Rigid and Flexible Dieting

With the holidays looming, and all of the food and candy that that entails, I wanted to write a quick article post about a topic that I consider very important. In fact, it’s so important to the goal of long-term body composition changes that I wrote an entire book (A Guide to Flexible Dieting) about it.

Over the years, I’ve seen a particular pattern that is pretty endemic among the body obsessed: that is what dietary behavior researchers would call rigid dieting patterns (restrained dieting might be a little more accurate here but I don’t want to get into the distinction that deeply).

Rigid dieters are the folks who are, to some degree or another, always controlling their overall food intake. They never relax, they never allow themselves to ‘cheat’ (a term I dislike for various reasons). And, sort of like the type of athlete I talked about in Goal vs. Process Oriented Athletes: Part 1 before, they often see better short-term results.

The problem is that, if something happens and they go off their diet for whatever reason, they end up going completely off their diet. Contest bodybuilders have some of the worst problems with this, 12-16 weeks of total deprivation leads into a 4-6 week food orgy where weight and fat are both regained rapidly, no training is done, etc. The cycle repeats annually.

In research, extremely rigid dieters are often heavier (mainly because of the cheats and binges they undergo when they break their diets) and often have poorer long-term success than what are called flexible dieters.

Flexible dieters allow for, well, flexibility in their lives. They realize that a little bit of something that isn’t ‘on their diet’ is no big deal in the big scheme of things, they often weigh less, etc. In my experience, while the short-term results may not be as great, the long-term results are usually better.