It just seems impossible, doesn't it?
For you, flexible dieting is like pulling the cart and the horse. Uphill. And the cart is on fire. Here's why.
You used to be a restricted eater and the mere thought of dietary freedom was enough for you to wanna dive right in.
You bought half a dozen of Pop Tart boxes, double-stuffer Oreos and a tub of every single flavour of Ben & Jerry's.
You downloaded MyFitnessPal, replaced the batteries of your old kitchen scale and went on to it.
And despite the wonderland you were promised, something just didn’t seem to add up.
For some reason, tracking makes you really, really uncomfortable every time.
You'r phone says you can have 20grs of ice cream, but your body has other plans.
Once you have that first bite of decadent, soft and sweet goodness melting its way down your tongue, there's no stop until you get to see the bottom of the tub nice and clean.
And your physique is taking the toll.
Let me get this straight: you're not alone. There are several reasons why flexible dieting can be harder for some more than others.
So let’s take those down one by one because once you know the why-nots, you’ll be able to sort out the how-tos.
You are not alone, seriously
Two years ago, a woman from Spain asked for my coaching services.
She had a history of poor dieting and a stream of terrible training advice from irresponsible gym trainers, cookie-cutter-plans salespeople, social media gurus. The works.
All this lead to a year-long amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual period), a terrible relationship with food and some other personal issues.
So, as her caloric intake was normal (which ruled out a reverse diet), we began working the way I usually do:
- Educating about nutrition and the flexible dieting protocol, check.
- Explaining why most of what she had been told was far from the truth, checked
- Making a hell of a case about why balance and moderation beats restriction every time.
I was yet to realize how big of a stretch that "every time" was, but back to her.
Now with the educational pep talk out of the way, let the macro tracking begin.
Day 1 of flexible dieting, she went on and ate something she had a long time without eating.
Bread. Delicious, warm, soft white bread.
And it was enough. Enough to wake up the lion. Enough to make her lose control and eat like there was no tomorrow.
She eat 3 whole bread bars at once (yep, a very small girl, 3 B A R S).
She ate everything she could get a hand off. From eating regularly roughly 1500 cals, she eat about 3000 that day. Chocolate, cake, you name it.
Yeah, it did.
So when she told me about it, I advised to avoid those trigger foods initially, and slowly add in any other carbs she wasn’t accustomed to.
It worked well. For a couple of days.
Later that week, the sole fact of having to track and hit a set of macros on a daily basis triggered her binge eating behavior again. This time it lasted for 3 days.
After the episode, she felt guilty.
She tried hard to be accurate with her macros, stress went up again, feast-of-foods-fever kicked in, again.
Long story short, she ended up gaining 4 pounds -her goal was to lose fat- and feeling terrible.
But what failed then?
Well, what I learned with her is that flexible dieting works great, but not for everyone, every time.
The 3 Reasons why Flexible Dieting is not for everyone
1. Flexible dieting fails to account for underlying issues
My client had a very stressful life, somehow contained by her restrictive eating pattern. Once she tried foods outside that comfort zone, the dike broke. And the compensation?
Food. All of it.
If you have any personal issues that drives you to eat compulsively, you need to take care of them first.
And only then you can embrace the responsibility of macros tracking.
2. Flexible Dieting allows you to eat any food you like, even when you may be unable to handle it
Certain foods, especially when restricted for a long time, becomes what’s called trigger foods. Those are food items that start compulsive eating patterns much beyond control, as happened to my client.
First time on Flexible Dieting? It’s ok to ease your way into those foods you have trouble controlling. Baby steps.
You may even need to ban them from your diet for a while, and that’s fine.
And if a fellow iifymer try to food-shame you, he can fuck off.
Keep it simple, avoid overkilling.
3. Flexible Dieting puts all the responsibility on you and you need to be ready for it
This one’s related with number 1.
When you are under a chronic stress stimuli situation (a job you hate, impossibility to get enough sleep, a though financial situation.) the added stress of hitting macros and becoming accountable for every decision you make is just too much.
This is where meal plans come in handy. Decisions are already made for you, which reduces the overall stress from your diet.
Once you get a hold of yourself, you can start transitioning by adding new food items one by one.
Even if you’re not ready yet, you’ll be.
Over to you
Flexible dieting is cool. I love it. And I still use it on a daily basis for myself and most of my clients.
But it’s far from being the end all be all of dieting.
It’s far from being the only way to get to your goals.
And it can also be a little far from what you need right now.
So allow yourself to restrict food sources for a while, try a more rigid diet plan, transition slowly and focus on behaviors, habits and on solving any stressful situation first.
Let that Ben & Jerry’s sit in the fridge for a while.
It’ll be right there for you when you’re ready.
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NOTE: My client had her physiological issues evaluated by various physicians, who discarded any diseases that explained her amenorrhea, concluding it was stress-induced. If you are suffering from amenorrhea, always seek medical advice from your doctor first.
UPDATE: I recently got an email from my client. She told me that since we worked together she has made several improvements to her life. Her amenorrhea is now gone. She eats carbs without trouble, enjoys a healthy, mixed and balanced diet and is happier than ever. She’s gonna try flexible diet again.