.5
This leaves Fiona with consuming –
150g protein, 60g fat, 127.5g carbs (call it 130g for sake of convenience) every day.
Is That It?
In a word, no, but were you to work out your numbers, and stick to them by tracking and monitoring your food intake, and aiming to get within 5% of each macro, there’s no doubt you’d lose fat and get leaner while maintaining your energy and strength levels.
In part 2, we’ll look at taking flexible dieting a step further –
- How you can manipulate your calorie and macro intake to plan for day trips and evenings out.
- How not hitting the numbers perfectly is absolutely fine.
- How to incorporate your favourite junk foods in moderation.
- How to make sure you get to eat these treats on a regular basis, but that your diet stays “healthy.”
See you on the other side.
Result Based Training