Flexible Dieting VS Clean Eating: The Good, The Bad, and The Dirty

The recent “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) phenomena has snowballed into the “eat junk and get fit” diet and has deluded people into thinking they can diet away 30 pounds of body fat making pop tarts and Chick-Fil-A a regular staple in their daily diets. (Read This: How to Eat Like a Man)

You may have recently encountered or heard about a situation that went down something like this: You’re out at a restaurant with some friends where somebody who’s proclaimed to be “on a diet” orders the type of foods you’d least associate with fat loss.

You see them easily put down 6 buffalo wings.

Next is a burger.

Followed by a side of fries.

“How about some desert?” the server inquires.

Without hesitation your friend excitedly orders a brownie sundae.

Just as fast as you saw all this food appear, your black hole of a friend has sucked it all up without batting an eyelash, so you can’t help but ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be on a diet?”

“Oh yeah I am! “They’ll exclaim.

“I can eat all of this because it still fits within my macros.” That’s the common justification for what you just witnessed.

Before I get further into this, I’ll drop a small exception to the rule, or a “disclaimer” if you will.

Sometimes intensive dieting does call for strategic overfeeding, or “refeeds” as people like to refer to them as which may warrant a meal like the one described above.

Or you just decided to put the diet on hold for a meal.

And that’s fine. There’s no shame in enjoying some tasty food and living a little.

The problem in the statement above, the one about “it fits in my macros.”

This can be terribly misleading and creates a false impression of the actual diet.

THE PROBLEM WITH IIFYM

I’ve got to say, I’ve been the shmuck at the table who orders the 2 carb laden entrees and rounds of desert while the people who’ve decided to tolerate my company look on with a sense of amazement. And probably with a bit of disgust.

For an outsider to the flexible dieting community, it’s easy to see how someone can get the impression that eating lots of junk food may be beneficial, especially if they see someone who is lean and muscular putting away food like it’s going out of style.

So let’s say your average Joe, or even moderately trained individual who is looking to shed a few pounds of body fat wants to try their hand at making cookies and pizza fit their macros.

There is a slight learning curve that one must overcome when getting into a macro-nutrient/calorie based diet.


Learning how to count and track macro nutrients such as proteins, carbs, and fats can seem daunting at first, but becomes relatively simple after a few weeks to get familiar with the approach.

All right, so now your Average Joe, who we’ll call A.J., is ready to get his diet on and see his abs for the first time in his life.

AJ gets his workouts in, trains hard, does his cardio; everything in a program that would make the great Arnold himself want a copy of the program.

After his grueling workouts AJ couldn’t be more excited to get his post workout meal in.

He’s figured out that he should probably have about 50 grams of protein, 60 grams of carbs, and 15 grams of fat in his meal.

Chicken and rice might be the most appropriate meal for AJ, but since he’s being flexible with his diet he decides to stop off at the Cheesecake Factory to fulfill his nutritional requirements.

A burger and fries sounds good, and fits his allotted macros nicely.

This isn’t the problem.

The problem goes beyond the burger and fries; it becomes an issue of “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.”

Most novice flexible dieters are so enamored with the romantic idea of losing fat and still getting to enjoy all of their favorite foods that they begin to make the “junk” foods a large portion of their daily nutritional requirements.

One issue that arises is how easy it is to underestimate and miscalculate the actual amount of food that is being consumed when fast food and processed foods are the majority of the diet.

AJ may think he’s staying within his macros for the day, but the calories add up quickly especially when no foresight has been given to his meal plans throughout the day.

Another issue is the actual nutritional quality of the foods on a micro-nutrient level.

I know, I know. On a macro level there is essentially no difference between 60 grams of carbs from ice cream or 60 grams of carbs from brown rice.

But there is on a micro-nutrient level.

Micro nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, and fiber have to be emphasized at some point, and there is just no way to meet those micro nutrient demands if you’re eating fast food and junk all day.

Many IIFYMers have turned flexible dieting into the “how much junk can I can away with every day” diet.

These people are missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

No matter what you may think or what some IIFYMer has told you, it’s always going to be most beneficial to eat wholesome and nutritious foods as often as possible.

SOME PEOPLE PREFER STRUCTURE

“Basically eat whatever I want? How will I know what to choose?”

If it fits within your daily macros, you can have whatever you’d like.

“Well how much of it can I have?”

Measure it out and count it.

“What if I already had my allotted amount of carbs for breakfast, then what do I eat?”

Its questions like these that I hear all too often from people who start a flexible diet.

Frankly, some people don’t like to think much for themselves and prefer to be told what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, and most importantly, what NOT to eat.

That’s why many folks hire diet and nutrition coaches like myself.

Everyone wants a specific instruction and exact answer to all of their questions.

Flexible dieting is not rocket science by any means, its actually painfully simple.

But it’s not easy.

A lot of things in life are simple, just not easy.

Case in point: losing body fat. A simple premise, but not always easy in execution.

A lot of folks tend to make a diet work best for them when they’re structured and have comprised a list of what foods that are appropriate and which foods should be limited or restricted.

Structure removes the fear of screwing up to a large extent.

When someone is unsure of how to be precise when measuring or counting their macros it can actually create a pretty stressful situation.

Sometimes it’s just easier to know what you CAN and CAN’T eat.

I’ll admit, I’m one of those people.

Even though I’m more than proficient at knowing how to count and track macros at every meal, there’s times and phases in my life where it is just easier to know what foods are “best, better, and okay.”

Notice how I didn’t say GOOD or BAD?

Foods are not inherently “good” for you, nor are they “bad” for you.

It’s all a matter of context, but that’s for a later article.

But if you’re someone who finds themselves short on time and effort with your nutritional planning, structured diets based around designated foods may be a more suitable option for you.

THE CASE FOR CLEAN EATING

Here’s the main point I’m trying to make with all this.

I really despise the term “clean eating”, as there is no definitive way to actually define what that means.

Context is everything, and depending on your specific goal, it will mean something different to you than it does to the next guy.

And once again, there are no good or bad foods.

If you find yourself a bit perplexed by tracking and counting macros, or you feel the idea of allowing yourself to eat “junk” on a regular basis as per IIFYM, this bit of advice will be the most beneficial for you: Eat real, wholesome food.

It will always be imperative to understand the basic fundamentals of nutrition such as what your macro nutrients are and why they’re important.

But as far as food choices are concerned, you can never go wrong with choosing to eat wholesome and minimally processed foods.

You’ll be more satisfied, energized, and save a few bucks along the way if you choose to cook and prepare your own wholesome meals instead of opting for a meal out every day.

About The Author

With a background in mechanical engineering, John Craven’s never ending search for “how everything works” and problem solving skills have carried over to helping individuals achieve their best physiques possible. His passion is to contribute science-based information about nutrition and training to anyone looking to take control of their body composition while improving the overall quality of their lives.

You can contact him at –
What Are You Craven Website
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