By: Dr. Marc Morris CSCS
As many of you know, I’m a proponent of tracking your diet. Calorie balance and macronutrient intake have the biggest impact on changing body tissue (e.g. adding muscle or subtracting fat) therefore tracking your food intake, towards targets, will create optimal progress. Tracking-based diets emphasize big picture components to create change but leaves flexibility with food choices - making the process sustainable.
But tracking isn’t always an option. Food is social, cultural and fun – so there is a time and a place to not track your diet (e.g. vacation and social events). The following strategies will allow for deviation from your plan while still make noticeable changes.
How and when should you deviate from your diet? This depends on your situation: diet duration, total weight lost, personal experience dieting. All these factors impact the approach and frequency to deviating from your tracking-based diet.
Here are some useful strategies to deviate from your diet:
1. Swap in “non-diet” food
Total calories have the greatest influence on body composition so working in some “non-diet” food choices (higher calorie density, less micronutrients) within your calorie targets, will not hamper progress. This allows you to move out of the “black and white” or “good and bad” confines of dieting, while still making progress. If you’re new to a diet, or aren’t experienced with dieting, this is a great way to stay on track while taking some liberties.
2. “Flex” days
Tracking your diet is a lot of work and difficult during social events – like weddings and pot luck meals. An effective strategy is using a “flex” day. Track your intake for the majority of the day, target reduced calories with higher protein to create a calorie “buffer,” then take the night off from tracking. When tracking during the day aim for around ~50-60% of calories, with more protein than normal throughout that period (60-70% of target) to maintain fullness. Once you’re off tracking –stick to the principles of intuitive eating – eat when you’re hungry, until you’re full, prioritizing protein but also do not restrict anything (e.g. alcohol, dessert). This is a good approach for those without a specific diet timeline and who are experienced to eat intuitively.
3. Off days
There is a time and place to track but vacation is not one of them. If you’ve been dieting for a long period of time – you can probably afford to take 1-5 days off. Chances are if you haven’t been overly restrictive with your diet, you won’t feel the need to overeat.. Think of the days off as a tracking break and not a diet break. But there is an expiration date – once your time off is complete it’s imperative to get right back on track. You can’t ruin a successful period of dieting with a few days off but it will become an issue if you don’t get back on track.
Keep in mind, body weight, as opposed to body composition is dictated more by water balance on a day to day basis, which can increase by deviating from your normal diet. Don’t let a sudden spike in body weight discourage you, it will come back down in a few days.
Food is an integral part of our lives. Thus, deviating from your tracking-based diet is bound to happen. Fit these strategies into your long-term plan so you can make sustainable progress and still find balance.
Dr. Marc Morris PhD, CSCS is a Strength and Health coach living in Saskatoon. Marc’s experience in fitness is varied: he is a competitive powerlifter and International Team coach, and a national level physique competitor. Marc leverages his athletic experience and credentials in biochemistry and human nutrition to provide evidence-based but practical recommendations to clients and the fitness community. Marc can be found on Instagram @marcwmorris, Facebook @Marc W. Morris and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org