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How to Easily Upgrade Your Diet

By Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, Pn1

Eating well is easy. It really is. Yet, somehow we’ve made this simple act an incredibly complex science.

Those who are well down their path toward a Healthy Way of Life may be interested in the minute details sports nutrition, but most people don’t need that.

In a society that’s fattening itself with spoon and fork every day, we need to make “good nutrition” a lot easier to understand. Unfortunately, if you ask 10 people what “good nutrition” means, you’ll get 10 different answers.

It just doesn’t need to be that hard.

Good nutrition provides the macronutrients and micronutrients you need to:

  • maintain energy levels throughout the day
  • recover from workouts
  • manage appetite and cravings
  • supply nutrients necessary for proper neurotransmitter production
  • maintain healthy blood sugar levels

It can also be a source of pleasure. However, satisfying cravings and stimulating the pleasure center of your brain shouldn’t be the priority. When diet choices are based on emotions, they lead you down a slippery slope towards fat gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, and a host of other related health problems.

To improve your health, and maintain a “healthy” body fat percentage, your diet choices just have to follow some simple guidelines. Stop getting wooed by health claims on packaged foods and just follow the guidance found in our Healthy Way of Eating infographic.

The infographic is a simple place to start. Below, I’ve offered some detail behind each section. If you’re ready to take your nutrition knowledge to a deeper level, download and read Eat Well. Live Well.

Life Time Training Healthy Way of Eating


NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES | Fill half your plate with a rainbow of colors

Nature’s most nutrient-dense foods are non-starchy vegetables. In fact, each color contains unique phytonutrients, which means variety goes a long way in your diet.

Loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, these foods should take up half your plate. As you eat more of these vegetables, you’ll likely find you have less appetite for other foods. Make them as a salad or side dish, or eat them first in your meal to make sure you get them in.

A detailed list can be found in Eat Well. Live Well.

You can eat most non-starchy vegetables cooked or raw. Some nutrients are released when the vegetables are roasted, steamed or sautéed, while others are more nutrient dense when they’re raw. Don’t get so hung up on how they’re prepared. Just get in the habit of eating them, and try to mix up the preparation methods when you can.

Over time, you may get more creative and try replacing some starchy foods with non-starchy substitutes. For example, it’s pretty simple to make “rice” out of cauliflower and dramatically drop the amount of carbohydrates in many recipes.

FISH, MEAT, DAIRY, WHEY, EGGS & POULTRY | Eat protein with each meal

Eating a moderate portion of protein with each meal has been shown to improve satiety and to support lower body fat levels. Contrary to popular myth, it hasn’t been shown to be detrimental to the kidneys or bone mass.

In fact, additional protein can be beneficial for those trying to lose weight, those who are more active or those who are concerned with age-related loss of muscle mass. For all animal products, we suggest opting for organic and naturally raised sources (e.g. grass-fed beef and dairy, pastured chicken and eggs, etc.) whenever possible.

If you choose to avoid animal protein, be cautious of soy. A fair amount of research questions the benefits and even suggests longer-term risks of soy intake. It was also shown in a recent study to have little effect on supporting development of lean mass compared to animal sources. Additionally, most soy today is genetically modified.

Life Time offers a couple protein supplement made with other plant-based protein sources, VeganMax and Dairy-Free FastFuel Complete, which can help support the protein needs of those who don’t eat animal sources.

FRUITS | Berries are best

Fruit is another excellent source of vitamins and minerals but contains a lot more sugar than non-starchy vegetables. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it, but we do encourage people to make up most of their vegetable and fruit intake with vegetables.

As a rule of thumb, eat two to three times as many non-starchy vegetable servings as fruit servings. Berries are best due to their high concentration of antioxidants.

And remember this: Fruit juice is closer to soda than it is to whole fruit.


If you’re looking for new and rich ways to flavor your vegetables, prepare your foods, and create more filling snacks, fat can play an important role in a nutritious diet. Naturally-occurring fat in animal foods or some added butter, olive oil, coconut oil or avocado is nothing to fear.

Numerous studies have and papers have been published in recent years showing, other than trans-fats from processed foods, fat intake doesn’t contribute to heart disease or other health problems as once believed.

You don’t need to be afraid of fat unless it comes from less healthy vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil or canola oil and from trans-fats, which are usually found in processed foods. 

LEGUMES, GRAINS, YAMS & POTATOES | Limit your starchy vegetables

Notice that this recommendation is not to eliminate but to limit intake of starchy foods.

Starch is another name for complex carbohydrates, which are broken down into sugar. Your body can’t do much with starch or sugar other than burn what it can, (given your present activity level) and store the rest as fat.

Furthermore, a large part of the population is sensitive to carbohydrates as shown by elevated fasting or postprandial (post meal) blood glucose levels. The best way to determine how carbohydrates should fit into your nutritional plan is to take do a comprehensive blood test and discuss the results with a dietitian or nutrition coach.

Of all the starch sources, those containing gluten are the most controversial. We cover this topic in Eat Well Live Well. Dr. William Davis’ book Wheat Belly is one of the best publications on the topic of gluten. You can also read the interview I did with Dr. Davis several years ago on the Life Time Weight Loss site.

With all this in mind, we acknowledge that the greatest carbohydrate-related issue in the Standard American Diet is processed carbs. These include candy, crackers, chips, bread and pasta. If you’re still eating these types of carbohydrates, eliminate them and replace them with legumes, yams and potatoes in moderation.


Drink water as your main beverage, and be sure to supplement with high-quality multivitamins and omega-3 fish oil.

Staying hydrated is important for maintaining energy levels, controlling food cravings and even aiding in the removal of fat and toxins from the body.

Coffee does count for keeping your body hydrated. There’s a myth that it makes you dehydrated, but it isn’t true. However, coffee is a common source of pesticides, so limit your intake to limit exposure to additional toxins. Tea is another great option, and some teas provide some additional health benefits.

Multivitamins and fish oil help to fill the nutritional gaps left by an imperfect diet, which results from our own food choices but also from nutritionally depleted food sources like CAFO meat or lower quality produce compared to that grown even fifty years ago.

You get what you pay for in these and other supplements, so ask questions and be smart about what you purchase.

When it comes to nutritional change, it’s best to take a step at a time. You don’t get out of shape or overweight with a single meal or in a single day of poor choices. It’s the result of repeated poor choices.

Getting back in shape and maintaining it for the long-run is the result of good choices every day. Eating the right foods really just comes down to a choice, one meal at a time. Repeat enough of the right choices and you’ll have a whole new life eventually. Let the infographic be a guide, but make the process authentically your own. As the motivational expert Zig Ziglar once said,

“For 24 years of my adult life, by choice, I weighed well over 200 pounds. I say “by choice” because I have never “accidentally” eaten anything. So when I choose to eat too much, I have chosen to weigh too much.”

You can also choose to be in the shape you want by choosing to eat what you should eat, even if it isn’t always what you want to eat.

Did this make an impact on you? If so, share it on your favorite social media channel.

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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