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(7.27.2022) Apparently, flexibility is a good thing. And we aren’t even talking about being able to bend over and touch your toes. Flexibility when it comes to dieting can also be beneficial; and in some cases better suited for people than a restrictive diet.
So what is the difference between flexible and restrictive dieting? Both are meant to achieve weight loss goals, but the flexible approach allows for all types of foods, as long as the diet puts you in a caloric deficit. This simply means you are burning more calories than you are consuming that day. Then there is the restrictive dieting approach, which achieves a caloric deficit by cutting out specific foods or food groups.
Keto, carnivore, paleo, vegan, Whole30, and others are all examples of restrictive dieting. And while these all have their merits, the fact that they all take a restrictive approach could make them counterproductive for some people.
Now, before we go further down this flexible dieting rabbit hole, it is important to note that none of this means that there is anything healthy about hyper-palatable, ultra processed, indulgent foods like pizza, ice cream, cookies, chips, and Choco Tacos. These foods are a big problem and they are a big reason why we are collectively so sick in the U.S.
With that out of the way, it is important to also acknowledge why a restrictive approach to dieting may not be well suited for some people. First of all, when it comes to weight loss, studies have shown that as long as you are in a caloric deficit, you will lose weight regardless of whether you are achieving that deficit with a flexible or restrictive approach.
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However, the difference is that when coming off of a restrictive diet, some people will slingshot back and over-consume the foods they previously restricted. This makes it more likely that they will regain the weight they lost and start back at square one.
Think about it this way: If pizza or Choco Tacos are your absolute favorite foods on the planet and you go on a 30-day diet that says no dairy and low carbs, what is the one thing you are going to have on day 31? Probably pizza and/or Choco Tacos and who would blame you? You just lost 10 lbs—of course you should reward yourself. And now this one “celebration” becomes a slippery slope and next thing you know you are eating more pizza and Choco Tacos for the next couple of weeks because you missed those foods so much. We’ve all been there.
Now, obviously there are many flaws to this type of thinking when it comes to dieting and weight loss, but unfortunately this is how a lot of people approach nutrition and it is why they end up yo-yo dieting their way to poor metabolic health and other negative health outcomes.
Additionally, studies like this one have shown that restrictive dieting approaches can lead to eating disorder symptoms and poor mental health, especially in women.
The key takeaway? Rigid, restrictive diets can be a tool for some people to lose weight and optimize their health. But for most, the evidence suggests that having some flexibility can lead to better adherence, better mental health, and an overall better relationship with food. As long as you are prioritizing whole, unprocessed foods most of the time, a little deviation every now and then can actually be a good thing in the long run.
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