A guide to flexible dieting

In 2012, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 15% of Australian women were on a diet to lose weight, or for a health reason [1]. A diet simply means ‘the kinds of foods a person eats’, although more recently the word has grown into ‘a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves’[2]. The problem most of us find with dieting is in the restriction around what we can eat. It’s obvious that eating lots of unhealthy food is bad for you while eating healthy food is good for you. If you restrict all ‘bad food’, or even some specific types of foods (like carbohydrates on a low-carb diet), it can be incredibly tempting to binge on a food you love and undo some of your hard work. What’s worse is if you do end up ‘breaking’ your diet by eating foods you’re not supposed to, you end up beating yourself up over it which can make your food choices even worse. You may have tried diets in the past, but let’s explore why ‘flexible dieting’ shouldn’t be considered a diet (like low-carb or keto) but should just be thought of as eating.

Your body doesn't need to be this flexible - but your diet should be!
Your body doesn’t need to be this flexible - but your diet should be!

What is a flexible diet?

It’s hard to pinpoint an origin for flexible dieting, some uncited sources[3] claim it originated in the bodybuilding community - which would make a lot of sense. Not only is the history a little hard to follow, but so is the definition. Different books, blogs, and articles share similar definitions but worded uniquely. One thing most of them agree on though, is a flexible diet isn’t a diet, but a nutritional program. You’re not restricting certain foods, there’s no ‘clean’ food or ‘dirty’ food and you’re not focused on eating one or two specific things. Most importantly, there’s no time frame - this isn’t a six-week cleanse. A flexible diet to us here at Noshh means you should:

Meet your nutritional goals by eating what makes you happy, forever.

It’s a simple sentence that doesn’t include any health industry jargon or big promises. There are three core concepts that you should take away from our interpretation:

First Core Concept: Meet your nutritional goals

It’s obvious - we’re all different. Our differences extend through many facets of our lives including weight, activity levels, age, family history of medical issues, height, sex, and location. It’s impossible to claim ‘one diet fits all’, especially when the philosophy behind the diet doesn’t take into account you as a person. Flexible eating is built around your body’s requirements to thrive with a goal you have set in mind. There are three core goals: maintain your weight, lose fat, and build muscle. Of course, you can have more specific goals, or you’re trying to achieve something outside of these areas (for example, you’re training for a Marathon). Which goal are you looking for?

Maintain your weight

Some people don’t change their eating habits to lose weight - they just want to keep their current body shape and not have to second guess what they’re eating. To keep your body weight stagnant, you need to make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Lose fat

The most common goal for Noshh users is they want to see a difference when they look in the mirror. Why lose fat and not lose weight? Because at Noshh, we’re focused on helping you reach your goals while maintaining your health and making your diet something you can stick to. There are a few core differences between fat and weight loss, it’s important to understand why fat loss is better for your body and mind:

Fat loss Weight loss
Increased fitness Decrease (usually) fitness to reduce metabolism
Proper nutrition Improper nutrition and crash (short course) dieting
Reduction in fat (not muscle) Reduction in fat muscle and water weight
Increases body strength Decrease in muscle strength

Some people have a weight loss goal - and that’s perfectly fine - but some people aren’t even aware there’s another option which is fat loss. Losing fat often is what people want (they just don’t know it yet!), because the end goal is a nice physique while keeping your body and mind healthy. The goal of weight loss is to lose as much weight as possible, and this is often achieved by starving your body of the calories it needs. The goal of fat loss is to reduce the amount of fat in your body, by eating the correct amount of nutrients and exercising.

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Build muscle

If you’re hitting the gym a lot and want to build muscle, you’ll need to make sure what you eat supports the goals you want for your body. Muscle growth is promoted by having enough protein in your diet[4]. Muscles are primarily made of protein, so having consumed enough protein helps maintain your muscle mass and encourages muscle growth, especially when you’re strength training - like lifting weights at the gym. It’s not all about protein though, you need to ensure you eat enough carbs to maintain energy levels (especially if you’re on the lower end of fat stores) and eat enough fat to have a healthy, balanced diet. A study in 2018[5] proved your diet makes a difference:

No amount of training or natural ability ensures peak performance without the proper fuel for the exercising muscles.

Setting your goal is easy, and it’s often one of the most exciting parts of starting a new food and activity journey. It can take a lot of hard work to reach your goal, especially if this is your first time, or your aspirations are getting back to a physique you haven’t been in a long time. If you need to work hard, so does the plan you’re following. So what goes into building a healthy meal plan that supports fat loss, maintaining weight, or building muscle? You need to plan your meals around three core nutrients referred to as macros (macronutrients). We touched on macros recently in our free meal plan template blog post, but let’s dive into them a little deeper.

Make sure your diet supports your body goals, including building muscle and strength at the gym.
Make sure your diet supports your body goals, including building muscle and strength at the gym.

What are macros?

There are two groups of nutrients: micronutrients and macronutrients. The main difference between the two is macronutrients contribute to energy intake, whereas micronutrients do not. There are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. When you’re balancing a diet, not all macronutrients should be consumed equally as your body doesn’t require as much fat as protein or carbohydrates. Macros are responsible for the energy your body needs to burn and thrive - and energy is the most important input for life after water.

How many macros should you be eating?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines[6] acknowledge the number of macros you consume can have a direct link to your health - including affecting the risk of chronic disease. The types of macronutrients (for example, a carbohydrate can be complex [starches] or simple [sugars]) can also affect how healthy your body is. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) recommends:

• 20–35% of total energy intake from fat
• 45–65% from carbohydrate
• 15–25% from protein

How much of each macronutrient you consume changes depending on your goal. If you’re wanting to gain muscle, you need to be eating more protein and carbs. If you want less fat, you need to watch how much fat and what types of carbohydrates you’re eating.

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What else do you need to consider?

Your diet isn’t just made up of macronutrients, it’s made up of micronutrients too. Other nutrients like vitamins and minerals are essential to how your body functions and thrives. You should ensure you have enough fibre in your diet - it’s essential for digestion. The Heart Foundation recommends that adults should aim to consume approximately 25–30 g daily.

You might also be in the 40% of Australians that consume alcohol at least once a week. If you are, it’s important to understand alcohol contributes to energy intake. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend alcohol intake stays below 5% of dietary energy as it’s linked to negative health outcomes.

Second Core Concept: eat what makes you happy

Because we’re all unique, not only are our goals personal, but so is what we like to eat. It’s not fair to restrict a food group if you love that food - it’s also not fair to have a diet that’s heavy with a specific food that you don’t like. Those two factors play an important role in how well you stick to your diet. If you’ve set yourself a goal, and now to reach that goal, you’re restricting yourself from foods you usually eat or like to eat, the temptation is always there, to eat foods you ‘shouldn’t’. It’s how you’ve eaten for your whole life, it’s what your body is used to - but more importantly, your mind says eating that food is what makes you happy - and it’s probably correct.

Don't starve yourself of foods that you love, like chocolate.
Don’t starve yourself of foods that you love, like chocolate.

Take chocolate - there’s nothing inherently bad about it (in fact there are studies[7] which show dark chocolate could reduce the risk of heart disease!), but we can choose to let it have a negative impact on our diet. If you eat too much of it (in one sitting, or regularly over a time period) it breaks the balance of your diet - it’s high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) and saturated fat. However, if eating chocolate makes you happy, you should create a meal plan that supports indulging in the snack.

The same goes for any food you could usually consider a ‘bad food’ when you’re on a diet, and it depends what you’re willing to give up to eat it. For example, a bowl of corn chips, sour cream, cheese, avocado and mince will be extremely high in fat and carbs, and low in protein. Your macros probably require a decent amount of protein and carbs, and less fat. So do you give up nachos, forever? No, you can do one of two things:

1. Make your meals more macro friendly

This is very specific to the macros you need. Taking the above nachos example, it’s easy to make it a less fatty and carb-heavy meal by supplementing the sour cream and cheese for light varieties, reducing the avocado, using a lean mince (you could even try turkey mince for a higher protein!) and finally making your own corn chips out of baked tortillas. This is commonly referred to as swap it, don’t stop it!

2. Compensate throughout the day or week

Sometimes you need to eat out with friends, or you have a birthday dinner or you simply crave a meal that doesn’t match your macros. And that’s OK! It’s perfectly fine not to meet your macro requirements every now and then (every Australian does). If however, you want to make a regular meal out of something like normal nachos, you can. You simply need to make up ground by eating differently that day, or spreading the macro loss across the week. If you’ve consumed a lot of fat and carbohydrates from the nachos meal, considering opting for lower fat snacks during the week. Over a few days, the difference is barely noticeable in terms of your energy and happiness, but it lets you be more flexible with your meals!

Third Core Concept: this is forever

We’re in it with you, forever. Crash diets and monthly cleanses might be quick wins and you might be happy for a month or two, but we want you to be happy for the rest of your life. Flexible dieting and meal planning is all about establishing a structure and method to support you every day without a deadline. Diets are hard, because if you’re restricting something like ice cream, it’s hard to see yourself never eating ice cream again. Flexible dieting supports eating what you want - so you don’t have to avoid foods for the rest of your life.

Forever is a long time - but that's how long we plan on supporting you!
Forever is a long time - but that’s how long we plan on supporting you!

There’s also no point feeling bad. A lot of diets or eating regimes can result in you feeling bad if you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have, or you’ve spent a week gaining weight. Eating shouldn’t make you feel bad - it should promote you to feeling happy and healthy. A diet shouldn’t be a thing that you hop on and then hop off, just to hop back on it a few weeks later. It shouldn’t be a seasonal thing either - you shouldn’t diet to get a summer body every year.

We want you to meet your goals by eating what you want for the rest of your life. Of course, you can’t eat a block of chocolate every day - but you can still eat chocolate. You can still eat pizza, pies, milkshakes and whatever else too - in moderation. We’ll be here to help you count and track what you should be eating to meet your goals.

1: ABS (2012). Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results.–12

2: Lexico Dictionaries | English. 2020. Diet | Definition Of Diet By Lexico.


4: Maughan, R. (2002). The athlete’s diet: nutritional goals and dietary strategies. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

5: Berning, J. R., & Neville, K. L. (2018). Sports nutrition. In Orthopaedic Knowledge Update: Sports Medicine 5.

6: Australian Government. Australian Dietary Guidelines.

7: Harvard School of Public Health. Dark Chocolate.

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