A diet, in the general sense of the word, can encompass many different meanings to every individual. For the off-season bodybuilder, it means truckloads of food, lots of protein and the occasional trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet. To the Paleo-obsessed, it means no processed carbohydrates, HFCS, and whatever else they feel like including or excluding depending on how they feel about their ancestors’ diet. To the figure athlete getting ready for a show, the word depicts 16 weeks of starvation and lots of boring food choices.
Dieting, to most of us, means a strict or controlled period of time where we eat less and move more in hopes of torching our body fat into oblivion.
So how in the hell do the words “flexible” and “dieting” fit into the same heading, book title or even in the same article? Have I gone crazy or did I just have too much to drink today?
Flexible dieting is nothing new; however it’s rarely practiced by most individuals.
Let’s first take look into most diets for a second.
Hopeless Rigidity Ensues
For your average dieter, most set a time frame to lose a certain amount of weight or body fat. I’d venture to say that most set unrealistic expectations and many create a plan that is more rigid than your 6th grade, ex-sergeant P.E. coach.
A week or so into their diet, something terrible happens. They get invited out to a movie or out to dinner with some friends for a birthday celebration. At this point, they have two choices. They could easily say no and appear weird or even superior to their friends due to their their almighty diet or they could plan this night out into their flexible diet and enjoy the time spent with good company.
Whatever choice an individual makes is highly based upon their views and beliefs about dieting as a whole. It’s all about what dieting represents to them. For the fitness-obsessed, it’s usually the first option they go for. Instead of choosing a flexible diet and incorporating a free meal now and again, they choose to snub their friends’ invitation so they can eat broccoli and chicken alone by themselves at home.
At one point in my life, this was totally me. I was rather miserable.
If any of what I’ve described sounds uncomfortably familiar, please keep reading. I want to highly encourage you through some of my personal experiences to adopt some flexible dieting principles you can utilize for a lifetime.
Previous Dieting Blunders
I’ll never forget a mistake I made a few years ago. I was preparing for a photo shoot and had dialed in my diet like nobody’s business. I was on point to reaching my goal of 12-weeks-to-a-photography-ready-body. I didn’t practice any of the flexible dieting principles that I practice now.
I didn’t incorporate any refeeds or any “cheat meals.” My diet consisted of too much bland chicken, tuna and green veggies. While I wasn’t starving, I sure felt like it most of the time due to my rigid 2.359-hour timing of all 7 meals.
I did,however, reach my goal. I got very lean. I got a nice tan and looked damn sexy in a pair of tight swim trunks. I even saw a photo of mine in one of the sales ads for the local paper.
While this was all fine and dandy, I royally screwed my physique over the next week. After 12 weeks of inflexible dieting, I stuffed my face like a starved Ethiopian might.
I hit up the all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet twice. I ate all the foods I’d restricted over the past 12 weeks. Pasta, honey rolls, pizza, calamari, pad Thai, and every other yummy food in existence.
I’d basically undone the last 6 weeks of dieting in one damn week. It’s no surprise though. The damage could’ve been entirely avoidable if I’d done a few things differently. Here’s what I should’ve done to avoid this mess altogether.
- Do a carbohydrate refeed when necessary. – On any diet, an important hormone (along with many others) to keep happy is leptin. When dieting down and being in a consistent caloric deficit, there will be a drop in leptin and some other various hormones (thyroid hormones such as T3/T4). Low levels of leptin result in hunger and a slight decrease in metabolic rate. However, when you do a carb refeed, the acute results are a bump in leptin and other hormones, which will also increase metabolic rate. Another positive of refeeding when necessary is a “break” from constant hunger, plus lots of stored energy in the form of glycogen for the upcoming workouts. This, in turn means you hang onto that sacred muscle mass. For more interesting information on leptin, read this.
- Allowed a few cheat meals here and there. – In reality, when you look at the long-term, how far could a slice of cheesecake really set you back? Now an entire pie might have a more negative effect but eating a slice of cake or pie for your best friend’s birthday celebration will do wonders for your adherence. You’ll be reminded every so often of what the tastier foods are like so when you’re done with your diet, it’s not very tempting to pig out because you didn’t deprive yourself.
My Current Stand on the Flexible Diet
Just last Monday (3/15) I started a moderate diet to shed a bit of the winter fluff and prepare myself for playing in the summer sun and some possible shoots with a local photographer. All week was fairly easy. I walked to class instead of driving to ensure my NEAT increased.
I made sure to eat a lot of protein, tone down my training volume and focus on strength work. During this week, despite eating a fair amount of carbohydrate, I managed to drop some water and the scale weight is on its way down. I rarely step on the scale, anyhow because my preferred method of monitoring fat loss is via the mirror method.
So, everything was going just as planned. Strength is being maintained, calories are controlled and monitored and I’m literally walking my ass off. So far, so good.
Then came the weekend.
I called a friend I haven’t hung out with in months and we decided to go out Saturday night for barbeque dinner and some liquid bread (um, most call this beer).
Now, two or three years ago, I would’ve been freaking out about how I was going to account for my intake. I would’ve even considered cancelling for fear of messing up my diet.
However, I enjoyed Saturday night very much. It’s funny to tell people you’re dieting while stuffing your face with pulled pork, beans and cornbread and washing it all down with a cold brew.
Did this night out screw up my diet? I think not and allow me to explain.
Saturday morning, I woke up and had my usual coffee. I swallowed a rather thick MPI shake from TrueProtein that I got for free (thanks to all who use my code JCD370 when ordering their protein!!). If you order from them, the premium flavors are the only way to go – I like Dutch Chocolate Fudge the best.
Then, once I finished up with some client work on the computer, I headed over to my mother’s place and went for a nice walk in giant park behind her apartment. The walk through the woods lasted about an hour and accounted for some nice, steady state cardio.
When I got in, I had a ham sandwich and about 400g worth of chicken breast.
This was all I had for the day before going out and annihilating some roasted piggy sandwiches. The best part about the meal was that it was free and all we could eat. Evidently my friend did some contract work for the owner and his money is not accepted in this particular restaurant.
Flexible Dieting Summary
There are no hard and fast rules when dieting. Remember that reaching your goals should be high on your list of priorities but you don’t have to be rigid for the duration of the diet. This rings especially true if you don’t have a time-specific deadline like a show or a photo shoot.
I particularly like to set goals with a loose time frame as opposed to a strict one. This ensures I make the most of my time and ensure I drop weight optimally rather than cut any corners. For more information on goal setting, read this.
- Use refeeds and free meals to your advantage.
- Give yourself a break if unexpected family gatherings or outings affect your daily deficit.
- Keep your long-term goal in mind.
- Spend time with your loved ones.
- Eat your mother’s spinach casserole.
If you want a more comprehensive resource on flexible dieting, I highly recommend Lyle McDonald’s A Guide to Flexible Dieting.