A Look at the Flexitarian Diet: Is It Right for You?

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Chances are that you have heard of vegetarianism. Vegetarians are people who do not eat meat. (Not to be confused with vegans, who do not eat any sort of animal products, including by-products like eggs and milk.) Instead, vegetarians get their protein from other non-animal sources, like plant sources  such beans and legumes, animal by-products like cheese and eggs) or synthetic proteins like protein powders.

The term “vegetarianism” was coined early in the 20th century, so the concept of avoiding meat in one’s diet has certainly been around for quite some time. But new to the scene is the “Flexitarian Diet.” It is based on the principles of the vegetarian diet, but allows for some flexibility. So it is perfect for those who want to avoid eating meat when they can, but it allows for flexibility so that dieters can have a juicy steak or fresh salmon when they want to.  

Obviously, then, the Flexitarian Diet is not so much based on personal beliefs but instead is more focused on the nutrition, fuel and weight gain, loss, or maintenance aspect of the diet. But will it work for you as you fuel yourself to reach your goals?

How Does it Work?

For the majority of the Flexitarian Diet, your meals and snacks would look like those of a typical vegetarian diet. You can incorporate non-meat food sources to your heart’s content– so long as it fits into the calorie and nutrient plan that the Flexitarian Diet follows. The breakdown for most folks is consuming about 1500 calories a day in the following increasing pyramid order: 300 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 500 calories for dinner, and two 150 calorie snacks each. Then dieters take into consideration their fitness and activity levels, and work to adjust accordingly.  Individuals may also take into consideration height, weight, gender, genetics, and known resting metabolic heart rate and metabolism. So for the runners reading this, you could comfortably add in a couple more hundred calories to fuel your running and training.

The focus is to try and pack your diet with as much plant-based proteins as possible. Dieters enjoy yummy meals chock full of beans and legumes, tofu, and peanut butter. The diet plan comes with plenty of recipes for users to experiment, including what are called “Flex Swaps,” that come with suggestions for adding or altering the recipe to instead include a lean meat-sourced protein when you want.  

Essentially, the Flexitarian Diet is built around the concept of getting in as much plant based sources of food that you can fit, but never cutting out meat altogether. (And the Flexitarian Diet is not a special club or plan that you have to buy either. All the recipes and meal ideas you need to get started can be found by simply purchasing The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life by dietician Jackson Blatner.)

How Does It Hold up to Other Diets? What Can I Expect?

Compared to other weight loss or health achieving diets, the Flexitarian Diet is a good option. It allows for flexibility which makes it more convenient than some other elimination diets. So, for instance, dieters can still eat out at restaurants, can still go to parties and social gatherings, and still consume alcohol. The diet simply encourages its followers to be mindful in these situations, and load up first on veggies, fruits, whole grains, and plant sources of foods.  That said, lean meat options are certainly allowed.

As far as weight loss is concerned, most dieters who participated in the Flexitarian Diet claimed to have lost a bit of weight, and experienced decreased bloating and increased toning of muscles. This makes sense, since the backbone of the diet focuses on getting in quality nutrients more than it does strictly counting calories or obsessing over numbers. However, because users are focusing on these wholesome, nutrient dense foods, they typically fill up easier and faster, which equates to less calories consumed overall. The benefit of this is that, though dieters are typically consuming less throughout the day than they previously were, they are feeding on quality nutrients that fill them up so they are not left overly hungry and susceptible to chaotic binges.

The secret, though, to making sure you do fill up is to get in a lot of substantial protein.  Because meat is limited, you might have to get creative on this. Luckily, the Flexitarian Diet also gets two thumbs up because it comes with a myriad of recipes in the Flexitarian Diet book by Blatner, mentioned above.

What About Exercise? Is this a Sustainable Diet for Runners?

Founders of the Flexitarian Diet did so with the idea in mind that participants would be active, at least moderately. It is suggested, to really reap the weight loss and body toning benefits of the diet, to incorporate at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise 3 to 5 times a week. So even just a brisk walk around the neighborhood 5 days a week is all you really need.

As far as running and the Flexitarian Diet is concerned, it can certainly be a good option. But runners need to make sure they are increasing their caloric intake to maintain what they burn off through running. The calorie deficit of a training plan can be intense. Many runners who embark on the Flexitarian Diet plan might mistakenly load up too much on fibrous fruits and veggies, leaving them full on not enough calories. While the result might be rapid weight loss, it can also be dangerous and certainly not advisable. Be sure to eat enough to fuel your runs.

The beauty of the Flexitarian Diet is just that – its flexibility. So although the guidelines suggest that most individuals partake in the inverted pyramid structure of increasing calorie totals at subsequent meals but still being mindful, runners should certainly increase these overall goals and not be so strict. And definitely don’t be afraid to cheat on the no-meat rule more often than you otherwise would. Lean meat and animal by-products such as eggs and milk offer runners protein, fats, vitamins and minerals that are crucial to helping keep your health and immune system in check, help you in recovery after an intense workout, and feeling ready to take on the next challenging race.

Sources

  1. Canadian Running, Flexitarian Diet, Canadian Running Article, May 23, 2014
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