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What Is flexible dieting?

It’s tough to give flexible dieting a firm definition.

People tend to have differing views and opinions over what exactly is involved, and what exactly is and isn’t classified as flexible dieting.

This is hardly surprising though – think about the ‘arch nemesis’ of flexible dieting – the ever-present ‘clean eating’ – and you’ll realise that quite often in the nutrition game, it’s impossible to perfectly define any eating style or concept.

That being said, the closest we can get to a definition of flexible dieting is something along these lines:

“A diet that doesn’t impose any restrictions on food sources or choices, and employs a monitoring system that looks at quantitative data – i.e. calories and macronutrients.

The degree and strictness of the monitoring can be altered and changed depending on the individual’s goals, preferences and lifestyle.”

Flexible dieting doesn’t ban or restrict any foods, and it doesn’t even judge foods or food groups as good or bad. Each individual item can only be viewed in the context of a diet as a whole.

For instance, let’s look at ice cream and broccoli. Ask someone on the street which is the healthier food, and they’d most likely respond with broccoli.

But what if that broccoli only made up a tiny portion of a person’s diet?

What if they were already over-consuming calories and gaining weight and that by adding the broccoli they were taking themselves further into a calorie surplus?

What about the ice cream?

What if having a small bowl of ice cream every few days helped somebody dieting avoid binging on a whole tub of ice cream once a week? Or, said person dieting had already eaten enough protein one day, got in plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre, yet had carbs and fats left to eat – would having a bowl of ice cream within their calorie allowance be unhealthy or cause them to gain fat?

The answer is no.

“Hold on, so you’re telling me I should stop eating broccoli and go for ice cream instead?”

If only that were the case.


That’s taking a slightly short-sighted view, as, unfortunately, many ‘clean eaters’, or those from outside of the industry tend to do.

All we’re saying is that flexible dieting doesn’t demonise any foods, and that you take a view of your diet as a whole before looking at the semantics, and tiny, often insignificant details.

One of the main concepts behind flexible dieting is that you get better results from being less strict. Don’t misinterpret this – if you’re looking to progress in a consistent and calculated fashion then strict compliance in terms of macro and calorie management is imperative, but food choice certainly needn’t be as rigid as most think.

To quote Alan Aragon - “Ultimately, it’s impossible to judge a food in isolation from the rest of the diet. Furthermore, it’s impossible to judge a diet without considering the training protocol, goals, preferences, and tolerances of the individual.”

(From: “Research Review: The Dirt on Clean Eating” - http://www.simplyshredded.com/research-review-the-dirt-on-clean-eating-written-by-nutrition-expert-alan-aragon.html)

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