3 Diet Changes You Must Make Before All Others

“I eat pretty well. But I never seem to lose weight.”

Sound familiar? It’s the first thing people say to me when we sit down to talk about their fitness goals and how their diet plays into them.

The fact is that simply eating “healthy” isn’t going to cause fat loss. You can eat healthy food all day, but if you eat too much of it, you will not lose fat. Our media and many popular diets have lied to us, promoting the idea that simple moderation is enough to cause fat loss. In reality, most people’s diets need a long-term, lifelong overhaul, not just a simple reduction in portion sizes or a trade-off from 5 Snickers snack bars per day to 3.

That’s not to say that portion control isn’t a factor in fat loss (see point #3, below). But portion control alone does not account for the different types of foods available to us, and knowing what foods to prioritize is an additional key to starting the fat loss process.

Here, then, are 3 diet changes just about everyone must make if she wants to lose body fat:

#1. Prioritize protein over carbs

Protein is the foundation of a lean, strong body. It repairs muscles and tissues. It cannot be stored by the body. And many of the amino acids necessary in the body cannot be made by the body — so we must eat protein to get the appropriate amino acids.

In addition, people looking to lose body fat and maintain muscle mass need to eat more protein than average. Unfortunately, most people who simply attempt to lose fat via calorie or portion control often do not meet their protein needs. They choose to eat carbs — such as breads, grains, beans, fruits, and potatoes — over proteins, and when they realize their protein intake is too low, they can’t find ways to fit it into their diets without going over on calories. To make matters worse, many people eat more carbs than their body needs on a daily basis, creating an excess that the body will store as fat if those carbs aren’t used up.

The solution to this is simple:

Cut back the carbs that are taking up so much of your diet, and replace them with protein.

A good basic measure of protein portions is the palm of your hand. If you eat frequently, such as 5-6 small meals each day, shoot for 1 palm-sized portion of protein at each meal. If you eat less frequently, such as 3-4 larger meals per day, shoot for 2 palm-sized portions of protein at each meal.

Once you’ve added this protein to your meals, you’ll need to cut your carb portions back. Consider just eating carbs at 1-2 meals per day, or consider eating your carbs only after you’ve had your protein, and stop eating those carbs once you’re starting to feel full.

And then jump to #3 below to make sure you know the difference between just full and over stuffed.

#2. Eat veggies over fruit (and starchy carbs)

The recommended fruit and vegetable intake in the US tends to be somewhere in the 5-9 servings per day range, depending on age and information source. The problem, however, is that many people satisfy this recommendation (if they satisfy it at all!) with mostly fruit and very little veggies.

For fat loss, however, veggies give you the bigger bang for your buck. Non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli, zucchini, greens, and lettuces, are far lower in calories and higher in volume than most popular fruits.

In other words, you can eat what appears to be a LOT of veggies for what amounts to not a lot of calories.

Contrast this with higher calorie popular fruits, like bananas, apples, pears, and melons, and the difference could be a couple hundred calories per day. This isn’t to say that all fruit should be off-limits for fat loss; rather, the focus should be on vegetables, not fruits, with fruits used in smaller amounts and as garnishes rather than central meal components.

The same goes for starchy carbs — rather than fill a dinner plate 1/2 with potatoes and 1/4 with spinach, flip flop those ratios. Fill a plate with 1/2 spinach, 1/4 potatoes (if you need the potatoes at all), and top it all with your protein selection.

If you can build your meals around mostly veggies and lean proteins, you’ll find yourself more easily satisfied after eating, and you’ll be well on your way to fat loss.

#3. Eat until you’re just full

You’ve probably heard the idea that your body doesn’t start to send out fullness signals until around 20 minutes after you start eating. Most of us, however, don’t need 20 minutes to eat a modest meal. And telling you to chew more slowly is trite and unpractical. Unless you’re sucking down your food faster than a shop vac, you’re probably eating slowly enough.

The struggle, then, is how to stop yourself when you’re just the right amount of full instead of continuing to eat until you’re stuffed. Building your meals around protein and veggies is a good start — both of those foods create fullness faster than many other foods.

But you’re also going to have to simply suck it up and stop eating sooner than you’re used to, and this is the habit that many people struggle with. We tend to show our love and to celebrate life via food, often via overeating food, and we have become accustomed to large meals and portion sizes. Changing this is really a matter of consciously choosing to stop eating. And as simple as the answer may be, it is also extraordinarily difficult.

One thing that can help is remembering to visually check portion sizes before you start eating. When you know your plate contains the properly sized portions to make your body full but not stuffed, you can start to pay attention to what just full, rather than stuffed, feels like. Once you stop eating at the proper portion sizes several times, you will get your brain and body accustomed to the feeling, so that after a while, you no longer have to consciously choose to stop eating. You’ll naturally feel like your meal is over when your proper portion sizes are gone; by repeating the behavior multiple times, you’ve normalized it.

You don’t need to jump from an unhealthy diet to an overwhelmingly restrictive meal plan. But you do have to make specific changes if you want to reach and maintain long-term fat loss. Protein, veggies, and learning to eat just to fullness are the big rocks of successful fat loss — once you’ve mastered those, then you can sweat the small stuff.


Sleep As A Catalyst For Fat Loss

Over the past year, I’ve continually identified sleep as the limiting factor for many people’s weight loss attempts. Beyond tracking food intake and exercise, I’ve had people I work with track sleep. It doesn’t have to be detailed; I just want to know if they’re over seven hours or under. It’s striking how much sleep deprivation can get in the way of success.

Recently, I experienced this sleep deprivation cycle first hand. My wife found a stray dog in the parking lot of the grocery store, and we took him in. Let’s hope it isn’t a 15-year foster. Given the fact that we already have three dogs, my sleep has suffered. I have been waking up more often, and my sleep has been dipping under seven hours.

As a side effect, I’ve noticed I’m far hungrier. My usual breakfast doesn’t hold me over. One night, I had three bowls of chili, and was still looking for more. Usually one bowl would have kept me happy. I also started to include bench press in my workouts for the first time in years, so perhaps that has something to do with increased hunger. Stray dogs and bench press are bad for your health. You heard it here first.

The Science of Being Tired

When we don’t sleep enough, good food choices become difficult from both a psychological and physiological standpoint. Our mind is tired, and coming home from a long day at work makes cooking dinner and exercising difficult. Being trapped in an office, fueled by caffeine, and staring at pastries is tough enough. Doing it when you’re tired also causes our bodies to be hungrier. So we get hungrier and snacking becomes more desirable.

Shift workers are most often the subjects of research into the effects of sleep deprivation, because of the marked increase in obesity and metabolic complications seen in this group. There are many hypothesized reasons shift workers see these issues: lack of access to quality food at night, increased hunger during day time, and a broken circadian rhythm are a few.

Researchers attempt to recreate these conditions to isolate causes. In one study with an impressive study design, young adult males were basically shacked up for 11 days and forced to be sleep deprived. One group slept four hours a night, the other group got six. Meals were given, and snack opportunities were had, but the participants were not allowed to eat whenever they liked. Core temperature was continuously monitored rectally to track circadian rhythms. I hope these guys were well compensated! The researchers tried to gain insight on hunger levels related to circadian cycles to understand more about shift workers.

The group allowed four hours per night reported higher hunger levels, less satiety (feeling full), more consumption, and less satisfaction from meals than the six hour a night people. Both groups certainly had negative changes, but in this study, it appeared dose-dependent. The less sleep, the worse it was in terms of eating.

Two of the biggest factors for weight loss are portion control and having set meal times. This becomes increasingly difficult when we need to eat more to be full and we are less satisfied with meals. This leads to more snacking, and since we are tired, the decision to snack becomes easier.

The less sleep you get, the poorer your food choices are likely to become.

An excellent review of the existing literature highlights many of the hormonal changes that result from sleep deprivation relating to hunger and poor health outcomes. I love this line in particular:

“Chronic circadian misalignments not only influence sleep but also influence several other systems including the immune system, appetitive hormones, and energy balance.”

We are tired, sick, and cranky people! Go to bed.

The review highlighted several interesting developments in hormone research. Our gut is connected to our brains more than we know. The hypothalamus secretes orexin, which is involved in the sleep and wake cycle as well as energy balance. It helps activate parts of the nervous system that give the brain feedback on energy balance by monitoring things such as blood sugar and leptin levels. A lack of orexin leads to obesity in animal models, due to decreased activity. Even though appetite goes down in these studies, the lack of activity leads to weight gain. This orexin system is one way the brain keeps tabs on energy balance, and it does so by also including the hormones ghrelin and leptin. As we become sleep deprived, ghrelin increases and leptin decreases. This isn’t desirable, because ghrelin increases hunger, and leptin helps decrease it.

Essentially, when we lack sleep, our communication from brain to gut is disturbed, and this cascades into other hormones misfiring. Long term sleep deprivation makes these problems even worse. I give this information not to make you think about your ghrelin levels at night or talk about your orexin feedback loop at the water cooler. Rather, understand that there are physiological changes in your body when you don’t get enough sleep.

Tips to Hit the Pillow Harder

What can we do about this? We live in a time where it’s almost a badge of honor to work more and sleep less. Extra-large coffee and energy shots. When I moved from New York to Utah, I was determined to get there as quickly as possible because I hated driving that big truck. I popped caffeine pills, drank Mountain Dew, and slapped myself to keep awake. I have no idea how I made it in a day and a half. In fact, I can’t drive more than four hours anymore without becoming sleepy. I used up my “stupid decisions” quota.

But you’ll be more productive and much happier if you get seven hours of sleep or more. Being tired and having no energy becomes the new normal for us, until we break out of it. With a happier attitude, more productivity, and normalized hunger levels, making changes to your diet will be much more attainable. There are several important changes you can try.

Eat What You Know

One study noted that “…novel foods are found to have lower expected satiation than familiar foods and expected satiety ratings have been shown to increase the more familiar a food becomes.”

The more familiar you are with a food, especially when you know that it will keep you satisfied, the better the outcome. Going with a new food may lead you to eat more because it didn’t give you the sensation of being full. There is a whole area of study where scientists look at expected satiety and how we react to foods we know and do not know. If you expect that the meal will keep you full, it has a better chance to do just that.

I’m not advocating eating the same thing day in and day out. That gets boring. But certainly a breakfast can be a rotation of three options that you know and like. Picking one or two meals and making them a little boring for a while can help with eating less and not being hungry all the time.

Have a Tracking System

Without a system, how do you know what your body is doing? I have people I work with track sleep, over 7 or under, and rate how each meal keeps them full or not. You can begin to see correlations. If you sleep more on the weekends, for example, see how that changes your reaction to the same meal.

Data is helpful in lowering the intimidation factor for change. If you get 5 hours of sleep a night, getting 8 seems daunting. However, if you track hunger and sleep, and get 5.5 hours of sleep by making a few sacrifices (Game of Thrones on DVR, or move to the west coast to catch NFL night games earlier), you can see the improvements on paper. Perhaps those changes are good enough for now. Change enough to get results, and you can always do more at a later time.

Diet and workouts suffering? Start tracking your sleep, and you’ll probably find a correlation.

Try Supplements

Magnesium is my first line of defense, especially the brand Natural Calm. It mellows you out enough to help you go to sleep. It isn’t too powerful, and it can help a small amount. Melatonin would be next. Try a small amount to see if it can induce sleep. Perhaps once you get in the routine of sleeping better, you may not need a supplement anymore. I chose these two because they are well-studied and have minimal negative effects. Perhaps a visit with a doctor can help you explore other options.

Change Your Routine

Some things in life are unavoidable. If you have a newborn, sleep can be hit or miss, and there isn’t too much you can do about it. But some things can be controlled. Cutting television short, getting home from work on time (which you can when you have more sleep, because you’ll be more productive), and preparing chores in advance on off days can help with more free time to get to sleep. Look for time “leaks” in your day, and I am quite confident we can add a half hour or more to devote to sleep.

You Can’t Be Fit With Bad Sleep

We can’t “hack” sleeping less and doing more. At some point, it bites us. Starting a nutrition program or exercise routine is a great idea. But it all starts with sleep. It is the catalyst that makes every other change possible. Portion control, meal times, food quality, exercise intensity, and hunger are all altered by how much sleep we get. Losing weight requires a caloric deficit. Not sleeping makes us hungrier. That’s a nasty combination.

It sounds almost too simple to be true. Get more sleep, get better results. Sleep isn’t something we can buy, inject, trade, or binge on periodically. It has to be consistent and in the right amounts. Our lives really do depend on it.

1. Sargent, Charli, Xuan Zhou, Raymond W. Matthews, David Darwent, and Gregory D. Roach. “Daily Rhythms of Hunger and Satiety in Healthy Men during One Week of Sleep Restriction and Circadian Misalignment.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13, no. 2 (2016): 170.
2. Shukla, Charu, and Radhika Basheer. “Metabolic signals in sleep regulation: recent insights.” Nature and science of sleep 8 (2016): 9.
3. Forde, Ciarán G., Eva Almiron-Roig, and Jeffrey M. Brunstrom. “Expected satiety: application to weight management and understanding energy selection in humans.” Current obesity reports 4, no. 1 (2015): 131-140.


All credit for this beautiful recipe goes to B. Britnell – this is the first recipe i have personally made from her website but it’s made me keen for more! Thank you B.


Today we’re talking about this healthy and delicious dinner of Sriracha & Lime Salmon w/ Garlic Roasted Brussel Sprouts. Disclaimer: there might have been quite a few more sprouts before I started taking pictures but I couldn’t stop eating them! Ooops.

My favorite thing about this dish is that it requires the smallest amount of effort. The hardest part is mincing the garlic and from there you just throw everything in a skillet. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But not lemon…we’re using lime.

When cooking fish at home, salmon is usually my go to. Unfortunately, I don’t live in an area where fresh fish is seen very often so I most often buy it frozen. So, that’s what we have here.

Since the brussel sprouts take longer to cook, those go in first with the garlic to saute for a few minutes.

After the sprouts have cooked for about 8 minutes, take them off of the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine honey, lime juice & zest, sriracha sauce, and salt.

Taking each piece of salmon individually, dip it into the sauce so that it is covered on each side. Place the salmon in the middle of the skillet.

Once the salmon is placed, pour the remainder of the sauce over top of the 2 pieces of salmon. The juices will spread throughout the pan which is okay. The brussel sprouts will soak up the extra sauce and make them extra yummmmmyyy. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

When I first made this dish, I didn’t anticipate how much the brussel sprouts would also be flavored by the sriracha and lime juice. The honey causes it to kind of caramelize around the veggies and make them extra delicious.

It’s all topped with a good handful of cilantro and eaten right out of the skillet for maximum flavor consumption.
Yields 2


10 min
Prep Time

15 min
Cook Time

25 min
Total Time


~1 pound of brussel sprouts, stemmed (fresh or frozen)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2 medium-large pieces of salmon
1/4 cup of honey
Juice & zest of 1/2 a medium lime, plus extra juice for serving if desired
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of sriracha sauce
1 handful of lightly chopped cilantro (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat and add in the brussel sprouts and garlic. Saute for 7-8 minutes and then take the skillet off of the heat.
In a small bowl combine the honey, lime juice & zest, sriracha sauce, and salt.
Taking each piece of salmon individually, dip it into the sauce so that it is covered on each side. Place the salmon in the middle of the skillet.
Once the salmon is placed, pour the remainder of the sauce over top of the 2 pieces of salmon. The juices will spread throughout the pan which is okay.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
Top with cilantro and extra lime juice and ENJOY!!

#HowFitFeels – The complete experiment

This week: quite possibly the best share i’ve contributed to our blog.
How fit feels – those of us that have found the benefits of staying active KNOW this feeling, if you’re on the brink of starting your fitness journey please watch this and give us a call to start your journey TODAY.

Full credit goes to First FItness Australia for this brilliant documentary.

“Have we become too obsessed with how fitness is meant to look? Over 12 weeks we conducted an experiment. 3 unfit people took up exercise and 3 of the fittest gave it up. We wanted to see #howfitfeels


No one can resist a good bolognese. I love using spaghetti squash for meals where I want to keep the carbs a bit lower (so i can have pudding) and this bolognese is absolutely heavenly, as most of Diane Sanfilippo meals are!

Easy Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese from Practical Paleo (And more ideas for replacing pasta!)

This recipe is from my New York Times Bestselling book, Practical Paleo.

spaghetti squash bolognese

A traditional meat sauce, Bolognese is usually made with heavy cream and a variety of meats. To keep this one dairy-free, I use coconut milk instead of cream.

grain-free • gluten-free • dairy-free • nut-free • seed-free • sugar-free • 21DSD 

Spaghetti Squash Bolognese from Practical Paleo | Diane SanfilippoPREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: 60 minutes
YIELD: 4 servings
NUTRITION INFO: click here


  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • Sea salt & black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or grass-fed butter
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely diced
  • 1/2 lb ground veal or beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 ounces (1/2 small can) tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional, omit for 21DSD – you may replace with beef broth if you feel you need to add some liquid)
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste


  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise so that two shallow halves remain. Scoop out the seeds and inner portion of the squash, and then sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Place both halves face down on a baking sheet. Roast for 35-45 minutes—until the flesh of the squash becomes translucent in color and the skin begins to soften and easily separate from the “noodles” that make up the inside.
  • Allow the squash to cool enough so that you can handle it, and then scoop the flesh out from the inside of the skin into a large serving bowl. Set aside until the sauce is finished.
  • While the squash bakes: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the bacon fat or butter, and sautée the onions, carrots, and celery until they become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  • Add the ground veal, pork, and bacon, and cook until browned through. Once the meat is done, add the coconut milk, tomato paste, and white wine (optional), and simmer over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the sauce is well combined and any alcohol is cooked out (if you added it).
  • Add sea salt and black pepper to taste before removing the sauce from the heat.
  • Serve over the roasted spaghetti squash.

Yes, you can enjoy this recipe while on the 21-Day Sugar Detox! Simply omit the wine from the recipe. 

Better-Than-Sex Glute Pump

If you’re a female interested in fitness the odds are that you enjoy working on your glutes.
Sohee Fit created this great glute-finisher OR stand alone glute session that will give you a great pump!

This is a 10-minute mini-band glute circuit that you can do from anywhere.

Here’s what it looks like:

A1. RKC plank 10-20s hold
A2. Banded bodyweight squat 10ea
A3. Wide-stance banded bodyweight squat to reverse lunge 10ea
A4. Monster walk (band around feet)
A5. Seated band hip abduction 10,10,10 (3 ways)
A6. Feet-elevated bodyweight glute bridge

Rest for 30-60 seconds and then repeat the circuit one more time.

Thanks Sohee!

Easy Mashed Cauliflower with Garlic

Pregnancy doesn’t have to mean you have to quit all workouts – Breaking Muscle’s Nicole Crawford wrote a great article on how to adjust your workout during this special time!

Women who have trained prior to pregnancy probably won’t be thrilled about some of the exercise rules and regulations you find in books and online. No muscle ups, crunches, knees to elbows, or jumping? No more snatches or pull ups? While it’s true that you should avoid certain exercises during pregnancy, just because you have to modify some exercises doesn’t mean you have to lose your workout altogether. Here are four exercises that I’ve had to modify during my current pregnancy, and some tips for making them more manageable.



During my first two pregnancies I gave up on running pretty early on. Now during my third, I’m twenty weeks along and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Although my times aren’t anywhere near what they used to be, it’s enjoyable and has kept me conditioned. However, I’m not going to say it’s always comfortable. Here are a few things you can do to minimize discomfort:


  • Purchase a good sports bra for some extra support. Toward the end of the first trimester you’ll probably notice things are expanding a bit in the chest department, which is great until you try to run a several miles.
  • Get a support belt. When I hit nineteen weeks I started to get lower back pain the day after a run. I’m pretty sure it’s because my belly is hanging out. I’ve heard a support belt can help with this issue.
  • Don’t be afraid of the run/walk. If all-out running is too tiring or uncomfortable, try throwing in some walking intervals. It will help keep your heart rate down and might even improve your time! If running intervals are too much, you can substitute another cardio exercise like rowing or swimming.


Pull Ups and Chin Ups

Some women can continue to do pull ups and chin ups throughout their entire pregnancy. I’ve started to find them pretty uncomfortable since I started second trimester, so I’ve discontinued the strict versions of both. You might notice a tugging feeling in your abdomen, especially once your belly starts expanding and the abdominal muscles start to weaken. Since I’ve had serious issues with diastasis recti before, I like to err on the side of caution to avoid aggravating the problem.


Here are some tips for modifying these exercises:


  • Kipping pull ups: If you also find strict pull ups and chin ups uncomfortable, you can get a similar effect with kipping pull ups but only if you’ve already done them prior to pregnancy with good form. The momentum will take some of the pressure off of the core muscles. If you’re a pregnant CrossFitter you might appreciate this video:



  • Australian pull ups: These are a good substitute because you can adjust the intensity by changing the height of the bar. For a nice upper body workout, I like to alternate Australian pull ups, push ups, and side planks.


If both of these are uncomfortable, find a set of monkey bars and forget the “up” part altogether. Just hanging and swinging from the bars will go a long way in keeping your upper body conditioned.


Overhead Lifts

A lot of the pregnancy resources out there will tell you not to do any overhead lifts during pregnancy. While it’s true that overhead lifts can put a lot of stress on your lower back and may challenge your balance, personally I’ve continued to do them throughout my pregnancies and have also done them with pregnant clients who are used to strength training.


Before you stop them altogether, try these modifications to see if they help:


  • Instead of a barbell, use a kettlebell or dumbbells for your overhead lifts and alternate sides. This will allow you to use the non-working side to help maintain balance. You will probably have to do a little bit of navigation around your belly as pregnancy progresses.
  • Lower the weight. Generally speaking, I personally never work above 70% of my normal max during pregnancy. Usually I keep it around 50% with overhead lifts to minimize stress on the lower back.
  • Substitute long, slow movements with higher-intensity movements that don’t require you to keep the weight overhead. The one-arm kettlebell snatch or clean and press are great modifications for overhead lifts.



If you experience ligament pain during pregnancy you might have a hard time with squats, weighted or unweighted. You might also experience knee pain during squats. Here are a few modifications to keep squatting in your routine:


  • Once again, lower the weight. Instead of squatting with a barbell use a kettlebell for goblet squats. These are one of my favorite exercises for pregnant women.
  • Use blocks or a rolled up towel to elevate your feet. This is great if you have a hard time keeping your heels flat during a squat. I’m actually not a huge fan of using a lot of props to modify exercises, but squats are one of those essential movements that are worth it.
  • If weighted squats become too uncomfortable, do bodyweight squats instead.Remember your body is already hauling around a lot of extra weight. I like to do dynamic exercises that incorporate squatting, like walking side squats with a resistance band or wall balls.


The most important modification you can make during pregnancy is to increase your awareness of what’s going on with your body. Pay attention to breath patterns, pain, straining, and other things you might normally ignore if you’re used to training hard. Pressure is normal but pain is not. I also recommend incorporating yoga, stretching, or other low-impact exercise into your routine to relieve stress and aid in recovery.


I hope these modifications help you keep up with your workouts. What helped you keep up with your training throughout your pregnancy?