Why Flexible Dieting Is Superior To Clean Eating

M&S Team
Written By: M&S Team
June 9th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Nutrition
39.9K Reads
Comparing Clean Eating Diet To IIFYM Flexible Diet
Is clean eating the only way to see the results you want? Get the scoop on clean eating vs. flexible dieting, and learn to properly count your macros!

Flexible dieting is currently the most talked about nutritional outlook in the fitness world, and something you've probably seen on social sites hashtagged as #IIFYM. So what exactly is flexible dieting and why are so many people using it?

Why Clean Eating is Flawed

First off, we must examine the typical approach to dieting known as clean eating. I will recognize that there are different approaches to nutrition than just clean eating and flexible dieting, however this article is only going to focus on these two since they're the most popular.

Clean eating is essentially focusing on eating the most nutritionally rich foods, eating “healthy” foods only, and avoiding foods that are labeled “unhealthy.”

There are a lot of issues within that statement. First: there is no descriptive definition for healthy. If you were to ask the most hardcore clean eater in the world what is considered healthy, if you push and ask enough, even he will be left answerless.

Second: what makes food unhealthy? Low nutritional value, high cholesterol, high calories? There is no doubt that some people with pre-existing nutrition based conditions will benefit from eating certain foods, based on the opinions of a physician. Although, for the majority of people who do not have previous health conditions, the type of food eaten is not a deciding factor for progression.

What Flexible Dieting Is

Now, what exactly is flexible dieting?

It is essentially a flexible approach to dieting. Shocking, right? The main backing of it is "a calorie is a calorie". This means that caloric intake is the real reason for progression. To be known, a calorie is a unit of energy used by our body, so does it make a difference where the calories come from?

All calories are broken down into three macronutrients: fat, carbs, and protein. These are what is meant to be tracked.

Let me ask you this, what is heavier, one thousand pounds of rocks or one thousand pounds of feathers? I hope you said they both weigh the same, because that's the same thing with food.

Just for demonstration purposes, let’s say on one side, we have a hamburger from McDonald’s. On the other side, we have a bowl of brown rice and tuna. Let’s say the hamburger has 15 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of protein. The bowl of brown rice and tuna also has 15 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of protein. Could they really be the same?

Your body will not discriminate. There are no sensors in your brain that put food deemed unhealthy to fatty cells and healthy foods to muscle cells. All are made up of calories, and all are used for energy. Also, following a flexible dieting approach, binge eating is essentially eliminated, due to the fact that you are not eliminating the foods you want to eat. Simply eating in moderation and within your daily caloric intake.

So, your set on converting to the flexible dieting side, how exactly do you start?

Just a disclaimer: everyone is different. No two people are exactly the same, and that also goes with everyone’s calories. Some people are bigger than others and have a naturally slower metabolism, while others are the exact opposite. What you do for a living is also a huge factor. Obviously, a construction worker will burn much more calories than a graphic designer.

Clean Eating Diet: The Only Way To Lose Fat And Build Muscle?

How to Determine Your Macronutrients

First: you must determine your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is how many calories you need to survive. There is an equation to find it out, but let’s be honest, using a BMR calculator is much easier. Simply plug in your information into this BMR Calculator.

Second: Determine your activity level. There are five main ones:

  1. Sedentary: Inactive, does not work out, sitting down all day at computer. BMR x 1.2
  2. Lightly Active: works out 1-3 times per week. BMR x 1.375
  3. Moderate: works out 3-5 times per week. BMR x 1.55
  4. Active: works out 6-7 times per week, very serious. BMR x 1.725
  5. Very active: works out every single day, high intensity, and very demanding job. BMR x 1.9

Third: Multiply your previously determined BMR by your activity level (the BMR calculator linked above will have taken care of this step for you already). The number you get is how many calories you will need to eat every day to maintain your current weight. To gain weight, I recommend starting by increasing your calories by 300 each day, and to lose one pound per week, decrease your calories by 500 calories.

Protein: Now that you have your calories, what are your macros? Let’s start with your protein. People tend to disagree with how many grams of protein people should eat. I stick to a simple rule: 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you are, however, very heavy, you’re not going to need as much protein. I would recommend using your lean body mass. To find that, you will need to know your body fat percentage, than, use the formula LBM= weight-(weight x body fat percentage as a decimal.)

Fat: Multiple your weight by .4 to find your fat. Do not fear fat. It is an essential macronutrient, and you need it for proper functioning. The same rule applies with the protein, if you are really overweight, use your lean body mass.

Carbs: After you find out how much fat to eat, take your determined fat and multiply it by 9 (the amount of calories in one gram of fat.). Secondly, multiply your protein by 4 (the amount of calories in a gram of protein,) and add both those number together. Then, add the two together, and subtract it by your daily calories. Take the calories you have left and divide it by four (the amount of calories in a gram of carbs.) that is how many carbs you need to eat.

That is it, if you followed those simple steps, you have determined you macronutrients. That simple.


When determining flexible dieting it's important to remember these key statements: a calorie is a calorie, there is no such thing as healthy or unhealthy, and do not knock it until you try it.

I understand, if you lived your entire life believing that the only way to lose weight or gain weight is by clean eating. It is time to investigate other options.

Posted on: Mon, 03/07/2022 - 11:38

Agree with this article after competing i wanted to eat everything i didnt know were to balance and living a healthy lifestyle for many years i found that flexible dieting is awesome for me mentally because really takes binging out of the picture or cravings and its just about balance and if if i wanna gain weight i eat more if i wanna lose weight i eat less

Daniel Bass
Posted on: Mon, 02/28/2022 - 17:19

I would like to be enrolled to go to exercising muscle strength program.

Posted on: Fri, 06/19/2015 - 02:13

What about fiber though? And micronutrients. Not only won't our bodies be able to function properly with out the right amount of essential vitamins and minerals, but our digestion needs fiber. I totally agree with you that IIFYM is superior to clean eating, but maybe you should have mention something about micro nutrients and their importance.

Posted on: Fri, 06/12/2015 - 09:36

I don't think there is such hamburger that has 15 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, and 20 grams of protein, at least not in McDonalds, Burger King, etc. Homemade - maybe.
One other thing, the hamburger on this article photo doesn't look anything like McDonalds type of food.

This article got some point, but not all of it.
The take-home message in my opinion is that for most of people, we can include this kind of "junk" food every day as one meal. Maybe not every day, every other. If we excercise on regular basis it wouldn't make much difference on body composition.

Posted on: Wed, 06/10/2015 - 15:19

I agree - the article passes the idea that if one stays on ones caloric needs (either for maintenance, either for loosing weight; I understand that the article's not considering people wanting to gain mass - still, in that case calories sources STILL matter, in my opinion) it doesn't matter what the source of those calories are... One doesn't leaves this properly comprehending that this is concerning macros... Still, all macros are not created equal, anyway: one thing is to eat a saturated fat full of omegas 6 and 9, other a monounsaturated fat with good omegas 3. One thing is to eat a simple carb that will spike ones insulin; other, a slow release carb...!

Posted on: Fri, 06/12/2015 - 11:07

well a macro refers to fat, carb or protein.
Calorie is a measure of energy. Food is energy, and energy cannot be created or destroyed only converted.

So anyone who practices IIFYM and understands it, knows they would not comprise only of fats or proteins or carbs.
That's the whole point of If It Fits Your Macros
If people follow it, they will determine what their macros are, as well as what there over all calories needed are.....and then eat foods that fill these numbers.

Posted on: Wed, 06/10/2015 - 13:26

I think one of the benefits of clean eating is that you know what is really going into your body. If you have complete nutritional information about foods served at MacDonald's you'll find that a typical double-quarter pounder with cheese has 42 grams of fat, but a whopping 1300mg of sodium. I think people can be easily fooled with fast foods and flexible dieting because there are so many things done to the foods to appeal to your taste that are unhealthy, and yet not apparent on any food macro chart.

Posted on: Fri, 06/12/2015 - 11:05

Things with a lot of sodium??? Just drink more water.
Have you ever seen the sodium content of egg whites?
And what exactly is the definition of "Clean" foods??? Who defines that?
You might be interested in this:

Posted on: Wed, 06/10/2015 - 10:16

I do IIFYM, and do quite fine eating what I want, just eating to calorie and macro numbers.
I ate a Five Guys burger the other day w/ bacon.....and fries. Delicious. Still have a 6-pack.

@Justin, do a google search on the twinkie diet, the professor's health markers did get better as he lost weight.

@John, how will it give them heart attacks? If they get their weight down and keep their diet under control, where in does the heart disease lie?

@Ryan, yes that is right. You could experiment with yourself.

John l
Posted on: Tue, 06/09/2015 - 23:12

Horrible article. The whole idea of IIFYM is total crap. there is a difference between a McDonald's hamburger and something else with the same macro value on the cellular level. This is going to give people heart attacks. Pure ignorance

Posted on: Tue, 06/09/2015 - 22:45

Ever heard of micronutrients? Or the various lengths of triglycerides? Or the various protein sources? Or complex and simple carbs? I like flexible dieting but the paragraphs on a calorie is a calorie and your body uses macronutrients all the same are bullshit.

Review master
Posted on: Tue, 06/09/2015 - 21:13

That can't be right.
I'm cutting at the moment and This calculation is saying I need 40%fat 43%protein and then 17%carbs. No way. Okay fine. It might suppress my hunger more but I'll have no energy at all and my muscles will shrivel as I lose all my strength. A little more fat and it is on the verge of a keto diet.
Fllowing the same process and starting with 25%fat seems more logical.

Posted on: Tue, 06/09/2015 - 21:09

So processed foods are just as healthy as a chicken breastfeeding if it has the same amount of carbs, fat, and protein?

Posted on: Tue, 06/09/2015 - 19:35

I agree with your article. Clean eating is really hard to do in the real world. I've used caloric intake and macronutrient percentages since January utilizing the fitness app MyFitnessPal which calculates the macronutrients as you enter the foods you are eating as well as the total calories. I've lost 46 pounds in about 5 months! I was doing a 1000 calorie deficit a day which was leaving me feeling deprived. Now I'm about 750 calorie deficit a day and loosing about a pound a week along with weight lifting and lots of walking with my wife around the neighborhood pushing baby stroller. A new dad or mom can lose weight if you do create a calorie deficit and exercise. It is a certainty.

Posted on: Wed, 06/10/2015 - 10:26

Awesome job David. Congrats.
It is possible to be a parent with multiple kids and still be in good shape.....just takes priorities.