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  • Writer's pictureDarshini Krishna

What Is Flexible Dieting and Why Does It Work?

Updated: May 17

Introducing Flexible Dieting

Flexible dieting is an approach to nutrition that is unlike any other.

Now you’re probably wondering what the heck is flexible dieting, and how is it any different than anything I have heard of before?

Flexible dieting is an approach to nutrition that is based on science and psychology.

It provides a high degree of flexibility in terms of food choices and meal setup, to cater to the

individual’s caloric needs, preferences, lifestyle, and training demands.

Why Flexible Dieting works

1. There is No Restriction with Flexible Dieting

This is a huge differentiating factor between flexible dieting and virtually every other diet.

While other diets operate from a place of restriction, flexible dieting operates from a place of abundance.

When it comes to dieting in general, all camps can agree that some form of restraint is necessary.

Dietary restraint allows you to monitor and maintain control over what and how much you eat.

There are even different forms of restraint, specifically flexible and rigid restraint.

> Rigid Restraint

Rigid restraint imposes strict rules around food and typically leads to an all-or-nothing thinking.

It promotes a hyper-fixation around food, leads to overeating or even the potential development of disordered eating patterns.

> Flexible Restraint

Flexible restraint, on the other hand, focuses on development of overall habits and doesn’t restrict you from eating any foods.

Since no foods are off-limits, there are no feelings of deprivation.

And since there is no deprivation, there is no need for a big release.

This results in improved chances of weight loss and better weight maintenance in the long-term.

Let’s paint a picture of this.

Say your brother brings over an assortment of pastries and cakes one day for tea.

If you were practicing rigid restraint, maybe the rule you created for yourself was no sugary treats.

Feeling a little bit peckish, you happen to eat a pain au chocolat.

All hell breaks loose as you just broke your golden rule.

It’s Thursday, but since you already royally screwed up, you are going to go all the way this weekend, #DietStartsOnMonday.

If you were practicing a flexible approach however, eating one pain au chocolat wouldn’t send you into shambles.

You would have eaten it, probably enjoyed it, and knowing that the majority of your diet is still going to consist of whole foods that day, be able to move on with your life with no feelings of guilt or shame.

If we still haven’t found the definition of happiness, I think enjoying your food while still reaching your goals sounds like a perfect mix to me at least.

Are you beginning to see the difference?

When you place harsh dogmatic rules around your food, you will naturally rebel against it.

It’s kind of like when you walk past a door that has a “Do not enter” sign, I can bet you that you feel the need to open it much more than if there wasn’t the sign on the door in the first place.

Me too.

There is even a “Last supper effect” documented in research, where they found that when they told people they were going to enter a low calorie diet with forbidden foods, they ended up eating almost double the amount of cookies prior to the start of the diet.

This effect occurs in response to the anticipated deprivation, kind of a “now or never” mindset.

Flexible dieting can help you avoid falling prey to all these subpar approaches and mindsets that are actually working against you achieving your dream physique.

This also shows you that it is essential that your diet also factors in the psychological aspect of behavior change for sustained results.

2. Flexible Dieting Does Not Delineate Between Good or Bad foods

With flexible dieting, there is no labeling of foods as good or bad.

This is pivotal, because calling a food “good” or “bad” gives it undeserved power. Bad foods become perceived as a forbidden fruit. This is a setup for overconsumption and binging because the dieter swears this will be the last dance with this morally reprehensible food. Instead, all food is viewed on a spectrum of less nutrient dense to very nutrient dense.

So the chocolate glazed donut in front of you is not bad, it’s just less nutritious than say the banana.

You might think it's just words, and you can call them whatever you want, the same way you might label a day as a Cheat day.

But just be aware that words guide perception and behaviour.

Labelling foods as bad, or a day as a Cheat day, gives the perception that you are going to binge on all the foods that you have been holding back on previously.

On the other hand, moving away from this black or white, dichotomous thinking about food and eating is associated with more control and better weight management.

And in most cases, deviations from a diet are due to a perceived loss of control.

Instead what you want to do is work these deviations into your plan.

Planned deviations allow you to take control of your diet, rather than be a slave to it, and this drives better adherence to the plan over time.

Flexible dieting takes the power away from foods and puts it back in your hands, where it rightfully belongs.

This means that small deviations can be easily incorporated into your plans and adjusted for by tweaking subsequent meals throughout the day or week.

At the end of the day, if you are still within your calorie goal for the week, there will not be any detriment to the weight loss you will experience.

And given there is approximately 3500 calories in a pound of fat, even if you eat an extra 200 calories today, that is not reason to go berserk and topple the rest of the dominos.

Simply take it in your stride, make adjustments if you can. And realise, you can easily account for that and work that into your plan.

If you are the more anxious type, and making adjustments might exacerbate further binge-restrict tendencies, just track it, and get back to your plan asap.

That's all there is to it really.

Zoom out, and realise that one day or one meal never made or broke anybody.

It is your consistency over the long term that matters most.

3. Flexible dieting prioritizes good food choices.

Last, but definitely not least, is that flexible dieting still prioritizes good food choices.

You may have heard of If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) before.

To be clear, flexible dieting is not the same as IIFYM.

IIFYM sells the idea that you can eat anything so long as you hit your macro goal.

Sure, that might create weight loss if you are achieving a calorie deficit.

But there is a lot that gets missed out.

Like the micronutrient density of your foods- how much vitamins and minerals are in your diet, and how satiating your food actually is.

These factors are key for health and long-term body composition changes (losing fat, building muscle).

While there is no concept of restriction with flexible dieting, you still need to exercise restrain.

I like how Mike Doehla put it, he said,

“You can eat whatever you want. You just can't eat how much of it you want".

What this means is that while you have the freedom to eat anything under the sun, it does not mean that you get all your calories from Oreos and Cheesecake. Instead about 80-90% of your diet should still come from whole, nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc. While the remaining 10-20% can come from more nutrient sparse "fun foods" for adherence!

This also teaches you things like portion control, calorie density and food volume. Note that this is an option that's available to you, and you do not need to spend your calories on treats if you choose not to. The point is as long as you are hitting your calorie and macronutrient targets, and prioritizing whole foods, you can still fit in foods you enjoy!

Alright, I hope this quick article on flexible dieting gives you a little insight into what is possible.

If you have any questions whatsoever, you know where to reach me.

If you thought of anyone while reading this article, be sure to share it with them, you will not just be helping me, but also your friend!

- Darsh


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