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Balancing Life and Fitness Goals: How To Find the Right Degree of Flexibility and Discipline

When it comes to our dietary aspirations, we all seek different outcomes. We yearn for the freedom to choose our meals without feeling restricted, we want to feel satiated after our meals without constant cravings, and we want to have the confidence to navigate social events without fear of derailing progress.

Additionally, we aim to simplify our approach to nutrition, spending less time planning, cooking, and not stressing about meal timing, while still feeling energized and functional in our daily lives.


We seek overall well-being, both physically and mentally, aiming to reduce stress around food choices and achieve satisfaction and contentment after each meal.

We aim to enjoy the foods we eat, finding pleasure and happiness in our dietary selections while maintaining optimal digestion and aligning with our physical goals, whether they involve gaining muscle, losing fat, or enhancing strength.

However, in our pursuit of these goals, we often encounter two conflicting desires: strictness and flexibility.

Many believe that achieving one aspect of our dietary desires necessitates sacrificing another – that we must choose between rigid restriction for results or carefree indulgence for satisfaction.

Yet, this dichotomy is flawed. It's possible to strike a balance between food freedom and achieving our goals, enjoying both the pleasures of eating and the rewards of our efforts. Let's talk about how to develop a more fulfilling approach to our diets.

Navigating the Expectations of Your Diet:

Balance Between Freedom and Results

You've probably heard the phrase, “the best diet is the one you can stick to.” And nothing could be closer to the truth! If you can't adhere to your diet and don't feel free, satisfied, and happy with your nutritional choices, you'll likely end up miserable. Our diet shouldn't be torture; it should lead us to our goals with ease and flexibility.

Nutrition must fit into everyday life and individual circumstances. Striving for perfection is unrealistic and ultimately leads to disappointment. Therefore, free yourself from the pursuit of perfection.

To start your journey with the right intention and mindset, you should be able to answer the following question with a clear YES: Can you follow your diet like this for the rest of your life, without becoming unhappy or unhealthy?

This doesn't mean that your eating habits should remain static forever. Just as circumstances change, so can your diet.

We should eat to live, not live to eat.

While it's essential to make healthy choices overall, a healthy diet can include some processed foods. Not everything needs to be “clean,” “organic,” “non-GMO,” “sugar-free,” “oil-free,” or whatever. As with most things in life, it's all about finding the right balance.

your diet vs your life

Finding The Right Degree Of Flexibility For Your Individual Circumstances

In life, nothing has to be extremely rigid. You don't have to consume only whole foods and exercise every day to achieve a lean and healthy body. To enjoy a fulfilling life and healthy relationship with food, flexibility is key!

Research has shown that flexible dietary approaches most often lead to better adherence and long-term success in weight loss. Conversely, rigid dietary approaches often result in the development of eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, and lack of adherence.

Specifically, strict and rigid diets are associated with binge eating and depressive symptoms. The stricter the diet, the higher the risk of detrimental consequences or discontinuation of the diet.

flexible diet

Match Your Degree of Flexibility to Your Goal and Life Circumstances

Well, as with most things in life, it's about balance. The most important thing overall is that you have a healthy relationship with yourself, with food, and in general, a positive attitude.

One big problem is that we often think we have to be extreme. When you are extremely rigid, plan every single meal ahead, avoid eating in restaurants, weigh everything you eat, avoid any processed food, and follow a strict workout plan without ever missing a day in the gym, you are on one side of the extreme. You will probably look super lean and fit, and you will get a ton of compliments for your body. The downside of this is that you will feel stressed over time, you will never feel good enough, you may lose friends, feel isolated, be hangry all the time, and not have any fun in life. That's definitely not a good quality of life for the long term.

On the other side of the extreme, we have the case where someone just doesn’t care about health, nutrition, and their body. They just eat junk food, sit in front of the TV, skip the gym, etc. This extreme will lead to a lack of confidence, health issues, low self-esteem, and people will probably start to judge you for your lifestyle.

continuum of diet flexibility
continuum of diet flexibility

Remember: Both extremes lead to a lower quality of life!

We need to find our perfect balance in between both of the extremes. What’s important about that is that balance can look different for everyone, depending on their life circumstances. Some people have more time to go to the gym and spend time on their nutrition, while others have less time. And that’s fine.

You should always put your health, relationships, and happiness first. Then comes the gym and your diet.

There may be a time in your life when you enjoy meal prepping, having enough time to spend 1-3 hours every day in the kitchen to cook and plan your meals, and additionally going to the gym 5-6 times per week. And then there might be times when you hardly make it to the gym 2 times per week and do not have enough time to cook fresh meals by yourself.

Always adapt what you WANT to do and what you CAN do for the 'fitness lifestyle' to your current life situation.

But what does diet flexibility mean in practice?

It doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want. Rather, it refers to having flexibility in your dietary control. This flexibility can vary depending on your goals. For example, if your goal is weight loss, you may need to have a bit less flexibility compared to if you're aiming to gain or maintain weight.

  • Adherence is the most crucial aspect of your diet. A program or plan is only as effective as its ability to be followed for the intended duration.

  • Once again, the best diet is the one you can stick to. Your level of flexibility can change and should adapt depending on your goals and life circumstances.

To succeed in your diet, you need to find your individual degree of flexibility and strictness. Embracing a flexible nutrition approach, also known as “flexible dieting”, is not a specific form of diet but rather a practical way of designing your own nutrition plan according to your life and goals. It has proven to be one of the best and most successful approaches to dieting.

The following figure illustrates the various continuums of dietary flexibility and control, as well as the options you can adopt in your diet approach.

degree of diet flexibility
degree of diet flexibility

Conclusion: Balancing Life and Fitness Goals

In our journey to balance life and fitness goals, it's crucial to find the right mix of flexibility and strictness. This means being able to adjust our fitness plans to fit our busy or not so busy lives while staying committed to our goals.

Scientifically speaking, studies show that being too restrictive in our diet can lead to burnout and loss of motivation over time. On the other hand, being too relaxed about our fitness can hinder progress. So, finding a balance is key.

Practically speaking, life is full of changes. Sometimes we have busy weeks or unexpected challenges. Being flexible means we can adapt our fitness routines to fit these changes without giving up on our goals.

Whether it's adjusting our workout schedule or choosing healthier options when time is tight, flexibility helps us stay on track.

But discipline is important too. Setting clear goals, sticking to a routine, and taking care of ourselves are all important for success.

Discipline gives us the structure and motivation we need to keep moving forward, even when things get tough.

In the end, balancing life and fitness is all about finding the right mix of flexibility and discipline. By staying adaptable and committed to our goals, we can navigate life's ups and downs while staying on track to a healthier lifestyle.

Achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutrition and fitness coach. Book a call now!


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Sources of information:

  • Conlin LA, Aguilar DT, Rogers GE, Campbell BI. Flexible vs. rigid dieting in resistance-trained individuals seeking to optimize their physiques: A randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Jun 29;18(1):52. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00452-2. PMID: 34187492; PMCID: PMC8243453.

  • Smith CF, Williamson DA, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite. 1999 Jun;32(3):295-305. doi: 10.1006/appe.1998.0204. PMID: 10336790.

  • Stewart TM, Williamson DA, White MA. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002 Feb;38(1):39-44. doi: 10.1006/appe.2001.0445. PMID: 11883916. Aflakseir, A., & ZarrinPour, R. (2013). Predicting adherence to diet regimen based on health locus of control: A cross sectional study. Iranian Journal of Diabetes and Obesity, 5(2), 71-76.

  • Gibson, A. A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to improve adherence to dietary weight loss interventions in research and real-world settings. Behavioral Sciences, 7(3), 44.


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