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2 things you gotta change for permanent weight loss

2 things you gotta change for permanent weight loss

For years, I had only temporary success at weight loss. I’d exercise for a while, lose some fat, then stop exercising and gain it back. Or I’d cut out some foods, lose a few pounds, then gain them back. Usually the cycle ran less than a year.

I’m not alone. Nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years, according to Gary Foster, Ph.D., clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania. (source)

It’s so discouraging to put so much effort into something that happens so slowly, only to have it undone so quickly and easily. For me, the amount and speed of my weight loss didn’t become really encouraging until I started a serious strength-training program AND changed how I was eating at the same time.

But even then, I wasn’t sure I could keep it off. If a stressful season returned, would I cave into my old habits? Finally, something happened that made me feel a tide had changed for good.

For me, the change became permanent when I altered two things:

  1. WHAT I ate, and
  2. WHY I ate.

I’ve come to realize that if I only change what I eat without addressing the causes of my emotional eating, no diet is going to stick. But if I address the emotional issues while still frequently “indulging” in foods that create cravings (and not eating the foods that quell cravings), it’s still going to be a daily, uphill battle.

I believe that addressing both is the only permenent solution.

Changing what I ate

At different times, I’ve toyed with cutting back on fat, or eating low-carb, or restricting calories/portion sizes. I never tried all of them at the same time, because that would be like…

fat-free low-carb vegan non-GMO plate

But never, on any of those diets, did I see my cravings go away to a helpful degree.

But then…

In the spring of 2015, my husband was suffering from an autoimmune disease called idiopathic angioedema, which caused random areas of his body to become inflamed with notice or any discernable patter. After exhausting the knowledge of local doctors and finding a specialist in San Diego, the only medical treatment that kept it under control was taking four Zyrtec tablets a day. The normal dose is one per day. He was so tired all the time that, out of desperation, he agreed to try this crazy Paleo diet I’d been talking about. I’d read first-hand accounts of people with other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis seeing significant relief from their symptoms when they eliminated certain foods.

It did help his symptoms, and he lost several pounds, even though weight loss wasn’t his purpose for doing it. I was already at a healthy weight when we started eating Paleo, and I actually gained a few pounds the first few months on it, but I noticed something else amazing: 99% of my cravings were gone. (Along with chronic shoulder pain and foggy brain.)

As I’ve said elsewhere (What is the Paleo Diet and should I try it?), I think that one of the reasons the Paleo diet helps people with so many health and weight issues is because it pretty much forces you to give up highly processed food and instead, eat whole, nutrient-dense foods, simply prepared. My diet — by which I mean my normal, day-to-day way of eating, that I can happily live with longterm — has since evolved to something a little more relaxed, but it’s still very much focused on eating whole, real foods and avoiding factory-made convenience foods. (I call it the 5-star formula.)

It’s those easy-to-eat, easy-to-keep-eating, factory-made foods that are driving most of our cravings. (For more info, see Why some foods are more addictive than others.)

Often, people approach a diet with the hope — conscious or not — that if they can just eat a certain way for a few weeks, it will magically, permanently change everything.

Ready for some tough love? That’s wishful thinking.

A temporary, restrictive diet (such as Whole30 or 21 Day Sugar Detox [see my books page]) can help clear a few things up, but it isn’t meant to be a lifetime religion. It’s for figuring out what foods work for you and what don’t. Maybe you’ll find that cutting out dairy 90% of the time gets you the balance you need to stay the course: gets you an improvement in the benefits, while still letting you have pizza with your friends once a week.

You may also discover that you can indulge in a little something sweet from time to time, without it kicking off a downward spiral into the cave of the Sugar Monster.

Or, you may find that you can’t. sugar-monster-feed-me-sugar-480x250


A friend of mine discovered that just one piece of white bread will kick off hours of sugar cravings for her. I can enjoy some desserts in moderation, but there are certain junk foods I can’t even sample without craving them continuously for days.

This is important to know. This is where the freedom is found! Discovering your own personal boundaries is, ironically, the thing that brings you freedom.

Researchers found that when a playground doesn’t have a fence, children tend to cluster near the school building. However, when a fence surrounds a playground, children feel free to play anywhere on the playground, not fearing traffic or other dangers. When you’ve discovered that a certain food always hits you like a train, you know that food needs to be outside your fence. But there are plenty of other delicious, satisfying foods inside your fence that you can enjoy! (See my index of real food recipes for about 200 examples!)

It’s human nature to focus on the one thing we can’t have, rather than all the things we do get to enjoy. (Hello, Eve in the Garden of Eden!) But that kind of focus will rob you of pleasure and contentment.

People resist change because they focus on what they're giving up, instead of what they have to gain.

It’s challenging, but you can retrain your mind to focus on the right things. Focus on the foods you do get to enjoy. Focus on how much better you feel when you eat healthy foods.

Just recently, at the suggestion of his doctor, my husband began the ketogenic diet (or “keto”) which focuses on the ratio of carbs, fat, and protein in the diet, with very high fat content and very low carb content. And it has crushed his cravings!

the hard truth: if you want to get rid of cravings, you've got to get rid of sugar.

(Important note about keto: If you have type 2 diabetes, cancer, seizures, or just a very recalcitrent sweet tooth, you might want to consider this diet. Two firm cautions: If you have type 1 diabetes, you should not do this diet, because it may create a dangerous situation called ketoacidosis in type 1 diabetics. If you have type 2 diabetes, you should only try it under a physician’s supervision, so they can monitor your blood sugars and adjust your medication as necessary. Some type 2 diabetics find they can reduce or eliminate meds on this diet, but you should always approach that while working with a doctor who’s aware of what you’re doing.)

If you can just live without the convenience food for a few weeks, you’ll be amazed how your tastes change — and your self-control!

But I have to admit: although my new way of eating killed most of my cravings, I needed something bigger than a set of food rules to make sure I never went back to my old ways of eating again. I still struggled with nighttime cravings and some emotional eating.

For that, I needed to change why I ate.


Changing why I ate

Sometimes, even without a physical craving, there are still things that make us want to eat stuff we know we’ll regret. Often those are feelings like boredom, loneliness, or stress.

I have a boyfriend. Oh, wait, no. That's a fridge.

Or our cravings may be ramped up in social situations where habit or peer pressure test our limits. Like, um, holidays?!

To be able to say “no” when facing a tempting situation, you need to have a bigger “yes” burning within. A question I encountered online recently is a great illustration of a “bigger yes” at work in real life.

I belong to a Whole30 Facebook page, and recently one of the members posted this question:

“I did my first Whole30 in June to rebalance my hormones, clean my gut, and tone up. After the Whole30+, my skin cleared, my body was less bloated, I lost about 5 lbs, and started having more energy. I continued it until this weekend when I hit a temptation. Maybe it’s cause I’m 20 and of course I want to lose weight, but I already eat very strict…and I only go off on bad streaks of sugar sometimes. I want to fit into my old cute clothes again and feel renewed but I also love having a social life and Whole30 really restricts this… So how do I find this freedom?”

I don’t say this in judgment, because everyone has to decide what their own bigger “yes” is. But from what the young woman asking the question said, her biggest “yes” is: “I want to eat what my friends are eating.” To her, that’s a bigger “yes” than “I want to fit into my old cute clothes,” “I want my skin to stay cleared up,” and “I want to have more energy.”

For me, fitting in a smaller size or looking thinner wasn’t enough to keep me disciplined long-term, either. I needed a bigger “yes.” A reason big enough to help me say “no” when I need to.

And after watching Alzheimer’s steal my mom away bit by bit, I found it: avoiding type 2 diabetes and dementia.

A whole foods, healthy fat, sugar-free diet can keep type 2 diabetes largely under control. A high-carb, sugary, processed food diet can make it worse. And there are close ties between diabetes and dementia.

On this much, many scientists agree: The rate of Alzheimer’s disease could be cut by close to half if diabetes could be abolished. The connection between the two is so strong that Suzanne M. de la Monte, one of the top researchers in the field, has said that many cases of Alzheimer’s could be dubbed Type 3 diabetes.  [Emphasis mine] (source)

When I think of my choices in terms like sugar and carbs = possible Alzheimer’s, the “should or shouldn’t I” is a whole lot easier to answer! Instead of “should I eat this or not?”, the question becomes…

  • Do I want dessert every day, or do I want a dementia-free life?
  • Do I want bread all day long, or an unfoggy brain?
  • Do I want the grand-slam breakfast, or do I want to be able to play with my grandkids?

The deeper why: When a change in diet and a bigger yes aren’t enough

What if you’ve cleaned up your diet, found your bigger yes, and you’re still struggling with frequent, repeated returns to your old ways? I’m not talking about having pizza with your family one night and having cake at a wedding reception in the same week. I’m talking about several times every week for weeks on end, or periods of time where you completely abandon all your boundaries, to the point where you gain weight and lose hope. Again.

There may be a few things going on.

Robb Wolf, author of Wired to Eat, said in a podcast interview with Chris Kresser:

I’ll be working with a client and … in one way or another, [they say] the following: “I’m trying to develop a healthy relationship with food.” On first blush, [I respond], “Okay, that’s totally reasonable.” Who could argue with that? …
Then I start asking some questions. Is it really about the food? And so, I would dig and dig and dig, and I found a very consistent trend: almost always somewhere in the past, this person has suffered some sort of pain. There’s been some sort of a traumatic event — that could be family, school, or peer group. It could be a variety of things. And for whatever reason, food has become a palliative tool in dealing with that pain, and then that can lead into overeating. Either making more food choices or consistently just overeating to kind of get the satisfaction and the dopamine release associated with eating.
And what I’ve noticed is that a really strong focus on that relationship with food guarantees that the fundamental underlying issues will not be dealt with. [Emphasis mine]
We’ve turned this into a situation of chasing symptoms and not root cause. And it’s going to be an unresolvable scenario unless we can sit down and say, “Okay, I understand that food has kind of become the focus, but I’m going to throw out this suggestion. [Maybe] this really isn’t about food. There’s something else deeper here going on, but food has become a Band-Aid, has become a symptom. Can we talk about and explore this? Maybe work with a therapist and really get some professional eyeballs and ears on this thing.” And when I help people, guide them towards that path, we’ve had really, really good success….
This is the message that comes out of the media and medicine, dietetics, self-help, and self-care, but I’m just starting to think that this [focus on having a good relationship with food] is something that literally ensnares and entraps us and distracts us from actually dealing with the root issues that are ultimately going to liberate us out of this scenario.
This is confirmed by a study started by a researching doctor at Kaiser Permanente. He was trying to figure out why certain very overweight patients of their weight loss clinic would see partial success, then drop out of the program. They noticed that all the clients who quit had a similar pattern of weight gain: they didn’t gain slowly over years; they gained suddenly within one year. He stumbled on the answer in an interview with one of the drop-outs, when he asked how much she weighed when she first became sexually active. When she answered “40,” he thought that he’d read the question wrong or she misunderstood him. When he clarified and she answered “40 pounds: I was four years old,” and broke into tears, he suddenly realized what she was saying.
With this insight, the research team interviewed 286 other dropouts, looking for this connection, and found that most of those who had dropped out of the study had been sexually abused as children. A comment from one of the women shed deeper insight into what was going on: “Overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be,” she said. For many of the survivors, extra weight was a protection against unwanted attention.
Armed with this insight, they expanded the research. A later study of more than 17,000 people found a wide variety of adverse events occurring in their childhood. Years later, the echoes of these events were affecting their weight, addictions, and other health issues. The 10 childhood events they looked at included:
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member
(For a more thorough telling of this research, read The Shocking Way Childhood Trauma Affects Your Physical Health, by counselor Lucille Zimmerman.)
But extreme stress in adulthood can have similar consequences, too.
There are all kinds of pains from the present or past that might make us push our feelings underground and dull the ache or the stress with food. Here are just a few I’ve brainstormed:
  • stress in marriage relationship
  • divorce
  • stressful job
  • new job
  • recent or impending move
  • new baby; new foster or adopted children
  • empty nest (especially if your life revolved around your children)
  • strenuous schedule due to work, school, and/or other-care
  • hands-on caregiver
  • emotional, sexual, verbal, and/or physical abuse (past or present)
  • a loved one in personal or health crisis
  • a loved one with mental illness
  • death of a loved one
  • a grief that’s been stuffed, not processed
  • protracted or life-altering illness in yourself or immediate family
  • an unpleasable parent
  • an unpleasable self; unable to give yourself grace
  • unable to speak about how you really feel
  • survivor of trauma (car accident, natural disaster, etc.)
  • victim of rape, robbery, or other violence (including war)
  • unresolved guilt over abortion or other deep regret

I experienced the fastest weight gain of my life during the three years when my dad was dying, my mom was succumbing to the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, and my kids were transitioning from high school to college — and into more independence from mom. Which was a good, healthy thing for them to do, but it did mean some loss and grief for me; not just in my relationships with them, but in the way motherhood gave my life meaning and purpose.

For those few years, comfort food became a coping mechanism. And let me just say: I don’t think we should add beating ourselves up over something like that to our list of stressors when we’re in the middle of it! Unless your weight/health is at a crisis point — say, crossing over into pre-diabetes or diabetes — I think it’s okay to give yourself a pass for several months or one or two years that are just going to be difficult, no two ways about it. But after that season was over for me and the habits persisted, I knew it was time to change the habits and reverse the damage. It took a couple more years for me to get to where I was really ready to dig in. Another thing that was crucial: asking for help!

If you suspect that one or more of these may be at play in your difficulties with eating and food, let me gently but strongly encourage you to seek help. If you’ve sought help in the past that didn’t make a difference or made things worse, please don’t give up! Not every counselor is a good fit for you. Keep looking for counselors or other support  until you find someone who will listen to you, affirm your pain, and help you work through it. It also might be helpful to find a personal trainer, diet advisor, or life-change coach, for example.
But I encourage you, if you’re stuck and need help, to seek it. Change is possible.

How about you?

Have you discovered which foods trigger cravings for you?

What might your “bigger yes” be, that would help you say no to more tempting foods?

Might you need to start or give another go at therapy, to help you move forward regarding past or current pain?


What you have to look forward to:

Imagine you…

  • Able to pass up desserts and junk food without feeling deprived
  • Able to freely enjoy the occasional special food without tossing all your boundaries out the window
  • Feeling great when you wake up in the morning
  • Feeling clear-headed all day
  • Having energy to do fun things you can’t do where you are now
  • Able to reduce or quit some of your medications (along with their side effects)

This could be — this can be your life! Just recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight, it’ll take some long term commitment, possibly some professional help, and, initially, some uncomfortable changes in what you eat and why you eat, but trust me: it’s so, so worth it! And in the end, it doesn’t feel like deprivation any more.

perseverence; persistence quotes

Need some help?

I can help in 2 ways…

  1. Starting Jan. 2, 2018, I’ll be doing a “2 Things Challenge.” Anyone is welcome to join in! The challenge is to pick 2 things that you’ll do over the course of 22 days in January, to improve what you eat, and why you eat. I’ll be posting ideas and encouragement on my Facebook page and my Instagram feed (where I’m @janalovesrealfood). Follow me either or both of those places to follow along.
  2. I’ll be speaking and conducting workshops and classes a few times this spring (2018). Signing up for my mailing list will keep you up-to-date as details emerge. You’ll also get a couple free e-books when you sign up: The Meal Plan for People Who Hate to Meal Plan, and 10 Small Steps to Big Change.

Sign up here to get instant access to the meal plan, the small steps guide, and to be notified when classes are starting!

* indicates required



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 2 things to change for permanent weight loss

Whole30 vs. Partial Whole30

To Whole30 or not

Yes, I know that “partial Whole30” is an oxymoron.

(For those unfamiliar with Whole30, it’s committing to 30 days of strict adherance to a Paleo diet. If you’re not sure what that is, see What’s the Paleo diet?)

But while I think there’s a lot of good to be earned from doing a Whole30, it just isn’t right for everyone, all the time. If you’re trying to sort out which is right for you right now, here are some things to consider.

Continue Reading

Success story: Annie sought relief from chronic pain, and changed her life

success story; Paleo Annie, before and after

Today, I’m sharing a success story that touches on a topic near to my heart: lupus. My dad suffered from lupus for a little more than three decades before he went home to Jesus in 2010. Before he was actually diagnosed, he was bedridden and in severe pain for weeks at a time, for more than a year. After diagnosis, he was on heavy-duty meds that kept the pain and inflammation under control for many years, enabling him to live a more-or-less normal life. Once a week, he went in for his methotrexate shot, and I think he took other medications as well. In the end, lupus + the meds + the stress of caring for my mom as she declined in Alzheimer’s did him in. If only we’d known then how much of a role food can play in lupus and other autoimmune diseases, he may have been able to take less medicine, and been with us longer.

But now, many lupus sufferers are discovering that the Paleo diet or some variation of it helps reduce their symptoms. On Instagram, I met Annie through the #paleo hashtag, and I was intrigued when she mentioned that she has lupus. She recently shared the before and after pics you see above, and I asked if I could share her story here. (You can find her on Instagram as @wholepaleoannie.)


One year ago was a turning point for me. I wanted to lose weight, I wanted my lupus pain to go away, and I NEEDED something that worked and that I could stick to. I decided to take on my first life changing Whole30 in September of 2016. [Whole30 is 30 days of strict Paleo]

Annie, before and after one year of Paleo Whole30

Just a year ago, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I felt uncomfortable in my body and I didn’t want to live with chronic pain my whole life. Flash forward to this year: I’m in my gym clothes because I came from my gym class. (It’s the specialized one I pay extra money for — and you know how I hate wasting money!) I’m full of energy, I feel confident in my body, I have a healthy relationship with food 95% of the time. And I have hope that I WILL go into Lupus remission with a combination of my medicine and the food I put in my body.

I’ve officially been off prednisone for five months after being on it a year and a half. I’ve also cut back on over-the-counter NSAIDs that I use to manage pain.

It’s night and day with my symptoms! Before, the summer heat would wear me out, and all I could really do is work and sleep during the weekdays. Before rain would hit, my joints would swell up and everything would ache. Now I have very minimal pain, if any at all, these days. Last time I saw my rheumatologist, he even commented that my joints are stronger!

I honestly stumbled upon this weight loss journey. I tried a Whole30 on a whim that it would help with my chronic pain. I had no idea that this lifestyle change would actually stick for the first time in my life. I’m thankful for this life every day. I’m humbled by how far I’ve come and the people in this community that continue to inspire me. If you want to make a change, it’s possible, and it’s never too late to start.


Interested in trying a big change in diet, but not sure if it’s more than you can handle? You might like my recent post 7 questions to define the perfect eating plan for you now.

Already committed to Paleo but looking for help? I also wrote about 15 tips to make eating Paleo easier.

7 questions to define the perfect eating plan for you now


“The second day of a diet is always easier than the first.

By the second day you’re off it.”

— Jackie Gleason


So, are you thinking about starting a new eating plan? Whole30, Paleo, 21-Day Sugar Detox, Mediterranean, or ketogenic? Good for you! But maybe you’re a little worried because of past experiences you’ve had starting — and stopping — a new diet.

(Impatient? Jump straight to the quiz.)

Oh, those optimistic first few days of a diet! This time, you think, this time will be different. I’ve got this! I’m going to change all the things! I’m never going to eat sugar again! I’m going to eat salad every day!

Diet, day 1 - I'm king of the world!

And then, in a few days, reality hits…

Diet, day 7; how am I supposed to live?

Often, at least part of the problem is we’ve attempted a plan that really isn’t well-suited to the reality of where we’re at right now. This is especially true if you’re making a giant leap from a no-restrictions lifestyle to an eating plan that’s very restrictive, such as Whole30 or keto. Choosing a diet that;s a step or two in the right direction — rather than a giant leap or two or twelve — will help ensure both short-term and long-term success.

My own eating changes happened by trial and error, in steps small and large, over the course of many years. And I ultimately landed on a plan I can live with pretty much every day, forever. I love mostly Paleo, with a few accommodations that make it more livable. And “livable” is the big factor for long-term success.

Dr. Walter Willet, Chair of the Deptartment of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says:

“The real issue is not losing weight—people can lose weight on almost any diet—but [the real issue is] keeping weight off over the long run. Thus it is more important to find a way of eating that you can stay with for the rest of your life. For this reason, any eating plan you choose should be satisfying and allow variety, and should also be nutritionally sound.”

So what’s “nutritionally sound,” and also satisfying? There are a number of diets that fit the bill, I think. (Low-fat isn’t one of them. You need fat for the assimilation of vitamins and for building cell walls. And a low-fat diet tends to not be very satisfying.) But what all nutritious, livable plans have in common is that each of them is a “diet” (by which I really mean a permanent way of eating for life) that focuses on real food: whole foods that haven’t been messed with in a lab or factory. Making sure there’s protein, healthy fats, and plenty of veggies included daily. Whether and how much fruits, grains, and dairy are included depends on each person’s individual tastes and biology.

I’ve landed on a mostly-Paleo approach that allows for some accommodations that keep it livable for me, without triggering junk food cravings. It’s a far cry from how I ate 10 years ago, but I didn’t get there overnight.

I thought about those steps that I took over the years and I’ve broken them down here for you. And created a flexible approach that lets you pick and choose which steps are most pertinent for you, right now.

You might take two steps for now, really work on those for two weeks, or a month, or more, then come back and add a couple more for another round. And repeat until you find what works for you.

Or maybe you work on changing your breakfast habits for two weeks, then your lunch and snack habits for two weeks, and then tackling dinner.

You think you've tried and failed - but really, the diet was unlivable. Consider it research.


So here are the questions to help you get started. First, there are four questions to help you sort out what your most pressing needs are, and suggest some various starting places, based on your answers. Then, there are three questions to help define what time period you want to commit to this project, and what you’ll do afterwards.

The quiz

(Printable version)


Please honestly answer questions 1 through 4:

1. What is your current health status? I am overweight, and/or I have one or more of the following: metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, diabetes (either type 1 or 2), heart disease, enlarged liver, and/or I have had a stroke.

__ A. False

__ B. True


2. How do you do with sweets/carbs/junk food? Tally up how many of the following are true for you. (Or more often true than not.)

Note: “Sweetened drinks” include anything sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, agave syrup, OR artificial sweeteners: lattes, smoothies, pop, sweet tea, and energy drinks. Also, most liqueurs or alcoholic cocktails with a sweet or sour taste: Amaretto, Kahlua, Bailey’s, margarita, mojito, Moscow mule,  sangria, etc. Also beer, because of the maltose.

• I plan to eat just a small portion of a treat and end up eating the whole package/thing.

• I crave simple carbohydrates daily: sweetened drinks, chips, cereal, rice, pasta, bread, granola bars, etc.

• I’m likely to over-eat sweet or starchy foods.

• I’ll eat large quantities of sweets or carby foods even if I’m not particularly hungry,

• I turn to carby food or drinks (sweetened drinks, beer) when I’m feeling emotional — up and/or down.

Check your total:

__ A. 0 – 1 out of the 5

__ B. 2 – 5 out of the 5


3. What are you drinking? I drink sweetened beverages most or all of the day, and/OR I drink beer or sweetened alcohol at least five days a week. (Sweetened beverages = same list as in question 2.)

__ A. False

__ B. True


4. What are you eating? This best describes how I’m currently eating most of the time:

__ A. No real restraints, or alternating between severe restriction and the-hell-with-it

__ B. Low-fat, restricted calories

__ C. Lots of fruit, grains, potatoes, and beans; less meat, protein, and veggies

__ D. Low-carb, little to no sugar, few veggies

__ E. Low-carb, little to no sugar, lots of veggies


Scoring so far:

Following is a list of possible food boundaries you can choose from, divided into Level 1 and Level 2. Which level you choose from depends on how you answered the questions above.

Questions 1-3:

If you answered B to question 1 and B to either or both of questions 2 and 3, you should start with one or two items in Level 1. After this round, come back and add another option or two. Small steps add up!  (You can skip ahead to read Level 1 now.)

If you answered A or B to question 1, but you answered A to both questions 2 and 3, read on regarding Question 4….

Question 4:

If you answered A to question 4, start with one or two items from Level 1 for this round, then plan on adding more for your next phase.

If you answered B or C to question 4, you should start with two or more items in Level 1, then plan on adding more for your next phase.

If you answered D to question 4, you can focus on adding more non-starchy vegetables to all your meals, and if you like, also choose one or more options from Level 2.

If you answered E to question 4, select one or more options from Level 2 that will build on your already good diet.

Check off the items you would like to tackle now. You can always add others after this round:


Level 1:

Nutrition isn’t just about what you don’t eat: it’s also very much about what you do eat that adds to your health. So don’t overlook these first items that involve adding something you’re not currently doing. They’re all designed to satisfy nutritional cravings your body has (even if you’re not aware of them), and they help balance your blood sugar, which will also reduce sweet and junk food cravings.

__ If you’re not already eating low carb, aim for a visual balance between protein and carbs in all meals and snacks

__ If you’re eating low fat, add protein and healthy fats to your meals and snacks

__ Add non-starchy veggies to your meals and snacks (all veggies except regular potatoes, winter squash, and starchy beans)

__ Eliminate anything made with white flour (this includes anything battered and fried)

__ Eliminate sweets and all forms of sugar in food and drinks* (corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, etc. See Other names for sugar.)


Level 2:

Nutrition isn’t just about what you don’t eat: it’s also very much about what you do eat that adds to your health. So don’t overlook these first two items that involve adding something you’re not currently doing. They’re designed to satisfy nutritional cravings your body has (even if you’re not aware of them).

__ Add protein, greens, and/or healthy fat to your breakfast, if lacking

__ Add protein, greens, and/or healthy fat to your snacks and other meals, if lacking

__ Eliminate all wheat, corn, and soy

__ Eliminate most or all dairy (many people find this helps with skin, gut, and joint issues)

__ Reduce or eliminate alcohol

Or choose one of the following:

__ Transition to a “real food” plan. Eliminate all super-processed foods, stick to whole foods (meat, eggs, fish, veggies, fruit, dairy). More info in the notes.*

__ Follow the Mediterranean eating style*

__ Follow a strict Paleo approach* (If you do this for 30 days with no breaks, that’s “Whole30”.)

__ Define your modified Paleo plan* – Paleo eliminates all sugar, syrups, and sweeteners; all grains and pseudo-grains; all dairy; all alcohol; and all legumes. To modify it, choose those parts that you’re willing to commit to for this time period. You can choose this option as a trial run before doing a Whole30, OR use it to define what “food freedom”* is for you afterwards.

__ Another way of eating that suits your particular health needs right now. E.g, low histamine, AIP, low FODMAP, etc. (These are designed for people with specific health problems. If you’ve tried strict Paleo and still have allergy, autoimmune, or inflammation issues, or migraines, you may need to look into one of these elimination diets. If you don’t have any of those issues, you don’t need this.)



Now, thinking about your temperament, and how much time you have in your calendar for the coming weeks, answer the following…

5. Will you allow for breaks, or not? Answer the following:

– I tend to be more successful and less stressed when I:

__ A. Follow clear-cut rules all of the time, eliminating the need to make decisions as I go.

__ B. Follow rules most of the time, with a few loopholes built in so I don’t feel deprived.

If you answered B, decide which ONE of the following patterns you’ll adhere to for this round:

__ For now, I am just going to work on changing one meal a day, seven days a week, and that meal will be: ______________________.

__ I will stay in my food boundaries all the time except for one day a week, and that day will be: ______________________.

__ I will stay in my food boundaries, except for three meals a week, and those will always be: ______________________.

__ I will stay in my food boundaries, except for one meal a day on weekdays. That meal will be: ______________________.

__ I will stay in my food boundaries, except when eating out with others, and then I will modify it by: ______________________. (Limit this to five meals a week, at most)


6. What will your starting and ending dates be?

Note: the 15-day option won’t give you radical results, but it might be a good time period for baby-stepping your way to a bigger goal. For example, a good strategy would be to add protein and healthy fats to your meals for two weeks before you start eliminating sugar.

– I would like to commit to this changed way of eating for:

__ 15 days (if you’re choosing this option, you’ll see more benefits if you follow your boundaries 24/7, with no breaks)

__ 21 days

__ 30 days

__ 40 days

– I am going to start on: (date) _________________________

– So my ending date will be: (date) ______________________

7. What’s your end game? If you’re doing any of the items that involved adding something healthy to your diet, there’s no reason to quit that. If you’re doing any items that involved eliminating something from your diet, you can choose at the end whether to continue that strictly, to drop that restriction, or to create some new boundaries for yourself that keep the not-so-healthy food in sensible doses.

For example, if you were eliminating dairy and found that some of your health issues improved, you might want to test one type of dairy at a time (aged cheeses, fresh cheeses, cream, yogurt, butter) to find out whether one or all of them are the culprit, then adapt your long-term diet accordingly.

Or, if you chose a baby step for this round – say, adding protein for 14 days – your end game should define which step you’ll choose next. Or, at least, that you’ll come back to this post and walk through the process again to decide on your next round.

My end game is: _____________________________________

Put a note in your calendar now for your starting date. Also write one on your ending date, reminding yourself what your end game / next step is. Review and learn from your struggles and successes, and make a new plan for your next round, or for life forever.

How can I help you?

I send out a short email once a month, pointing to some easy, healthy recipes and sometimes other helpful resources. And when you subscribe, you’ll also get a couple e-books I wrote:

  • 10 diet hacks anyone can do to cut down on sugar and carbs
  • The meal plan for people who hate to meal plan!

Go here to learn more.

Oh, and here’s another thing that might help you start and stay strong: Get your “but” out of the way!

I hope you’ve found this process helpful. If you have any questions, please comment below, and I’ll answer them if I can.


*Notes about food plan options

Quitting sugar; adding fat

For more detail about whether or not you need to quit sugar completely, see this post.

Why low-fat is not all that and a bag of chips: Eat fat, scientists say.


Real food, Mediterranean, or Paleo?

A “real food” approach doesn’t provide a lot of specific parameters, other than just avoiding processed food. If you’re more comfortable with a little more structure, the Mediterranean and Paleo approaches to eating are a couple I think are worth looking into. If you don’t like red meat so much, and/or if you can’t live without wine, you may prefer the Mediterranean way. If you want more meat in your diet (there are still a lot of veggies; it’s not all meat), consider Paleo or Whole30. Or a modified Paleo, where you allow what works for you.

Here are some tips I wrote that will help you start strong. I originally wrote it with the Paleo diet in mind, but most if not all of it is applicable for any real-food diet: 15 tips to make eating healthy easier


What is this “real food” you speak of?

Real food defined

Why cut processed food


More info about the Mediterranean diet

Better results than a low-fat diet

What’s in and out on the Mediterranean plan

8 tips for transitioning to Mediterranean

12 Mediterranean recipes to try


Info about the Paleo diet and Whole30

A post about Paleo: What is the Paleo diet and should I try it?

Success stories from people who found the Paleo diet changed their relationship with food and, for some, improved their autoimmune symptoms.

In case you missed this comment earlier, “Whole30” is 30 days of eating strict Paleo, with no breaks or cheats. It will make more sense and you’ll have a higher chance of success if you read the definitive book first: It Starts With Food

Set realistic expectations for doing a Whole30: The Whole30 Timeline

After you’ve determined which foods are good for you and which aren’t, you’re ready for food freedom:


Success story: Jo got rid of psoriasis and IBS

Jo's healthy lifestyle success story - before and after

Today, I’m sharing another story from one of my Instagram friends: Jo Romero from the UK. We’ve never met in real life, but I loved her story when she shared it on IG, so I asked to share it with you.

I love that her story includes healing from so many things, and that she continues to listen to her body and tweak her diet as needed. And of course, that she’s discovered how great it feels when you eat real food!

Here’s her story in her own words:

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Success story: Linda’s eating clean

Linda's eating clean - before and after - whole30 weight loss success

Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of my Instagram friends. We’ve never met in real life, but I was so impressed with her story when she shared it on IG, I asked to share it with you.

I love that her story includes backtracking without giving up; that she kept trying till she found what worked. And of course, that she’s discovered how great it feels when you eat real food!

Here’s her story in her own words:

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How I eat: my 5-star formula for healthy meals

5-star formula for healthy eating

Since losing more than 30 pounds two years ago, and because I’ve kinda become known as a food guru in my social circles, people often ask me, “So, how do you eat?” I’ve had a hard time answering that. It took me a long time and much trial and error to arrive at what works for me, and even when I found it, I was too close to it to be able to articulate it for others.

But this week it hit me. It’s just this simple five-part formula:

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