I’ve been at this quite a while now and I get a lot of emails and questions about how to get started with flexible dieting. I’ve written a Flexible Dieting FAQ which you can find here and you can check out all of my Flexible Dieting posts here.
Today I’m sharing the simple steps required for getting started. It’s really easy to get going, so let’s go!
How to Get Started with Flexible Dieting
Step One: Calculate your macros.
Go to eattoperform.com or iifym.com and use the calculators to work out your numbers. The first step is to determine your TDEE or total daily energy expenditure. Theoretically, if you eat that amount every day you will maintain your body weight. This is a good place to start while you get the hang of tracking.
If you are looking to reduce body fat, you’ll eat slightly less than your TDEE and if you’re goals include building muscle, you’ll need to eat slightly more than that. After determining you’re TDEE, you can use the calculators to determine the ratio of carbohydrates, fats and proteins you’ll use to make up the calories you eat in a day.
Don’t get too caught up on the exact numbers when you’re getting started. It’s an estimate but the macros provided by the calculators are a great place to start. After a few weeks of consistency and measuring results, you can make adjustments as needed. There is no “magic macro” ratio that is going to help you reach your goals so just get some numbers to start with and be consistent hitting them. That’s where the magic is.
Read more: Flexible Dieting FAQ
Step Two: Get the tools.
You’ll be using your digital food scale to weigh out everything you eat. This may seem tedious and daunting at first but after getting the hang of it, it’s really no big deal. Planning what to eat and then prepping ahead of time helps tremendously though.
Get all the tools: Best Tools for Flexible Dieting Success
Step Three: Get the app.
Download the My Fitness Pal app on your phone or sign up the website. Some people use MyMacros+ but it’s not available on Android. I would recommend the premium version of My Fitness Pal. I find the added features to be worth the $11 per month however, you can definitely use the free version to track your macros.
The biggest benefit of the premium version for me is the ability to set different macro nutrient goals for different days of the week so I don’t have to keep changing them, the ability to see your remaining macros at a glance and the ability to set your macros by the exact gram amount.
Step Four: Set up My Fitness Pal.
After you download My Fitness Pal or sign up on the website, you’ll want to set up an account to get started. After that, enter the macros you calculated in step one into the Calorie and Macronutrient Goals section. You can find this under “Goals” in the home menu.
If you don’t have the premium version of My Fitness Pal, use the percentages to get the carbs, fat and protein numbers as as close as possible to the macros you calculated in step one. If you want to set the numbers exactly, you’ll have to upgrade the app, or use the Chrome desktop extension to be able to set them in grams.
If you plan to have different macros for training days versus rest days, or have a refeed day, you’ll have to manually change the numbers each day, unless you get the premium version which allows to have different goals set for every day of the week.
Step Five: Measure.
Enter your starting body weight into My Fitness Pal. I’d also recommend taking photos form the front, side and back as well as measurements at the chest, waist and hip. Your photos and measurements will be the best way to track your progress. You can enter your measurements into My Fitness Pal or create a spreadsheet to keep track of them. I would recommend weighing yourself daily and taking photos and measurements weekly.
If you weighing yourself isn’t serving you mentally or emotionally, just focus on eating well and meeting your macros and then go by how you feel and how your clothes are fitting. If you like, take progress photos weekly or monthly to track your progress. The number on the scale is tricky, it might stay the same for weeks on end and it might even go up at times. There are a lot of factors that affect that number and every one is going to see results at a different pace. Never be discouraged it. Just keep on going.
Step Six: Start tracking your macros.
It’s time to start tracking! I’d recommend taking a few days just eating as you normally would, entering everything in to My Fitness Pal and just seeing where you’re at. Once you have a better idea of what your current diet is like, it should be fairly easy to make the necessary adjustments to reach your macro goals.
To enter your meals and snacks, go under the “Diary” section from the home menu and use the search tool to find what you’re eating.
If you eat a well-balanced diet to begin with, you should be fairly close to your numbers. If you need to improve your diet, now is the time to start educating yourself. Learn about carbs, protein and fats in different foods, what each macronutrient does in the body and how eating a balance of the three can help you reach your goals.
The My Fitness Pal database is massive making it very easy to find the food you’re looking for. There will be more than one option for most foods, you may need to try a few to find the most accurate version. For whole foods, you’ll want to find the option that has the choice to enter grams as the serving size. For packaged foods you can use the barcode scanner, which will pull the exact item right up in your app. From there just measure out your serving size using your scale and enter it in.
You don’t need to worry about the calories if you’re tracking macros but understand that whether you’re in a calorie deficit or surplus is still the biggest determining factor in your results. Eat too much and you’ll gain weight, eat too little and you may lose muscle or compromise performance, eat just the right amount for your goals and you’ll slowly see the changes you’re looking for.
Step Seven: Educate yourself.
The more educated you are on the subject of nutrition, macronutrients and training, the better chance of success you have.
Learn about the health benefits of certain foods. Read about healthy, sustainable fat loss, learn about nutrient timing and how to building muscle, learn how to eat to perform at your best and then learn some more! Eat to Perform has some great posts on the topic.
Anything that will helps you understand the why and how behind what you’re doing will help you make better decisions and ultimately reach your goals. You cannot out exercise a bad diet, there’s no way around it. If you want to get the most out of the hard work you’re putting in at the gym, you need to eat well.
I find the more I know about the science of nutrition, the more confident I feel in my choices and the more dedicated and committed I am to my plan.
K, I started. Now what?
Well, now it’s time to keep going! Consistently stick to the same numbers for at least a few weeks and see what happens. I recommend tracking your weight daily but don’t worry about fluctuations. You’re looking for a long-term downward tread and nothing is going to happen overnight. There are a lot of factors than can affect your weight on a daily basis so simply use it as a long-term measuring tool.
I think flexible dieting for athletes and performance is a highly effective but I also think it’s so important to have a healthy mindset and a good relationship with food before you start. For me, flexible dieting never presented a big change in my diet but if this is all new to you it can seem overwhelming and may be stressful at first.
Before I send you on your way, let’s talk a bit about flexible dieting a healthy and sustainable manner.
Staying Sane while Flexible Dieting
1. Don’t obsess.
There are going to be ups and downs in this process. It takes hard work, time, patience and consistency to see real results. Don’t get too obsessed or be to hard on yourself, just keep going! It takes months and years to see real change, so patience and persistence is key! Don’t expect big changes in the first 4-8 weeks. If you stick to it for 12 weeks, you should start to see some real noticeable changes. Again, the more consistent and accurate you are, the faster the results will come. It’s up to you.
2. Enjoy life.
Personally, I think it’s important to take a little time off here and there and just enjoy life. The key is here a little time off, as in one meal or one day. 90% of the time you should stick to it but one meal or day without tracking every so often isn’t a big deal. If you make it a lifestyle, there are ways to make this work while travelling, if on vacation and for social outings.
3. Eat real, whole foods.
Yes, if it fits your macros, eat it but at the same time, most of what you eat should be whole, real foods. You won’t be able to hit your macros if you eat overly processed, nutrient-poor foods, and you’ll feel like crap. Eat well.
You can check out the posts below for some meal and snack ideas:
- Vegan IIFYM: Tips and Meal Plans from Week Two
- 23 Vegan Flexible Dieting Meal and Snack Ideas
- Macro Friendly Foods for Vegan Flexible Dieting
- Vegan Flexible Dieting Meal Plans
4. Plan ahead for treats.
If there is something you really, really want, just fit it into your macros and work your day around it. Planning is key.
5. Portion, portion, portion.
Yes, you can eat absolutely anything when you’re flexible dieting but there’s really no way around the fact that most of your diet will need to be made up of healthy, whole, real foods. It’s doesn’t work with junk food. The great part is you can still eat whatever food it is that makes you happy but you have to stick to appropriate portion sizes.
6. Set fitness goals over weight loss goals.
Always focus on fitness and performance goals over aesthetics. This is so important for your sanity. Aesthetic changes are a huge bonus, of course but keep your eyes on those performance goals and the changes in body composition will happen naturally.
7. Put it behind you.
If you have a bad day, don’t worry. Just move on. This is so important. Don’t let it snowball. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just take a deep breathe, remember why you started and get back on track. If you go a little bit over your macros don’t use it as an excuse to completely blow them. A little bit isn’t bit deal but if you consistently go way over, you’re not going to see results.
Okay, not that we have some of the mental components to flexible dieting out of the way, what about actually making it work in your life?
Top Flexible Dieting Success Tips
1. Meal plan then food prep.
Every weekend take the time to plan out your week of meals. I don’t do much meal prep but I do a number of food prep to make my life indefinitely easier during the week. Here’s my weekly food prep list:
- Rice two heads of cauliflower
- Spiralize two containers of zuccchini
- Chop carrots, celery and peppers
- Cook a big batch of edamame
- Bake two pacakges of tofu
- Make a batch of mashed sweet potato
- Roast a spaghetti squash
- Prep overnight protein oats
See all my weekly food prep posts here.
2. Enter your favourite recipes and meals into My Fitness Pal.
By entering your favourite meals, snacks and recipes into My Fitness Pal you’ll save time in the future. I find adding custom meals to be particularly helpful.
QUICK TIP: For recipes, I recommend weighing the total final amount of your dish, then use that number as the number of servings when you enter it into My Fitness Pal. That way, when you dish out say 300 grams, you can use that as your serving size.
3. Double check MFP, even the verified items.
My Fitness Pal relies on user-generated entries so they’re not always correct. If something seems off, double check it against the packaging or Google the nutritional info if it’s a whole food.
4. Enter your day in advance.
You should go into each day knowing what you’ll be eating. You can make adjustments as needed but planning your days out in advance makes a huge difference.
5. Look up nutrition information before indulging.
Once you see what’s in that meal you think you really want, you might not be as included to indulge.
6. Little things = big things.
When it comes to fat loss and changing your body composition, little things = big things. Those little bites, sneaks, cheats and guesstimates you think don’t make a difference? They actually do. Everything adds up. Make the right choices over and over again and those healthier choices will add up to big changes. Stick to your numbers and over time you’ll start to see results.
7. Read my Vegan IIFYM posts:
- Week One Experiences – A Snapshot of How I Eat
- Week Two Experiences – Tips, Tricks and Sample Meal Plans
- Week Six Follow Up and Experiences – Tips and Tricks
- Best Plant-Based Flexible Dieting Foods – Part 1
- Best Plant-Based Flexible Dieting Foods – Part 2
- Best Plant-Based Flexible Dieting Foods – Part 3
- Nutrition Tips for Vegan Athletes
- Best Tools for Flexible Dieting Success
- Flexible Dieting FAQ
You can Do This
It’s not always easy but if you make it a lifestyle, flexible dieting is doable long-term. The closer you stick to your numbers, the quicker your results will be so there is definitely a trade off between mental sanity, sustainability and results.
Depending on your relationship with food, flexible dieting may be the best thing or the worst thing you could do. I can’t stress enough to focus on performance goals and not aesthetics and while you’ll be tracking your weight, do not use it as your only measure of success. Food and eating stills needs to be enjoyable and it should never be a source of stress in your life.
Lastly, love yourself.
There is nothing wrong with loving your body but still wanting to improve yourself. Striving towards a better version of you and seeing what you’re capable of is one of the great joys in life. Keep that in mind! PS. You’re awesome.