This week, we explore the best approach to build your custom nutrition programme to drop body fat.
With regards to the approaches, the two common methods are:
1) Flexible dieting (IIFYM)
2) Rigid Dieting (Diet Plans)
There’s been much debate as to what method is considered to be the most effective for fat loss success whilst being able to maintain good eating habits long after the fat loss phase has finished.
In order for fat loss to occur, an element of cognitive restraint is needed to ensure a calorie deficit is maintained. This can be categorised into rigid control and flexible control.
Rigid control typically represents an all or nothing approach (Eat this food, in this amount at this time). This is typically associated with an ‘on or off’ mindset which often leads to unplanned eating of ‘forbidden foods’ and the occasional ‘ah fuck it’ mindset.
In contrast, flexible control offers a more moderate approach to dieting which allows the inclusion of all foods and as a result, reduces binging episodes.
Flexible control also facilitates autonomy as you’ll have higher levels of self-regulation.
On a whole, there’s a trend for flexible control being more advantageous for fat loss success and maintenance in overweight and obese individuals. However, does this translate to athletes?
Conlin et al (2021) recruited 23 ‘gym goers’ to complete a 20 week programme consisting of (A) 10 weeks dieting (~20% calorie restriction) following either a flexible diet or strict diet plan, and (B) a 10 week post dieting phase where they ate ‘ad libitum’ (as much or as often as necessary or desired).
Based on previous research, it was hypothesised that the rigid dieting group would ‘rebound’ and gain more weight post dieting. However, it was found that both dieting approach were equally effective in dropping body fat (~0.4% loss/week) and not rebounding post diet.
In addition, a moderate calorie deficit + high protein + weight training mitigated any reductions in metabolic rate in both groups.
Lastly, high levels of cognitive restraint and eating behaviour were seen in both groups, which are not usually seen in overweight and obese individuals following a rigid approach.
Ultimately, both approaches work.
Interestingly, 40% of the participants dropped out of the study regardless of the dieting group. Which highlights that calorie restriction and ‘dieting’ is hard regardless of the approach taken.
Although this study didn’t recruit elite athletes, I’ve personally found that a combination of the two work in concert when periodising their nutrition for different training phases and competition schedules.

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