In part one of our guide to sustainable weight loss, we went over some vital points such as why diets fail, why (and how) you should get away from that mentality, why nutrition should be tailored to you (and not the other way around), and why flexibility is the cornerstone of long-term success.
In part two, we’ll take an in-depth look into the art of flexibility, and we’ll go over the 8-step plan you should follow to get yourself on the path of lasting success with fitness and health.
By the end of this, you will have all of the information you’ll need to make educated decisions, and, more importantly, develop a healthy and productive relationship with food.
Ready to make a lasting change? Let’s get into it.
A Deeper Look Into The Art of Flexibility
The foundation of flexibility is that it’s not a specific plan of action or diet – that’s the whole idea here. Some folks will love it; others will be hesitant at first.
After all, we’ve always been told that dieting is the only way to sustained weight loss, so how can flexibility be the answer here? It sounds counterintuitive, sure, but bear with me for a moment:
Your body needs a certain number of calories every day to sustain itself and function normally. It also needs some amount of carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fats, fiber, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to perform its many functions.
Let me give you an example of weight loss:
Lots of folks out there believe that it’s the specific diet or training plan that ‘does its magic’ and makes us shed fat. But that’s not true. To lose weight, you don’t need a special diet, training plan, pill, or an ancient Chinese secret. You need a caloric deficit. In other words, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn every day. And, so long as you do that, your body will begin using fat (and some lean tissue) to get the remaining calories it needs.
The great thing about flexibility is that it offers us the chance to eat in accordance with our goals without placing dozens of restrictions. Again, it’s not a rigid plan you need to follow; it’s more of a philosophy on eating. You have some guidelines you need to follow, of course, but that’s it. How you choose to use it is entirely up to you.
“Wait. You’re talking about if it fits your macros, right?”
When most folks hear about flexible dieting, they immediately think of if it fits your macros (IIFYM), and who could blame them? These days, both terms are used interchangeably, though they mean different things.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you:
I don’t like the term if it fits your macros because it creates the wrong impression that, so long as a given food fits into your daily macro goals, you should have at it without thinking twice. I’m not too sure where IIFYM first came from (perhaps it was a by-product of flexible dieting), but it’s a fact.
For many people, IIFYM is a license to disregard food quality and eat whatever they want because, hey, it fits their macros.
But, here’s the thing:
We need to pay attention to the quality of our food choices because they affect our energy, cognitive function, motivation, and overall health. Sure, a carb is a carb. But eating a bowl of oatmeal is going to benefit you a lot more and provide you with a much steadier stream of energy when compared to, say, a candy bar.
So, it’s not only about hitting some arbitrary calorie and macronutrient goals; we also need to be mindful of our food choices.
Why Flexibility Is The Answer To All Of Your Nutritional Needs
No matter how good a nutritional plan or diet is, don’t expect long-term results without long-term efforts. But to stay consistent in the long run, your plan of action needs to offer flexibility.
The fact is, we are human, and we can’t always follow through with something perfectly. In life, unexpected things happen, and we may be forced to pivot sometimes.
But if you don’t have a flexible mindset when it comes to your nutrition, it becomes incredibly hard, impossible even, to adjust course and keep moving forward.
This is one reason why rigid diets and training plans eventually fall apart. Sure, it’s manageable at first, but what happens when you have to eat at a restaurant, and it doesn’t serve the foods you’re supposed to eat? What happens when you go on vacation? Or to your friend’s wedding?
Flexibility isn’t about eating whatever you want; it’s merely a tool we can use to make our lives easier and a bit more relaxed without having to sacrifice our progress.
How To Get Started With Flexible Dieting: Your 8-Step Bullet-Proof Plan For Success
This is everything you need to do to have a great start with flexible dieting and make the most of it.
Step 1: Decide on what goal you want to achieve.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”Lewis Carroll
Goal setting is a bit of a taboo topic these days, and there are lots of opinions on both sides of the argument. And while I don’t believe that goals alone are enough to help achieve success, they are vital because they set a direction for our efforts.
Think of it this way:
If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, how would you know what actions you need to take to get there?
So, as you embark on the fitness journey, take a bit of time to find out what you want to achieve in the short and long term. Maybe you’d like to lose twenty pounds. Or perhaps you’d like to put on ten pounds of muscle in the next six months. Whatever it is, write it down and reference it regularly. That way, you’ll have a much better idea of what you have to do and, more importantly, you’ll be able to evaluate your progress over time.
Step 2: Calculate your caloric needs and adjust them for that goal.
Depending on what you want to achieve, your next step is to calculate your calorie needs. When it comes to fitness, most people are interested in either fat loss or muscle gain. But, some don’t care about either and instead want to maintain their current weight while getting stronger, faster, or more endurant.
So, I recommend using this formula to find out what your BMR is (the number of calories your body burns each day to sustain itself, excluding physical activity, food digestion, etc.).
Once you have your BMR value, use this activity factor multiplier to find what your total daily energy expenditure is – this includes your BMR as well as everything else.
Now, based on your goal, you can:
- Remove 300-500 calories from your TDEE to begin shedding fat.
- Add 150-300 calories to your TDEE to supply your body with enough energy to build new muscle.
- Eat around your TDEE to maintain your current weight.
For example, if you find that your TDEE is 2700 calories, you should start with about 2400 calories/day for fat loss or 2900 calories/day for muscle gain.
Step 3: Calculate your protein needs.
This step is relatively simple:
Eat around 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So, if you currently weigh 160 pounds, that would come out to be between 128 and 160 grams of protein per day.
Step 3.5 (Optional): Calculate your fats and carb needs.
So long as you eat a balanced diet and hit your daily calorie and protein goals, this step won’t be necessary. But, if you want, adhere to these simple rules:
- Consume between 0.3 and 0.6 grams of fats per pound of body weight. Again, if you weigh 160 pounds, that comes out to be between 48 and 96 grams of fats per day.
- Get the remaining calories from carbohydrates.
Step 4: Get a regular notebook or download MyFitnessPal.
Once you have your initial targets for calories and macronutrients (my advice is to track protein alone), it’s time to take action on tracking your intake from day to day.
The simplest way to do so is with an app like MyFitnessPal as it makes the calculations for you, and all you need to do is input the foods you eat and their quantities.
Another alternative is to get yourself a notebook and write everything in. The downside is, you have to calculate things yourself, but it has the added benefit of helping you get better at estimating the calories and protein contents for different meals.
Step 5: Buy a food scale and start tracking your intake.
Yes, I get it. Weighing your food can be a bit tedious, especially at first. But, these small daily efforts will ensure that you eat the right amount of foods and that you have precision with your calorie intake. This is an essential step because most of us are bad at ‘eyeballing’ food quantities and estimating calories. This is a skill that, like any other, takes practice to master.
Plus, weighing your food only feels difficult in the first couple of weeks. Once you get into a routine, it gets much more comfortable, and you find yourself doing it all the time without thinking twice.
If you weigh your food for a few months, you will get much better at estimating the calories in a given meal without weighing it. At that point, you can slowly transition away from weighing everything and instead eyeball most of your foods. Nothing is to say that you have to track your food meticulously for the rest of your life.
Step 6: Get the majority of your calories from whole, healthy foods.
You absolutely can (and should) enjoy some guilty pleasures – pizza, ice cream, cookies, etc. But, you should try and base your diet around whole, unprocessed foods.
Whole foods like veggies, fruits, grains, eggs, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds are essential because they deliver vital nutrients to the body – slow-digesting carbs, healthy fats, high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Yes, you can follow an unhealthy diet and still hit your daily calorie and macronutrient needs, but that’s not all there is to it. After all, we should also take our health and well-being into account, and nothing beats a healthy diet in that regard.
Step 7: Follow a meal frequency that works for you.
Granted, we’ve slowly moved away from the idea of adhering to a specific meal frequency because it supposedly helps us achieve better fat loss or muscle gain results.
These days, more and more people understand that meal frequency isn’t nearly as important as we once thought. We don’t need to have six small meals to stroke the metabolic flame for fat loss, and we don’t need eight or more meals per day to keep protein synthesis high and muscle growth optimal.
Thousands of people have managed to achieve incredible fitness results with a variety of meal patterns – ranging from as little as a single daily meal (the OMAD method) to as many as ten (which is something only professional bodybuilders can sustain).
So, as long as you hit your daily calorie and macronutrient goals, follow a meal frequency that works for you. Something that fits into your schedule and that you prefer. Whether that’s two, three, five, or ten meals per day is up to you.
Step 8: Take advantage of flexible dieting sometimes.
For the sake of sustainability and enjoyability, I’ve always recommended a simple rule with flexible dieting:
Get at least 80 percent of your calories from whole, nutritious foods, and leave the remaining ten to twenty percent for treats, meals out with friends, and social events.
So, if you’re eating 3,000 calories per day, you should get at least 2,400 calories from fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, seafood, meats, nuts, seeds, rice, natural oils, and similar.
You can then ‘use’ the remaining 600 or so calories to have a meal out with friends, enjoy a drink or two, have some cake at a friend’s wedding, or something similar.
After all, we’re human, and we should have the flexibility to enjoy some foods without feeling guilty and without having to sacrifice our fitness progress.