If you haven’t heard of ‘eating clean’, you must have been living on Mars for the past few years. It is pretty hard to define.. with some people going as far as cutting everything but vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds out of their diets.
Flexible dieting, on the other hand, is a much more relaxed approach to eating, whereby you have a daily macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate and fat) and fibre target for the day. You can eat whatever you please, provided you hit these targets.
For newcomers this sounds great.. you can fill your days up with burgers, ice cream and peanut butter cups and still get lean if you so desire! However.. doesn’t this remove the ‘health’ aspect of changing your eating? Some people become so obsessed with hitting these targets every day, that they begin to spend hours trying to figure out what they can eat, and punish themselves if they go over their macros through cardio, for example. I don’t know about you, but this certainly does not seem ‘flexible’ to me.
However, this way of eating has been proven time and time again to be much better for one’s mental state than ‘eating clean’. There is no restriction, which means that the likelihood of binging on foods such as chocolate, pizza and ice cream is much lower than it would be while on the ‘eat clean’ diet. When flexible dieting, it is possible to work these foods into your macros everyday, while also getting your micronutrients in through more nutritious, ‘clean’ foods. Nothing is off limits, as you know that is you decide to eat that calorie dense burger, you will not be able to eat as much later on in the day.
This is where mindset plays a big part.
A clean eater, having eaten this greasy, fat burger, would feel guilty and probably be in the ‘YOLO’ mood.. telling themselves that they’ve already messed up, so may as well continue. They would then be likely to go and chow down a large galaxy bar, two hot dogs and a share bag of doritos. A flexible dieter, on the other hand, would have something along the lines of a big bowl of vegetables with lean turkey breast mince for dinner.. potentially following that with a big bowl of oats topped with Reece’s peanut butter cups.. if they had the macronutrients left to fill.
Equally, it is much easier to remain consistent while tracking macros. Day in, day out, those who ‘eat clean’ often do not have a clue how many calories they really are eating. They may be eating as clean as your fresh washing, but still GAINING weight. Yes, this is highly possible. If you go over your maintenance calories, whether these calories are from coca cola or coconut water, you will gain weight. Calories are king, no matter where they come from.
When you track macros, you know exactly how many calories you are consuming every day, which makes it possible to tweak them when your weight loss plateaus, or your bulking is lagging. You can lose weight while still maximising the amount you are eating, which means you’ll feel less hungry and deprived. More can be found in The Ultimate Guide To Tracking Macros, my 90 page ebook that covers this in easy to understand, massive amounts of depth.
Eating clean is a good concept, however there is only so far it can go. After a while, you will feel bored of the food you’re eating, and feel high levels of guilt when you go off plan. Equally, it is not a sociable way of living. Going out to eat is a nightmare, which may lead to you isolating yourself to prevent going off plan. This is not a sustainable way of living, and it will leave you feeling lonely and potentially spiral out of control.
In my opinion, a balance of the two is ideal. Tracking macros, while enjoying a small treat or two everyday is a healthy and viable way of living. That's why I wrote The Ultimate Guide To Tracking Macros... because I want people to be able to have the same balanced approach to food, too.
Personally, I always ensure I get my veggies and fibre in, as well as having at least one not so nutritious thing everyday. Equally, I can go out to eat without worrying, as I know that I will be able to work the food into my macros. I try and think of it as 80/20.. getting 80% of my total food intake from nutrient dense foods, and the remaining 20% from whatever the hell I feel like! I never feel deprived, my workouts are always fuelled sufficiently, and I know what I need to do if I desire to lose or gain weight.
If you’re not the type of person who wants to track your macronutrients, it is a good idea to do it for a week or so without having any limits, just to get an idea on what you’re eating and where your metabolism is at. By doing this, you’ll get a strong idea on the number of calories that are in the food you are eating, which will help you when it comes to choosing what to eat when you want to lose weight (fat), for example. You’ll know which foods are high in protein, fats and carbohydrates, which will help you to ensure you are eating an adequate amount of each every day. I've actually put a lot of information regarding how to improve the quality of your overall diet in my beginner's programme: Tone Up In 10.