Taking a flexible approach to food is the best way to eat for health and happiness.
Scientific researchers and nutrition experts have spent decades trying to understand the best ways to help people lose weight and then, crucially, keep it off. Two of The SHIFT56 System’s contributing editors, Brian St Pierre and Krista Scott-Dixon, work for Precision Nutrition, the world’s leading nutritional education company.
Precision Nutrition has worked with more than 100,000 people to help them to lose weight and improve their health and performance, so Precision Nutrition’s experts have a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, and why people succeed or fail in their attempt to become leaner, fitter and healthier. So what’s Precision Nutrition’s secret? Consistency!
Consistency is everything
Consistency might not sound sexy, but in both research and real life it’s what ultimately helps people control their calorie intake and manage hunger comfortably.
By “comfortably” we mean causing the least amount of tension between your body composition goals (your health and fitness) and the lifestyle you desire (your happiness).
What never works is having two competing desires, like if you want to have a rock-hard six-pack but still want to drink four pints every night. Those two desires actively compete against one another, and that’s what creates frustration and unhappiness because you’re pursuing an impossible outcome.
Finding a nutrition plan that allows you to live your preferred lifestyle and achieve your health goals is critical to achieving long-lasting happiness. And we call that plan Flexible Eating.
Perfection is impossible
Our Flexible Eating plan means you don’t need to eat “perfectly” 100% of the time to succeed. In fact, most people do best in both the short term and the long term when eating well 80-90% of the time: 80% works for more modest goals, and 90% for achieving more challenging goals.
Remember, the “all or nothing” approach rarely gets you all – it usually gets you nothing!
The Flexible Eating approach removes the pressure of trying to be “perfect” all day, every day (which is impossible anyway!). And, crucially, it allows you to eat for pure and simple pleasure 10-20% of the time – that’s one of the best things about our eating plan.
There are no “bad foods”
Allowing yourself to eat for pleasure means foods are no longer categorised as either “good” or “bad”. This approach “moralises” foods and makes you think about certain foods in terms of guilt and regret instead of contentment and joy. That’s no way to live your life if you’re seeking greater health and happiness!
Instead of “good” or “bad” foods, think instead of foods falling on a spectrum of “eat more often” and “eat less often”. Minimally processed foods such as lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats are foods to eat more often, while highly processed foods and drinks such as chips, crisps, biscuits, cakes, pizza, bacon, ice cream, chocolate, fizzy drinks and alcohol should be consumed less often.
Thinking about food in these terms makes it incredibly easy to choose “eat more often” foods, while also making those “eat less often” foods a more enjoyable and guilt-free experience when you do consume them. And who doesn’t want that?
Flexibility for life
One big advantage of Flexible Eating is that if you’re going to a wedding, party, work conference or other event where the food is likely to be in the “eat less often” category, it’s not a problem! Use it as an opportunity to enjoy, in reasonable amounts, some of those foods that are good for the soul. You’ll enjoy these foods guilt-free, have a fun and relaxing social experience – and still be moving towards your health and happiness goals!
Of course, if you don’t approach Flexible Eating with purpose and awareness, then it can become a slippery slope on which you find it easy to rationalise a greater inclusion of “eat less often” foods at the expense of “eat more often” foods. You need to be honest with yourself, and recognise that long-term consistency is what really matters. If you get this right, you can follow this approach and get great results – without ever having to “diet” again!
Go easy on yourself!
Before you dive straight in to eating for a healthier and happier life, it’s important to realise that your Flexible Eating approach needs to be based on your current life circumstances.
For instance, if you’ve recently had a child, or are spending more time looking after elderly or ill relatives, there’s a strong case for being a bit more relaxed about hitting that 80% consistency target and perhaps “dialling it down” for a while.
But maybe your kids have just started school or left home, or you’re newly single. This could be the time to “dial up” closer to 90% consistency than 80% to push yourself harder for even better results.
This concept of “dialling” up or down your consistency based on your current circumstances helps you stay on the right track for most of the time, and reminds you that you don’t have to completely throw in the towel when life suddenly goes crazy! All you have to do is dial it down until you have the time and energy to dial it up again.
Written by Joe Warner for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.