A Beginner's Guide to Flexible Dieting
You’re new to flexible dieting? Or, you’d like to brush up on how it works? Welcome to The Beginner’s Guide to Flexible Dieting. In this article you will learn how to calculate your macronutrient profile, what each macronutrient does, and how to use flexible dieting daily. As this is a beginner’s guide, I will not be bogging you down with tons of jargon or in depth concepts, just enough to get you on the right track. If you are curious about a particular aspect, please feel free to skip to labeled sub sections.
What is Flexible Dieting?
Simply, Flexible Dieting is a more free perspective on food consumption – no food is off limit in the right amount. The idea is to take you, as a unique individual, and use science to give you a system with which you can control how your body feels, looks, and performs.
You will be in charge of a few variables that make, from a nutritional point of view, the most difference in your health, aesthetics, and performance. These variables include:
4. Mental Health
If you can learn to control these variables accurately and reliably, you will be flexible dieting.
Macronutrients, What Are Yours?
Macronutrients are made up of three main nutritional molecules that you consume every day, regardless of if you follow flexible dieting or not. They make up the majority of your calories in your diet. These three molecules are:
1. Protein (1 gram = 4 calories)
2. Fats (1 gram = 9 calories)
3. Carbohydrates (1 gram = 4 calories)
You need enough protein for various reasons which include, but are not limited to, maintaining muscle, growing muscle, increased satiety, and existence.
Fat is essential for several functions that include, but are not limited to, hormone production, satiety, and existence.
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy, and although you can survive without carbohydrates, it is beneficial to consume enough as your performance may drop if insufficient carbohydrates are introduced to your body.
I will be showing you two ways to get your macronutrient numbers.
1. Automatic Mode
2. Manual Mode
Simply plug in your information into either of these two calculators and you will have your macronutrient numbers:
Okay, so for whatever reason you would like to find out your macronutrient numbers manually – no problem! Here are your step by step instructions:
Step 1: Find your total calories (in Step 2) by using a calorie calculator. I usually use:
,but you can type in “calorie calculator” in Google and you will find plenty of options.
Step 2: Finding your actual calories is done by filling out the necessary information about yourself (sex, age, height, weight, activity level). Some calculators may ask you for a body fat percentage, but as people are wildly inaccurate at estimating their body fat, I would recommend keeping this blank (it will lead to higher accuracy, in all likelihood).
A calorie calculator may ask you to choose between three different equations (Mifflin-St. Jeor, Katch-McArdle, or Harris Benedict) – choose Mifflin-St. Jeor.
Step 3: You will see that some calculators offer different numbers based on your goal, please ignore every number except for the “maintenance” number. The maintenance number is the number we will be using (we will manipulate it for weight loss and weight gain later).
Write down your maintenance calorie number.
Step 4: Now that we have your maintenance number, we will specify that number by splitting it into the three macronutrient numbers.
Protein: Take your body weight, multiply by a number at or between 0.8 – 1.0 (BW x .8 – 1.0) = Protein macronutrient number, then multiply by 4 = calories from protein.
You will have two numbers:
1. Your protein macronutrient number (write this down)
2. Your total calories left over after subtracting calories from protein (you will use this to find your fat numbers)
Subtract your caloric protein number from your maintenance number (If your maintenance number is 2000, and the number you just calculated is 600, subtract 600 from 2000, leaving you with 1400 calories).
Fat: Take your bodyweight, multiply by a number at or between 0.4 – 0.5 (BW x 0.4 – 0.5) = Fat macronutrient number, then multiply by 9 = calories from fat.
You will have two numbers:
1. Your fat macronutrient number (write this down)
2. Your total calories left over after subtracting calories from fat (you will use this to find your carbohydrate numbers)
Subtract this number from the new number you acquired after you subtracted your protein (in the above example, 1400 calories minus this number).
Carbohydrate: Now, take this new number you have (after protein and fat have been subtracted) and simply divide by 4 = Carbohydrate macronutrient number.
Now, take your protein, fat, and carbohydrate macronutrient numbers and write them down somewhere. You now have your maintenance macronutrients based on your maintenance calories.
If you would like to lose weight, simply subtract from your carbohydrate macronutrient number. If you would like to gain weight, simply add to your carbohydrate macronutrient number.
Micronutrients, What Are Yours?
Well, we now have our macronutrient numbers, but for a complete picture of performance and health, we need to have sufficient micronutrients. Micronutrients may not offer energy in the direct sense that calorically dense macronutrients do, but without them, the body does not function properly.
This article would be eons long if I went through each micronutrient, so I will simply state a general sentiment.
Be sure to consume the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals (both are micronutrients) your body needs – this is imperative to health and performance.
Luckily, micronutrient dense foods come from a well-balanced diet as taught in flexible dieting.
Water, How Much?
Water is essential to life. Dehydration leads to poor performance and bad health. Be sure to consume enough water fit for you. Recommendations for water intake change relatively regularly, but if your urine is relatively clear and you are not thirsty, you are likely well enough hydrated.
Mental Health, How Flexible Dieting Works?
Flexible dieting is a break from bad mental practices. It combines physical health and food appreciation through science based practice. The aim is to be able to look at food in a way that is nurturing and encourages understanding toward one’s goals and appreciations.
No food (aside from allergies, sensitivities, etc) is off limit.
How is this possible?
By the act of moderation. The idea is to look at individual foods as having no isolated nature of being “good” or “bad”, but to look at one’s entire diet for the day.
For example, if you ate fruits, vegetables, rice, chicken, turkey, etc for the majority of the day to hit your macronutrient and micronutrient targets, and yet you’re eyeing a piece of cake, you should stop looking at it as a piece of cake = bad food, but look at it as… as weird as this sounds…
2g of protein
9g of fat
34g of carbohydrates
Then, check your macronutrient and micronutrient numbers and ask yourself, “can I fit this into my nutrient profile based on how I have eaten throughout the day (or will eat throughout the day)?”
If you have 15g of protein, 11g of fat, and 40g of carbs left over for the day, as well as having hit your micronutrient goals – eat that piece of cake, damn it! It fits! You will still reach your goals as quickly as if you had replaced that piece of cake with something else having similar macronutrient numbers.
Therein lies the flexibility. The ability to make things fit and still reach one’s goals.
All food is made up of macronutrients. Simply look at the nutrition label of all your foods, measure the amount that you eat, and keep a record of how much was in the amount you consumed.
If I have an apple and I eat half of that apple, I would record half of the macronutrients for that apple.
You do this and subtract it from your daily macronutrient amount (calculated earlier in this article) until you reach or get close to zero on all your macronutrient numbers.
Next day? Start over – it’s a new day with a full set of macronutrient numbers (same numbers as the day before)!
It is as simple as that. Track everything, stay within +/- 5 grams of your macronutrient numbers, try your best to fulfill your micronutrient numbers, and drink enough water. DONE.
Essential Tools for Your Success
This may all be a bit daunting, but have no fear, flexible dieters have help! Here are a few tools we use to make life MUCH easier for ourselves:
A calorie/macronutrient counting application:
Most people have a smartphone, and even if you don’t, this will still be useful to you. As such, the vast world of technology has given us the gift of applications to download on our smart phones and computers. These applications not only keep track of progress, remind you to track, have massive databases for ease of access, but most convenient is the “bar code” scanner most have that uses your phone camera that you then point at a bar code and it fills in all your macronutrient information automatically!
MyFitnessPal: Likely the most popular and widely used, it allows for all the basic functions as well as a an extensive, supportive community. This is the application I use. It is free (premium is not free – I do not use premium).
Macrotracker.com: New to the scene, but looks promising for specificity to macronutrient tracking.
Fat Secret: I honestly know little about this application, but it seems like a relatively popular one, as well, so I thought I’d mention it.
There are others, but these are three that would work well and are very popular, not to mention free.
If you are going to be accurate about what you eat, you need to be accurate (duh) and the only way to do that is by using a food scale with which to measure ounces and grams. Any food scale will do, but having one is essential to accuracy – use it as often as possible, do not guess your numbers!
I am not the most gifted cook (who am I kidding, I suck), but it does help to be part of a community that will help you with recipes that are “friendly” to your macronutrients. People that are far more culinarily (pretend that’s a word, will ya?) creative post some amazing recipes online for free. A few of these groups are:
IIFYM (-The official if it fits your macros group): A huge group of over 40,000 members with, often, helpful advice on how to further in your goals related to macronutrients.
Macro Magic: The best place to find people that have come up, or found, amazing recipes that are incredibly doable, even for the cooking challenged (like myself). Who would have thought protein cookies could be so good?
So, there you have it. Everything you need or might want in regards to starting your journey as a flexible dieter is now comfortably at your fingertips and your macronutrient numbers should now be written down in front of you. Go get ‘em, tiger!