Flexible Dieting Guide: How to Eat Good Food and Still Get Abs
Everyone wants to lose the weight, get “toned”, and look good.
The problem is that nobody wants to put in the work and diet.
Can you blame them, though? Not Really. The thought of dieting is one of the biggest turnoffs for millions across the globe—close behind wearing crocs!
Some diets have you eat high amounts of protein and fats, keeping carbs to a minimum.
Other diets put restrictions on the foods we’ve grown to love our entire lives.
But regardless of any of those restrictions, the number one thing that conventional diets seem to impose on people is an unrealistic expectation.
The unrealistic expectation that to get fit, we’re gonna have to be on a low-carb diet for the rest of our lives or that we’re gonna have to ditch our favorite foods entirely—some of which are a big part of our culture!
And what about nights out? For those who have a social life, you can’t expect them to bring a Tupperware of chicken breast and steamed broccoli with them on a night out.
Traditional diets require people to adopt completely different lifestyles and make demands that would only make sense for those who compete in bodybuilding. However, most of us don’t compete in bodybuilding, making these restrictions virtually non-applicable to the majority of people.
And that’s why over 90% of people will eventually stop their current diet and gain back all the weight they lost, if any.
But what if you get fit and be in complete control of your body’s weight at all times—WITHOUT sacrificing your favorite foods.
What if there was a bulletproof diet that leaves all the guessing and mystery out of the equation.
If you haven’t guessed it already…
It’s called Flexible Dieting!
Let’s dive in
What is Flexible Dieting?
Flexible Dieting (aka “IIFYM” or “if it fits your macros) are a set of dietary and nutritional guidelines that help people achieve their desired body.
The guidelines that Flexible Dieting provides are based off of the well-known fact that when it comes to weight fluctuation alone (whether that’s weight loss or weight gain), all that matters is how much you eat, NOT what you eat.
With Flexible dieting, you can lose (or gain) weight by eating whatever you’d like, whether that be healthy foods or your favorite snack foods, as long as you don’t go over your daily allowance of calories (we’ll go more into how to figure out your daily calorie limit later in this post).
If you’ve never heard of this concept before, it may be a bit of shocker at first, but it’s true.
Your body doesn’t care whether the calories you give it are coming from healthy foods, organic foods, or even “junk” food. To the body, a calorie from a potato chip is the same as a calorie from spinach.
So if we’re talking strictly calories… yes, you can lose weight eating nothing but chips.
Should you do it? Definitely not.
If you did, you’d lose weight but your body would be severely lacking nutrients, harming your overall health and wellness.
But I like to use what I call “chip-theory” in my explanations because it shows just how powerful the concept of flexible dieting is.
Because believe it or not, 99% of the population will go their whole lives thinking that weight loss is caused only by certain types of food.
Now, up until this point, I’ve been careful not to use the phrase “fat loss” because weight loss and fat loss are two different things.
As you’ll soon see, to achieve optimal fat loss, we have to introduce Macronutrients into the mix. Flexible dieters not only track calories, but macronutrients as well.
What is a Macronutrient?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that your body requires in relatively large amounts. There are three types of macros: proteins, fats, and carbs.
Every food you eat, will contain 1 or more of the 3 types of macronutrients.
So how do macros and calories relate?
Every type of macronutrient contains a certain amount of calories.
You know how in one foot you have 12 inches, in one pound you have 16 ounces, and in one ton you have 2000 pounds?
Well same thing here!
- 1 gram of protein has 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat has 9 calories
- 1 gram of carbs has 4 calories
It’s super important that you memorize the calorie contents of proteins, fats, and carbs so don’t forget it!
And what do flexible dieters do with macros?
They track their macronutrients for fat loss or muscle gain!
More on that in a bit… but before we go there, we have to explore how Flexible Dieting works.
Flexible Dieting Explained: How Does Flexible Dieting Work?
Thus far, you know that flexible dieting (iifym) gives people total control over their body and allows them to either lose fat or gain muscle by tracking their calorie and macronutrient intake.
But how does it work? How are people able to eat both healthy foods and “dirty” foods and still able to lose fat and look good?
Flexible dieting works because it doesn’t rely on guessing, it doesn’t rely on what the majority of the people believe, and it certainly doesn’t rely on “bro science”.
What it actually relies on is basic physiology!
Basic physiology says that to lose weight, the amount of calories you eat should be less than the amount of calories you burn.
When you put your body in a caloric deficit, you’re not providing your body with enough energy (calories) to sustain its current weight.
So to make up for that absence of energy, your body will turn to your fat stores for energy (if done right) and that is how one loses fat.
So far there’s been all this talk about losing weight… But can you build lean muscle mass with Flexible Dieting?
To gain muscle, you have to meet one main requirement: the amount of calories should exceed the amount of calories you burn. Pretty easy, right?
Notice how I said “one main requirement”…
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea and think that to build lean muscle mass, all you need to do is eat more calories than you burn.
There are other requirements such as lifting weights, increasing the amount of weight you lift over time, and eating enough protein, etc.
But NONE of those requirements will matter if you don’t meet the condition of eating more calories than you burn.
Because to build muscle, you need to have an excess amount of energy (calories) readily available for your body to use to build muscle and this can only happen when you’re in a caloric surplus.
As mentioned above, tracking your calories is only half of the equation and we actually need to track our macros as well to get optimal results.
Why You Should Be Tracking and Counting Macronutrients (Macros)
If tracking calories and making sure you hit your daily calorie goal is what determines whether you lose or gain weight, then what’s the point of tracking macronutrients?
Tracking your macros and making sure you hit your daily macro goals will determine WHICH KIND of weight loss or weight gain you will receive and, ultimately, what your body composition will be.
That’s right, there are two types of weight loss and two types of weight gain.
The two types of weight loss are:
- Weight loss resulting from fat loss
- Weight loss resulting from muscle loss
The two types of weight gain are:
- Weight gain resulting from muscle gain
- Weight gain resulting from fat gain
To see why it’s important to track your macros, let’s pick on protein first and see what the negative consequences could be if you don’t eat enough of it.
If you’re on a cutting cycle and you’re trying to lose weight (ideally fat), but you’re not eating enough protein for a person with your stats, then you’re severely at risk of losing muscle, and thus, having your weight loss come from muscle loss.
When you’re on a cut, it’s crucial that you feed it adequate protein so that you can maintain the muscle you already have and force your body to tap into your fat stores for energy since it’s currently at a deficit.
Because when your body isn’t getting enough calories (due to a calorie deficit), your body will often “burn muscles” since, in general, muscles have more nutrients than your fat stores.
And when your body burns your muscle instead of your fat, it can sometimes give that undesirable “skinny fat” look.
Carbs and fats play their role too and not eating enough of them could also pose some negative consequences. However, there’s way too many scenarios that could happen if you eat too few carbs, fats, or protein, so I won’t go through them here.
The main takeaway here is that tracking your macros is key to transforming your body into the way you want it. If you leave macros out of the equation, you’re leaving too much up to chance and you might not like the end result.
So calculating your required macros and tracking them could mean the difference between being lean and having a washboard abs and being lean but with a flabby stomach with little to no muscle.
How to Start Flexible Dieting
The steps to beginning your Flexible Dieting journey are as follows
- Choose your fitness goal
- Calculate your daily calorie goal & TDEE
- Calculate your macros
- Begin tracking your calories and macros
1. How to Set a Fitness Goal: Bulk or Cut First?
Before you do anything else, you need to decide what your fitness goal will be.
Do you want your goal to be fat loss or muscle gain?
It’s important that you do this step first because whatever goal you end up choosing will determine your calorie goal and your macros in the upcoming steps.
Now you may be thinking:
“Can I build muscle and lose fat at the same time?”
99% of the time, no.
If this were possible, you’d be breaking the first law of thermodynamics! This first law states that to lose weight, you have to create an energy deficit (aka burn more calories than you consume).
On the other hand, to gain weight (whether it be muscle or fat), you have to create a surplus of energy (eating more calories than you burn).
As you can see, losing weight requires you to be in a deficit while gaining weight requires you to be in a surplus. These two goals have COMPLETELY opposite requirements and, therefore, it’s literally impossible to be both in a deficit and a surplus at the same time. So it’s not possible to gain weight and lose weight at the same time.
As we saw above, you can’t do both at the same time so that’s why you have to decide between the two when your choosing your fitness goal.
Another question I often get during this step is:
“Should I cut or bulk first?”
As a general rule of thumb, If you are around 8-12% body fat or are low in body fat, you’ll want to make your fitness goal bulking since there’s not much fat to lose at that point. If you’re around 15% body fat for more or you’re high in body fat, choosing cutting as your fitness goal would be more ideal for you.
2. How to Calculate Your Daily Calories Needed and Maintenance Calories
Next in the Flexible Dieting process would be to calculate daily calorie needs and your TDEE.
I’ll be showing you exactly how to do that, but first…
What is TDEE?
TDEE means “Total Daily Energy Expenditure” and it’s basically the total amount of calories you burn per day.
Mathematically, your TDEE is your BMR plus the calories you burn from moving throughout the day. If this doesn’t make sense yet, don’t worry! There’s a pretty picture coming up that will explain everything.
What is BMR?
BMR means “Basal Metabolic Rate” and is the amount of calories you’d burn if you decided one day to be the laziest person on earth and lay in bed ALL 24 hours of the day. Luckily, this is just hypothetical and doesn’t really happen in the real world…right?
Ahem. Anyways, let’s pretend you know exactly what your BMR is and exactly how many calories you burn each day from physical movements like walking, running, etc. If you add the calories burned from physically moving with your BMR, we get your TDEE!
Now here’s where TDEE gets interesting…
If you were to eat the same amount of calories as your TDEE forever, then you would maintain your weight forever and your weight would never go up nor down! That’s why TDEE is often referred to as “maintenance calories”.
Eating the same amount as your TDEE would cause you to maintain your weight because the number of calories that you burn each day and the calories you eat each day would be the same.
As a result, there would be no caloric surplus or deficit and your weight would stay the same. This is why TDEE is often referred to as “maintenance calories”
Now, the actual equation to calculate your TDEE is a bit long and complicated. Luckily, there are many TDEE calculators on the internet that calculate your TDEE with ease.
In fact, we actually have a TDEE Calculator here on this website for you to use. With our TDEE calculator you can:
- Calculate your TDEE
- Calculate calories for weight loss
- Calculate calories for muscle gain
- Calculate macros for weight loss
- Calculate macros for muscle gain
- Find out how many calories to eat a day
To give it a try, click here.
Calculate how many calories you need to lose weight or gain muscle
Remember, just because you’ve calculated your TDEE, this doesn’t mean you now know how many calories you need to eat each day. The purpose of calculating your TDEE is to “play” with that number to find out the actual amount of calories you need per day to meet your goal (aka your daily calorie intake).
Calculating your daily calorie intake is pretty easy!
In the simplest terms possible, if you want to lose weight then you have to subtract calories from your TDEE and if you want to gain weight (build muscle), then you have to add calories to your TDEE.
If you’re asking, “How many calories should I add/subtract from my TDEE?”, then you’re already thinking in the right direction!
To find the answer to that, we first have to talk about fat.
There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat.
Therefore, if you want to lose 1 pound of fat per week, then you have create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories every week. And if you want to gain 1 pound per week (to build muscle), then you have to create a caloric surplus of 3,500 calories every week.
Thus far, we’ve established that if you’d like to lose 1 lb of fat per week, then you need a weekly caloric deficit of 3,500 calories…but what how large does our caloric deficit have to be on a daily basis?
Your daily caloric deficit would have to be 500 calories.
Because 7 (days in a week) x 500 (calories) = 3,500 calories. You would do a similar calculation if you’d like to bulk up at 1 lb per week.
For your convenience, our TDEE calculator does this for you and calculates your bulking/cutting calories!
To give it a try, visit our TDEE calculator here.
3. How to Calculate Macros for Cutting or Bulking
I often get asked:
- “What should my macros be to lose fat?”
- “What should my macros be to build muscle?”
And you’ll be surprised to find out that the only difference between macros for fat loss and macros for bulking is the amount of carbs you’re allowed to eat each day.
To illustrate, let’s go through an example one step at a time.
So let’s pretend you weight 180 lbs and you want to lose weight, your TDEE is 2900 calories and, to lose 1 pound of fat per week, your cutting calories are 2400.
Step 1: Calculate Your Daily Protein Intake
Your body only needs 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So to find out how many grams of protein you need per day, multiply your body weight by any decimal number between 0.8 and 1.0.
The average person will do just fine with 0.8. And by multiplying your bodyweight by 0.8, it allows you to eat more carbs then someone who multiplies their weight by 1.0.
Besides, 1.0 grams of protein per body weight a lot of protein…more than the average person needs and the ones who should calculate their protein intake by using the multiple of 1.0 are people who are on a cut with a very large deficit.
Because the larger your caloric deficit is, the more protein you’ll need to eat to keep and maintain your muscle mass throughout your cutting cycle.
However, if you’d like to have more protein in your diet then by all means! Go ahead and multiply your body weight by a decimal greater than 0.8 since eating more protein than necessary has no negative consequences.
The only real downside (for some) is that eating more protein than necessary reduces the amount of carbs you’re allowed to it. And for those of us who like carbs, that’s a big no no!
I’ll explain this whole carbs thing in a bit…
But first let’s go back to our calculations. After multiplying 180 lbs by 0.8, we would get a protein intake of 144 grams per day.
Now let’s move onto the next macro: fats.
Step 2: Calculate Your Daily Fat Intake
Contrary to popular belief, eating fat won’t make you fat. In fact, your body needs fats to regulate your hormones and so that it can run properly and efficiently.
Eat too few fats and it could lead to a drastic drop in energy levels, mood swings, decrease in strength, and more!
To calculate your recommended daily fat allowance, simply multiply 0.4 by your current body weight.
In our example we assumed you weigh 180 lbs. So when we multiply 0.4 by 180 lbs, we get a daily fat intake of 72 grams per day.
Step 3: Calculate Your Daily Carb Intake
Your daily carb allowance will largely depend on how many calories you have left over after you’ve calculated your proteins and fats first.
- 1 gram of protein contains 4 cals
- 1 gram of fat contains 9 cals
- 1 gram of carbs contains 4 cals
Also, as we discovered above, your daily protein intake in this example is 144 grams and your daily fat intake is 72 grams. Once you have these two numbers, you’ll be able to find out how many grams of carbs a day you can have.
The first step is to find out how many calories are in 144 grams of protein and 72 grams of fat.
144 grams x 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) = 576 cals
72 grams x 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 648 cals
Next, add these together: 576 + 648 = 1224 cals
This tells us that if you eat 144 grams of protein and 72 grams of fat, you’ll be providing your body with 1224 calories.
As mentioned above, your daily calorie goal (also your cutting calories) is 2400 calories. So after you eat your required protein and fats, you’ll still have 1176 calories (2400 – 1224) left for the remainder of the day.
The remaining 1176 calories is what you use to calculate how many grams of carbs you can eat each day. To do this, divide 1176 by 4 (since one gram of carb has 4 calories). This gives you 294 grams of carbs.
Now you’re done calculating your cutting macros! The end result would like like this:
- 144 grams of protein per day
- 72 grams of fat per day
- 294 grams of carbs per day
We calculate carbs last because it’s essentially the least important macro of the three. By calculating it last, we’re making absolutely sure that you get the right amount of protein and fats in your daily diet before we even worry about carbs.
Carbs are good fuel source of energy for your body, but the truth is that if you were to eat zero carbs, it wouldn’t result in any sort of illness. This is why we can afford to calculate carbs last.
Lucky for you, you don’t have to do these calculations by hand if you don’t want to. You can find many macro calculators online that will do these calculations with a click of a button.
As a matter of fact, our TDEE Calculator also has the feature of calculating your macros! If you’d like to give it a try, click here.
4. Tracking Macros and Calories for Beginners
I think most flexible dieters will agree that the easiest way to track macros is with a calorie/macro tracker app such as the MyFitnessPal app.
Step 1: Set up your account and daily calorie goal (don’t worry about the carbs, protein, and fat percentages)
Step 2: Track your macronutrients and cals by doing any of the following:
a) Use the “Scan a Barcode” featureb) Search the food item’s name
c) Weigh your food and enter the amount of servings you’re going to eat (Buying a food scale is highly recommended)
Every time you enter a food item into your diary, MyFitnessPal tallies up the numbers and does all the math for you.
The only thing you need to do is enter the foods you eat and make sure you don’t exceed your calorie goal.
That’s all there is to Flexible Dieting!
This blog post only covered the diet aspect of fitness. However, to see the absolute best results, you’ll definitely want to combine this with a weight lifting routine since no fitness regimen is complete without one. To find yourself a workout routine, make sure to read our other blog post on Finding a Workout Routine.
Lastly, taking supplements is optional. To find out if you could benefit from them, check out our blog post on supplements.
Did I miss anything? Got any questions? Drop em in the comments below!