Clean Eating vs Flexible Dieting: Putting the Argument to Bed

Written by: Sarah Strange

So you’re looking to lose a little weight, tone up, and see some abs or lose a handful of dimples. You do what most of us do nowadays- you fire up the Google machine and try to find someone with an answer.

If you know a little bit about diet, hopefully you won’t fall prey to the landslide of gimmicks, tricks, and pills. You’ll keep looking until you find a more sensible approach. Various Clean Eating approaches dominate the search. Some are essentially the same thing with different names- and most go with their own branding, like Paleo. Some of these groups leave each other alone, or link arms, while others fight great battles over single food items or groups and define themselves along these differences. All of them seem to have strong opinions, come across as well informed, have great before & afters, and pages of health turn-around testimonials.

Your head starts spinning.

Then you may stumble upon the growing movement of Flexible Dieting/IIFYM (If it Fits Your Macros) proponents- especially if you got there via web stalking figure competitors. Their concept seems pretty legit too- same make-up of opinions, education, pictures, and stories. You might also notice that they rather vocally disagree with the practice of Clean Eating.

Now you start to get frustrated that this endeavor will likely take way longer than you had hoped. Who is right? You realize that you may need to consult with Google several more times before this diet you had hoped to find in an hour will make itself known to you. Tomorrow’s diet becomes next week’s diet.

(Ok, is she going to give me an answer here or what? – It’s coming, hold on.)

So Which is Better for Weight Loss and Why: Clean Eating or Flexible Dieting?

Most of us won’t bother to spend two to five years weeding through Pub Med to get to the bottom of it, so it all comes down to the diets’ closing arguments. The arguments for these diets can seem so strong on both sides, there’s lots of good information and linked research (which you probably won’t read beyond an abstract at best, but hey- it makes you feel a whole lot better knowing it’s there).

Unfortunately the arguments against tend to say, “Pick me!! The other guy’s an idiot”. These statements are often generated by misinformation and lack of fundamental understanding of the opponent. Many times, simple comments like “show me the research” or “there are no studies showing ___” really mean this person has just not bothered to look for- or read, the volumes of supportive research that do indeed exist.

The saddest part of the bickering is that we seem to lose sight of the bigger picture mid argument: that we clinicians, nutritionists, and trainers are here to help people. Helping people requires that we take a look at the individual and find them an appropriate solution they can run with successfully.

Which of the two are best depends on the individual, and can only be answered on an individual basis. Why this is even an argument for the entire population as a whole totally perplexes me.

When considering which to go with, the answer to the question depends on the individual’s personality, health status, current lifestyle, history, and goals. The answer must solve the problem in both short and long term: which protocol will both produce results and be sustainable enough to make lifelong changes and keep them off the diet yo-yo wagon?

These variables differ…

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