When thinking of “dieting” most men think of small portions and bland food. Lowering caloric intake by eating healthy foods like salads can lead to weight loss over time, but many dieting fads are restrictive and boring. These diets can leave men feeling deprived even with incorporated “cheat days”. Severe restrictions of enjoyable foods set men up for failure. One dieting program that has produced considerable results for weight loss while gaining lean muscle is flexible dieting.
What is flexible dieting?
Used by many bodybuilders, flexible dieting is counting macronutrients and calorie intake to achieve weight loss or gain. Macronutrients are the basic nutritional components, they are: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These three basic nutrients provide energy in the form of calories and the building blocks your body needs. To lose weight you have to eat fewer calories than your body burns, there’s no escaping this. However, as long as it’s within your macronutrient and calorie target, foods such as doughnuts, french fries, and pizza can all be eaten with flexible dieting. The key will be to make up the balance elsewhere in the day. For example, if you eat a pizza for lunch (which is high in fat and carbs) you can make it up at dinner by eating chicken breast with veggies (high in protein). At the end of the day, you will still be in a calorie deficit and you will have eaten a balanced nutrient mix (no one meal needs to be balanced, as long as the day is balanced).
“a deficit of 500 calories each day results in a 3,500 calorie deficit each week, which happens to be equal to 1 pound of fat”
For overall well-being, consuming nutrient-rich foods is vital. Many followers of flexible dieting follow the 80/20 rule of thumb. 80% of your calorie intake comes from unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, and meat. 20% comes from foods that many think are unhealthy, such as ice cream, french fries, and pizza. If you live a fast-paced lifestyle and frequently eat fast food, you can continue to do so as long as you consume fewer calories than you burn and balance your macronutrients with your meals at home.
Most diets promote claims of losing weight in a certain amount of days. The flexible diet is about sustainable results you can maintain. It does not focus on losing weight rapidly, or crash dieting which will end in failure. Flexible dieting overtime is not a diet, but a long-term habit. Focusing on regular counting of macronutrients and being in caloric deficit aids in reaching body composition goals and is flexible enough to fit any lifestyle.
How to get started
I’m going to explain the basics of all the counting. It might seem like a lot of work, but stick with me, because at the end I’ll show you a shortcut to make it super easy.
1. Calculate your TDEE
TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure. This number is based on your weight and amount of exercise. To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns. To calculate your caloric deficit, multiple your total body weight in pounds by 12. For example, if your current weight is 220 pounds, your calorie intake is 2,640 calories per day. That means that if you ate 2,640 calories every day you would stay at 220 pounds. The difference between that and any number below (say 2,140) is your calorie deficit. A good calorie deficit number is 500; a deficit of 500 calories each day results in a 3,500 calorie deficit each week, which happens to be equal to 1 pound of fat! After 1 month, you would have lost 4 pounds, not bad!
2. Calculate your macronutrients
Macronutrients of protein, fat, and carbohydrates make up the majority of a diet. Each gram of macronutrient has a calorie value.
1 Gram of protein=4 calories
1 Gram of carbohydrate=4 calories
1 Gram of fat=9 calories
Now, this is the important part: you need to keep your macronutrients in balance. Firstly, because it’s the healthy thing to do, and secondly, if you don’t you risk freaking your body out and gaining weight. You might change these ratios depending on what your specific goal is (maybe you want to gain muscle) but a good starting point for weight loss is:
35% of calories come from protein
35% of calories come from carbohydrates
and 30% from fat
3. Measure and track
Many men underestimate how many calories they consume each day. To avoid underestimating, it’s imperative to measure foods. You can measure foods by weighing them, reading the nutritional facts and measuring with measuring cups. Using such items ensures the correct count of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and overall calories consumed.
Normally you would keep a food journal that you would have to lug around with you all day. Thankfully, we live in the 21st century and there are apps that are designed to do all the hard work for you (including the measuring). I personally use MyFitnessPal. It has a massive database of just about everything, from Dominos to Nandos. If you’re eating out just search the name of the dish and the restaurant, it’ll be there. Click it, and the app will automatically log it for you, along with all the macronutrients. When shopping, you can simply scan the barcodes and it will know exactly what you’re eating. Then instead of measuring out how many grams of chicken breast, you can simply mark “half of this package of chicken”.
1) Log everything. Had a beer with mates? Log it. Juice with breakfast? Log it. Using an app makes it so easy, that you have no excuse not to.
2) The goal here is long-term, so if a 500 calorie deficit is too hard, make it 300 or 200. It’ll take longer, but it’s better to take longer to get to your goal than to burn out and never get there.
3) If you want a 500 calorie deficit, consider adding in some exercise. 20 minutes on a bicycle will burn about 250 calories, that means you only need to cut 250 calories out of your diet.
Whether you realize it or not, your daily life is largely comprised of countless habits. When you preform any given action, say rinsing your toothbrush with water after adding the toothpaste, your brain forms neural pathways specific to that exact action. Each subsequent time you repeat this action, those pathways…