A Guide To Flexible Dieting

Written by: Chris Prosser

This past weekend, I finished up a prep for a client that left most people really confused. The reason? This particular client took an approach that is pretty much forbidden in the sport of bodybuilding – flexible dieting.. How could someone not follow a set meal plan and still drop 40+ pounds of fat?!

Most think to get in great shape (yes, even stage shape) you must follow a rigid, structured meal plan or you simply won’t see the results you want. While for some this may be true, this is not due to physiology but how they operate as an individual (their habits).

Fortunately, habits can change, which is why I am writing this article. There is a (very short) time and place for structured meal plans, but in the long-haul flexible dieting is by far the best route to go. In this article I want to talk about some of the most common questions I hear, and hopefully shed some insight on this great tool!

First, how does it work..?

I like to think of nutrition components as being in a hierarchy, they aren’t all created equal nor do they contribute equally to your progress. I would like to note that the list below (and the corresponding percentages) were originally published by the folks over at Renaissance Periodization.

The components (in order from most impactful to least) are…

  1. Calorie Balance (50%): How much food you are eating vs. how much you are burning
  2. Macronutrients (30%): The ratios of the 3 macronutrients in your total calorie intake
  3. Meal Timing (10%): Typically in reference to intake around pre-, intra-, and post-workout
  4. Meal Composition (5%): The types of food you eat
  5. Supplements & Hydration (5%): The various supplements you can add into your diet to compliment it + your levels of hydration throughout the day

One of the key reasons flexible dieting works, is because it is fairly easy to address the two largest contributing factors of your success.. how much you are eating and the ratios of macros at any given meal. Just by addressing those two areas, you can expect to see about 80% of your desired result – not bad! The remaining 3 components can be addressed either by hiring a coach to help educate you or by committing a lot of time to studying and understanding these concepts.

Why is flexible dieting more sustainable than structure meal plans?

When researchers compare these two approaches, results generally are identical (assuming the above components are accounted for and equal). So where does flexible dieting gain the advantage? Your mind. That’s right, flexible dieting is healthier for your mind and how you approach your nutrition, making it an obvious choice for a lifetime of healthy living.

It is well-known that individuals following a structured meal plan for prolonged periods of time (6+ months) are at higher risk for developing unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders. The exact opposite is true of those following a flexible approach to their nutrition. Flexible dieting is so sustainable because of how it allows you to manage your nutrition and change it based on circumstances. There is hardly any wiggle room on a structured meal plan.

As long as I hit my calorie goals, I can eat whatever… right?

Yes & No. If you are looking purely for aesthetic progress you can certainly see results by only focusing on calorie intake and activity. However, I highly advise against this approach as you will end up paying the price later in life. To see both external and internal progress (i.e. looking good AND feeling good) it is important to primarily stick with whole foods / single ingredient foods.

A good rule for this is 80/20.. 80% of the foods you consume should be the types of foods we all know we should eat and the remaining 20% can be your guilty pleasure foods. This is another factor that makes flexible dieting so sustainable, you don’t have to eliminate anything!

This all seems sort of overwhelming, how can I get started?

A transition to real flexible dieting can be intimidating for some, simply because of prior failures or bad habits they know will get in their way when trying to stick to a plan with seemingly no safety net. Everyone’s journey will look different based on prior nutrition history and current habits so my best advice here is to save yourself from the headache and hire a coach that can mentor you through this transition and provide plenty of guidance (tips and grocery lists) to help you get started.