Yeah, I get it. We all want to be “slim, trim and beautiful”. I promise this is where my Indian Matchmaking references stop.
This post isn’t about the next new diet that’s going to burn all your fat in 30 days (or money back!), about keto, paleo, the GM Diet or anything else you’ve tried/want to try (because all of them are unsustainable, aren’t magical, can be counterproductive if you’re completely cutting off any major food groups and work primarily only because of a caloric deficit).
This post is in fact, the opposite of all that the fitness industry constantly feeds us with. If you were truly honest with yourself, you’ll agree that your #JunkFreeJuly challenge didn’t work. Neither did that #SugarFreeSeptember challenge you did last year.
Because here’s the deal – the minute you attach an emotion to any food, completely eliminate it, demonise it or consider it ‘bad’ for you, you’re going to fail. Extreme methods unfortunately rarely work for humans, we’re not wired to function like that.
So what’s the ONLY legit way to get to your goals, live a healthy life and not be that insane person who’s not eating ice cream at a dinner with friends, because #fitnessgoals?
Enter flexible dieting. But let’s first discuss calorie tracking.
While some people claim it’s the ONLY way to get to your goals, whatever they may be, others claim it can be unsustainable and cumbersome.
I tend to agree with both groups a little bit. I certainly do think there’s tremendous value to tracking calories – it’s pretty much the only legit way to be fully aware of what you’re eating. But I also think its something we should do for a brief period of time, once in a while, and not make it a constant way of living/ eating.
If you do it long enough, one of two things can happen:
- You kinda figure out how to approximately guesstimate portion sizes, calories and macros without having to track every single thing you eat, because you’ve done it long enough. Long enough can vary from person to person, but this can be anywhere between 4 – 12 weeks at a time.
- You become that annoying person who carries around measuring cups and a kitchen scale everywhere and can’t stop talking about how many grams of fiber you have left for the day to achieve your most desired consistency of poop the next day.
Back to flexible dieting.
If you end up belonging to the first category of people who are now able to look at a plate of eggs, spinach and a cupcake, not panic, eat it in peace because you know how many calories, protein, carbs and fats you’re approximately consuming, congratulations. You’ve mastered the art of eating.
Flexible dieting basically boils down to figuring out a way of eating that is sustainable for YOU, based on YOUR goals, taking into account YOUR eating preferences and long-term health.
While it’s NOT an excuse to stuff your face with whatever you want, it’s a great way to master eating according to your goals without being too restrictive, building negative relationships with foods or letting it take over your life!
Once you practice calorie tracking and gain mastery over portion sizes and associated calories for most foods that you consume on a regular basis, you can then transition to flexible dieting – which is pretty much the same thing but without tracking or measuring everything you eat. By this point, you are hopefully one step closer to disassociating any kind of guilt, morals or emotions associated with food.
I’m not denying that stress-eating is a real thing. I’ve lost track of the number of ice cream tubs consumed across many, many Grey’s Anatomy episodes. But the main difference is that because I know exactly how many extra calories I’ve consumed through those tubs of rocky road ice cream, it becomes easier for me to troubleshoot, get back on track and move on with life.
On the other hand, if you were someone who has absolutely no idea how many calories you consume on a daily basis (at least super roughly), there’s a good chance you’re going to wallow about all the damage you’ve done, probably deprive yourself of food for the next few days because somehow you believe that you deserve to be punished for ‘cheating’ on your nutrition plan and basically just really hate yourself.
Flexible dieting is awesome. But its not THAT awesome that there aren’t any rules.
- Get 1 – 1.5 grams protein per kg bodyweight per day – If you weigh 50 kgs, you want to get a minimum of 50 – 75 grams of protein per day. Not sure where to start? Check out my colleague Varun’s post on protein.
- Ensure that a majority of your calories come from nutrient-dense foods – A good way to think about this would be the 80-20 approach. If you’re eating nutrient-dense whole foods such as meats, eggs, dairy, grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables 80% of the time, you’re good to eat cakes, cookies, french fries, or anything else that your heart desires for the remaining 20%.
- Carbs and fats tailored to suit your personal preferences – Since we have a target to hit with our protein, feel free to switch up carbs and fats based on your goals. If you’re active and want to maintain/ build muscle, eat slightly more carbs. If you get hungry quickly, eat a slightly higher fat ratio so you can stay fuller for longer.
- Eat those veggies – Yes, it’s important not just for health but also to hit your fiber goals and feel satiated.
And not to forget…
If you’re tracking calories, you can get stuck in the vicious cycle of trying to hit all your macros and calorie goals every single day. Before you start staying awake at night worrying about how to get 2 more grams of protein to meet your daily goal or how to undo that beer you had at dinner with your friends, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind:
- It’s okay to go + or – 10-15% off your daily targets. You’ll live.
- Your weekly caloric average is significantly more important than your daily calorie targets.If you’ve eaten more than you intended to/ than you need to for your goals at a particular meal or on a given day, just eat SLIGHTLY lesser over the next few days, for the next few meals – depending on how many extra calories you’ve consumed – for example, if you’ve eaten 1000 extra calories, you just need to eat 200 calories lesser per day for the next 5 days.
What about these calories and macros I keep talking about?
Here are two guides you can use to set up your calories and macronutrient targets based on goals!
- Use the above tables to figure out calories, proteins, carbs and fats you need to consume based on your goals. Please note that these numbers, while fairly accurate, are still generic and hiring a nutrition coach will be best if you’re dealing with lifestyle related concerns such as binge-eating cycles, PCOS,etc. That said, using these numbers as a starting point should get most people closer to their goals, if done consistently and long enough!
- Moderate usually means 1 pound per week with both fat loss and weight gain. It obviously also depends heavily on activity levels for fat loss and a good resistance training program for weight gain.
- Flexible dieting is a great way to eliminate guilt and other emotions associated with food.
- Calorie tracking for a brief period of time is a great way to transition into a flexible dieting lifestyle.
- How much you eat across a week is significantly more important for any goal than how much you eat each day.
- Don’t associate words like ‘clean’ and ‘cheats’ with foods. Use the 80-20 rule to focus on developing sustainable eating ‘habits’ than focus on moderation and is goal-based.
- Use tracking apps like MyFitnessPal to get started on calorie tracking. A simple search on YouTube can lead to many in-depth tutorials on how to get started.
- Invest in a set of measuring cups and/ kitchen scale to help with tracking/ flexible dieting.
Have questions or thoughts about flexible dieting or calorie counting? Hit me up!