Diet blog: Flexible dieting

Judith Wills / 11 August 2016

Gosh. Someone’s remixed calorie counting and made it fashionable, it seems. Our diet expert takes a closer look.



‘Flexible dieting’ is the latest thing amongst the lovelies of the fashion and film worlds.

The method was ‘started’ a couple of years ago by fitness fanatics and bodybuilders who decided they could eat pretty much anything they wanted as long as they ate the right proportions of carbs, protein and fat – what we nutritionists call ‘macronutrients’. 

The fitness brigade called it macro-counting and still do, though flexible dieting sounds more palatable so that is what it’s most often termed now.

The thing is, though – hear this before you give it a try.  The system seems to me to embrace the worst aspects of old-fashioned calorie counting (the fiddling, weighing, recording in a notebook or these days, I should say, on your smartphone and general obsessiveness) while giving you not very many of the plus-points.

In so-called flexible dieting, you not only have to count the grams of each of the three macronutrients that you eat every day, which will also, by default, limit your total calorie intake. You also have to eat them in the ‘proper’ way, at the right time of day depending on what exercise you are – or aren’t – doing.

You are also allowed to eat pretty much whatever type of each of the macros you like.  So for carbs, you can cram in the cakes, biscuits, sweets and refined bread and ignore healthy wholegrains and fruit if you so desire.  And for fat and protein, you can binge on smoked bacon, barbecued red meat – as long as you stay within your grams.

Is it time to say goodbye to processed meats?

The fact is that ‘flexible dieting’ is filled with bad rules and has few good ones.  So unless you can’t function without rules you will hate this.  I think rules are just something else to fail at.  I think the diet is horribly misnamed – flexibility is good, this is not flexible at all. 

And I think that any semi-sane person, which is probably most of us, would be just as well off, and probably better off, revisiting their old calorie counting diets/books. At least then you’ll have only calories to count, and most of the better plans encouraged us to eat reasonably healthily, too, unlike macro-counting.

And with all the hoo-haa that’s gone on for the past few months – and is still going on with no sign of resolution -  over what types of food we should be eating for health and weight loss (Fat?  Saturated fat?   Protein?  Good carbs?  No carbs?  Aren’t we all sick of it …)  you might just as well count calories, the easy way.  Reduce your portion sizes at every meal (there I’ve said it again) and eat lots of foods with a high water content – salads, veg, some fruit – and with high fibre content.  Eat some protein and a little fat at every meal. 

That way, you will lose weight steadily and not have to worry ever again about what’s in or out, what’s good or bad. And you won’t even have to count calories, actually.

What's your calorie blind spot?

Ate last night

A very simple meal of salmon pan-fried in a little extra virgin rapeseed oil with a few prawns, served with asparagus, delicious Hollandaise sauce and some scrubbed new potatoes presented to me yesterday by my dear son, who has just got into veg growing as I grow out of it.  Vivaldi – lovely they were too. 

Clean eating?  This is it – but not as the Hemsley Sisters might sell it.  It doesn’t need a recipe – for the Hollandaise, my favourite is an old and easy Delia Smith recipe which you can find online.  

Try our recipe for chargrilled asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise sauce

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