Today I am happy to feature a guest post from Ted Kallmyer of HealthyEater.com. Ted has over four years of experience researching and teaching people about flexible dieting and he uses the system himself to achieve his fitness goals. He is the author of the book, Flexible Dieting: Lose Weight and Start Eating Again and also is a flexible dieting coach. He is passionate about helping people to be healthier, and at the same time, to achieve their fitness and weight loss goals.
There are numerous methods to lose fat and to build muscle and they all operate on two widely accepted nutritional principles:
- Eat less than your body needs and you’ll lose weight.
- Eat more than your body needs along with the right weight training and you’ll gain muscle mass.
However, most diets fall a bit short because they miss a pretty important part of the equation. They never determine first “how much energy your body needs”.
Counting macros (a.k.a. flexible dieting) can be a highly effective way to accomplish your fitness goals because it takes into account the unique body and lifestyle stats you’re bringing to the table.
Counting Macros Hinges On Your TDEE
While other diets offer a generic calorie goal like 1200, 1500, 2000, or 3000, flexible dieting seeks to establish your unique TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) before the task of counting macros begins.
There are several well-respected formulas for calculating TDEE but in a basic sense, your TDEE is a combination or your REE (resting energy expenditure) and your level of movement throughout a 24-hour period.
While calculating your TDEE is still an estimation, it is much better in tune with what your body actually needs, as opposed to some arbitrary calorie amount.
There are many resources that can help you determine your personal TDEE like online calculators as well as other resources that show you exactly how your TDEE and macros are calculated.
It’s also important to understand that most people don’t have the same TDEE throughout the entire week. You may have days you don’t exercise (rest days), days you exercise a little, and yet other days you may exercise a lot. Make sure you calculate as many TDEEs as needed to ensure that you are eating the right amount of food your body needs on any given day.
Other diets don’t factor for this and you eat the same amount of calories no matter how much exercise you do. Although a calorie deficit is crucial for weight loss, too much of a calorie deficit can lead to a “starved state” or a slow metabolism which causes weight loss to stall or plateau.
Most people think that if weight loss has stalled, the solution is to eat even less. However, what flexible dieting teaches you is that the solution is to eat more. Low calorie diets work well for about the first 4-8 weeks until this slowing of the metabolism happens. The only way to get things moving again is to establish your correct TDEE and start eating in a way that’s more congruent to what your body needs to function optimally.
Flexible Dieting Allows You To Eat Macros Normally
Just to review, the term macros is simply short for the macronutrients and the majority of food and beverages you eat or drink contains just three; carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
During the 80’s we were told to eat low-fat, during the 90’s we were told to eat low-carb, and this century we are told to eat low-carb, but only like our ancient ancestors ate. While any method of dieting works as long as a safe calorie deficit is maintained, flexible dieting doesn’t villainize one particular macro but instead teaches you to enjoy them all in a way that still produces weight loss or muscle gain.
Flexible dieting promotes normalized macro ratios consisting usually of 25-30% fat, 30-40% protein, and 35-45% carbs. Exact macro ratios depend on your unique stats and goals.
The problem with low-carb diets
Since foods that contain carbohydrates tend to be calorie dense, limiting carbs is an easy way to reduce your overall calorie intake. However, since your body and brain runs on glucose3 (a carb), many can feel fatigue and brain fog during low-carb diets. The body is amazing and can eventually adjust to a low carb lifestyle, but many still report that they lack the energy to perform at their best while on such a diet.
Recently many CrossFitters have begun switching from a paleo-like diet to flexible dieting because they feel as though the low carb nature of the paleo diet is keeping them from performing at their best.
Also, carbs are delicious! Life is short and when we eliminate entire food groups we also eliminate some of the joy we get out of life by eating delicious foods. Ice cream, cookies, cake, donuts, potatoes, all have to be given up on low-carb diets, but flexible dieting allows such foods as long as they fit your remaining carb allotment for the day.
The problem with low-fat diets
While most people have come around to the notion that fat is not the enemy, there is still a segment of our society that believes fat is bad and that they have to avoid it if they want to lose weight.
The truth is that dietary fat is crucial to our good health because much of our body is composed of fat and fat is crucial for hormone production. Eating fat will not make you fat unless you eat more than your TDEE allows. Since fat is calorie dense (9 calories per gram) it is easier to eat more calories in the form of fat quicker than with other foods rich in the other two macros. But, with flexible dieting, you can enjoy fat as part or a healthy diet as long as you are aware of how much your body needs and how much is in your favorite foods.
With flexible dieting, there is no reason to label any particular macro as bad or to obsess over eating or not eating it. It recognizes that all macros can be part of a healthy diet that can be used to accomplish your weight loss or muscle building goals.
Counting Macros Let’s You Eat Whatever You Want!
Unlike other diets that restrict foods and even whole food groups, counting macros allows you to eat anything as long as it fits your set of macros. This means that pizza, burgers, ice cream, tacos, chocolate, fried chicken, etc. are all allowed as long as you have enough protein, fat, and carb grams remaining for day the food is consumed.
I’m not advocating eating nothing but junk food, but you don’t have to deprive yourself of the foods you love and have cravings for. A good rule of thumb to follow is to choose healthy, whole foods 80-85% of the time and allow 15-20% of your food to be from your craving foods.
Before starting flexible dieting several years ago, I thought sugar was the enemy and I would avoid eating it or feel guilty if I did indulge. Now, I have desert every night and I’m in much better shape now than I was when I was avoiding sugar but not tracking how much of each macro I was eating. I no longer feel guilty having sweet foods or even fast food from time to time.
If you’re tired of the restrictive nature of other diets and are looking for a method that will allow you to achieve your fat loss or muscle building goals while still eating the foods you love, then I suggest you consider counting macros. Although it can take some practice tracking and hitting your macro goals accurately, in the long run it’s a very refreshing way to get the body you want and finally achieve your fitness goals once and for all.