From a university binge drinking student, to a Herbalife fanatic, to having a binge/bulimic relationship with food, to a strict clean eater to a flexible dieter… you could say I have done it all! Nothing makes me happier or gets me results like flexible dieting, but, having come from a nutrition background far from flexibility, I am aware of how mystifying the world of flexible dieting can be! The pure freedom can be incredibly overwhelming and tracking macros can also be a steep learning curve! Having flexible dieted for about 18 months, I have compiled my top tips, from my experience, to help you with your flexible dieting journey.
1. Download a macro counting app. I personally use MyFitnessPal and pay for the premium service. The regular MyFitnessPal is good, but the premium allows you to input specific grams of protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as allowing you to have different calorie breakdowns for different days and ‘quick add’ calories. Both versions allow you to search the database for food, scan barcodes and create recipes/group together frequently paired foods. Before you start trying to figure out what macros you should be eating, I would suggest you log a week of food and drink into the app to see roughly how many calories and macros you consume. It will also help with the second step.
2. Hire a coach/seek advice from a qualified person on what macros you should be eating. Inputting information into an online tool only gets you so far. It doesn’t take into account what calories you are currently eating and it has no idea about your current metabolic rate. I prefer my macros to be continually in the hands of New York Muscle Radio, but even just hiring a coach for a couple of months to help you get started will help you no end! They can tweak your macros, depending on how your body responds, and they have a wealth of both qualifications and experience, two things algorithms do not have!
3. Start looking at nutrition labels. Not only will this help you understand what a serving size is, but it will also help you understand what percentage of your daily calories that food will use up. This will help you make choices!
4. View your macros with the same approach as planning a vacation. (Hear me out on this one!) When you start planning a vacation, you may dream of a 5 star Sex and the City style trip to Dubai, but you don’t even look at those vacations because you know they aren’t financially viable. If you do opt for one of those vacations, you know will love it at the time, but be filled with regret later, having to pay for it for weeks afterwards. So, instead you book a lovely 4 star all inclusive holiday, traveling in economy class. You opt for all inclusive so you don’t have to worry about expenses, but plan on going out a couple of times to experience the local nightlife and cuisine. This same thought process you should apply to your macros. While you may want to eat 5000 calories of cheesecake today; if you do, you know you will enjoy it at the time, but feel sick later and then regret it all week. Instead, compromise. Have half a slice of cheesecake, or skip the cheesecake and use the macros for something else, or make a less calorie dense version! As soon as you view your macros as something you can play about with, rather than something restrictive, you will enjoy the process so much more!
5. Decide how frequently you want to eat. Do you like the traditional 3 meals? Or do you like to snack? In MyFitnessPal you can rename each meal to personalize it to suit you (you have to do this from the computer).
6. Consider what you like to eat. Just because I love oats more than horses doesn’t mean you have to eat them for breakfast and dinner! Use your initial week where you logged your food as a starting point and tweak it to suit your accurate macronutrient breakdown. That way, you are not starting from scratch, but are simply adapting your current lifestyle to suit your goals.
7. Don’t feel you need to stick to serving sizes. Serving sizes are great to learn from. They show you both what a portion looks like and also how some companies cleverly market their products to make them seem more low calorie than they actually are! I rarely stick to a serving size of anything. Remember, it is a guide only! For example, on a high carb day, I may eat 2 servings of rice. I also may be cooking a broccoli for the week. On the packet, it says 4 servings, I make it do 5 servings. Also, when it comes to the end of the day, I ‘macro cap’. That is, I play around with whatever carbs, proteins and fats I have left for the day and ‘use them up’. This may mean I have a few grams of cereral, 1 chocolate or a small amount of peanut butter on top of my yoghurt. I either enter it into MyfitnessPal directly (if that food allows you to input by the gram) or I work out the percentage of the serving size I am consuming. This really enables you to have a little bit of what you fancy, without having to have an entire serving. I do this all the time.
8. Enjoy it! Over time, you will learn more and more about what a calorie looks like as well as what you can fit into your day. I cook in bulk on a Sunday and input those meals in for Monday – Friday. For the remainder of the calories on those days, I plan what I am going to eat the day before and log it. Sometimes I alter this on the day, but I predominantly eat whatever I have planned the day before. You will probably go through phases of eating ‘cleaner’ and eating more micronutrient void food and that’s okay! The initial excitement of being able to eat ice cream and candy will probably rule your diet, but this will probably level out. You will learn how you feel after eating different foods and will learn to incorporate being on track with nutrition without sacrificing life!