I’ve been following what’s called flexible dieting for over 2 years now. When I started I kept it pretty simple, your basic chicken, salmon, sweet potato & broccoli meal preps mixed in with some protein ice cream.
A year ago is when I really started to get into recipe creation. IE protein cookies, protein cheesecake, crunch wraps galore, protein fluff, protein SCONES–you name it, I probably have a recipe for it or know of one!
Flexible dieting gets a bad rap sometimes… mostly because of a lack of knowledge and food pictures like these…
The general/stereotypical rule of thumb with flexible dieting is the 80/20 approach. 80% whole, nutritionally dense foods & 20% of what most people would consider to be “unhealthy” foods, ie processed foods without as much nutritional value, calorically dense foods, etc.
I think there is value in this 80/20 approach for people looking to *start* flexible dieting, but beyond that I feel like the sweet spot of flexibility is completely up to the individual.
In the past year I’ve learned a lot about how my body feels after I eat certain foods.
I went from post-show with cravings galore where I was eating new things every single day & saving a majority of carbs for things like protein cakes & cookies to where I am now, back in prep, but with much more structure.
(Post show cravings when you’re at an unhealthy low body fat % are so unreal it’s hard to imagine or even explain what they’re like unless you’ve lived through it, but I give a decent explanation in this Q&A post)
I won’t lie & say I won’t veer back into the “too many protein desserts in one day” land after my next show, because you just can’t predict cravings, but I DO know how I feel right now.
As of right now, I’ve been prepping/dieting for over 4 months now.
No matter what body fat level you start with… dieting can suck HARD even if you make all the “right” food choices!
So at what point is working in treats/protein baked goods instead of eating more whole, nutritionally dense foods taking it TOO FAR?
And how much should you “switch-up” what you eat day to day??
—Well the answer to both (in my personal opinion) is totally subjective and up to the individual, BUT I’ve noticed a few things about my own diet and thought I’d share them.
I’ve broken them down into two categories:
Structure Flexibility (how much I change up what I eat day to day)
And whole foods vs fun foods flexibility.
- I’ve noticed that when dieting I feel best within the structure of eating the same breakfast and dessert every day.
Right now that structure is having some sort of cauliflower oats for breakfast (I rotate between carrot cake, apple pie, blueberry, & chai spiced & I add different nut butters on top to keep it feeling fresh) & having protein fluff for dessert (either oreo protein fluff, cake pop, caramel apple, or peanut butter flavor)
Last year in prep I did the same thing with my structure! I had an egg white lavash wrap for breakfast almost EVERY morning & I had a jello yogurt bowl for dessert every night.
Not only do these two meals (oats & protein fluff) keep me full, but since I know I’m going to have SOME variation of them every day… it actually makes my life easier.
It’s time consuming to pre-plan your macros for the day, but since I already have two of my meals figured out, that’s LESS time I have to spend thinking about food each day.
Now I’m not trying to say here that you MUST eat oats or the exact same breakfast every single day.
Your own structure might be a meal prep that you did for the week, or there might be one or two easy meals you gravitate to for a few weeks at a time.
Everyone seems to have their own favorites they stick to, dieting or not!
(Like right now I gravitate towards making crunch wraps for my other meals because they’re easy for me & I don’t have to think about them too much)
2. I’ve also noticed that when I let go of that structure I’m more food focused, hungry, & generally less likely to stick to my goals.
(IE last year after my show I STOPPED eating wraps for breakfast every day & stopped having Jello Bowls for dessert every night… during a time when my hunger cues were already set to be higher than normal since I was reverse dieting! Again, you can read more about the process here)
I was making a different dessert every night, trying different foods every day:
And I want to emphasize that I don’t regret this or even think it was a bad thing. If I hadn’t done this I wouldn’t have learned from it! This was also the time period where I created SO MANY NEW RECIPES because I was switching it up every chance I got.
I meal prepped for work lunches sure, but then on the weekends it was like the wide open idea of ANYTHING stressed me out & only increased my food focus further. 😭
My plan for this year after my shows is to still stick to oats (or a meal prep when I head back to work) & fluff for most of the week. We’ll see how that goes because post-show cravings & hunger are UNREAL.
Whole foods vs fun foods flexibility
- Personally, I try not to make more than 1 baked “protein treat” at a time & I do my best to limit it to one serving per day.
IE instead of eating 3 chocolate protein hummus brownies because they’re only 77 calories each… I’ll eat one, which satisfies the brownie craving & then put those leftover carbs towards more “wholesome” filling foods.
Have I done this the whole time? Am I perfect? NO.
You bet your booty I ate more than one of those hummus brownies at a time when I first created the recipe last fall. 😅
And I’ll probably do it again! Sometimes you just want more than one *shrugs*
And if I haven’t finished that batch of protein brownies, I try not to make a batch of protein cookies or another baked good. (I fail at this sometimes, but if I have two baked treats in the house, I want to eat both of them in the same day. They might both “fit my macros” just fine, but I might end up being MORE hungry if I eat more treats instead of nutritionally dense foods. But you live & you learn!)
I’ve learned over time to know that baked goods, poptarts, oreos, whatever it is–they aren’t as satiating, or filling, as other foods.
2. When I’m dieting I pay attention to hunger cues & I end up eating less “fun foods” the further I get into a diet/competition prep
Now “fun foods” hit cravings which is a GOOD thing, but when you’re dieting hard you might start to notice that you feel hungrier on days you eat more “fun foods” than on days you eat less “fun foods”
I think this is a completely subjective measure that is something you have to discover on your own when doing flexible dieting.
However, starting this week I’m back to dieting hard again for my competition prep. So even though I have the macros/calories for a poptart, I know that my hunger cues are likely to be higher so eating a poptart right now isn’t really “worth it” to me.
The harder you’re dieting the stronger your hunger signals are likely to be. (That’s why starting yourself on a diet at 1200 measly calories a day is a recipe for DISASTER & called crash dieting. You will be hangry.)
3. I’ve noticed that whole, unprocessed foods are more satiating & keep me full longer
Rather than eating poptarts & baked protein treats GALORE, I’ve also noticed this prep that whole, unprocessed foods… fill me up & keep me full longer 😱 simply because… they’re more satiating.
Not gonna lie, I didn’t even know about this satiety index last prep. Potatoes and oatmeal seemed too high carb to be “worth it” to me, but now I eat them more often than I ever have before!
Does this mean I’m going to go full clean eating “BRO DIET” now?
I still think there is a lot of value in making my cravings fit. Not only does it make dieting easier, but my relationship with food is much better for it.
I try to keep the satiety index in mind when I’m planning my normal meals for the day.
Example: yesterday I had about 40g carbs to spare. That would have been MORE than enough for a poptart, but I opted to make a rice pudding for dessert instead. (Again, I’m dieting hard once more, so I’m hungrier more often now) The rice pudding is comprised of more whole, unprocessed foods & takes me a lot longer to eat than a single poptart.
(More bites & slower eating = your brain is tricked into thinking it’s full, true story)
They’re both dessert options, but knowing my body and what I need to feel full, the rice pudding felt like a better option for me yesterday.
And that’s just from what I’ve learned about myself & my journey! (Eat the dang pop tart if you want to loves!)
4. If you find that you’re starving yourself all day long during a dieting phase just so you can have a fast food meal with a milkshake… you’re probably being too flexible.
But your food choices are YOUR food choices. You gotta own up to your decisions & how they make you feel afterwards.
Because yes, you can lose weight eating Big Macs every day. But you’ll probably feel like poop doing so.
5. Last point: MICRONUTRIENTS ARE IMPORTANT.
Okay sure, maybe those protein cookies you made have pumpkin in them so you’re getting some vitamin A, but please make sure to eat your vegetables 😂
I know the foods I showed in the Full Days of Eating earlier all looked very fancy… but a bowl of cauliflower carrot cake oats contains 2 servings of veggies, plus some flax seed & goody Omega 3s in the better oats oatmeal packet I use every morning.
Point is… you can still eat your veggies in interesting ways 😘
I’ll say it to be clear: if you’re not eating any vegetables… you’re probably being too flexible with your diet. Eat your veggies.
And real veggies okay, not just greens powder!
I’ve learned a lot over the past few years by paying attention to my body & hunger cues and I think I’ve finally found a pretty good balance FOR ME between “fun foods” and nutritionally dense, whole foods.
But I’m still learning. I’ll always be learning!
And if tomorrow if I get hangry on my low carb day, the first thing I’ll look at were my food choices for the day, rather than blaming my coach for assigning me such low macros.
TAKEAWAY: you do you, but over time you’ll learn what that “balance” is for you!
You just need to pay attention to your body, your hunger cues, & your overall eating patterns to find out what works best for you.
If you want to learn more about how I figure out what I eat in a day you can watch this YouTube video.
Or if you’re interested in working with me 1 on 1 to figure out your macros or learn how to start tracking, shoot me an email or an instagram DM 🥰 I find so much joy & fulfillment in helping people to lose weight WITHOUT sacrificing the foods they love most.
If you liked this post or found it useful, leave me a comment or don’t be shy & shoot me a DM. I love hearing from you guys 🙂