Flexible What!?

When Alex introduced me to the idea of flexible dieting late last year I was completely bemused.  How could I possibly continue to eat what I loved, still lose weight & fat, and gain muscle…  I thought he was trying to BS me into another fad, detox, cleanse, miracle diet that could not possibly be science- or evidence-based.  But since I had nothing to lose (except 28 kilos) I agreed to work with him and all I can say is WOW!

Since early January 2017 I have been following a flexible dieting plan and the results have been amazing.  After struggling to lose about 5kgs in the last three months of 2016 under the advice of a dietician, I was despondent and ready to give up as I mentioned in a previous post, “Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes”.  Alex has coached and guided me as I’ve learned to track calories and nutrients, developed meals and menus comprised of food that I enjoy, and has really helped me work through my black-and-white, good-food-bad-food mind-set.  It’s been challenging at times, but having an accountability partnership has been a huge part of the ongoing success.

I’ve begun to understand that nutrition and dieting doesn’t need to be a restrictive, punitive attack on myself, but it can be a lesson in self-love and body-awareness.  For me it’s also been a developing a healthy set of practices and habits around food and how I buy, plan, cook and eat it.  I have started to see how important my mental and emotional relationship and attitude to food is, and how I need to develop and maintain a healthy attitude in this regard.

Being very rigid in my approach to dieting over the years has not worked well for me…deprivation, resentment and unhappiness during my dieting phases means that I have inevitably failed to lose the weight and been left feeling like a failure, with no willpower and even less self-esteem.  To then spend months or even years back in the denial of “If people really loved me my weight wouldn’t matter!”  The crux of the matter was that I was battling to love myself, beating myself up for my inability to stick to diets that had seen thousands and thousands of people (apparently) get thin and stay thin!

Flexible dieting has allowed me to experience the other side of the dieting coin…  The one where although there are certain limitations and restrictions (mainly around my chosen calorie tracking), I have been eating fulfilling, enjoyable meals, rather than spending the last few months picking through mounds of endless salads and chicken stir-fry.  Rather than dreading what I won’t be able to eat at the next meal, I have started to reconnect with my body and the food I choose to put into it, rather than seeing food as good or bad.  If I eat nutrient-dense food I get to eat more during the day and feel fuller for longer.  But if I choose to eat a Kit Kat as a snack or a Pizza as a meal, then I simply have to account for that and be a little stricter with my intake for the remainder of the day.  And like any eating or diet plan there are days when I feel hungrier than others, even a little frustrated or disillusioned, but then I have my coach, and my charts to have a look at which have gone a long way to making me feel focused and motivated.

Weight - 29 AprilOver the past 110 days, I have lost 11 kilograms, gained muscle and strength, and lost 62 centimetres in my waist, hips and thighs.  My clothes are at replacement stage and I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin.  Not because I have fully achieved my weight-loss and fitness goals, but because I have taken back control in this ever-daunting area of my life.

Average Weight - 29 April

And as you can see from the data we have captured and tracked, it hasn’t always been a smooth, linear achievement.  There have been some plateaus and even a week here and there where there was a bit of a weight gain.  But I have learned to be friends with my scale (most of the time) and understand that weight fluctuates with my moods, my stress, my cycle, water retention and a host of other things, and that just because the scale is slightly up for a week here or there is not the end of the world.

Measurements - 29 AprilAnd that if I remind myself from a growth mind-set point of view, that a small setback is not a failure, but rather an opportunity to reflect and learn, then the habits and the attitudes I am developing become even stronger and more embodied.

The restrictions I am willingly following at the moment around my daily 1,600 calories are interspersed with 2,000 calorie maintenance days to give my body and mind a little respite.

I am steadfast in the (newly acquired) knowledge and understanding that this is going to be a way of eating that will be easy to sustain and maintain once I have reached my envisioned weight range.  Then, depending on where I am physically, emotionally and mentally around nutrition and fitness, I will re-evaluate how I look and feel, and adapt from there.  Maybe I’ll want to be a little stronger or a little leaner, but with what I am learning through this process, I know that it doesn’t all have to be decided today and my goals and aspirations can also be a less rigid, and like my diet plan, a whole lot more flexible.

Written by: Leigh-Anne Brierley

Flexible Dieting | It’s Not Just Black or White!?

So it’s been three months of really focusing on my nutrition and fitness, and I am definitely seeing and feeling the results as I mentioned in my previous post.  And then suddenly at the end of month two it all became a little overwhelming.  I didn’t actually notice what was happening, but Alex did!  He’d been commenting on my stress levels and the work pressure I was under, along with the training intensity and the calorie deficit.  And I resisted!!

He’d prepared me from the beginning that there would be diet and training breaks at times, to allow my body and mind to rest and recover.  I pushed back, not understanding that it is important to give my system a chance to “take a deep breath” and just refuel a little.  And because he explained it to me and supported me through the process, I was able to come to terms with the idea that I would be eating more calories for a few  weeks and spending a little less time in the gym.  It was difficult for me to grasp as I saw it as “falling off the diet wagon”, rather than taking a hiatus before starting the process again.  For someone who has always followed rather rigid, regimented diet plans, I have had to be very gentle with myself over these past 21 days when I got on the scale every morning.  It felt like I was cheating on my diet, even though Flexible Dieting does allow a little room for certain foods that some might consider dieting and nutrition no-no’s!  Dieting and food has always been so black-and-white for me!  No wiggle room to enjoy the process and actually learn a little along the way!

But the diet break has taught me that even though I was not eating as few calories as I have over the previous months, it was still extremely important that I was intentional and aware of what I was eating.  I have continued to plan, log and track my meals (which has become an effortless daily habit on My Fitness Pal).  I have got up every morning and weighed myself, and the scale has actually been kind to me over the last three weeks.  A 100 grams here and there, but nothing as drastic or terrifying as I had imagined over the first two weeks, and even some weight loss over the third week of the break.  The numbers did not shoot up with the extra calories, and the break has done exactly what Alex said it would…  Lowered my stress levels and allowed me to better cope with my personal and professional challenges, given my body a bit of recovery time and shown me that the increases in nutrient-rich food was not going to take me back to square one, as long as I was consistent within the break period.

So on Monday I went be going back to my 1,500 calories a day and I am once again feeling focused and motivated to reduce my weight and body fat.  I’m more than likely going to miss the extra calorie allowances, but I’ve been informed that there will be another break within three to six weeks, which is something to look forward to while I continue working towards my goals, develop healthy eating and training habits.  And this makes the journey I am on feel far more sustainable then previous programmes where I was simply given a goal weight and told to keep going until I got there…I rarely did!

mindsetThe flexible approach is giving me space to anchor my new behaviours, habits, thoughts and ideas around nutrition and exercise and to challenge some of the old, destructive ones I have developed over the years.  I  have a compassionate, self-loving and exciting relationship that is growing and developing around myself, and how I engage with food and exercise.  It’s been revolutionary for me, and I don’t feel trapped within the cycle of the ever-restrictive, always distressing, no-end-in-sight diet plans I have chosen before.  And because of this I am in no tearing hurry to get to some quantitative weight loss figure, but rather enjoying the experience and the process, as I feel myself shifting to a growth mindset in this area of my life, where I have always been so fixed in my ideas, beliefs, thoughts and behaviours.

By Leigh-Anne Brierley