Flexible Dieting: Why Having An Open Approach To Your Nutrition Can Make You See Better Fat Loss

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Ok, I have a good one for you today that covers a big question I’ve seen around the “interweb” as of late regarding diet, and more specifically, what kind of diet it takes to TRULY get you to your fat loss goals.  For a longtime, the ideal that has been pounded into the subconscious of almost every dieter has been the dogma that “eating clean” is what one needs to do in order to get to their fat loss goals.  


As with many things, this tiny statement (“eating clean”) has really gone incredibly far in regards to how people define “clean”, and how their conclusions effect the success of their efforts on the whole. For the last few months, I have adopted, or rather upgraded, the way I approach diet program design for a number of my clients.  I’ve come to realize that for many people, sticking to a perfectly designed meal plan may not work for them.  


For some, even the sheer thought of having to follow a plan day in and day out, regardless to the fact that they have tools to easily add variety to the plan, just isn’t the approach that sets them up for success.  I’ve always been the type of coach to subscribe to the fact that a plan must be mutable, and it must mold to the client, not the other way around.  


So I started to offer clients an option to have macros and calories included with their fully designed meal plans, OR the option to simply do away with the meal plan structure.  However, the client is given macros and calories to allow the person to eat whatever they wish as long as it stays within their totals for the day.  And when I said whatever they wish, I really meant whatever they wish.  


They were given no specific guidelines except to be sure to hit their calories first, macros secondarily, and to include up to about 6g (just about 6 capsules) of a high grade fish oil daily in their diets (of course factoring those into the macros as well).


Interestingly enough, this has proven to be quite successful for a number of clients whether their goal has been fat loss, or even for those looking to do a “lean build” type of program.  I noticed that my fat loss focused clients had LESS food cravings, and that ironically most would stick to typically chosen plan based foods in any case (lean meats, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats).  


They would include the occasional treat like ice-cream, cakes, chocolate, or go out and have sushi and things of that nature, however approaching their diets with a more flexible mindset helped them to feel in more control, lending to their overall success.  For clients focusing on lean mass building (while keeping body fat gain in check), they too had more overall success and saw only a slow and gradual increase in overall body fat despite eating often VERY high caloric amounts.  


This was especially true for clients of mine who are active competitors in off season.  I think for this subset, it’s dually important to spend several months in a flexible dieting type of approach following a contest season.  The rigidity of dieting for a show can be hard on ANYONE, even the most seasoned competitor.  


Allowing some “controlled” freedom helps in the long term for the competitor not only physically, but mentally as well. Here’s the ironic twist, there have actually been several scientific studies that support reasons why this approach is actually quite a bit better than the traditional strict approach than what most follow.  There was a study done in 2002 that looked at the relationship of the occurrence of eating disordered thinking between rigid and flexible dieting in women who were non-obese.  In exact terms from the study itself:



The primary aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that women who utilize rigid versus flexible dieting strategies to prevent weight gain report more eating disorder symptoms and higher body mass index (BMI) in comparison to women who utilize flexible dieting strategies.



This study also came to a very interesting conclusion:



The study found that individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size/shape. In contrast, flexible dieting strategies were not highly associated with BMI, eating disorder symptoms, mood disturbances, or concerns with body size.






These findings suggest that rigid dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms and higher BMI in nonobese women.



That’s not the only one.  A more recent 2011 study looked at the effects of rigid vs. flexible dieting and the control of cravings, and how they relate to a dieter’s perceived success.  The conclusion was basically that food cravings definitely do effect dietary control and success negatively in rigid dieting, and has less of an effect when flexible dieting is utilized.


So what does this mean for you, my dear?  Well, what I say to you is to allow for a little more freedom in your diet.  As I tell my clients, there’s no such thing as perfection.  In fact, enough evidence is out there that supports the notion that simply staying at least around 90% of dietary compliance will still get you successfully to that end result.  


So whether you are the type of person who prefers simply following and meeting macro/caloric requirements, or you’re someone who fairs better in a meal plan all spelled out for you, allowing some form of dietary freedom can actually lead to overall better success in the long run.  So be sure to always be seeking balance, and allow yourself to enjoy a planned deviation here and there – guilt free. For more information on my coaching services please visit http://www.RoxstarFitness.com.  




Stewart TM, Williamson DA, White MA. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002 Feb;38(1):39-44. PubMed PMID: 11883916.


Meule A, Westenhöfer J, Kübler A. Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Appetite. 2011 Dec;57(3):582-4. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.07.013. Epub 2011 Jul 29. PubMed PMID: 21824503.


Smith CF, Williamson DA, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite. 1999 Jun;32(3):295-305. PubMed PMID: 10336790.  



2 replies on “Flexible Dieting: Why Having An Open Approach To Your Nutrition Can Make You See Better Fat Loss

  • amconn85

    thank you for posting, I have been hearing the term flexible dieting alot so from my understanding is that people eating whatever they want as long as they stay within there macro’s regardles of contents? I dont want to confuse this with saying ok I can go eat a slice of pizza today and another meal of ice cream etc etc and still manage to achieve fat loss? Do your clients that chose the flexible dieting what kinds of foods are they eating , just some examples. I would like to try it for myself but I feel as if I may go overboard.

  • Roxie Beckles

    That’s a very good question. And essentially your understanding of the main concepts is correct. So in essence, yes it is possible to fit a slice of pizza, or even ice-cream, into this kind of approach. Of course the main goal is to not go over your macro and caloric requirements for the day. Foods like that tend to be very nutrient dense, so having a large serving of them – or sometimes even a regular serving size depending on the food – can take a huge chunk out of your allotment, so that would have to be taken into account. But in general, again, it’s not so much what you’re eating, but how much of it that will dictate change. A small serving isn’t going to kill you, nor hurt your efforts. And most people end up eating foods that are seen as healthier choices for a majority of the time (my clients included). The biggest difference is that there is less anxiety when it comes to allowing for “off typical plan” eating. And dieters in general have a better way of incorporating those foods, while still getting to their goals.

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