Food Rules

Podcast Episode #022: Cut Through The Clutter – Which “Food Rules” Are Actually Worth Following?

It seems like there's a new "food rule" introduced in the media on a daily basis. Don't eat grains. Cut out sugar. Stay away from fat. Eat more protein. Adopt smaller, more frequent meals. And the list goes on and on.

But which of these food rules are actually worth following and which are adding unnecessary stress to your life? You can't do it all and you don't have to. Learn the most important rules to follow.

Episode Resources:

Which "Food Rules" Are Actually Worth Following? [Full Text]

Hey, thanks so much for joining me for this episode of the Make Your Body Work podcast. As you know, this show is all about answering your questions about healthy living, happiness, fitness, wellness, and basically anything else that sort of comes under that umbrella of health and wellness.

Today, I have a really great question from Jennifer L., and I know that this is something that many of you are going to be able to relate to so closely, so let's dive right in.

Jennifer says,

"I'm finding it harder and harder to eat anything without guilt. No sugar, no gluten, no GMO, no processing, no imports, no chemicals, and the list keeps growing. What rules are the most important to follow for a mom who's trying to feed her family healthy meals?"

Jennifer, I just want to say, thanks for writing in. Again, this is one of those questions that I get asked all the time, and I know a ton of people are wondering. It's getting so confusing, there just seems to be something new in the media, or something new in the news, almost on a daily basis, that tells us avoid this or you have to eat this.

What are those "rules" that we should be following for really healthy eating? And particularly when we're parents, and we're trying to feed out kids food that's healthy for them, as well?

I want to invite, or introduce, a really special guest on the podcast today. He's been in the health and fitness industry for quite some time, and actually has an interesting story of how, in a previous career, he was very sedentary, and he was sitting at his desk, and he just noticed that this was taking such a toll on his body, sitting there, all day, every day. That really propelled him to start to look for ways to change his own life, and then ignited this passion to help other people do the same.

Now he's a podcaster, he's a blogger, he's a fitness instructor, and I'm really excited to have Glenn Johnson, from on the show, and we're going to chat about the question for today. Welcome, Glenn.

Dave: Glenn, thanks so much for joining us on the show.

Glenn: You're welcome, thanks for having me here.

Dave: Yeah, I'm excited to have you. I was reading your website, and you're a very accomplished guy when it comes to health and wellness. Maybe you could start off by sort of telling the listeners here what your history is, how you got into the industry, and kind of, what you specialize in?

Meet Glenn Johnson

Glenn: Okay, well, it's kind of a long story, but I'll do my best to summarize with the most salient points. I started off working in the post-production entertainment industry, doing sound design and ADR editing and recording for TV and film. That just, really, was not very satisfying, it was unbelievably sedentary. Well, actually, it's probably believably sedentary, but, I would sit in a chair for ten to twelve hours straight, with just a few bathroom breaks here and there.

Another part of this type of work is that, you work on a movie, and then you're looking for work. It was this constant stress of always looking for work, calling in favors, listening, keeping your ear to the ground, beating on doors. Then you get a job, great, so you're working for a month or two, and then you have to start it all over again.

I found that I needed some supplemental income, and fitness and nutrition has always been a hobby of mine, so I decided to become a personal trainer. One thing led to another, and I found that I really loved that much more than the entertainment industry, so I shifted my focus over to that.

I went back to school, got a Master's degree in Kinesiology, because training one person at a time, as great as it was, and fulfilling as it was, was not enough. I wanted to teach a whole roomful of people. To go one better, I wanted to teach a roomful of people who were going to go out and teach more people, spreading the word about health and fitness.

There's so many people that are confused, or just don't have the knowledge, or have too much knowledge, and don't know what's right, so that's where I've come in. I work with personal training clients, I do health coaching, I teach in a classroom, I teach lecture and academic classes in health, and also PE classes, just down and dirty PE to a community college level. It's really changed my life, I'm so glad I made that career shift, and this is really much more satisfying.

Seriously, when I think back to those days, doing post-production, sound, the most, best, absolute most satisfying day doesn't equal my worst day, what I'm doing now.

Dave: Wow. That is powerful. You know, what's really neat, actually, having you here is, I know from talking to my audience that there's a ton of desk jockeys in the audience who do exactly what you were talking about, sit at a desk. When that's your career, there's not a whole lot you can do. You can get a standing desk, I guess, but it's neat that you've seen, sort of, both sides of the coin.

Glenn: Oh, yeah. I still, believe it or not, I'm still seated for quite a bit. I'm sitting right now, I will be standing, and I was out playing in the snow earlier today, but I get up as often as I can, but I still spend a fair amount of time sitting. I've had to find ways to keep myself fresh, keep my back from hurting too bad, keep my hips, keep my body in shape. I've not only have sought out ways to help other people manage their health and fitness within their life, but a lot of it has stemmed from my own needs.

Healthy Eating Feels So Overwhelming

Dave: That actually lends really well to the question that we're talking about today, because for people that are going to be sitting a lot, and can't get away from that, there has to be a healthy diet component. Otherwise, you know, it's impossible to keep weight off, and stay lean and healthy.

You read our question from Jennifer today, and she's basically saying, "Hey, I keep on hearing about all these different things that I need to focus on in my diet," and she's cited a bunch, you know, like no sugar, no gluten, no GMO, and basically said, "What the heck can I do? It's so overwhelming for a mom who's trying to feed her family healthy meals."

What do you say, because I know you're an expert on healthy eating. What do you think?

Glenn: That is a tremendously important question, and I hear that all the time, even from my own wife, and even from my own brain. You hear something on the news, or read it in the paper or something, and all of a sudden, "Oh, well there's something else I can't eat." There's one thing after another that you shouldn't eat.

What I do is, when I'm talking with a client, I tell them, "Okay, let's just step back and look at the big picture. You can't eat perfectly, and I don't even know what perfectly would be." It's certainly not something that would be realistic. You might be able to draw out, sketch out an idyllic, perfect diet for a person, but it's not going to work for everybody. It's certainly not even going to work for a quarter of our population, whatever society you live in. There is no perfect.

You can't eat perfectly. What is "perfect" anyway?

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The 3 Things Most People Consider First...

What I always recommend is, step back, look at the big picture. There are certain things that have to be factored in first. Budget, for one, availability, for two, and not necessarily in that order. So many people choose their food based on tastes ... The order switches around.

What I've found is that they choose their eating based on taste, and cost, and convenience. Those three factors are up there, and the order may switch depending on the person, or the time of day. Those are still the main things. Health is further down that list. To look at the health further, we have things like GMOs, and the other preservatives, the chemicals that might be in there, and whether it's imported or not. Like your question from Jennifer said, where do you go?

So What Should You Cut Out?

Looking at the big picture, I'm going to start off with the first thing she said, no sugar. I absolutely, completely agree with keeping sugar out of your diet completely. That doesn't mean that I eat no sugar, that doesn't mean that I believe it's possible, necessarily, to go without any sugar at all. The body does need carbohydrates, but it does not need to come in the form of sugar.

I would say, just don't have any added sugar. If you can stay away from added sugar, you're going to be doing all right, and you're probably not going to get too much sugar, unless you just binge eat peaches or grapes, and put down five pounds of it all at one time.

Dave: Yeah, you know, and a lot of people do follow up with that no sugar question, they will start saying, "Well, what about fruit, or what about this?" I always suggest, if you look at packaged goods, and start to read the labels, and eliminate those packaged goods that have sugar in them, you're fine with eating natural sugar. Exactly what you just said. It's pretty hard to get fat by eating too many bananas.

Nobody gets fat by eating too many bananas. Natural sugar in fruit is not a problem for most people.

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Glenn: Yeah, it really is. You know, a glass of orange just, let's say a regular sized, eight ounce glass of orange juice. How many oranges do you suppose that is? Five or six oranges, it would take to fill that glass?

Dave: Yeah, sure.

Glenn: Most people don't eat that many at one time. I ate twelve one morning. I had nothing to do, I was sitting under an orange tree reading, it was a beautiful day, perfect weather. I just sat there, and over the course of the entire morning, from, let's say, nine until noon, I ate a dozen oranges, but that was only one time.

In apple season, I might eat five in a day, but not five at one time, but apple juice, I could easily down ten apples' worth of juice. We want to keep our fruit juice out of our diet completely. Vegetable juice is fantastic, fruit juice, no bueno.

The Challenge of Cutting Sugar Out of Your Diet

My wife and I were discussing sugar one day, and just how difficult it is to keep it out of our diet, and especially out of our kids', because they have influences from other kids, and TV commercials, oh, and then there's the grandparents. I brought my wife onto my podcast, and we did an episode that I called The Sugar Battle, so her and I are talking about the difficulties, and solutions to it. If anybody's interested, that's episode 30 of the Live Fit podcast.

Sugar is definitely hard to keep out of your diet, and I had too much this Christmas, this holiday season, but it's okay, because I feel like I'm off it now. Everything's good, I'm back to my normal way of eating. If you have a tiny little bit, or even too much, one weekend or once incidence, you've got to keep the mindset that, get it out of your system as soon as you can. Don't succumb to failure and then go ahead and eat the whole bucket of ice cream. Just do as little as you can, the less the better.

Don't succumb to failure. One bad eating day does not mean you're starting over. Keep going!

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Dave: What would you say, I had a guest on, oh geez, probably ten episodes ago, I'll put it in the show notes, Anne Mauney. She's a dietitian, and she was talking about the whole concept of sweet tooth and sugar cravings. She basically said, the more that you eliminate it, and like you said, completely eliminate it, the less that those cravings are going to even show up in the first place.

Glenn: Yeah, I totally agree. I have witnessed that with myself, and with my clients for years and years and years. The less you have, the less you want. The more you have, the more you want. What's happening is, you're kind of setting up the taste. "Well, this is the taste that my mouth is used to."

Humans love comfort. We will do anything that is the same, that does not make us uncomfortable. Eating something similar to what you are used to eating is much more comfortable than eating something bizarre. If every time you drink something, it's sweet, then water, of course, does not taste very good.

What About Artificial Sweeteners?

Dave: It's true, and maybe you can speak on this. I know this is a little bit of a tangent, but can you speak on how that relates to artificial sweeteners? For example, a diet soda?

Glenn: This is one of those things that the jury is still really out on, and I have not solidified a very strong opinion on it. I kind of go back and forth. I don't like artificial sweeteners, I think they taste vile. I think aspartame tastes like gasoline.

Stevia is okay, there are some sodas that are made with stevia, and you can add stevia to coffee and things like that, and I've grown stevia in my backyard. It's a nice little plant that looks kind of like mint, and when I'm doing yard work, I'll just pluck a leaf and I'll just put it in my mouth and chew on it, and, you know, it's pleasant, and it's a little bit sweet, and there's virtually no calories.

I would go with stevia as far as a non-sugar sweetener, or non-nutritive sweetener, but I really don't trust those chemicals, of the other types of artificial sweeteners, the kind you find in the diet sodas.

As far as, are you better off with that than with sugar? I am still not sure. I have not really formulated a really firm opinion on that. I kind of go back and forth, and in fact, I had a soda last night, I went to a hockey game, eh? I filled up a glass three-quarters, well, actually, a quarter of water, and I did up to the three-quarter mark of Diet Coke, and then I put in regular Coke, just to offset that horrible flavour.

I did get some sugar, but not nearly as much as if I would have, and also I didn't get as much of the artificial sweetener as I would have. That's kind of my compromise.

Dave: I love that you just said that, because I'm sure you experience this as well. Quite often, when I'm eating with people, they'll say, "Oh, I'm self-conscious about eating around you, because you never eat anything bad." Glenn, I love that you just told our listeners that even you will drink soda.

Making Healthy Food Changes One Step At a Time

Glenn: Yeah, I do. I really ... Of course, I like the flavour. Most people like the flavour. I don't have it very often, but now and then I will, and I try to do it on some sort of a special occasion, so I don't work up the habit.

Many years ago, well, it was actually when I graduated college the first time, and was working in post-production sound, I plumped up, you know, I gained about thirty pounds from what I had ever been in my life. I had to change my way, and what I did was, instead of eating burger, fries and shake, like, four times a week, and then pizza on the other days of the week, I eliminated it.

I removed one a week until I was down to one, one a week, of healthy eating. Then I would never, ever, ever have a burger or a fries two days in a row. That was really what was my tipping point, because before that, until I really nailed that, I would eat it, and then, the next day, "God, that was so good, I have to have it. Okay, it's just once in a while, yeah, I know I had it yesterday, but it had been a week before that, so I'm okay having it again." Now I'm creating a habit, so the third day, I wanted it even more, and I was even weaker to say no against it.

By putting that rule in place for myself, I would never have fries or a burger two days in a row, if I wanted it the third day, and let me tell you, I rarely did, but if I wanted it the third day, I would go ahead and have it, and that generally satisfied my craving. Most of the time, I just didn't want it again, two days later.

Dave: I love that suggestion, because that's very practical. Going back to Jennifer's question, and she's basically saying, "I'm overwhelmed with all these things that I'm trying to cut out," and I know that you've probably heard people talking about meatless Mondays, for people that are trying to get on a vegetarian diet.

I always liked how practical that is, because it's a little step towards something that might seem unapproachable. Maybe your principle you just talked about, that's something that Jennifer could do, is try and eat, sort of more all natural type meals for one day a week, or start with just doing it at lunch, kind of that baby step approach.

Glenn: Yeah, I'm a big fan of the baby steps. I think it makes a lot of sense, and people ... Right now, we're at the beginning of the year, and a lot of people have New Year's resolutions, and they try to make these huge changes in their life, and it just doesn't work.

Like I said, humans like comfort, and making big changes in our lifestyle is not comfortable. If you want to make one change, and focus on that one change, that's much more realistic and much more doable. Changing your eating habits, so if you want to do an all-natural, all-organic meal, you don't have to go from none to every single meal, every day of the week.

You could do, yeah, maybe just dinners, or maybe just the weekends. Something that works into your schedule. Take a baby step, and then once you get used to that, then, if you feel it's appropriate and you still want to, then move forward with a second baby step.

Dave: Yeah, I totally agree with that. What would you say, then ... I think we agree that sugar, ideally, would be pretty much cut out of anyone's diet, or at least as best as possible. In terms of other things that are in the media a lot, like gluten or process foods, is there, sort of, another category that you'd say, "That's the one that I'd like people to tackle next?"

What About Processed Foods?

Glenn: Yeah, processed foods, as far as ... Now, we have to draw a line here, what is a processed food? My wife baked whole wheat bread in our kitchen yesterday, and that's a process, it really is. You're taking the flour, which is grain, which has been ground, which is technically processed, but I would not say that that bread falls into the category of what most people think of as processed foods. Anything that has, generally, more than five ingredients. Oftentimes, if it comes in a box or a bag, has packaging, we're looking at, usually, a considerable amount of processing.

Michael Pollan has his food rules, I'm sure you've heard of that. A lot of what he has to say makes, just, absolute sense. In fact, I've recommended this book to many clients before, and I said, "Here, buy this book, and read this book," and if everybody did that, it would put me out of business. If everybody followed Michael Pollan's food rules, it would put me out of business, because it it so straight forward, and so simple.

Where do I draw the line of processing? Basically, if something doesn't look like it did when it was growing. Bread, once again, doesn't look like it did when it was growing, but let's say steak. It's not changed very much, it's just a piece that's cut up. Applesauce, not too bad. You take an apple, basically, you cook it, and then you throw it in a blender, there we go, that's not very much processing.

A Twinkie, on the other hand, has practically zero real food in it. A lot of things, a lot of these frozen dinners, just the more processing, the worse. That's where I call it, I don't have a definitive answer. You kind of have to use a case by case basis, what is bad. If you read the ingredients list, and I highly recommend that everybody, before they buy any food, read the ingredient list. If you read that, and there's words in there you don't understand, you don't know what they are, you probably just shouldn't eat it.

If you don't understand the ingredients list, you're likely not looking at real food. Avoid it.

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Dave: I agree.

Glenn: I'm not going to say that you have to be able to pronounce it, because there are vitamins in there, like vitamin E and vitamin A, and if you're looking at some of their chemical names, you might not recognize them as vitamins, but why are they putting vitamins in there? If you look at a package of bread, they're putting vitamins in white bread because they strip them all out.

Dave: One of the things that I've talked with clients in the past, is that, could you make this in your kitchen?

Glenn: Oh, nice.

Dave: I loved your example of your wife baking bread, because that is very different than the bread that you buy in the store. Pretty much any other packaged product, unless you have some sort of industrial kitchen, good luck making that.

Why Baked Goods Are Especially Bad For Your Diet

Glenn: When I talk with a client, and they have a really hectic, stressful life, and they really can't handle anything else on their plate, I tell them very simply. "Here's the one thing that you can do. Just focus on this one thing: Do not eat baked goods." That comes down to cereal as well, because cereal is baked grain, of some form, whether it's a whole wheat grain, or a corn grain, or a rice grain, you know puffed rice, that's baked, and Corn Flakes, that's baked, too.

If you just stay away from any baked goods, now that of course is muffins, and cookies, and cakes, and doughnuts, and bagels, and, oh, my. Most of those things are not very good for you. If you can just eliminate baked goods, you are going to narrow down, or kind of steer away from the majority of the foods that are harmful to your health.

Dave: I love that rule. I'm all about, and this show is all about practicality. I love that pretty much everything you've said is super practical.

Glenn: Thank you. That's what I try to do is, bridge the gap between the hectic life and the idyllic life. Like I said at the beginning of the show, there's really ... There may be an ideal, on paper, but you would have to design one for each and every individual.

Make Your Body Work Takeaway

Dave: One of the things ... I try to keep this show really succinct and to the point, and then, at the end, I like to do something called a Make Your Body Work takeaway, and it's just kind of that one thing that everyone who's listening, everyone listening could do today. What would you say, going back to Jennifer's question, "Hey, I want to feed my family healthy meals, but I don't want to stress out over all these rules?" What can people in that boat do?

Glenn: One thing, general nutrition wise, to improve their nutrition, is that the question?

Dave: Yeah, without, like I said, without stressing all the time. You kind of just gave an awesome one, you know, removing the baked goods. Is there anything else that people could take away and do, starting today.

Glenn: A lot of people are really encouraging eating food that is local, and I definitely do, but I think ... I will say this. Eat as close to natural as possible. Eat something that is as close to it's natural form, when it was grown, as possible. That could be a plant or an animal, but as close to natural as possible.

Dave: Maybe you could expand on that a little bit, and give some examples. Right away, I think of a salad, because it looks just like it did when it was growing. What could that look like for, say, a breakfast meal?

Natural Breakfast Options...

Glenn: You know, you could have something like eggs, certainly, because those are, unless you buy eggs from someone else, you can crack the egg open, and right into a skillet, and cook it just like it is. Sausage would not fit into that category, pancakes would not fit into that category. Rolled oats, not bad, because basically all that is is a squished grain. That's all they do, they roll over it with a heavy cylinder, and they squish it down. You could have eggs and oatmeal, and you really could have some homemade bread or some close to homemade bread.

Fruit, fantastic. You could have some dairy products, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, Greek yogurt is really good. Avoid the flavoured yogurts. I always say plain yogurt, because there's always sugar added, or artificial sweeteners, if you get a flavoured one. Don't worry, because you can add your own flavouring to it. Throw in a few blueberries or strawberries, or, shoot, even a spoonful of jam and stir it up. You're probably still going to get less sugar than if you bought the sugary, flavoured yogurts.

Also, on the track of yogurt, I would say do not get the non-fat. Get the whole fat or, if that's not available, low fat will do.

Dave: I was just going to say, when you were talking about yogurt there. This was a long time ago, maybe ten years ago or so. I was doing some work over in Tanzania, and the people there made fresh yogurt every single day, and I'd never seen this before. Have you ever made yogurt before?

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dave: The process ... Literally, take a spoonful of yogurt, put it in your slow cooker, and put in some whole milk, like, some full-fat milk. You just leave it for four hours on a really low setting, and then cover it with a towel overnight, with the slow cooker off. The next morning you wake up, and you've got this huge batch of homemade yogurt.

Exactly what you're saying, Glenn, you can just add your own, whatever flavour you want, and you've got something very, very natural, great, great breakfast.

Glenn: Think I'll got do that as soon as we're off the phone.

Dave: It's great, it's so easy.

I like the practicality, again, you gave some great advice of things that people can eat for breakfast. You know, Glenn, you're ... From hearing you speak, you can tell that you and Michael Pollan are really on the same wavelength, in terms of eating close to the source, and trying to just keep things as natural as possible. Sounds like he's been a pretty big influence in your philosophy?

A Book Recommendation...

Glenn: Yeah, you know, he always has. I've read so many diet books, and so many authors, dating back to when I was twelve years old, when I started reading diet books, just out of curiosity. Not for any dieting, weight loss effect, but just because I found it so interesting that there's a new diet every month, and it's different from the one before, and yet everybody thinks, "Oh, now this is the greatest one."

Then, Michael Pollan came along, and I just, like, smacked my forehead with the palm of my hand, because like, this guy just really says ... He was saying things that I was saying, it's just that he actually had a platform, saying to to many more people. I'm saying it to one client at a time.

That's what I would like everybody to take away from this. Look at the big picture, do the best you can, but please don't stress out about it. Keep the processing down, buy locally, keep the chemicals out as much as is possible.

Gluten is only bad if you have a sensitivity or an allergy to it, you don't need to avoid gluten, because it's not harmful to your health if you don't have a problem with it.

Dave: Great advice. Glenn, can you maybe tell the listeners, if they wanted to learn more about what you do, and sort of, your philosophies and services and such, where can they find out about you?

Glenn: They can find my website at, and that'll open it up to everything else. I have a resources page, I have articles, I have podcasts. I also have some programs, a four-week, a nine-week program, and health coaching.

Dave: I'd just like to say again, to all listeners out there. I've taken a look at Glenn's stuff, and he does really, really, quality stuff. The podcast is excellent, I highly recommend that people check that out.

Glenn, thanks again for joining us. I know this is a quick little show we do here, but hopefully I can you back again, in the future.

Glenn: Oh, I'd love it. Thank you very much for having me on the show. It was really fun.

Thanks for joining me today!

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