Eat the food you love! Love the food you eat!

I started working with Alex in January 2017.  In January 2018 I was 30 kilograms lighter, much much stronger and more toned.  I actually have muscles and I really like the way my body looks and feels.  Flexible dieting has been an absolute win!  Not only have I lost about 30% of my body weight, I have also got such a great relationship with food these days.  Like any relationship though it takes work, patience, understanding and has its challenges, but it’s such a turnaround from where I was this time last year.

I do count calories, but coming out of a lifetime of food addiction and a very unhealthy set of nutrition, health and exercise habits it works for me!  Using My Fitness Pal has been a really great way to stay accountable to myself and learn about macros (protein, fat & carbs) and calories.  I am not obsessed, but I am so aware.  And the beauty of calorie tracking is that I get to use my calories in a way that works for me.

Instead of seeing food as good or bad, fattening or healthy, allowed or restricted, I have learned to see food as food!  What I do know for sure is that cooking at home is such a win when it comes to being able to control calories.  And since we love cooking we get to eat really nutrient-dense, whole foods put together into delicious meals most nights.  Because we cook there is not really anything that can’t be made in a way that doesn’t fit in with the calorie targets.  Okay, I am on a maintenance phase at the moment, which means I am taking a break from dieting and eating more calories, so there is more wiggle room, but there’s always space for food that I would have called “bad” or “junk” in the past like pizzas, hamburgers and chips.

Homemade cheeseburgers and oven-baked chips are a weekly staple, made from scratch and way better than anything from the drive-through.  Our pizza evenings are something I love…the only part that’s from the supermarket are the tomato bases, but the rest is weighed and measured so that we get to enjoy these about once a week.  And the pizzas we make come in around 750 calories, which is less than a takeaway Margarita.  There’s also lots of big-ass salads, colourful stir fries, steak dinners and when it’s colder curries, peri-peri chicken livers and stews.

The thing about cooking at home is that we are in control and there’s lots and lots of nutrient-dense, delicious whole foods in our meals.  Certain sauces are also surprisingly good value if they are used well.  Love some tomato sauce with my chips, and I am not a fan of salad with no dressing.  But from the bottle to the measuring spoon to the plate and everything stays on track!  Our kitchen scale is always in use and it is quite habitual at this point to simply weigh things out before they are cooked and eaten.  To be honest as someone who likes certainty and control, eating in this way has made me feel safe and certain!  It gives me the structure and the system I need to not expand too much time worrying about my choices.

I simply plan, track and eat.  And often there’s a little space (not more than 20% of my calories) for a treat. I remember a year ago having a mini, mental meltdown when Alex suggested eating a Kit-Kit!  How on earth could I eat chocolate and be on a diet!?  Well, I have learned that chocolates will not make me fat if they are part of my calorie allowance.  In fact they make dieting feel, dare I say, fun and exciting!!  I have learned about balance…about not being afraid of certain foods…to not see some food groups as the devil’s spawn sent to entice us into unhealthy eating behaviours…to enjoy all the food that I choose to include in my daily and weekly eating plans.

So I don’t go without and because of this I don’t see dieting as a punishment for my previous bad eating habits.  I see food as something I get to relish and that nurtures my body, mind and spirit.  I look forward to cooking in the evenings, because it’s all about eating the food I love and loving the food I eat.  Gone are the days when I pushed steamed broccoli and dry grilled chicken breasts around my plate feeling deprived and sorry for myself!  Stared longingly at the dessert menu, feeling like a victim of bad genes.  Thought that the muesli was a far “healthier” breakfast when I could actually have the eggs and toast for fewer calories.

I love food and I love eating and flexible dieting has given me the knowledge and the space to really grow this love.  A healthy, adult love that is not marred in guilt and shame like it was when I was hiding my eating habits.  Okay, sometimes I still stick my finger in the peanut butter jar and forget to count something I didn’t plan to eat, but then I simply move on.  It’s so wonderful to not see the way I eat as black-or-white, win-or-lose, right-or-wrong…and that food is not the enemy.  In fact the only enemy in this whole thing can be me and the way I choose to look at food and exercise, which I talked about in my post “#whatadifferenceayearmakes“.

Flexible dieting & strength training

I look and feel great, and I can say that with a belief that I have never had when talking about my body.  I like what I see in the mirror, even though there are still areas that require some work and a few kilos that I am planning to lose after this diet break.  This phase is about giving my body a break from the rigors of dieting and allowing it time to settle into its new weight and just get comfortable in this zone.  Alex really understands all the science and study around this and it does get a little confusing for me, but I trust him as my coach and accountability partner, and he has really proved that he knows his stuff.  So, I am more than happy to follow his guidance and enjoy the downtime.

I’ll go back into deficit and get to the place I want to be, but I don’t feel the urgency anymore and look at my body as a process and not a final destination.  It’s such an incredible feeling to not be totally caught up in the results, but to see this as being a learning and discovery that I am going through.  It didn’t take me 18 months to get out of shape and I am enjoying the process of accepting and living in my body, rather than fighting against it all the time.  So if my system needs a little break to just settle and that means I get to eat a little more food, then I am all in!!

Tips & Suggestions from a Novice Flexible Dieter

HB - FaceBook Post-page0001As I move towards my weight-loss and fitness goals there have been some tricky times, trying to figure out what #FlexibleDieting is all about, how to master using the My Fitness Pal app for calorie- and macro-tracking and just how to keep myself on track…  There are days when 1,600 calories seems like an effortless accomplishment and others when it just isn’t as enthralling to be living in a calorie deficit.  So as I have progressed I have been putting together a list of tips and suggestions that can possibly help other novice Flexible Dieters and make things just a little easier as you become familiar with the approach and things that have made my process far more manageable.

These are not expert tips or advice, simply a few learnings I have developed for myself…

Tips & suggestions from a novice Flexible Dieting…using My Fitness Pal

  • Track and eat, rather than eat and track!
  • Give some thought to your meals for the week, so that you can plan and shop…don’t leave things to chance so that you end up without ingredients to cook or prepare meals.
  • Plan and track your meals for the following day each evening so that you can take lunch to work, and you know what is on the menu for dinner when you get home (and that you have what you need).
    • Keep your essentials in stock such as marinated chicken breasts, lean mince, fruit and veg, protein/whey powder, eggs, popcorn, bread & pita bread (in the freezer), etc.
    • Don’t put temptation in your path…try and keep uncooked, high-calorie foods out your kitchen. If you are planning to include a little chocolate or some other treat in your day plan for it and only buy what you are going to eat.
    • If you are going to have a high-calorie dinner (such as an Andiccio’s pizza) plan for it, as you will probably need to restrict your calories during the day (depending on your calorie target).
  • There are NO SUCH THING as good or bad foods, only nutrient-dense or calorie-dense foods.
    • Nutrient-dense foods will keep you full for longer, so save calorie-dense food for later in the day!
    • Carbs are not bad! Sugar is not evil!  Dairy is not fattening! But always in moderation and within your calorie- and macro-targets.
    • Include some of your favourite foods (in moderation if calorie-dense) everyday…There is NO NEED to deprive yourself which is NOT sustainable over the long-term
    • Focus on mostly nutrient-dense foods and leave a little space for calorie-dense foods on certain days as a treat (e.g a kit kat J)
  • Be flexible with yourself and avoid becoming too rigid within your tracking [calories first, protein next, then be flexible within carbs and fats to make up the balance] and you’ll feel satisfied and healthy at the end of the day!
  • Track accurately:
    • Use a digital kitchen scale for weighing food
    • Use green-tick foods on MFP
    • Use DCSN or USDA entries where possible on MFP
    • Use grams/ounces rather than cups for measurements
    • SCAN foods using MFP app for increased accuracy
    • Most big restaurant franchises (e.g. Spur, Andiccios, Nandos, Starbucks, etc.) have nutrient information on their websites which can be entered into MFP.
    • Save your favourite meals or dishes on MFP for ease of use (e.g. homemade lean mince hamburgers, creamed feta spinach, chicken & salad pita, etc.)
  • Eat your first meal later in the morning [if not training first], and then spread food out during the day. Try and keep some calories for a banana before bed [it helps with hunger and sleep!]
  • Allow calories for a snack, protein shake, or pre-workout drink if you are planning to train after work and before dinner so that you have energy for your workout.
  • Eat protein in the morning [e.g. boiled eggs] rather than carbs as it’ll keep you satiated for longer.
  • Plan and prepare for diet breaks (with your coach) which are incredibly helpful in keeping motivation high, stress low, results on track and enjoyment going…
  • Eat and prepare 90% of your meals at home, and plan for meals that are away from home (or have a non-tracking day which you can discuss with your coach).
  • Develop a growth mindset around nutrition and fitness:
    • A slip is not failure but an opportunity to learn and move forward!
    • Dieting does not need to be black and white.
    • There are NOT good or bad foods, only nutrient- or calorie-dense and nothing is “forbidden”- moderation is the secret!
    • Learn from those that are successful – ask experts, speak to your coach, follow professionals & join groups on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

The more I use these little practices, the more habitual they become and the less thought and effort goes towards making decisions, and staying motivated and focused on my eating-plan and weight-loss goals.  The benefits of not restricting myself, allowing myself some wiggle wrong and being gentler on myself as I go through the process have been so different and more sustainable than ALL THE OTHER diets I have ever been on!  And as I mentioned in my first post, Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes, there have been a lot of those.

And of course the more weight-loss and muscle-gain I achieve the more my self-confidence improves and the more committed I become to my desired outcomes.  Though to be honest, the ideas I had have changed somewhat over the last few months.  I have learned to accept what I can and can’t achieve, given my body type, age, genetics, etc. but having a coach has been the one thing that stands out as being the biggest difference this time around.  Although, being able to eat the occasional pizza, Kit Kat and post-workout chocolate muffin cannot be ignored!

Written by Leigh-Anne Brierley

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

How to Love Eating and Still Lose Weight!

Food - chicken burgerFlexible dieting can transform your life.

Flexible Dieting is about how being less rigid with your diet can give you a greater chance of sustainable,  long-term success.  It is the modification and customisation of a personalised eating plan based on individual goals, as well as the food you like to eat.  There are no forbidden foods to be avoided!  In the same way that you don’t have to eat the foods you hate!

Flexible dieting is a skill which is about learning to eat mostly (so-called) healthy foods, and still being able to incorporate your favorite foods and treats.  All while still making progress with your weight-loss efforts, free of guilt and shame!

The term “healthy foods” is used here to help explain the concept of flexible dieting, which for the most past avoids discriminating against foods as “good” or “bad”.  It is more realistic to view foods as varying in nutrient- or calorie-density.

Always remember that it is not a particular food that makes us lose or gain fat.  So with flexible dieting you get to eat the foods you enjoy.  Because regardless of the food source, food is energy.  So if you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight!    And if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight!

The evidence of The Energy-Balance Equation is overwhelming and that’s why it’s accepted by the large majority of the science-based nutrition community.  For further evidence of this just look to the tens of thousands of athletes, body builders and physique competitors who practice this principle to achieve peak physical condition time and again.

Still not convinced?  There have been many studies conducted to prove that it’s not about the type of food that is consumed that leads to weight loss, but rather the caloric intake that is important.  These include the Twinkie Diet and the Ice-Cream Diet which were conducted to prove this point.

However, this is not to say that flexible dieting is focused on eating junk food.  It’s about learning how to eat an overall healthy diet based on satiating, nutrient-dense foods and learning how to incorporate your favourite foods and treats, while still progressing towards your weight-loss goals.

In my next article I will look at “Flexible Dieting & How it Works” in more detail.