What is Flexible Dieting?

By Christine Hronec 


Flexible dieting is the concept of eating according to your macronutrient goals. This approach is also known as IIFYM, which stands for “if it fits your macros.” This essentially means that no foods are considered off limits. If you want to have a slice of pizza, have that slice of pizza and track the macros according to your macronutrient goals for the day. Practical implementation of this approach begins with a set of macronutrient goals with respect to protein, carbs, and fat for the day. If you are brand new to macros this exercise of tracking your food in a nutrition app may seem extremely tedious and overwhelming at first. However it is an excellent exercise for a few days for you to get a feel of how your current eating habits align with your macronutrient goals. Depending on your macro approach you will most likely have one of these 3 problems:


  1. If you are following a fitness competitor style you will probably find that your protein is too low and your fats and carbs are too high
  2. If you are following a ketogenic lifestyle you will find that you need to get in more fat and may struggle to hit your fiber goals
  3. If you are following macro approach to support weight gain or endurance training you will find that you are having a hard time eating all the carbs and may feel a little full.


Don’t be overwhelmed if you run into these issues as they are very common as there is a learning curve to get a better gauge for what foods will be most appropriate for your goals. After you have had this initial experience, it is advised to actually stick to a meal plan until you become comfortable with portion control and what foods work best for your goals. After a few weeks of solid progress and consistent meal planning, lets say you want to go out to dinner with some friends or your significant other instead of eating your prepped meals. Before you allow panic to set in, know that this is where budgeting your macros comes into play. For a day where you will not be following a pre-planned set of meals, all you need to do is track your macros for the day using a macro-tracking app such as MyFitnessPal or LifeSum. These apps allow you to easily look up every food virtually imaginable and will automatically tabulate the amount of protein, carbs, and fat versus your daily goal.


Think of flexible dieting like being on a financial budget where you only have so much money to spend in a day and after that you are done. The problem with other fad diets is that they teach you an arbitrary point system with the goal of simplifying this process, when instead you should be learning the actual nutrition value of your food choices using the information is clearly listed directly on the nutrition facts panel. If a person can understand the concept of a calorie, they can take it a step one single further to get a better understanding of what makes up the nutritional content of food. Let’s say you really wanted to have pizza. Conventional dieting would label this as a bad choice. However pizza isn’t good or bad, it has a certain amount of macronutrients and as along as you stay within your macronutrient goals for the day, you can enjoy it without guilt!


In this case, a typical slice of cheese pizza contains 9g of fat, 24g of carbs, and 11g of protein. Let’s say your goal for the day is 60g of fat, 140g of carbs, and 135g of protein. You can clearly see that the macros of the slice of pizza are within your daily “budget” and that if you consume this, you will still be on track to hit your goals as long as you stay within your macronutrient goals for the day. This allows flexibility in how you choose to hit your macronutrient targets as opposed to being limited to only eat certain foods; this is why we call this approach “flexible dieting.” Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to this approach as demonstrated below:


PRO’s of Flexible Dieting:

  • Boosts Compliance-This method is great for those who perpetually cheat on their diets. The problem with diets is that they feel restrictive and do not represent a practical way of eating that one will realistically maintain. While a caloric deficit is clearly needed to support fat loss, the way that most people go about doing this with extreme caloric deficits with meal plans consisting of only shakes or
  • Adds Variety- This is excellent for those who enjoy more freedom and variety in their daily meals. If you enjoy cooking and despise the idea of leftovers this approach to nutrition makes it easy to eat based on what inspires you on that given day.
  • Supports Dining Out- If you simply enjoy going out to eat and live an exciting social life, you don’t need to feel like you can’t “live life” just because you have health goals. The only difference is that you will make mindful choices and if you choose to indulge, you will dial it back and ensure you hit your nutrient needs for the day.


Con’s of Flexible Dieting:

  • Lack of Planning- With too much flexibility, it can lead to a lack of planning. If you don’t schedule planned trips to the grocery store for key staples on a regular basis it will be challenging to hit your macros. Just because you aren’t following a strict meal plan doesn’t mean that you should completely wing it.
  • Tedious- While you gain the freedom to eat whatever you want on this style of eating, every meal, snack, beverage consumed needs to be tracked. This can become tedious for some to constantly connect numbers to every single thing consumed.
  • Accuracy- While this is a great way to lose weight, accuracy can be compromised. A great deal of your nutrition tracking will be based on estimations, which is fine if you are an experienced meal planner but if you are a beginner you will most likely make mistakes that will significantly through off your nutrition. This is a better way to maintain progress when you aren’t able to meal prep, when traveling, or sporadically when you need to dial it back in.