A dietitian’s advice on flexible dieting
While flexible dieting has become a buzz word du jour, but what does flexible dieting mean when it comes to macros and calories? We asked accredited practising dietitian and founder of Bites for Health for her expert insight.
Macros v calories
Counting macronutrients rather than calories can ensure a more balanced overall diet; however, counting anything around food can be exhausting. The value of attending to macronutrients is to ensure that each meal contains a balance of protein, carbs and fats, which contributes to satiety – and pleasure of eating.
What are the basic rules for setting a goal-appropriate macro ratio?
This needs to be assessed by a sports dietitian or other specialist as the commonly professed means to calculate energy output with the aim of balancing energy in and out is unreliable. The total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) – based on basal metabolic rate multipled by a factor related to activity level – is almost always an estimate. Unless you have paid to get your actual energy expenditure measured, it’s not reliable.
What’s a general guide for balancing macros?
The human body is such a diverse thing – we are all different. Because of that there is no ‘perfect diet’ that fits everyone. The 40/40/20 espoused by many nutrition professionals ignores this. Certain people will feel tired having only 40 per cent of their diet from carbs, for example, and others will feel tired if they have more than 25 per cent of their diet from carbs. It’s about finding what feels good for your individual body.
Is ‘flexible dieting’ such as ‘If it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) as liberated as it sounds?
I think the theory that counting macros is flexible eating is a bit ridiculous. Flexible eating implies not having to follow rules around food, and not having to calculate or fiddle around with specific numbers. Focusing on having foods that nourish you, satisfy you and give you pleasure, without the numbers and the rules, is a real example of flexible eating.
However, there are some people who count their macros and have a very balanced, enjoyable lifestyle – and this works well for them. In my view, for its amount of effort, it’s probably not worth it.
Doesn’t counting macros circumvent the tyranny of food protocols?
This is a tough one. I agree with the concept of moral neutrality – no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. However, the message that you can eat what you want if it fits your macros doesn’t emphasise eating nourishing foods for good health. There is a big difference between eating whatever you like and eating well.
What are the drawbacks of selecting foods by macro count?
You could have a day’s eating that fits your macros but comprises energy-dense, high-GI foods that would likely not keep you full for very long, making you starving later in the day. Ironically, it can lead to a nutrient-poor diet. Counting macros can be very counterproductive for people who are chronic dieters or who have an unhealthy relationship with food. Many people have been on numerous diets, and macro counting is just the next one. These people are generally advised to see a dietitian or therapist specialising in the non-diet approach.
If not macros, what approach do you advocate for weight loss?
Focusing on having balanced meals is not only easier, but often more enjoyable. We have no evidence that calorie-, energy- or macronutrient-controlled diets work long term for weight loss and know that it is much better to focus on having a nourishing diet that fuels your body with good food. A diet high in fibre is recommended to assist with overall health and is known to help stabilise blood sugars, assist in lowering cholesterol and help prevent certain types of cancers.