Flexible Dieting and “Bro” Eating: The Hybrid Approach
June 29, 2016
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.
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:
- [Bro] Eat a majority of nutrient dense foods. This ensures adequate health and performance.
- [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).
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
- [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.
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 email@example.com,
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Nice rundown! When you get down to it, most people follow some sort of hybrid approach. Both Bro and Flexible dieting have the potential to become obsessive. In fact, how can you NOT become obsessive when you’re tracking everything you put into your mouth? (Most “Bro” eaters I know do track calories.)
What I can’t get my head around are bodybuilders who constantly post pictures of themselves eating every massive burger and piece of cake they can fit into their mouths. No regard for heart health at all and apparently they don’t care that they could be clogging up their arteries.
Thank you, Caelan! I agree 100% on the obsession part. As always, tracking is one piece of the puzzle–not an end-all solution.
Oh, I totally agree. You have to listen to yourself and your body, to be in harmony, but of course all this comes when you trying a couple of boring diets. So thank you for this wonderful information