I started tracking my food and following a “flexible dieting” lifestyle in August of 2013 when I was prepping for my wedding in November. Flexible dieting in a nutshell is, following a target amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates that will put your overall kcal in a deficit to lose weight, surplus to gain or to match your current energy expenditure to maintain. The flexible part means that as long as it “fits” within those macros, you can add foods that are typically deemed “off-limits” when dieting such as pizza, ice cream, cookies, cake, etc. If you have the macros to spare for the day, you can add a treat or two in and still meet your goals.
At first the task of tracking and weighing all my food seemed tedious and scary, but I got the hang of it. When I first began I was coming off eating paleo for over two years, so the thought of eating oatmeal or peanut butter or other foods that were deemed off-limits by the constraints of my (stupid & restrictive) paleo diet was scary enough. Later in 2014, I ventured into eating more “flexibly” by adding other treats in like ice cream, candy, cookies, etc. I always followed this style of diet by trying to have a balance of treats to more diet-accepted foods like veggies, lean protein, etc. This diet gives a lot of people a lot of freedom by allowing them to access foods they didn’t believe were okay to eat on a diet.
However I find that sometimes (and especially in prep for a meet, show, or just if you’re semi-type A like me) it makes you a slave to the scale and nutrition facts. You weigh everything even if it came out of a single serving package. You eat out, but only eat out at chain-restaurants that can give you exact macros. You bring your pocket scale out to eat and only order things that you are 99% sure are easy to track (plain cooked meat, plain cooked veggies, ask them to hold ANY oil or fat obviously). You freak out if you spill some of your prepackaged food or god-forbid someone asks you for a bite. You panic if you have to attend a social function with (gasp!) homemade food. I don’t think this is the point of flexible dieting, and it for sure doesn’t make you any more sane than someone following a super restrictive diet.
Here are some of the things I do/try to do to be more flexible with my diet:
- I set my higher macro days for the weekend. More time to explore delicious eats & more time to be active (in and out of the gym) means more macros needed to enjoy and still hit my goals.
- I try to be pretty spot on with my macros for the majority of the week.
- I have been following a flexible diet since 2013. I am a creature of habit and tend to eat a lot of the same things. This means I have seen what 4 ounces of protein, a half cup of rice or veggies, or an average slice of bread look like. If I go out to eat somewhere that doesn’t have listed nutrition facts on their website, I do my best to eyeball portions and “guesstimate” and track that way.
- When it comes to ice cream (and a lot of people ask me how I track all the damn ice cream I eat) I try to be conservative with guesstimating and if anything, overestimate. As I said above, I believe I have a pretty close idea of what a half cup serving of ice cream looks like. If I’m at an artisanal shop like one of our favorites in LA – I will try to find a close or similar flavor by a store-bought brand that tends to be on the higher fat side like Ben and Jerry’s, Haagen Dasz, etc. For soft serve I typically will log something like dairy queen, again guesstimating serving size. I eyeball any toppings and cones and track those as well to my best ability. If anything, I may leave a few fat/carb macros to spare to be safe.
- When we go out of town, I keep macro tracking to a minimum. I try to be mindful and eat a decent amount of protein and drink a lot of water. I usually come back heavier which is typically water weight, and I try to get my diet back on track once we return.
I 100% understand there is a time for precision. I have prepped for many meets and have had to make weight in 3 classes, so I KNOW and understand the importance of precision. I know how to live out of tupperware and prep all my meals. I also know that right now I’m at a time where I don’t have any set meets that require a drastic weight drop, and that I’m lifting because I want to improve my technique and skill and be stronger. Since we moved to LA, we have an overabundance of delicious things to eat and enjoy. My husband and I both enjoy being able to share this love for food with each other and also our friends and family. Right now I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, but I’m also ok with maintaining where I am. I’m at a bodyweight that I could do a meet for fun and not have to cut for a class that I compete in most often. If the time comes (possibly in the upcoming year when I am eligible to lift as a Master’s) I may crack down and do a cut again that will require precision, but for now I am enjoying practicing what I have preached for many years.
Do you have difficulty being a “real” flexible dieter, even when you’re not prepping for anything with a deadline? What do you do to ensure you can enjoy some treats or time with friends and family without straying too far away from your goals? Do you find it hard or anxiety-provoking to step away from the scale or having 100% accuracy in your diet?