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Is Flexible Dieting the Best Eating Strategy?

Flexible dieting tracks your protein, carbs, and fat as you reach and maintain your desired weight. It’s not new, but it can be awesome!

If you follow popular nutrition trends, you may have heard of the phrase if it fits your macros (IIFYM) or similar terms such as macro tracking or flexible dieting. Contrary to virtually all other dietary fads out there, flexible dieting is about reducing restrictions to get results, rather than removing whole food groups or adhering to some formula for what and when to eat. The concept is simple enough: if you eat the proper amounts of calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), you can be flexible with your food choices and still get the results you’re after. And, by and large, this system works. Through diligent diet tracking and portion control, flexible dieting has allowed many to shed fat and gain muscle while eating all the foods normally restricted on a diet. But is this the best approach to nutrition?

Of course, best is a vague term, so we have to decide what attributes we are using to measure the effectiveness of a diet. To me, a great eating style would be 1) personally sustainable, 2) disease preventing and health promoting, and 3) effective for fueling athletic performance. Any diet which covers these three attributes to me represents an excellent way of eating for personal well-being.

Personal sustainability isn’t listed first by accident either. No matter how effective a diet is in other areas if you can’t stick with it long term, who cares? A diet can only possibly work if you actually follow it, which is why all the short term, fast-result crash diets are such a waste of time and energy. With any extreme and temporary dieting strategy, more weight is likely to be gained in the long run than not following that diet in the first place! The best attribute of flexible dieting is its sustainability. Occasionally being able to incorporate any foods you have a mind to eat without feeling like you’ve failed your diet is extremely liberating. Having the flexibility of choosing your daily meal structure and food choices also makes socializing much easier, so I would absolutely say macro tracking is personally sustainable.

But does it promote long-term health? That is a tricky question to answer because the inherent flexibility of this diet means different people following it will be eating very different foods on a regular basis. What’s more, because this diet makes treating yourself to indulgent items so easy and guilt free, it also makes it easier to consume these foods often, albeit in modest portions. Given that a minimally processed, plant-based diet has been shown to be the healthiest around, anything deviating from minimally processed, plant-based foods will be less than optimal for long term health. However, the same flexibility allowing frequent junk food can also allow healthy food choices, so when it comes to food quality and its repercussions, you’re very much in the driver’s seat.

Flexible dieting is also designed for athletes since it focuses on the appropriate intake of macronutrients and calories for the individual. This means an athlete will have enough carbohydrates to fuel performance, enough protein to recover, and enough fats to absorb vitamins and produce hormones when they train or compete. As with long-term health, it’s impossible to say if macro tracking is optimal for athletes because it depends on the food choices of the individual, but the bare essentials for performance and recovery are well met.

So, based on these three criteria, is flexible dieting the best way to eat? The answer seems to depend on the choices each individual will make on the foods they eat. If whole plant foods form the foundation so that micronutrients and phytochemicals are in ample supply, flexible dieting is an extremely effective eating strategy because it’s so personally sustainable and well balanced, but as with nutrition as a whole, the responsibility lies with you.

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