Scientist Michelle Kickham shows us it’s not all lemon water and rabbit food when it comes to healthy dieting. In fact, you can have your cake and eat it too…
It’s that time of year again. People are planning their post-Christmas slim-downs that usually last as long as those Christmas cookies. Let’s be honest though, diets are boring, unsustainable and, most of the time, far too complex for the average person to adhere to. Chicken and broccoli eight times a day, grapefruits before meals and don’t get me started on these ‘teatoxes’.
What if I told you there was a simple, effective and sustainable method to maintain, lose or even gain some weight without following any diet at all? It’s completely flexible, no foods are off limits (yes, you can have peanut butter) and it is easily tailored to your personal needs. All you have to do is supply your body the nutrients it requires each day while tailoring the specifics to your goals; whether it be weight loss, weight gain or just maintaining your physique.
Welcome to flexible dieting; The one and only nutrition plan that will suit absolutely everyone. I have laid out the basics on how to get yourself started with the process. It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but I promise you, it’s worth it.
The macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) are the food groups that contain the calories which provide you with the energy (and vitamins and minerals) your body requires to function. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body and make up the bulk of your calorific intake. Protein provides amino acids which aid in muscle growth, repair and multiple metabolic processes, while fats are involved in hormone regulation and cognitive function.
Each macronutrient is required by the body and in varying proportions, but the average diet would consist of 50% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 30% fat. Calorific requirements vary and are dependent on your height, weight and activity level. Thus, the heavier and more active individuals will require more calories than a less active person.
SO, HOW DOES IT WORK?
Flexible dieting is different from your typical ‘clean eating’ or calorie controlled diets. Instead of just counting your calories (often leading to nutritional deficiencies by avoidance of certain food groups), you track your macronutrients which, as we know, are the source of our calories. This ensures that you meet your dietary requirements each day without depriving yourself or adhering to a complex meal plan.
Flexible dieting just requires you to track your food intake daily in order to ensure you are consuming the correct amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins; all of which will add to your calorific intake per day. This takes a little bit of getting used to, but there are fantastic apps available such as MyFitnessPal to help you keep track (so no need to take a pen and paper in your pocket!). These apps even support barcode scanning so they can look up the specific food and automatically add it to your intake, with all the required details!
So now that we know how it works, here’s your step-by-step guide to joining the flexible dieting band wagon!
Before you start tracking your macronutrients, you first must figure out how many calories you require to maintain your weight.
The most accurate way to determine this is to keep track of your calorie intake per day while monitoring your weight and noting any weight changes. This takes about two weeks to do properly, but it’s far more accurate than the online calculators which don’t take into account your own personal variables such as activity, age, metabolism and body fat percentage, and these vary between individuals.
WHAT SHOULD MY MACRONUTRIENTS BE?
Once you know how many calories you require to maintain your weight, you’re ready to calculate how many grams of each macronutrient you require daily. There are general guidelines you can follow, but tailoring them to your own goals and preferences is key to success. Active individuals require more carbohydrates and those involved in weight training require slightly more protein – it’s all very flexible as long as you reach the minimum daily requirements.
As a rough guide, the average person will require approximately 0.8g-1g of protein and about 0.5g of fat per lb of bodyweight. Protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram. So, if you are a 110lb female who needs 2000 calories a day, you would require 110g of protein (110 x 4 =440 calories) and 55g of fat (55 x 9 = 495 calories). The rest of your calories should come from carbohydrates and these can be calculated by subtracting your calories from protein and fat from your maintenance calories (2000 – (440+ 495) = 1065 calories) and to convert this to grams of carbohydrates, divide 1065 by four giving you 266g carbohydrates. It’s as simple as that!
PERSONALISING MACRONUTRIENTS BASED ON YOUR GOALS
Once you have your macronutrients calculated, you can tailor them to suit your goals. If you want to lose some weight, reduce your calorie intake by 200 per day. Protein intake should remain high while dieting to prevent muscle breakdown, so these 200 calories should come from either fat or carbohydrates.
Alternatively, if you want to build muscle or gain weight, increase your calories by 200 per day. The excess calories here can be whatever you prefer, but carbohydrates are the most convenient (and the tastiest!).
WHY FLEXIBLE DIETING IS THE WAY TO GO!
Flexible dieting is the most effective method of managing not only your nutrition, but also your sanity. There are no ‘bad foods’ and nothing is off limits. As long as you hit your macronutrient requirements each day, it doesn’t really matter what you eat. You will find that in order to meet your requirements, you will need to eat plenty of whole grains and vegetables, but if you find that you have 50g carbohydrates left at the end of the day there is no stopping you from digging into that bowl of ice cream!
The key to any diet or nutrition plan is sustainability; can you keep this up long term? Most ‘calorie controlled’ diets are too restrictive and lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, which is detrimental to both your physical and mental health. However, flexible dieting is sustainable, easy to follow and, if adhered to, will help you reach your goals in no time.
For more information on how to track your macronutrients, I highly recommend visiting www.MyFitnessPal.com and setting up an account with them. This will make flexible dieting a walk in the park and once adhered to correctly, will have nothing but a positive impact on your health; both body and mind.