Flexible Dieting 101
As a Personal Trainer I am pretty obsessed with the gym. I don’t think there are many problems that can’t be solved, or made clear, by a great workout.
I think your physical intensity and work ethic can not only remake your body, it can forge your mind.
That being said, some things can’t be accomplished by only hitting the gym.
In many cases the kitchen is more important than the gym. What you put into your body will greatly determine what your body looks like.
The funny thing is that we all know the importance of what we eat, yet it’s where most of us struggle.
There is so much conflicting information out there. One day eggs are a great food for weight loss, the next day they make you fat. It’s impossible to find solid information that has no contradiction.
Let me be the first to tell you this. Most nutrition stuff you read is complete bullshit. Dr. Oz is liar, those instagram salespeople are liars. Losing weight is simple. Gaining weight is simple. It's all about the calories, not what superfood you eat. Professional gurus and nutritionalists try to make a name for themselves by complicating things for no reason.
There are no good foods or bad foods, only foods that can fit your diet and foods that don’t. A lot of people feel they need to banish certain foods in order to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. They want to lose weight so they cast their favorite foods aside, only to suffer from incredible cravings.
This method of dieting is not sustainable. How can you maintain a rigid dietary schedule while constantly dreaming of pizza?
There is a way to enjoy your favorite foods while losing weight. It is not a magic trick and it’s not rocket science. It’s a simple process that requires selective sacrifice.
Flexible Dieting is the process of counting macronutrients to achieve a body composition goal.
In the following pages I will show you how to:
- Find your Body Fat Percentage
- Calculate your Lean Body Mass
- Use that LBM and Body Fat Percentage to calculate your maintenance calories
- Create a PERSONAL caloric and macronutrient count for fat loss
- Show you how to manipulate those calories to still enjoy your favorite foods
- Teach you exactly how to track all these numbers
We need to first start with the basics.
To lose weight you need a caloric deficit. That means that you need to eat less calories than your body burns in a day. You can lose a lot of weight by cutting calories, as the famous twinkie study shows us. BUT losing weight means you are losing both fat AND muscle. We do not want you to lose muscle.
We want you to lose only fat, while building muscle. Losing muscle and fat will give you the dreaded “skinny fat” look. Losing fat will make you appear more toned and muscular, or in layman’s terms- sexy.
This magical process is done by choosing our calories based on their macronutrients.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the components that make up your food. Specifically, they are the grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats which are contained within food. You need to measure your intake of these macros in order to instigate and track your progress.
In order to maintain muscle mass while losing fat, you need to make sure you have adequate protein intake, moderate carbohydrate, and fat intake. The distribution of your calories is very important to your fat loss and aesthetic goals.
The proper distribution of macronutrients will allow you to burn fat while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. This will give you a lean look, as opposed to a deflated look. We call this process “Body Recompositioning”.
You must keep in mind that muscle is much more dense than fat, so it takes up less space in your body. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat are not the same. The pound of fat takes up nearly twice as much space as the pound of muscle.
A very important thing to note in this process is that the scale may not change much. That is fine! You are going to LOOK better, not necessarily weigh less. Your weight may not change at all, but the distribution of weight will. If you are gaining a pound of muscle per week, while also burning a pound of fat per week your weight will not go down, but your waist size will.
The purpose of a good diet shouldn’t be to lose weight, it should be to lose fat. For a visual here are two men who are the same exact height, and weight. They are both 6 ft. 2 and weight 205 pounds. The scale will tell us that they are the same, but a quick look will tell us that is not the case. One is lean and ripped, with larger muscles. The other looks like he carries much more fat, and is not nearly as defined. That is the visual power of body fat and shows us that the mirror is just as important as the scale.
Let's be honest. You'd rather look like the guy on the left.
How to Find Your Lean Body Mass
Every calculation you will learn below requires you to know your Lean Body Mass or LBM. This refers to the weight of your body without the fat.
1. Weigh yourself.
Step on the scale. Write the number down. You're already halfway there.
2. Measure Your Body Fat.
There are many scales that will do this, such as the Withings Body Analyzer and a few models of Weight Watchers scales that are available at CVS. You can also purchase a handheld analyzer from Amazon.
Body fat percentage is the single most important factor to measure when undertaking a diet. I cannot stress that enough. As it lowers you will become leaner, revealing more of your musculature, looking defined and ripped.
When starting it is fine, but not optimal, to guess your body fat based on the mirror. There are a few charts online that can help you make an educated guess. Even this rudimentary tool is useful.
3. Calculate Your Lean Body Mass or LBM.
Let’s say we have a 150 pound woman, with 20 % body fat. Her LBM is 120 pounds. The simple formula for finding this out is
Weight (100) x .Body Fat (.10)= Pounds of Body Fat (30).
We then take the Pounds of Body Fat and subtract it from her Weight.
Weight (150) – LbsBodyFat(30) = LBM (120).
Save the graphic to the right so you can have a quick reference point when calculating your own LBM!
How to Calculate your Maintenance Calories
Maintenance Calories are the amount of calories you would need to consume if you did not want your body to change at all. They represent the amount of energy needed to keep you pretty much looking the way you look right now.
This will be the starting point for determining how many calories you should eat to lose fat and build muscle.
Now that you know your LBM and Body Fat Percentage it is easy to calculate your Maintenance Calories. Simply follow the chart below.
Since our 150 lb lady falls into the “19.1%-22%” we know she needs to eat 14 calories per pound of LBM. We multiply her LBM of 120 by 14.
LBM(120) x Calories (14) = Maintenance Calories (1,680)
Her Maintenance Calorie intake is 1,680 calories per day.
Now that you know your LBM and caloric needs we are ready to calculate just how many grams of protein, carbs and fats you should eat to maximize fat loss.
How to Calculate Your Macros for Fat Loss
To not change at all she needs to eat 1,680 calories per day. This is obviously not the goal. In order to lose fat she will need to eat BELOW that level on days she does not work out. In order to build or maintain muscle she will need to eat at or slightly above her maintenance calories on days she works out.
The reason for this is simple. Your metabolic rate is raised on days you lift weights, or workout in a strenuous manner. Your muscles also need more calories in order to recover, grow and function properly. In this manner we will cycle her caloric intake.
On days she is not working out she needs a caloric deficit. I recommend anywhere from a 200-300 caloric deficit. This amount will kick start the fat loss process, while not dropping you so low that you are starving, exhausted and miserable.
This size caloric deficit will enable you to be successful in the most important aspect of dieting- consistency. You never want to be in such a deep caloric deficit that you are homicidal. There is no point starting a diet that will not allow you to live a normal life.
Her non-workout day caloric intake will be 1,380. You subtract 300 from the maintenance calories.
Maintenance Calories (1,680) – Caloric Deficit Goal (300) = Goal Caloric Intake (1,380)
On non-workout days she will eat 1.2 grams of protein per LBM. Her protein intake will be 144 grams of protein.
LBM (112) x Grams of Protein (1.2) = Protein Intake (144 grams)
There are 4 calories per gram of protein so that means she is eating 576 calories from protein.
Her carbohydrate intake will be 0.8 grams per LBM.
LBM (112) x Grams of Carbs (0.8) = Carb Intake (96 grams)
That means she is eating 96 carbohydrates for a total of 384 calories. There are also 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates.
There is no formula for finding fat intake, but when carbohydrates are low we want our fat intake to be higher. Fat will become your body’s main source of energy on days when your carb intake is low.
To find her fat intake on non-workout days we simply subtract the total amount of calories in her protein (576 cals) and carbohydrate (384 cals) macros from her non-workout day total (1,380 cals).
Total Calories(1,380) – Calories From Protein and Carbs(576 + 384) = Calories from Fat (420 calories)
She has 420 calories remaining. Since fat has 9 calories per gram we then divide that number by 9 and round to the nearest digit.
Calories from Fat (420) / 9 = 47 (rounded up).
She will eat 47 grams of fat.
Using these calculations her non- workout day macros are 144 grams of protein, 96 grams of carbohydrates and 47 grams of fat for a total of 1,383 calories.
Let’s start by defining a workout day. A workout day is any day that you lift heavy weights, or perform a workout so intense that you are going to be sore the next day. Going for a jog does not make a workout day.
Since your metabolism will be raised due to the intensity of your workout you are going to need more calories, specifically you are going to need more carbohydrates to recover.
On her workout days she will be eating AT HER MAINTENANCE LEVEL of 1,680 Calories.
We are going to raise the protein intake to 1.5 grams per LBM on Workout days. That brings our example lady’s intake to 180 grams of protein for 720 calories.
LBM (120) x Protein (1.5) = Protein Intake (180 Grams)
We are also going to raise carbohydrate intake to 1 gram per LBM. That means she’ll be eating 120 grams of carbs for 480 calories.
LBM (120) x Carbs (1) = Carb Intake (120 Grams)
So far she is consuming 1,200 calories from her protein and carbs. That means she has 480 calories remaining to be filled in with fat. Divide 480 by 9 and we get 53 grams of fat.
Total Calories(1,680) - Calories From Protein and Carbs (720+480)= Calories from Fat (480)
Divide that number by 9 since there are 9 calories in a gram of fat.
Calories from Fat (480) / 9= Grams of Fat (53)
She will be consuming 53 grams of fat on days she works out.
Her workout day macros are 180 grams of protein, 120 grams of carbs and 53 grams of fat.
Once you know your macros write them down somewhere and take a picture with your phone. That way you can have constant access to them.
How to Manipulate Calories to Fit your Favorite Foods
You can fit your favorite foods into this diet plan. I am not talking about a weekly “cheat day” where you binge until you feel like you’re going to throw up.
With this style of eating you can eat your favorite foods without the guilt associated with breaking a diet. Once you begin to view food as neither good nor bad, but in terms of macronutrients you will understand that you can make any dish fit.
When you start a “diet” you are purposely entering a restrictive pattern of eating. You are putting yourself in an exhausting physical and psychological state of being.
Eating in this flexible manner will alleviate the mental anguish associated with most diets. You will never hit the breaking point of starvation, nor will you find yourself fantasizing about robbing a bakery.
Even thought this manner of eating will allow you to eat nearly anything I still believe your diet should be based around natural, whole foods. That does not mean every single thing you eat needs to be green, however. It takes a lot of will power to eat spinach and plain chicken for a month. Eating lean protein and a lot of vegetables is much more satisfying and less caloric.
You need to think of your caloric budget like you think about your monetary budget. If you REALLY want a new car you're going to need to save money. You save that money by sacrificing in other areas of life, maybe you stop spending money at fancy restaurants or don't buy any new clothes. By saving money on small things in the present you are allowing yourself to splurge on a luxury item in the future. Your calories are the same way.
If you REALLY want a certain item of food you're going to need to save those calories in other areas, or meals. If you want pizza for dinner, you won't be able to have cereal for breakfast because you will need to save those carbohydrates.
Let’s use our lady from above’s macros as an example. Let’s say it’s a Monday, and she busted her ass in the weight room. She’s going to eat according to her Workout Day Macros.
180 grams of Protein, 120 grams of Carbs and 53 grams of fat.
For Breakfast she has 3 eggs. That’s 18 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat.
For Lunch she has 8 ounces of chicken breast in a mixed greens salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing. That’s 64 grams of protein, about 25 grams of carbs from the salad and 9 grams of fat from the dressing.
She has made strong dietary choices all day, each meal is in accordance to her macros and she is on the path to success.
She now has a choice. She has 88 grams of protein remaining, 95 grams of carbs remaining, and 47 grams of fat. That is A LOT of wiggle room for dinner or dessert.
For dinner, she could have another chicken breast, with 3 slices of pepperoni pizza. The chicken breast will have 64 grams of protein, the 3 slices of pizza will have 33 grams of protein, 72 grams of carbs, and 27 grams of fat.
That indulgent meal would have her totals for the day looking like: 146 grams of protein, 97 carbs and 42 grams of fat. She had pizza for dinner and is still UNDER her macro count for the day. She goes to bed with a smile on her face because she stayed within her macro limit AND got to enjoy her favorite food for dinner.
She was able to fit pizza into her dinner because she avoided carbs at breakfast and lunch. She budgeted her macros.
This is just one of many examples of the flexibility inherent in this style of eating.
You need to stop viewing food as an emotional subject, and labeling it as “good” or “bad”. Food is simply fuel that is made up of protein, carbs, and fats. It is our vehicle to change our body, not a way for us to punish ourselves. That being said, the majority of your diet should still be comprised of whole foods and not processed foods.
How to Track your Macros
The idea of logging each and every item of food you eat seems tedious. I’m not going to lie- it is for the first week. Just like anything it becomes easier over time. After a month or so it will take you barely 30 seconds to log each meal.
It cannot be overstated how important tracking your macros is. This is not something you can guesstimate. Precision is necessary.
There are only two things you need to get started. A food scale and the MyFitnessPal app.
The food scale is for your protein. The more exact you can be when measuring, the better. You simply weight your protein after it is cooked to get an accurate measurement.
MyFitnessPal is a calorie and macro tracking app that has a GIGANTIC database of foods, everything you could possibly eat has an entry. All you have to do is scan the bar code on the packaging, or type the food in.
To view your macros you go to the “Diary” page. Then scroll down until you see a “Nutrition” tab on the bottom left hand corner. Once you are there scroll on the top to the “Nutrients” tab. You will have a complete breakdown of your macros for the day.
This is my preferred way of eating. The inherent flexibility within this diet allows me to lose fat at a quick rate, while still enjoying my favorite foods (peanut butter, steak, tacos), My energy level is never low from a lack of carbohydrates or fats, which is a huge plus for my ultra active lifestyle.
Eating in this flexible manner also allows you to get to know your food on a different level. You will cast off any nutrition lies you've been sold over the years by learning EXACTLY what is in each food you are eating.
That being said, this diet is not for everyone. If you do not have the self control needed to stop eating once you have reached your macro limit you will not be successful. If you are the type of person who cannot have one slice of pizza, but instead finds yourself licking the box after you've eaten the whole thing, this diet might be too much for you to handle. Self control and discipline is necessary for any attempt to change your body, especially in a flexible plan like this.
You might have a hard time with food choice. This style of eating presents you with endless option, so I have put together a couple charts of acceptable protein, fats and carbs. The foods here should be the building blocks of your diet. If a food is not listed it does not mean that it is off limits, it just means it's one you're going to have to sacrifice to fit into your diet.
There is only one truth about the human metabolism- it is incredibly adaptive. We have evolved eating whatever we could get our hands on, our bodies can function on a majority carnivorous diet, a majority vegetarian diet and an omnivorous diet. You can lose weight, gain muscle, rebuild your health or feel better eating any diet.
That being said your diet should still be built around whole foods, like those listed above.
A diet is largely a game of smart sacrifice. You need to forego some of the things you enjoy, but not all of them. If you love cereal in the morning and can’t see yourself making it a month without it, you can include it but you need to first recognize that you will need to sacrifice something else, like pasta for dinner, to make up for the amount of carbohydrates in the cereal. You can make a diet plan that includes your favorite foods, but still puts you in a caloric deficit.
Now you know all the calculations needed to create a fat loss plan for your body. If you put all these things in place and track your intake rigorously there is no doubt in my mind that you will be successful in your goals.
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