Hey there, here’s an intriguing thought to chew on — you can lose weight by eating some of the things you like. It’s called flexible dieting and it gives you choice in how, when and what you can eat. 

It may free you from the shackles of rigid dieting. You might no longer need to put butter in a goddamn coffee just because some “holistic nutritionist” on the internet told you.

Here are three reasons why flexible dieting can be a game-changer for you:

1. Flexible dieting allows you to enjoy foods you like with little restriction

Think about any diet and it will be based on restriction. 

Some diets tell you to starve yourself as thin as a rail with 700 calories. Others want you to eliminate all carbohydrates. And sometimes it’s about traveling back in time to the Paleolithic period where gluten wasn’t a thing. 

Most diets have idiotic restrictions about foods you can and cannot eat.

But what happens when you’re overly restrictive with your food choices? Well, research has consistently shown that the more you place a particular food on a list of no-nos, the more you crave it

The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters

Eventually, your willpower to resist dwindles from a roaring flame to a dull burn, you say “EFF IT,” and binge. You binge on the exact same foods that you couldn’t eat.

And it’s not something I pulled out of my rear — increased dietary restraint is highly correlated with binge eating behavior: 

Binge eating and dietary restraint in obese patients

It’s different with flexible dieting. It’s related to lower BMI, less frequent disordered eating behavior, and healthier body image: 

Rigid vs. flexible dieting association with eating disorder symptoms in non obese women

Hold on, there’s more — flexible eating can lead to greater weight loss because for many folks it’s easier to sustain it long-term: 

Flexible Eating Behavior Predicts Greater Weight Loss Following a Diet and Exercise Intervention in Older Women

If you wonder why is that, Mike Doehla, an owner of Stronger U, answered this beautifully: 

Mike Doehla on flexible dieting

This is the basis of flexible dieting — no foods are off-limits. YOU have the freedom to eat what you want. Just not as much as you would like to. As Sohee Lee, CSCS and MS once said: 

Sohee Lee on flexible dieting

Now, just because you can eat whatever you want doesn’t mean that deepthroating 5 burgers each day is a good idea ‘cuz the second reason why flexible dieting is cool is… 

2. Flexible dieting prioritizes good food choices

Flexible dieting follows the 80/20 rule — around 80% of your food choices should come from whole, minimally processed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc. The rest can come from less nutritious foods (and there’s no reason to beat yourself up for it): 

80 20 rule

Keep in mind that 20% is just an option available to you. You’re not required to “spend” them on junk food if you don’t want to. It just means you have a “budget” for it as long as most of your diet is on point and your calories are controlled. 

Flexible dieting is realizing that you’re a goddamn adult and you don’t need some ketosis-inducing diet to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. You can make your own decisions when it comes to food. 

3. Flexible dieting doesn’t delineate between “good” and “bad” foods

One of the few rules I have for people who I work with is to not label food as “good/healthy/clean” and “bad/unhealthy/dirty.” The only term we have for food is less nutritious and more nutritious: 

more and less nutritious foods

No, I’m not being a pedantic douchebag — words matter. As Alan Aragon, a nutrition researcher, observed: 

alan aragon on food labelling

Go ahead and ask Alan why can’t we just label foods as “good” and “bad.” Let’s pretend that you did and so let’s welcome back AA-dawg to reply: 

alan aragon on food labelling

This black-and-white or dichotomous thinking towards food may seem harmless in the short term. However, it can mess up your beautiful head in the long term. For example, this study found that: 

How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain

This dichotomous thinking sucks the fun out of food. Food goes from being something that should be enjoyed to a detested enemy. 

With flexible dieting, there are no “good” or “bad” foods. It tells that you can lose weight on more than chicken, brown rice, and goddamn broccoli.

Flexible dieting takes the guilt out of food — if you want a donut, you eat a friggn donut as long as it fits your daily calorie “budget” and most of your diet is comprised of whole foods. 

Remember that you’re what you repeatedly eat. Be consistently good enough with your food choices (80%, remember?) instead of inconsistently perfect when you go full-blown “clean eater” for a month and binge for another. 

“Yeah, flexible dieting sounds cool, Egis. Where do I start?”

If you have had enough of eternal torment following keto diet and you want to try flexible dieting, here are some foundational principles you should follow: 

  • Eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods, and be aware of your calorie “budget.” 
  • Eat enough protein to support muscle growth (I’ll make an optimistic guess that you lift weights).
  • Eat enough fiber because shit happens because of fiber, you know.
  • Eat enough fat to keep hormones in check. 
  • Eat enough carbs because they are tasty and make your workouts awesome.
  • Or don’t eat lots of carbs. It’s your choice, remember? Stop placing a hill of unnecessary restrictions on what you can eat. 
Click & check if we can work together

Most diets are based on restriction and deprivation and quite frankly, I would rather take my own appendix out than live a life based on deprivation. 

Give yourself permission to live a life. Try flexible dieting. If you want. 

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Originally published by me on Medium on July 23, 2021

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. don salmon

    This is great. I do have one question:

    Doing flexible eating exactly as you recommend, at 5’10”, I went from around 205 to 173 in 3 months back in 2003, simply eating 1500 calories a day (just about the ratio you recommended – 80-90% whole foods, feeling at ease about 10-20% “less nutritious” – ie chocolate, brownies, ice cream, mac and cheese, etc) food.

    Kept it off effortlessly since. 6 days a week, 1 hour a day, exercise – 3 days aerobics (mixing HIIT and moderate exercise) and 3 days resistance training, mostly dumbbells and kettlebells, including core exercises.

    Now, I had always thought my ideal weight would be in the mid 150s. But the basic flexible diet stopped working. I tried strict keto (under 20 carbs) and as I expected, nada, Zilch. Tried Joel Furhman’s vegan diet, mosley’s 800 calorie (that worked, got almost to 155 but no way I could sustain that past 2 weeks). Tried the 5:2 intermittent fasting routine, didn’t make any difference. Just for convenience I’ve done 16:8 intermittent fasting for the past year. Cholesterol and blood pressure were good but no difference in weight.

    So a friend came to stay with us for a month toward the end of last year, and she had trained herself to do 2 things: (a) 2 meals a day; and (b) no snacks.

    I was already eating 2 meals a day, but found it hard to avoid snacks. So I started.

    5 pounds off effortlessly the first week (beginning of this year). I decided to alternate one meal a day (OMAD) and 2 meals. I”ve been effortlessly maintaining around 159-160 the past month. No calorie counting. Loving every meal. Meal prep 15-30 minutes tops, once a day.

    I don’t even care at this point if I lose another 4 or 5 pounds. never had an approach to eating that was so simple and effortless. I suspect it’s NOT the meal timing but just that, since precise calorie counting is known to be difficult even for expert nutritionists, that simply going down to 1 or 2 meals a day with no snacks makes the calorie deficit effortless. It’s SO great not to be thinking about good or bad foods or counting calories.

    Just wanted to share this. Basically I think it’s totally in line with what you teach, but for some, if they’ve reached a plateau, experimenting with 2 meals (OMAD is probably too much for most folks) and no snacks might do the trick. And I’m flexible wtih this – if I feel like having 2 meals on an OMAD day, I do. If I feel like having an extra snack, I do.

    Last week, one day I just felt like having 2 brownies and 2 caramel ice cream bars. No guilt, went back to regular whole foods the rest of the week. No problem. And I lost another pound:>))

  2. Egis R.

    Hi, no diet will work unless it puts you in a calorie deficit. So if you couldn’t lose weight, you weren’t in a calorie deficit. I’m happy you found something that works for you!

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