When a diet is too hard to stick to, you become overwhelmed and unmotivated, and the chance of success diminishes. As a coach, it is my job to make things as easy as possible. Flexible dieting becomes easier when you prioritise both preparation and habit building. Following these steps leads to more sustainable long term results.
If you are coming from a 6 meal a day, clean eating regimen, flexible dieting aka IIFYM (if it fits your macros) can appear to be a more easy and sustainable way to set up your diet. The flexibility allows you to overcome the ins and outs of real life unpredictability. If you don’t have time to eat at some stage, or overeat, you can simply balance it out over your next meals. There is no “falling off the wagon” because you can always adjust to get right back on track.
With that said, I understand that tracking macros can be completely overwhelming. If you don’t have a good idea of the macronutrient content of foods, you might feel very lost. Follow these tips to make it all a little easier…
- Start by just tracking protein
Instead of throwing yourself in balls deep from day one, try just hitting protein. Track the things that contain protein and aim to hit around 25-45g per meal to hit your daily goal. This will encourage you to be more aware of your protein intake and what foods contain protein. By hitting your protein intake requirement, you are going to be fuller while promoting lean muscle. This is the foundation of successful dieting.
- Track in advance
Play around with your numbers the night before. Don’t assume you are going to have time the next day. Preparation makes everything run smoother. If you end up changing things around, you can simply adjust as you go. Having everything planned out the night before saves time and mental energy. This leaves you with more time and less stress
- Make a single food list to reuse
Most of us tend to eat the same foods week in and week out. By creating a food list that fits your macros, you can use the set list as ingredients for creating daily meals. This means you can carry over the same list from the day before but create different meals out of it so you don’t get bored. For example having scrambled eggs and oatmeal, then using the same ingredients to make protein pancakes the next day. If you are using myfitnesspal, simply multi add the recently used items from the day before so you can be done tracking in an instant.
- Have “Go To Meals”
Choose your favourite meals and adjust them to fit you meal requirements. Have these recipes auto saved in my fitness pal so you can easily recreate and add them. You can make your favourite recipes fit your goals by substituting high fat/carb or low protein options with better choices. For example: using low fat dairy, choosing higher protein higher fibre bread, having zucchini noodles instead of pasta, switching white or brown rice for cauliflower rice, or adding egg whites to baked recipes for a higher protein content. It’s a good ideal to make your go to meals 1/3 of your daily protein requirement, plus 1/3 or less of your carbs and fats.
- Stick to 3-4 daily meals
Avoid eating too frequently or waiting til you are so hungry that you overeat. Having more than 4 meals is unnecessary. Eating small meals more often will make you hungry more often. The smaller meals are less filling and less satisfying. Instead of snacking or eating 5-6 meals, aim for 3 meals and 1 high protein snack. Having these meals at the same planned times each day can drastically reduce cravings and set you up for success. Unless you are trying to gain weight, eating more frequently is not superior and will not “speed up your metabolism” like some think.
- Try Intermittent Fasting
A strategy promoted in my book on flexible dieting is somewhat counter intuitive. Pushing your first meal of the day back to noon or later (skipping breakfast) is a version of intermittent fasting that has been a powerful tool for myself and many of my clients. Try pushing your first meal back a little more each day until you adjust. This strategy means you can have more time and energy early in the day, then have more of your carbs and calories later in the day when cravings and hunger are more likely to set in. This approach usually means less time spent tracking and eating and more time spent living. It is especially useful when travelling when you are eating bigger meals. Try starting your day off with a calorie free black coffee with splenda to blunt hunger until it’s time to eat.
- Find Convenience Foods
We tend to eat what is convenient when life gets hectic. Usually this means cheap, low protein convenience foods. They usually aren’t filling or in line with our goals. By finding easy to track high protein foods, you will make it easier to hit your macros even when life gets in the way. Convenience foods could be as simple as keeping a protein bar or shake in your bag. Other simple snacks include frozen edamame, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, jerky, etc. Find foods you enjoy that help you stay on track.
- Eating a large bowl of mixed steamed veggies with your first meal
I am a huge fan of prioritising nutrient dense, high fibre fruit and veggies in my first 2 meals. This means I can enjoy fun foods like poptarts, pizza or ice cream later in the day. A bigger portion of veggies with a little seasoning or low calorie sauce (eg fountain sugar free sweet chilli sauce) will make you fuller and boost your micronutrient intake. I know most of us don’t get enough fruit and veg on a regular basis. Making this tip a habit will make sticking with your macros a whole lot easier.
- Meal Prep
This one may be obvious. It’s likely you’ve seen countless online fitness bloggers repeat this point. That’s because it not only works, but it makes everything easier and more enjoyable. In “Fat Loss Happens on Monday”, authors Josh Hillis & Dan John emphasise that your meal prep is the most important meal of the week. Focus on making this habit. If you have prepared meals that you enjoy it makes sticking with your diet more convenient. Dieting success happens when your preparation makes sticking to the plan the easiest option.
- Include Foods you actually enjoy
Don’t include foods you hate just because someone told you they are a superfood or help you lose fat. There are no magic foods. Including foods you enjoy in moderation for a more balanced approach will increase diet satisfaction. Instead of depriving yourself of foods you love, include them in moderation. The old strategy of avoiding “bad” foods then bingeing on them for a “cheat meal” creates a toxic relationship with food and isn’t likely to get you closer to your goals. I include pizza, icecream or champagne into my numbers when I feel like it. This means I can still have a life and get impressive results. Being an extreme food Nazi is not going to leave you in a good place.
- Think of it as a game
Perception and mindset can either work for or against you. If you choose to see tracking and hitting goals as a game, it becomes more enjoyable. Challenge yourself to see how many days in a row you can track. See how close you can get to your macro targets, see every step closer as a new high score. Make a list of daily habits and see how many you can tick off each day. Make it fun and dieting will not seem so overwhelming. Apps like fitocracy add the gamification element to dieting so you can win at the game of life.
- Talk to other Flexible Dieters
Get in contact with people that have had success with IIFYM. Learning from those who are successful can help us avoid mistakes. This can be very motivating to be inspired by others who have achieved what you hope to. There are many facebook groups and forums that make this possible.
If you are still finding things a little overwhelming, check out this article on aiming for small progressions rather than perfection.