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Flexible Dieting: The Full Explanation

In this post, I'll explain what the concept of flexible dieting entails and why this approach is more promising than most diet programs. Enjoy reading! 😊

If you want to start your weight loss journey,

Let's address the exciting question of what Flexible Dieting actually is and how you can implement it in your life. Flexible Dieting is a concept that aims to avoid the most common weight loss mistakes. Instead of rigid and strict plans or rules in one's own diet, the focus is on the flexibility of food selection. If you want to eat pizza, it's allowed within the framework of Flexible Dieting. Just like cookies, cakes, pastries, and anything else you might think is out of place in a diet. Flexible Dieting allows you to fully participate in social life during a diet, eating cake at birthdays or having some fast food at a party.

"What matters overall is the total calorie intake over the week. The foods from which you obtain these calories are initially secondary."

You Can Lose Weight By Only Eating Twinkies

Twinkie diet

A good example that this approach can work was demonstrated by an American professor named Dr. Haub, also known as the "Twinkie Diet Professor." He asked his students about what they thought was important for a diet aimed at fat reduction. He provided two possible answers: 1. The calorie amount and 2. The preference for healthy, natural foods. Most students opted for the second option as being the correct one.

Professor Haub wanted to prove the opposite by following a Twinkie diet for 10 weeks. For 10 weeks, he only consumed Twinkies. During this time, he lost a total of 12 kilograms of body weight. Additionally, some of his health metrics, such as cholesterol levels, BMI, and blood pressure, improved.

However, Dr. Haub consumed his Twinkies consciously. He consumed less than 1,800 calories every single day, which he covered solely with Twinkies. However, his daily calorie expenditure was ~2,600 calories. Thus, he maintained a calorie deficit of approximately 800 calories every day, which is quite significant.

This resulted in a rapid weight loss of 12 kilograms in just under two months.

This extreme experiment shows us that calorie intake is primarily responsible for weight loss. Anyone claiming otherwise is arguing against physical laws because calories are nothing but measurable energy, just as our body and body composition are also nothing but manifested energy.

Of course, a diet consisting solely of cake rolls or fast food is not recommended for anyone. I also don't think this is a dietary approach that most people desire or consider healthy. Even Dr. Haub reported extreme cravings for salad and vegetables after the 10-week Twinkie diet. But why did his health metrics improve when he mainly consumed sugar and trans fats? Quite simply, because weight reduction, especially fat loss, always brings health benefits.

Simply having a body fat percentage within a healthy range has a positive effect on health, whereas having too much body fat is the main cause of most lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or arteriosclerosis.

flexible dieting

Flexible Dieting Guidelines

The fact is that it's better to occasionally eat something that one would normally describe as "not diet-friendly," such as pizza, rather than demonizing pizza during the diet and then binge-eating it in large quantities afterward. This approach has a positive psychological effect and makes dieting more sustainable and flexible.

"Flexible Dieting reduces the feeling of deprivation."

However, Flexible Dieting does not mean that one can eat as much as they want. As mentioned above, the calorie amount or the existing calorie deficit is of essential importance.

Finding Your Caloric Sweet Spot: Essential Technique

First, you should determine the calorie amount at which a slow but steady fat loss occurs. This is best determined by documenting your calories and body weight daily for a period of 2-3 weeks. Then, based on both average values, you can see if you've been in a deficit, maintenance, or surplus on average. If your weight has decreased during this time, you can assume that the calorie intake represented a deficit. If your weight has remained constant, you have eaten approximately as much as you have expended. If you have gained weight, you have been in a calorie surplus.

Admittedly, weighing yourself and tracking calories is not quite easy and requires mental effort. However, there is no way around not documenting your calories. After some time, you will accumulate enough knowledge and experience to follow an intuitive approach. However, in the beginning, it is essential for everyone to record their calories using an online nutrition diary (e.g., MyFitnessPal or Yazio) and draw conclusions.

A period of about 6-8 months or until you reach your desired weight is optimal for this. The learning effect gained from documenting your meals is irreversible and will help you maintain a healthy, desirable body weight effortlessly in the long run. Simply because the knowledge about food, calories, and nutrients remains in your memory even after you stop documenting calories precisely.

Another idea of the Flexible Dieting approach is spontaneous meals and structured diet breaks. How to implement these aspects is summarized in the following sections.

free meal

Additional Components of the Flexible Dieting Approach

1. Spontaneous Meals

Spontaneous meals are often referred to as "free meals." They simply refer to spontaneous meals that deviate from one's usual dietary pattern. For someone following a low-carb style, it might be a high-carb meal, and for someone eating only unprocessed foods, it might be a processed meal.

The rationale behind this idea is that individual meals will not negatively affect body weight or hunger hormones. Instead, these spontaneous meals have a positive psychological effect and provide relief.

"Spontaneous meals help to maintain the diet in the long term without feeling deprived."

Spontaneous meals should be integrated a maximum of 1-2 times per week, and care should be taken not to exceed calorie intake. It's a conscious integration of supposedly "non-diet-friendly" meals into one's diet. Ideally, these spontaneous meals should be combined with social events.

2. Refeeds

Refeeds involve structured increases in calorie intake through increased carbohydrate consumption. These should be carried out for one to three consecutive days. Like spontaneous meals, refeeds have positive psychological effects.

Additionally, refeeds have hormonal benefits, as our hunger and satiety hormones are better regulated (leptin levels increase). The increased carbohydrate intake also leads to more strength and energy in daily life, making one feel fitter and more energized.

Furthermore, muscle breakdown, which is usually unavoidable during a calorie deficit, is reduced. However, it's important that the increased calorie intake consists exclusively of carbohydrates, not fats or proteins.

"The frequency of integrating refeeds is highly individual and depends, among other things, on the duration of the diet, the degree of overweight, psychological state, and diet history."

It's best to discuss your diet, including refeeds and diet breaks, with a nutritionist and have it professionally tailored. I will refrain from providing a detailed description of how refeeds can be structured in this article to keep it from becoming too lengthy.

diet break

3. Diet Breaks

Another part of the Flexible Dieting approach is incorporating regular diet breaks. Occasional longer breaks increase the consistency of being able to adhere to a diet long-term and significantly reduce dropout rates. This was also demonstrated in a study comparing two groups. One group dieted for several weeks without a break, while the second group took a one-week diet break every few weeks.

The group with breaks felt less like they were dieting and experienced less hunger and lethargy. Additionally, both groups had nearly identical fat loss over time. However, during these diet breaks, as with refeeds, one should not overeat. Aim to consume the calorie amount needed to maintain weight.

The increase of 1-2 kilograms during this time, however, is completely normal. This increase will consist almost exclusively of water weight and gastrointestinal contents. Additionally, the increase in calories should primarily come from more carbohydrates.

"The frequency of integrating diet breaks should be individualized. It depends on the weight to be lost as well as the degree of overweight."

There are hardly any universally applicable regulations for the meaningful structure of diet phases and breaks, as an individual consideration of each person is always necessary.

The Principles of Flexible Dieting Summarized

The principles followed within the framework of flexible dieting are summarized as follows:

  • No prohibitions

  • No strict meal plans

  • No expectation of a "perfect" diet

  • Individuality in food selection

  • You can eat anything as long as you are in a significant calorie deficit

  • Long-term interpretation and feasibility

  • Meaningful distribution of macronutrients

  • Regular integration of refeed phases

  • Regular integration of diet breaks

Have you tried flexible dieting before? Then I would be very happy to hear about your experience with it. Maybe you would like to try it in the future and need support? 

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

Your Coach,

signature Vanessa Gaber


Sources Of Information:

  • Helms, Eric, Valdez, Andrea and Morgan, Andy, The muscle and strenght pyramid nutrition (2015)

  • McDonald, Lyle, A guide to flexible dieting: how being less strict wit your diet can make it work better (2005)

  • Tiffany M. Stewart, Donald A. Williamson, Marney A. White, Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women, Appetite, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2002, Pages 39-44

  • Adrian Meule, Joachim Westenhöfer, Andrea Kübler, Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success, Appetite, Volume 57, Issue 3, 2011, Pages 582-584



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