Let’s look at the difference between flexible mindsets and rigid mindsets; flexible dieting and rigid dieting.
Flexible dieting has a bad rap in a lot of ways within the fitness industry. This is largely because of the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach.
When this idea first came out, people were talking about only eating junk food, for example only eating Pop Tarts and still getting lean.
You can absolutely do these things and get lean (as long as you’re in a calorie deficit). Of course, though, this isn’t going to be a perfect marker for health because of the lack of nutrients in those foods compared to nutrient dense foods.
True flexible dieting is different to the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach, flexible dieting is actually around having ranges, rather than rigid targets to hit. It is about working towards weekly intake in terms of calories and nutrients rather than daily, which in turn allows day to day variation.
This means that you can work in low calorie days and high calorie days in accordance with your schedule, your routine, your preferences, and your overall goals.
Whereas, in comparison, rigid dieting is all about restriction. It’s about restriction on food choices and restriction on life in general. Sticking to strict calorie intakes or strict macronutrient amounts.
This then is where, if you are too rigid with calorie tracking and macros, even what is supposed to be flexible can actually become rigid, leaving no allowances for life events.
There has been a fair amount of research into rigid versus flexible dieting. Stewart et al in 2002, Schaumberg et al in 2016 and Westenhoefer et al 2013* to name a few.
Rigid dieting is associated with higher body mass index, higher body weights, increased tendency of eating disorders, increased mood disturbances, a higher concern with body size, less weight loss, more overeating and more binge eating episodes in comparison to flexible dieting.
Flexible dieting is shown to produce more weight loss, less depression, less anxiety and less overeating. Therefore, we definitely want to incorporate a flexible mindset in our approach to weight loss.
Another research study looked at two groups of people, one group was allowed bread, the other wasn’t. The macronutrients for the groups were the same and so were the diet amounts.
The bread group had better adherence, they got better results from the programme. They got better weight loss, just because they were allowed bread, compared to the other group. That’s another great another great thing about bread for one, but it’s also another great thing for being flexible with your food choices, rather than being rigid.
Rigid dietary control is inversely related to dieting success, which means that it has a negative relationship with dieting success. Flexible control strategies are positively associated, they bring about better success.
Food cravings are actually linked to unsuccessful rigid dieting strategies more than flexible control. We can adapt our eating behaviours, and we can bring about this idea of a flexible mindset just by practice, just by trying it out.
By altering our mindset to a more flexible one and working on our behaviours in this area we can get better weight reduction outcomes, we can choose better meal rhythms. We can cope with stress better, and generally just get better results in general.
‘Flexible dieting’ is having a flexible mindset around food, knowing that a range of meals are going to help you suit your goals. It is understanding that on a day to day basis you can have varied calorie intake based on your plans, your goals and based on your hunger and desires.
Knowing that there are no such things as good or bad foods, there are just good or bad diets. As long as you abide by the habits that we always talk about; eating plenty of protein, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, managing your overall calorie intake.
There are a wide range of foods and drinks that you can enjoy, including pizza, including chocolate and including alcohol, but it’s about how much of those foods you enjoy at certain times, compared to other things that you have eaten.