As his weight climbed to nearly 300 pounds, Dominic Matteo thought he knew how to turn things around: just stop eating chips, ice cream, and other highly processed foods.
“I’ll endure myself with this,” he said to himself.
Then he would see the ice in the freezer and think, “Only one spoon.” Soon Matteo stared at an empty container and wondered, “Why am I so weak?”
But Matteo’s willpower was not the problem – his kitchen was. It was filled with tempting junk food and it needed a serious overhaul.
This is the thing: At the time, Matteo did not believe that a makeover in the kitchen would really work. It sounded too easy.
He tried it anyway, and then lost more than 100 pounds.
“If I hadn’t done that experiment, I probably would not have been successful,” says Matteo, who is now a Precision Nutrition Level 2 Masterclass coach. “It’s all about self-discovery and awareness.”
At Precision Nutrition we often use experiments to help our customers find important clues about what they really need (and don’t need) to achieve their goals. Such experiments serve as powerful tools to override the limiting and often false beliefs that tend to derail long-term habitual changes.
In this article you will find three of our most transforming experiments. Try them yourself (or use them with a client). What you learn can help you finally overcome your biggest obstacles … even if the experiments sound too easy to work.
Restrictive Faith # 1: “If I had more willpower, I could stop eating so much junk food.”
Many of us, like Matteo, assume that willpower is something that we were born with … or we are not.
So when we find ourselves reaching for the second (or third … or fourth … or fifth) chocolate cookie, we beat ourselves up because we are “weak.”
But portion control and healthy food choices are less about motivation and willpower and more about your environment. Try this experiment and you will see what we mean.
The experiment: do a kitchen makeover.
Use this two-step process to clean your fridge, pantry, freezer and other places where you store food. In the process you make some foods a lot harder to eat and other foods a lot easier to eat.
Step 1: Make a list
Determine your red, yellow and green light foods.
But keep in mind: at Precision Nutrition we don’t believe in universal good or bad food. Everyone’s red, yellow and green lists will differ.
This is how you identify yours:
Red light food = “no go” food. These are foods that pose such a difficult challenge for you that they are not worth the fight. Red light foods may not work for you because:
- They don’t help you reach your goals
- You always eat them too much
- You are allergic to them
- You cannot easily digest them
- You just don’t like them
Ultra-processed food often falls into this category.
Yellow light food = Delay food. Maybe you can eat and stop a little of this, or you can eat them healthy in a restaurant with others, but not only at home.
Green light food = always food. They are nutritious and give your body and mind a good feeling. You can eat them normally, slowly and in reasonable quantities. Whole foods usually form the largest part of this list.
Living with other people? Try these customer-tested strategies.
So what if your partner or children love the food you want to leave the house?
Matteo faces this exact predicament. This is what he suggests.
Talk about it. Explain that you want to change something – and why. You could say: “I really need your help. I can’t do this alone. “
Take small steps. Focus on removing or reducing a few foods at once instead of each red light food at a time.
Compromise. For example, instead of buying half a liter of ice cream, the Matteo family now buys eight cups for one portion – just enough for each family member to consume two desserts per serving per week.
Keep it out of sight. If you need to keep a red light food in your home, make it as difficult to access as you can. For example, you can store chips on a shelf in the basement instead of in the kitchen. One of Matteo’s customers asked his wife to store desserts in a vault for which only she knew the combination.
Step 2: Go cleaning.
You probably need a large garbage bag (maybe a few!) And a compost bin, if you have one.
First remove the red light food. If you are struggling with the idea of wasting food, consider donating unopened, non-perishable, non-expired items to charity. Compost what you cannot donate.
And remind yourself: overeating is no less wasteful than throwing food away, since your body actually doesn’t need the calories. Moreover, you may notice, just like Matteo, that your kitchen cleaning will save you money over time because you stop buying certain foods.
Then treat the yellow, light food. You have a few options here. You can remove them, store them in smaller quantities to prevent overeating, or put them in a place that is hard to see (for example, on a high shelf in an opaque container).
Finally, buy green light food. Place these foods in front and in the middle and take steps to easily grab and eat them.
For example, you might make your own trail mix and store it in the front of the utility room where you will see it earlier. Or maybe peel a few oranges and keep them in front of the fridge for easy snacks during your lazy moments. Or maybe you have half a dozen hard-boiled eggs ready.
One note: do not overdo it when purchasing new green foods, especially products, as they are likely to be perishable (unlike most red and yellow foods that you replace). Remember, it’s great to start small and build from there.
Step 3: take notes.
The next time you feel like a red or yellow food, notice what happens. Are you reaching for something on your green list, because that’s what is right in front of you? Or do you drive to the store to get food that you feel like? Or … do you decide not to eat at all because it takes too much effort?
The lesson: your environment makes it harder to practice healthy eating habits.
“Understanding that your environment drives your decisions can facilitate better actions,” says Matteo.
What he means is what we call Berardi’s first law (named after our co-founder, John Berardi, PhD):
If there is food in your house or property, you, someone you love or someone who tolerates you marginally, will eventually eat it.
There is also a consequence of this law:
If there is healthy food in your home or property, you, someone you love or someone who tolerates you marginally, will eventually eat it.
This is why relying on willpower or motivation is a fundamentally flawed plan. No matter how much or how little willpower you actually have, you’ll eventually get the easiest food options by default, especially if you’re tired. Or stressed out. Or greedy.
By removing red light food, you make the choice to eat green food so much easier – almost no willpower required.
Limiting Belief # 2: “I eat almost nothing and I still can’t lose weight.”
Feeling this way can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. Sometimes it even stops people from trying to become completely healthier.
But in any case the principle of energy balance applies:
If you eat more calories (energy) than you consume, you will arrive. And if you eat fewer calories than you consume, you lose weight. (That of course sounds much simpler than it is.)
So what gives? Let’s find out.
The experiment: keep track of everything you eat for a week.
All you have to do is make a note of what you eat every day for a week.
Yes Yes Yes. You’ve heard this advice before – maybe hundreds of times.
But did you really do it? By actually writing it down (versus keeping a mental count)?
For every meal and snack?
For a whole week?
If not, give it a try. It is actually a lot easier than it sounds. You can write it down in a notepad, use a data tracking app such as MyFitnessPal, or even just take a picture of everything you eat.
Make sure you record everything you eat and drink. Don’t forget to include the cream and sugar in your coffee, the dressing on your salad and the lonely boy (or was it eight?) That you stole from your child’s plate.
(Note: unless you enjoy it, we do not recommend keeping this way regularly. This is just a short-term experiment.)
Treat these notes as if you were a scientist. This is not about judging your food choices. It’s just about noticing them. Be kind, curious and compassionate about yourself.
For the most accurate snapshot of your eating habits, try doing this during a typical week without major events, and don’t change how you normally eat just because you keep track.
View your log at the end of the week. Is it consistent with how much you thought you were eating?
The lesson: it is easy and incredibly common to underestimate how much you eat.
Investigation shows that people underestimate their food intake by around 47 percent on average – for all sorts of understandable reasons.
First, mindless snacks can be even less memorable than the storage location of our car keys.
Second, although people are good at many things, portion size estimation is not one of them. We don’t always recognize how calories certain foods are (hello peanut butter), and sometimes we deceive ourselves. (“I had five chips … not three quarters of the bag … right?”)
The point is, this is real. And it happens to many people – even dietitians.
That’s why many people need nutritional handrails –number of calories, macros or hand portions– to guide what and how much they eat … at least for a short time. Here at PN we use hand portions to help customers make better food and portion ratings. (We have seen something incredible transformations only use this method.)
If you have not yet viewed our website Nutrition Calculator, go ahead and connect your goals and personal information. You get a full report of how much to eat, along with the corresponding portions and everything you need to know about how they work.
Using this approach, in combination with conscious food such as eat slowly and up to 80 percent full, can help you eat in a way that makes weight loss feel effortless.
3 more experiments to try
Do you want to keep learning more about yourself? Try the following to continue collecting information.
Experiment: Only eat sugar packets for a day (read: pure sugar). (Good luck!)
What it shows: Sugar itself may not be a problem for you. Read: most people don’t just fill themselves with sugar. Instead, it is more about what the sugar is mixed with. You can consume it for example when it is in fruit, yogurt or even ketchup, but not when it is in your personal red light food such as cookies, chocolate or ice cream.
Experiment: Eat slowly for a day every day, try to make every meal a little longer. (Start breathing in between bites.)
What it shows: You can discover that you feel more satisfied earlier, so that you eat less automatically. You may also notice that eating slowly brings uncomfortable feelings – feelings that you have thrown away with food.
Experiment: Use this article to make breakfast a little healthier.
What it shows: You don’t have to do a full 180 to see progress. Could you trade cold breakfast cereals for oatmeal? Do you have fruit instead of hashbrowns? Could you try eggs on a bed of green instead of a bagel? It is not just about the replacements; it’s about thinking about what you eat … before you eat. Small changes, done consistently, pave the way for sustainable habits.
Restrictive Faith # 3: “I really can’t stand hunger.”
Hunger is a lot of things: annoying, uncomfortable, distracting …
It is not one thing: such a problem that you have to do everything you can to prevent you from ever experiencing it.
Problem is, hunger feels like a big problem. Some customers have even told us that hunger feels like an emergency. They fear that if they don’t eat right away, their hunger will get worse and worse until … they die.
Or wish they could.
For these reasons, many people eat as soon as they feel the least pain – physically or mentally. This often means that they consume more than is really necessary, which leads to weight gain (or blocks fat loss). They also reach for what they first find (see experiment # 1).
But what happens if your hunger is not immediately met with food? Let’s find out.
The experiment: try to fast one day.
We know it sounds scary. Nothing bad will happen – promise.
We incorporate this experiment, lovingly called “fast day,” into our year-long coaching process. Over the years, our coaching clients have told us that this day is one of the most impactful experiences of the entire program.
This is how it works: do not consume calories for 24 hours.
Zero. Nada. No.
Enjoy calorie-free drinks such as water, flavored water, unsweetened tea or regular coffee. But other than that, avoid all food and caloric drinks.
It is clear that we do not recommend this in the long term. It’s just a day.
And it is perhaps the most challenging and insightful day you have had in a long time.
A few important comments:
You can do this according to a schedule that works for you. For example, you can fast from dinner to dinner, or lunch to lunch. If 24 hours feels too much, consider just skipping a meal or two. This is not about getting “perfect.” It may also be obvious, but you should probably not try this experiment on a day when you have to be 100% “in your game”, such as when you fly or perform open heart surgery.
Fasting is not suitable for everyone. Not fixed if you:
- have a medical condition for which you must eat
- wrestling with disorderly food and I have been told that they should never fast
- know that periods of food restriction – even if done carefully and consciously – can later lead to binge eating
The lesson: hunger is not an emergency.
It is normal to worry that hunger keeps getting worse – making us feel bad and preventing us from doing something useful.
But hunger doesn’t work that way.
Hunger hormones are released in waves based on when our bodies expect food.
As you will probably experience during this experiment, hunger is strongest around the three to four hours of a fast. Then it drops.
It is an incredible feeling (and often a great relief) to learn that you can feel hungry – really hungry – and choose not to do anything about it.
Here are several benefits:
- Advantage # 1: If the available food choices don’t make sense to you, you know you can wait until something better is available. No biggie.
- Advantage # 2: You learn how true hunger feels. This consciousness can help you distinguish psychological hunger (“I want to eat something”) from physiological hunger (“My body tells me it’s time to eat”).
- Benefit # 3: If it’s not ‘time to eat’, wait until your next meal or snack won’t be a problem. This is not only useful if hunger strikes somewhere that food is not accessible (such as on your commute), but can also be very useful if you are trying to lose fat.
Keep experimenting, keep growing.
You can probably see why we are such big fans of self-experimentation: it is literally a win-win. You receive confirmation of confidence and confirmation that you are already on the right track, or you receive valuable information about how you can change things for the better.
By simply paying attention to how experiments you feel, you give yourself strength and energy to make better, better-informed choices.
And don’t forget: self-experimentation is not about getting it perfect. It’s about finding out what works for you and then putting it into practice – a small step at a time.
If you are a coach or you want to be …
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes – in a way that helps them overcome limiting beliefs and find what works for them – is both an art and a science.
If you want to know more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. The next group will start soon.
What is it about?
The Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools you need to really understand how food affects a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.
Developed over 15 years, and proven by more than 100,000 clients and patients, the level 1 curriculum stands on its own as the authority in the field of nutrition science and the art of coaching.
Whether you are already in the middle of your career or just starting out, the Level 1 certification is your springboard to one deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.
[Ofcourseifyouareastudentorgraduate[Ofcourseifyou’realreadyastudentorgraduateofthe[Natuurlijkalsjealstudentofafgestudeerdbentaande[Ofcourseifyou’realreadyastudentorgraduateofthe Level 1 certification, view our Level 2 Master class certification. It is an exclusive, long-term mentorship designed for top professionals who want to master the art of coaching and want to be part of the top 1% of health and fitness coaches in the world.]
Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You save up to 30% and secure your place 24 hours for everyone.
On Wednesday 8 April 2020 we will open places in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification.
If you want to know more, we have set the following presale list, which gives you two benefits.
- Pay less than everyone else. We are happy to reward people who want to increase their credibility and who are willing to commit to the training they need. So we offer a discount of up to 30% on the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
- Register 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of finding a place. We only open the certification program twice a year. Due to the high demand, places in the program are limited and sold out within a few hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we give you the option to register 24 hours before someone else.
When you are ready for one deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the best professional nutrition coaching system in the world can do for you.