Before bed last night I combined 3/4 cup oats, nutella, cinnamon & unsweetened almond milk into my go-to mug (a clay-cafe rustic painted creation of mine I should add) and placed it to cool overnight in the fridge for a delicious creamy oatmeal breakfast as my pre-workout meal.
I then logged the macros for my meal in my app, MyMacros+, 10F, 60C, 15P - perfect.
This is a classic example of how flexible dieting can be applied & it's how we have approached dieting over 400 clients who have worked with Life Aesthetics, our online brand of fitness & nutrition coaching. Flexible dieting, in basic terms, is an approach to dieting driven by a set of fixed or variable macronutrient(s) intake (fat, carbohydrates, proteins) that aims to produce the outcome of a desired body composition and factor in non-traditional 'bro' foods into the palate of the individual at hand.
We advocate for this style of dieting as it allows for a healthier balance & relationship with food. Traditional 'Meal Plans' focused on lean proteins (fish, chicken, egg whites) carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, oats, vegetables, rice cakes) and fats from nuts, lean ground beef, eggs, salmon.
Now, there is nothing 'wrong' with those food choices; in fact, I'd argue that "bro foods", or clean unprocessed whole foods, should be the foundation of all diets. It's when you start to build on top of that foundation that flexible dieting shows it's true colours.
When I take on a new client I ask them what their vision is for their body, what do they want to see in the mirror looking back at them, how do they want to feel? For the majority of clients we work with it's generally a lean, tight, muscular/fit physique they want to achieve. To begin, I always take into consideration whether an individual is the right candidate for a flexible dieting approach - that's right, not everyone should follow this approach. Some individuals have very specific dietary allergies, strict dietary preferences or restrictions and many have had a wide array of food relationship/lifestyle imbalances that need to be addressed before easing into flexible dieting.
The next step is to understand their body somatotype, family history of being overweight (a great indication of insulin sensitivity and fat storing potential of the client) and lifestyle factors such as occupation, stress level, sleep, hydration, time available for training, and a few other variables that we factor into designing a diet that we have learned to be very important into the success of a diet setup.
From there, their goals are partnered with a healthy timeline, and a set(s) of macronutrients are given to the client, often alternating between training/non-training days, or more nutrient cycling based on the intensity of the program.
Once a client receives macronutrients, we aim to establish the foundation of their diet in terms of food selection. Now to help you (or any client of mine) understand how to get started, let me explain my approach to flexible dieting. It begins with writing out my daily routine so I understand when on average I will be training, working, running errands, relaxing etc., - this helps establish daily energy requirements for carbohydrates, fats & proteins. I begin first with my workout session, this is where the majority of carbohydrates should be centralized. I keep protein consistent throughout the day in equal increments based on the amount of meals I anticipate eating (typically 3, max 4) and lastly keep fats to the evening, or light snacks during the day for prolonged, sustainable energy.
Next, the fun part, choosing my foods.
This is where that foundation and 'bro-foods' come into play. You need to know what your preferences are for your foundation of your diet. Here's mine:
Carb (oats, brown rice, flavored rice cakes, ezekiel bread, limited broccoli/peas, very seldom potatoes, cream of rice)
Proteins (egg whites, whey isolate, chicken, cod)
Fats (eggs, avocado, 93/7 ground beef, coconut oil)
That is my foundation that I know comprises approx 50-75% of my daily diet, depending on the macronutrient targets I've set daily. You'll note I do not include fruit as my foundation, i'm not anti fructose by any means, I merely don't consider it a diet friendly food group for getting lean ( it doesn't fit my brodefinition) Now, the real fun, my flexible foods:
Carbs (Pancakes, Banana & Blueberries, Light Frappuccinos (summer fave), Strawberry Jam, Bread, Flatbreads & Wraps, Cereal, Pasta Noodles, Crispy Crunch Bar, Frozen Yogurt)
Proteins (Turkey Bacon (or real bacon, sometimes), Shrimp, Greek Yogurt)
Fats (Nuts, Natural Butters, Protein Bars, Butter, Filet Mignon)
These are just a few examples that I've recently consumed and as you can see they're not terrible choices or loaded with junk or fast food; however, they are foods that generally I wouldn't consume in high quantities. Lastly, on occasion you'll see me snap photos of a Burger & Fries or Steak & Fries from a casual-fine restaurant (better quality than chains), Subway, Pita Pit, Froyo or Ice Cream etc., these are very limited, typically to once every few weeks and almost always estimated or tracked into diet as best I can.
The first step in helping clients design their flexible diets is to establish these food groups; foundation -> flexible -> freemeals
From there, you can begin to design your daily meal plan. For breakfast, perhaps you pair a 1/2 cup of oats with a tablespoon of nut butter + a piece of fruit, this would be a perfect example of a foundation food with flexibility. Maybe for a post workout lunch you choose to have a grilled chicken wrap with a piece of chocolate for dessert, once again, a perfect pairing for a lifestyle diet.
At the end of the day I want to ensure my clients are accurate on hitting their macros, within a small degree of +/- a few grams but also choosing foods with a high satiety and enjoyment!
Is flexible dieting right for you? That's completely your choice, but I suggest giving it a shot. If you need help with your setup or seeking accountability and coaching to help you reach your goals, I'd love to work with you, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's chat!
As for now, my Light Green Tea Frap w. Sugar Free Vanilla awaits, try it for a 35C, 5P, 1F treat to cool off on a summer day.
- Matthew Fox, Founder Life Aesthetics & Lifestyle Coach