The number of fitness trends promising fast weight loss can cause nothing short of an information overload. Wear this waist trainer. Drink this detox tea. Don’t eat carbs at night. Eat five to six small meals per day. Do fasted cardio. Take this pill. Stick to these fat-burning foods. And so the list continues.

Statistics regarding weight loss are grim. According to Dr Layne Norton, a pro natural bodybuilder who holds a Ph.D in Nutritional Sciences, over 80% of people are quite capable of losing weight, but the problem lies in keeping that weight off. “Of those people who do lose weight, 95% will gain all the weight back, and one third to half will put on more weight than they did before they started the diet, “ he said.

Given these dismal statistics, the effectiveness of current fitness trends in South Africa needs to be reconsidered, as they are simply too devastating to be ignored. Are we really addressing our over weight problem in the best way possible? The unfortunate truth is that the more times you try to diet in your life, the more difficult losing weight, and keeping it off, will become. We live in a culture of quick fixes, where fad diets and rigid dietary protocols are prioritized over sustainable lifestyle changes. The bottom line is if you can’t see yourself sticking to the diet you’ve chosen in a year’s time, you’re most likely going to fail.

To solve this weight loss conundrum, some South Africans have turned to a method of eating known as Flexible Dieting. Flexible Dieting, or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM), is an approach that is based on restricting calories instead of food choices. This method has been growing in popularity in first world nations such as America, Australia and some parts of Europe, and is widely supported by power lifters, bodybuilders, cross fitters and those aiming to reach their aesthetic goals without a rigid dieting structure.

Studies within the fields of nutrition, obesity, appetite and psychology, to name but a few, have been repeatedly showing that those who diet flexibly tend to weigh less, exhibit better diet adherence in the long run and are less likely to binge eat as opposed to those who diet rigidly. In a study done in 2012, the Perceived Self-Regulatory Success in Dieting Scale (PSRS) was developed, where a restrictive diet strategy was compared to a flexible one. The restrictive diet excluded numerous food items, whilst the flexible nutrition approach included all foods in moderation. Results showed that flexible dieting techniques resulted in a strong correlation between a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), and thus overall weight loss as compared to a diet of limited food choices. Further more, the PSRS showed that those who followed a flexible diet approach were less likely to experience food addiction symptoms, psychological stress due rigid dietary control, food cravings and binge eating episodes.

So what is flexible dieting exactly? Let’s look at a logical argument, and one that is firmly rooted in science. Excess caloric consumption, or a positive state of energy balance, is what makes us fat, and those calories or energy come from food. A person is able to get fat by over consuming “clean” foods just as easily as they can on “dirty” or junk foods, and this means that calories, whether they come from whole foods or processed foods, matter. It’s important to remember that clean foods aren’t miracle foods, and they can still make you fat. Therefore, it is possible to lose weight by restricting caloric consumption alone, but focusing on macronutrient intake (protein, carbohydrate and fat) ensures that weight loss comes from body fat.

The basics of Flexible Dieting or IIFYM entail a set of macronutrient targets (protein, fat, carbohydrate), and fibre that must be hit every day. These numbers are personalized and are based on factors such as goals and activity level. No two individual macronutrient needs are the same, which also makes one wonder about the relevance of template meal plans which seem to be surfacing more often these days. Food logging is done via the use of calorie tracking applications comprised of some the largest food databases in the world, like My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counters. Food choice is then left up to the individual, allowing one to write their own meal plan according to their preferences, lifestyle and macronutrient targets.

By placing importance on the correct macronutrient intake, and prioritizing health and longevity by focusing on the nutritional value of food, body recomposition goals can be met in a sustainable way that’s according to your preferences, without having to follow a set meal plan. In this approach, no foods are off limits, and one is taught how to incorporate their preferences in moderation, even allowing room for the occasional sugary treat. It is essentially a method that focuses on long-term consistency as opposed to short-term perfection, and promotes mindfulness with regard to food composition, that in turn provides the structure for making healthy food choices long term, and paves the way