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How to Put the “Flexible” in Flexible Dieting

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Flexible dieting is intended to be an approach in which all foods fit. But, for some people, after significant time spent tracking macros, it can morph into something rigid that doesn’t resemble what it used to.

Maybe you’re choosing to eat foods based on the numbers, not based on your preference for them. Instead of an “all foods fit” approach, you’re feeling like, “only these foods fit”.

Maybe you’re feeling burned out. Instead of that curiosity or game-like mentality you had when you first started tracking your food, you avoid logging your food until the end of the day – or not at all – and then find yourself beating yourself up about it. 

Here are 4 ways you can put the “flexible” into the flexible dieting approach so you can reduce your potential for “tracking fatigue” and continue to reap the benefits of eating enough to support your individual needs.

focus on calories and protein, letting go of carbohydrate and fat macro targets.

When we’re talking about the things that matter most for weight and body composition change – calorie and protein consumption are at the top of the list. Reduce the bandwidth required to plan, prep and track meals that account for protein, fat and carbohydrates and instead simply focus on hitting your protein target and staying fairly close to your calorie goals.

In practice, this means you’re less concerned with your carbohydrate and fat gram targets each day, and allow yourself to eat these as you want. 

In practice, this means you’re eating carbohydrates and fats to your desire while really only keeping an eye on your daily protein targets and total calories. It means some days are going to be higher in carb because, for example, it’s mexican for dinner and between the rice, beans, and chips you’re embracing a higher carbohydrate intake. Other days are going to be higher fat because you dug out the grass fed steaks from the freezer. 

Track a couple times per week and eat intuitively on the others.

The point of learning how to track macros is not to become an amazing, lifetime tracker, but rather to help recalibrate your understanding of “how much” food is appropriate for you. If you have been paying attention throughout the process, you likely have a much better understanding of “proper” portion sizes for you – so much so that you can better identify when you’re under or overeating. 

Try just tracking macros a couple times per week and eating intuitively on others. By keeping a tether to the method on those couple of days a week, you’ll never venture so off course that you can’t correct course. Start recognizing what 25 g – 30 g of protein looks like in various foods, or what 50 g of sweet potato or 1 Tbsp of oil looks like on your plate. Tracking macros can be the bridge to more intuitive eating, but you’ve got to start paying attention to your plate and avoid depending on your apps and tracker 100% of the time.

Track restaurant meals, but not foods you prepare at home.

If you’re like most people, there’s a rotation of about 10-15 “regular” foods you have each week. And, chances are, you know what proper portion sizes look like for these foods. You know how far up to fill the bowl! You know how much to serve yourself in order to feel full and satisfied. 

However, restaurant meals are a completely different story. With oversized portion sizes, added oils, and sauces – it can be tough to estimate how much you’re eating. If you’re ready to insert some more flexibility into flexible dieting, consider spending your tracking time and energy on the foods that might be more macro-heavy, like restaurant meals.

Be flexible in the seasons that you track.

For some people, macro tracking represents structure for eating. There are seasons of your life when you might appreciate more solid structure and seasons of your life when you might not. 

For example, if you compete in a sport that requires you to be on top of your weight, body composition or athletic performance, it might be in your best interest to track macros and make sure you’re eating to your needs as you prepare for competition. Perhaps you participate in a sport with weight classes or sports where having a leaner body composition makes your more competitive. Maybe your sport requires multiple training sessions per day or a high hourly commitment over the course of the week – you gotta make sure your needs are met!

Another example would be if you notice that you’re getting a little loose with your health habits and tracking your macros recalibrates you in a good way! When it happens you know: vacation here, lack of planning there, dining out instead of eating in and all of a sudden you’re feeling like “sometimes habits” are your everyday, typical habits. Tracking macros even for a few days or weeks can get your mind right about grocery shopping, meal prepping, or pre-logging for increased mindfulness.

Tracking macros is a skill that you perfect over time but you have to learn to walk before you run. You might not have earned the right to be super flexible with the approach if you haven’t yet been able to string together more than a few days of tracking. Let’s definitely get to the bottom of that though!

But, if you’re an intermediate or advanced tracker who is feeling a little burned out and wanting to take a step back from diligently tracking and incorporating some of these tips. At the end of all this, the goal is not for you to come out on the other side, turning into a “great tracker” – the goal is to have confidently developed a skill that you can dip in and out of to support your goals for health, body composition and athletic performance.