How to Create Your Own Flexible Dieting Plan
The importance of appropriate calorie targets.
First up, it is of crucial importance that you are working to appropriate targets. If your targets are too low, you'll be hungry and miserable, and you won't be able to stick to the plan. Attempting to restrict to lower than appropriate calorie targets will actually hinder your progress, not to mention more than likely messing up your head and your relationship with food.
Of course, if you targets are too high... that's no use either, no matter how healthy, fresh and nutritious your choices of foods are. Too many calories means you gain weight, or at least fail to lose weight. Too few calories, as described above (it bares repeating). What we want is a target range that we would reasonably expect to maintain goal weight.
Now... goal weight is whatever weight you decide you are happy with. Set your own standards, don't allow yourself to feel pressured to meet someone else's. With that being said, we need something to base our calorie targets off so lets choose the upper end of what we're told is a "historically average" weight range for your age, height and sex.
I've started using the phrase "historically average" in an attempt to avoid any implications of judgement or idealism or anything else that people might think is a bit politically incorrect. It's the upper end of the historically average range, but if you don't want to BE that weight, you don't have to be. Personally, I don't either.
Regardless we will set our targets in accordance with what we would expect to maintain that historically average weight, we'll be properly fueled for training, we'll have plenty of room for variety in our choices of foods, and we won't be going hungry. I reiterate, YOU decide when you're satisfied and if that happens while still above our theoretical goal, all the better. At this point we gradually increase our intake to maintain where we are at now.
So, our theoretical goal weight will correspond to BMI 25, and our actual goal weight is "whatever weight you feel happiest and healthiest at"... as long as that's not lower than historically average... or even too close to the lower end of the historically average range.
I published a hub quite a while ago with all the formulas to determine your theoretical goal weight, and now many calories are required to maintain it, which might come in handy about now.
Planning your meals to meet your calorie targets.
I'm assuming this is day one on your Flexible Dieting program. In fact, let's assume Monday is day one and we're doing our planning on Sunday afternoon. Jump on to which ever calorie counting app you've decided to use, and set your custom goals. In my experience these apps will give you a target that is way too low to be practical or healthy, so do calculate your own targets intelligently. Or hire me as coach and I'll do it for you.
Now... how many meals do you like to eat in a day? Contrary to what you may have heard, meal timing and frequency doesn't matter very much. If you're within the right range of calories, you'll make progress. If you're not... there's nothing much that will make up for that. So, what suits your appetite and your schedule? That's how many meals you should have. Set that up in your app too.
Now, go ahead and put in everything you're likely to eat tomorrow. Be honest! Don't leave things out that you know you're going to eat, because you think "well, I know that's bad so I won't count that".
Start with breakfast.
You probably have the same breakfast most days. If it is toast and eggs, that's easy. If it is cereal, that's still easy but make sure your portion size is the same as what you're logging in your app.
Fruit, Vegetables & Nuts.
Of course it isn't mandatory to do it this way, but since you do need to get your vitamins and minerals I am going to suggest a big bowl of various fruits at some point in the day. Second breakfast is as good a time as any. Get excited about your fruits, it should feel like an indulgent treat every day, that will fill you up without a disproportionate amount of calories, and as I mentioned, they're providing plenty of valuable nutrients. Vitamin C in particular.
You've probably read some stuff about having to be wary of the sugar content in fruit. That's stupid. We're ensuring that we end up at a total intake that is less than what would be required to maintain our current weight, so ALL of it is going to be used as fuel, and it is impossible for any of it to be stored as fat. Also you're a nice person and you deserve to enjoy some delicious fruit. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Of course you should be including your favourite vegetables in your plan as well. Here in Australia, five serves is the recommended minimum.
I am going to go ahead and suggest 30grams of nuts per day (other than if you have an allergy or intolerance, obviously) as well. Nuts come with all sorts of health benefits. Whenever best suits you is fine, of course.
Lunch can be a tricky one especially if you are grabbing something on the run at work or school. What do you usually have though? Put that into your app. How do the totals look at this stage? You've probably still got plenty of room to work with... but if not, is there another choice that might leave you with more calories spare for your dinner and maybe a snack in the mid afternoon? Try to make the best choice that you will actually stick to.
Go ahead and add in what you're most likely to have for dinner tomorrow night. And do the same for supper or any other meals or snacks you've scheduled.
Now let's review.
What total did you end up with? If it was a little low, add some more good stuff! If it is way over your targets, which seems to be the choice that is putting you over? Maybe you can replace that with something that fits better. If it is only a little over your target calories, "a little less of this and a little more of that instead" may be all it takes.
We do want a reasonable balance of protein, to fats, to carbohydrates and for that matter we need appropriate fibre intake too. I've eased way up on my macro recommendations lately, without sacrificing any results. Let's aim for a minimum of 25% protein, and a minimum of 25% fats.
How do the macro ratios in your plan compare? Again, "a little more of this, a little less of that" is often all it takes to fine tune your macronutrient intake.
And there you have it.
Pretty easy, right?
You now have a plan that should be very easy to stick to, that suits your schedule, and is based on the foods that you actually like to eat.