Last night, I had a friend ask about managing things like weight loss and stress. It seems that he can cut out carbs and respond very well. However, he says he “self-sabotages” and ends up killing his progress.
In particular, he was looking for “rules” to manage his “cheats.” These are almost universally found to take place in most folks when they’re really stressed.
I touched on a few things, then told him I’d delve into it deeper here. The reason is that it was late and I was tired, but also because I thought others might just have the same issues.
Alright, let’s start with a bit about my thoughts on low-carb and ketogenic.
More and more, I’m convinced that the issue with carbohydrates isn’t carbs, necessarily, but that so many carb-rich foods are also calorically dense. If you cut out bread and rice, for example, you automatically drop hundreds of calories a day from your diet and can start losing weight while eating the same amount of food.
However, I also recognize that some experience different symptoms that lead them to disagree with that. After all, my friend reports, “When I am on a Keto diet, I have found that I feel better- less joint pain, lower depression, more energy, and much better blood sugar control- I am diet controlled hypoglycemic, which almost disappears as a problem with good diet.”
Since I argue there is no One True Way, I also have to be open to people disagreeing and still getting results.
On a personal level, I have no issue with ketogenic. It’s a perfectly safe diet protocol that millions of people have used for various reasons.
The problem with it is that we live in a very carb-rich environment. They’re everywhere.
One common criticism about Keto is that it’s not very sustainable. Carb-rich foods surround us. We grow up enjoying these foods. We think of them as comfortable.
It’s difficult to completely eliminate these foods.
So, I say we don’t.
Enter Flexible Dieting
As my friend was looking for rules for “cheats,” I had to think about one of the good things about flexible dieting.
I’ve lost weight before. A fair bit of it, too. In fact, I lost 40 lbs a while back, but then put it all back on.
Because I was using a framework that wasn’t particularly sustainable for my situation.
This time around, I opted to use flexible dieting instead primarily because I could use it in and around what my family was already eating. If they decided to order pizza, I could manage my diet around that.
I knew what macros I needed to hit and how many calories I could take in without an issue, and so long as I stayed within that framework, I was gold.
There wasn’t any “cheating” involved because nothing is actually forbidden.
You don’t eat pizza and sweets all the time, mind you. It’s not supported by your macronutrient counts. But you can still eat them and not have to feel guilty.
So, how do you manage “cheats”? By not having to cheat.
Flexible dieting and Ketogenic
On the surface, flexible dieting looks and sounds like completely different approaches, but it doesn’t have to be.
Flexible dieting can be used as a framework for any other diet protocol. You can use it with paleo, primal, vegan, or even keto.
However, the key to weight loss is and will always be calorie reduction.
In the early stages of a Ketogenic Diet, you’re probably going to lose weight because your dietary changes are cutting those calories. You’re cutting out calorically dense foods and replacing them with lower-calorie options. You’re still restricting calories, you’re just not counting them.
For long-term weight loss, though, you still need to reduce calories as needed. Don’t believe me? Then believe Dr. Dom D’Agostino when he and Dr. Layne Norton–a flexible dieting proponent–sat down with Joe Rogan. (The podcast is a long, but D’Agostino does agree with Norton that you can’t lose weight without a caloric deficit. Watch and listen if you don’t believe me.)
Now, in addition to that, though, I think flexible dieting as I practice it presents an opportunity for those looking to “cheat” on their keto diet.
In particular, so long as they manage their calories, it’s not really cheating.
What this has to do with weight loss and stress
When it comes to weight loss and stress, people break from their diet because there’s a rigid framework.
Diets are kind of like skyscrapers.
You see, skyscrapers sway in the wind. If they don’t, high winds will be a disaster.
Diets are the same way. The more rigid they are, the easier it is to break them. With an approach like flexible dieting, you kind of can’t. You might break your keto protocol, but you’re still golden calorically for the day or week.
Personally, I think it’s easier to return to an eating protocol should you stray.
Much of the disaster with dieting is that people spiral when they “break” their diet. They think of it like a pane of glass that, once broken, can’t be remade.
That’s not really the case. Any diet protocol can handle you straying from time to time, so long as it’s not particularly often. The problem is, we don’t think that way.
Where the flexible dieting framework is helpful, though, is that it doesn’t require strict adherence. Especially since even if I go over one day, I just cut back over the next several days to maintain an average.
What’s the downside
I don’t want to sound like I’m selling snake oil, because I’m not.
Flexible dieting isn’t magic. It has requirements that turn some people off. In particular, it calls for you to measure and record your food. For a lot of people, that’s a major turnoff.
However, I’ve been doing it for almost a year now, and it’s really not that big of a deal. It adds a step or two when dishing up your meal and a step or two after. That’s it. I don’t even have to measure every meal.
For example, my usual breakfast is three egg whites and one whole egg scrambled with six strips of turkey bacon. I do this because I choose to keep the fats a little lower for later in the day. However, no measuring of anything.
Lunch is usually either a protein bar or a grilled cheese sandwich. Again, no measuring.
It’s not until supper that I find the need to actually measure food. Much of that is sitting a plate on a scale and then dishing up my meat until I have enough, then recording that number. The rest is putting it into a measuring cup before putting it on my plate.
Honestly, it’s not that difficult.
But it is more than many people want to do, so there’s that.
There’s also a tendency for some people to use it as an excuse to just eat junk. Theoretically, you can do that and still lose weight, but it’s not ideal. Those foods often have other potential health issues associated with them.
This ran a little longer than I intended, and I’m sure I’ve missed a whole pile of stuff. However, when you’re dealing with both weight loss and stress, it’s important to understand that flexibility helps. It helps if you can just say, “Screw it! I want a pizza.”
I may or may not have said that yesterday.
Anyway, you’re not Superman. You’re human. You have a whole lifetime of wiring in place, so I think it’s ridiculous to try and override completely and then beat yourself up because it didn’t take.
Someone else who was part of the discussion said they didn’t like cheat days because they feel obligated to cheat on that day, and I see the point. I’m not a fan of them either for a similar reason. But there is something to be said for working in higher-calorie days.
The truth is, this is a complex subject that I only barely have a grasp on at best. There’s so much more to learn, not just about nutrition by how humans interact with their nutritional needs. So far, though, this is the best approach I’ve found.
At 60 pounds lost so far, I’m inclined to believe that it works.
I’m sure there may be questions. Please leave them below and I’ll try to answer them.
Also, share what’s worked for you. What have you done to deal with the stress-induced cravings for unhealthy food?