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Flexible Dieting and “Bro” Eating: The Hybrid Approach

hotel workouts

Guest Post By Nick Smoot

Flexible dieting is all the rage.  I should know. I’ve been a flexible dieter for the past four years.  And I don’t see myself switching to anything else anytime soon.

However, just because I’m a flexible dieter doesn’t mean I don’t eat healthy. In other words, it doesn’t mean I don’t eat like a “bro.”

There seems to be a misconception that flexible dieting and “bro” eating are mutually exclusive.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is a “Bro” Eater?

A “bro” eater is anyone who eats nothing but nutrient dense foods. They’re usually a little obsessive about it.They’re the ones you see:  

  • Eating chicken breast and sweet potato six times per day
  • Bringing Tupperware containers into restaurants. (Eric’s note: Please, punch yourself in the throat.)
  • Filling the glove box of their cars with albacore tuna and a can opener
  • Panicking at the thought of having to attend a social event that doesn’t include lean meat and grilled vegetables

Ok, I exaggerate.  But only slightly.

And the key point is real: bro” eaters aren’t that good at compromise (sugar and processed junk is off limits…except on cheat days).

What is a Flexible Dieter?

Flexible dieters,  on the other hand, eat almost anything they want.  It just has to fit within their daily allotment of calories and macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats.)

They’re the ones you see:

  • Scanning bar codes at the grocery store (to log their macros into a calorie counting app)
  • Bringing food scales into restaurants
  • Searching menus and figuring out what they want to eat BEFORE they show up to a restaurant
  • Doing more math calculations than most college students do in an algebra semester…all in the name of figuring out how many pop tarts they can eat around workouts Again, I exaggerate.  But you get the idea.

Flexible dieters are all about compromise.

accelerate hypertrophy, flexible dieters

Both Approaches Have Drawbacks

As you can probably tell, neither approach alone is ideal. Each has drawbacks. 

“Bro” Eating Drawback #1 – Deprivation

Where “bro” eating goes wrong when followed to a “T” is it excludes the foods most people love and enjoy.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE pizza. And cheesecake. And burgers, Chinese food, cookies, pasta, and just about anything else that’s loaded with sugar, fat, and an insane amount of salt.

It’s not worth it to me to give up these foods just so I can rock a six-pack for three months. Most people agree.

This is why, for the most part,  “bro” eating alone isn’t a good choice for long-term, sustainable fat loss.

Going a week or two without our favorite foods? No problem. Trying to go months, or even years, without the foods we cherish and enjoy? Not gonna happen.

At best, we’ll fall off the wagon, realize what we’re doing wrong, and incorporate more balance into our lives.

At worst, we’ll develop a poor relationship with food (maybe even an eating disorder), spin our wheels for a while (from constant yo-yo dieting), and then wind up bigger and more miserable than we were before we started. This happens to all too many people. 

Depriving yourself, even for a short period of time, is NOT the path to successful fat loss.

“Bro” Eating Drawback #2 – Ignoring Calories

he second place “bro” eating goes wrong is in  ignoring the energy equation. Most “bro” eaters assume that just because they eat “clean,” they can eat as much as they want and “calories don’t matter.” This isn’t true.

If you consume more calories (energy) than you burn on a daily basis, you’re going to gain weight.  And if you burn more calories than you consume on a daily basis, you’re going to lose weight. Period.

The energy equation comes into play no matter what type of food you’re eating.

Whether it’s broccoli and spinach …or poptarts and Krispy Kreme donuts…,if your calories aren’t in line with your current goals, you’re not going to make any progress.

Flexible Dieting Drawback – Not Prioritizing Nutrients

The real pitfall of flexible dieting is that too many people take the whole “tracking macros” thing way too far.Food becomes a numbers game.  And it comes at the expense of common sense.

Sure, quantity of food is the main determinant of weight loss. But vitamins and minerals matter. Fiber matters.

And failing to get in enough micronutrients and fiber on a daily basis will wreak havoc on your health and overall performance. Of course, health is both physical AND mental.  So taking it to the extreme and eating nothing but nutrient dense foods probably isn’t that healthy either.

But that doesn’t mean you can eat like a five year old and expect to get good results.

What’s happening on the inside of your body is just as important as what’s happening on the outside.

For the Best of Both Worlds, Combine Each Approach

By now, I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that combining “bro” eating and flexible dieting is far more beneficial than following either approach individually. 

So how do you tie the two together? It’s really quite simple.  Just follow these guidelines:  

  1. [Bro] Eat a majority of nutrient dense foods.  This ensures adequate health and performance.
  1. [Flexible Dieting] But don’t deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy.  Eat anything you want.  Just be sure to do so in moderation

(Note: Personally, I like the 80:20 rule. 80% of your diet from nutrient dense foods, and 20% of your diet from anything else).

  1. [Flexible Dieting] Track macros.  This isn’t a necessity, but it is the most accurate way to regulate and adjust your food intake.  A good starting place is 1g x your body weight in protein, .3-.5 x your body weight in fat, and then fill the rest of your calories in with carbohydrates.
  1. [Bro] But if you don’t like tracking macros, do your best to self-regulate your food intake.  Eat when you’re hungry (try to learn to disassociate “hunger” from “boredom”) and finish eating when you’re 80% full.
  1. [Flexible Dieting] When you stall in weight, make SMALL adjustments to the overall plan.  Either slightly decrease your food intake (either from fat or carbs), or add a bit of cardio.  Just be sure to take things slow.  And make adjustments only when they’re absolutely necessary.
  1. [Bro] Time your food properly.  This doesn’t have a huge effect on body composition, but making sure you have enough energy for your workouts or that you don’t go to bed hungry , and are more inclined to overeat, is pretty important.
  1. [Flexible Dieting]  Finally, be flexible. If you go over your food intake, skip a workout, or just have a sub-caliber day… don’t worry about it.  Shit happens, and in the large scheme of things, it really isn’t going to matter.  Just pick up where you left off, and keep grinding.  


Author Bio

Nick Smoot is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and fitness writer out of Newport News, VA.  He got his start in the fitness industry back in 2012, and since then he’s spent countless hours helping clients become the best versions of themselves possible.  In his free time, he enjoys lifting heavy things, eating, writing, traveling, nerding out on video games, and eating.
Visit Nick’s blog here, or feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or send him an email at nsmoot2@gmail.com,

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Flexible Dieting: Is it right for you?

iifym elves

Today I’ve got something special for you: a guest post from Matt Dustin on Flexible Dieting. Matt’s a coach and fellow business owner. I had the chance to meet up with him in San Diego a few months back.

Matt’s a great dude who showed me the city, and we kicked around  some big plans for the coming months.

We even shared a “romantic” view in downtown San Diego.
Just kidding, I was the third wheel.

mattdustin, Flexible Dieting

One of the things we talked about was mimimalist nutirtion and flexible dieting. The result is this guest post, a great example of how Matt makes difficult topic comprehsnbile in ways that benefits his clients.  Over to you, Matt.


Over the last few years, flexible dieting has taken the fitness world by storm. Many have made arguments that it’s the best approach to dieting. The idea is to eat anything you’d like in moderation.

No more binge eating, because you won’t be restricting yourself from any foods. Intermittent fasting, or maybe six meals a day?

No problem! Hit your macros, and all will be well, regardless of your dietary preference.

Track food, hit macros, see results. Finding foods to hit your missing numbers becomes a fun game of Tetris.

Total sales of Pop-Tarts, Ben & Jerry’s, and donuts have surely skyrocketed thanks to all the shredded Instagram IIFYM-ers.

On the surface, flexible dieting seems like the perfect fix. But is it really?

Where Flexible Dieting Fails

Weighing and tracking every meal simply isn’t practical if you’re a 28-eight-year old career woman, working 12 hour days. Ditto for the parent of three trying to prepare meals for the whole family.

There are times when your family doesn’t want to eat grilled chicken simply because you blew your fat macros on Reese’s cups for breakfast.

ben and jerry, Flexible Dieting

Perhaps you’re in sales, and take clients out for dinner on a regular basis. Do you want to be checking the nutritional info on your phone, and then stressing over how the kitchen prepared the food that night?

No way.

Finally, some people develop an unhealthy relationship with food. They can become obsessed and/or stressed about missing numbers. They need to try an approach other than compulsive counting.


The Minimalist Approach to Flexible Dieting


The Pareto Principle is often referenced by life-hacker type people, such as Tim Ferriss of The Four Hour Workweek fame. It simply means that of all your efforts, 20% of them will result in 80% of your results.

“80% of your results come from 20% of your effort”
-Pareto Principle

With nutrition, this means that you should be focusing on the 20% of your habits that will have the most impact on your entire diet.

Simply put, there are major habits you can implement that will bring you incredible results. And there are minor habits that won’t do very much for you. Don’t get so caught up in the small details that you forget the big ones. Or as the saying goes: “don’t major in the minor. ”

Examples of Important 20% Habits

Drink plenty of water, and try to avoid drinking calories when you can. You need water to function. Too many people walk around dehydrated. Carry a water bottle with you, and sip on it all day.

Drink a big glass of water with meals. If you’re watching your figure, it’s probably best to avoid drinking anything with a high-caloric content that won’t fill you up – juice, regular sodas, lattes Just skip those and stay calorie free.

Make sure you eat lean protein and vegetables with each meal. You need protein to recover and build muscle, and you need to get your micronutrients from fruits and vegetables. Both of these food sources will also help keep you full. You won’t feel hungry an hour after your last meal.

Eat healthy fats like egg yolks, red meat and fish in moderation: You need a certain amount of fats in your diet, as they regulate all sorts of things, from cellular health to testosterone production. However, you want the right kind for optimal health. Skip the fats in donuts and ice cream, and try to eat whole-food fat sources high in omega-3s.

Try to avoid processed, sugary foods for most of your meals. Not that these are “bad” per se, but if you aren’t tracking calories and measuring food, it’s very, very easy to overeat the fun stuff. Especially since it’s delicious, and not very filling.

Examples of Not-So-Important 80% Habits

Obsessing over meal timing. Meal timing doesn’t really matter for most people. At an advanced level, it may come into play, especially pre and post workout nutrition.

But unless you’re an elite athlete, you don’t need to worry about this. Just eat when it fits your schedule. And try not to let yourself get so hungry you’ll eat everything in sight.

Expensive supplements. While some supplements can definitely be beneficial, they won’t do much for you if the rest if your diet is crap.

Think of supplements the icing on the cake, accounting for the final 3% to 5% of an overall plan. Supplements are only worth your trouble if the rest of your diet is on track.

Worrying about organic vs. non-organic, artificial sweeteners, GMOs, etc… Despite what the media would have you believe, these issues are barely worth debating for most people. Avoid gluten if you have Celiac’s disease…but if that’s not you, don’t worry about it.

If you’re the specimen of perfect health, then maybe you can lecture people about organic vs. non-organic blueberries. However, if you’re the out-of-shape person eating McDonalds three times a week, you have bigger things to worry about.

The Takeaway

Focus on the big habits mentioned above, and you’ll be much better off than 90% of the general population.

Flexible Dieting for Fat Loss?

Lift weights, eat protein and veggies with each meal, keep your fats low to moderate, and eat some carbs after your workouts. Meal timing doesn’t matter. If you get stuck, try reducing your portions slightly.

Flexible Dieting for Building Muscle and Strength?

Eat protein, vegetables, and carbs for most of your meals, especially pre- and pos- workout. You may benefit from spreading your protein intake throughout the day.

But it probably won’t make much difference. If you aren’t gaining weight, add some peanut butter to your meals.

Eventually, you may reach a point where you need to get very precise with your meals to get to the next level. However, if you don’t plan to step on stage and compete in any physique or strength sports, you should be just fine sticking to the basics.

Focus on the important habits, and you’ll be just fine.

matt dustin, Flexible Dieting

About the Author:

Matt Dustin is an online trainer, performance coach, and fitness author based in San Diego, California. He believes in training for both performance and aesthetics, but is mostly a fitness bro at heart.

You can learn more at his website, The Athletic Physique, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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