Three Hacks to Fix a Failing Diet: Try Adding Before You Subtract!

If you want to lean out, bulk up, improve your athletic performance or simply live healthier you likely need to make some changes to your diet. 99% of my clients need some form of nutritional coaching to get them where they want to be and those who embrace it consistently reach and maintain new levels of health and fitness. Simply put, you can’t exercise away a poor diet. And most of us don’t actually realize how poor our diets really are. It’s not our fault, the food industry has us all kinds of confused and even our own brains are tricking us. (Check out this great presentation by Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition and the additional links at the end of this post for more on that .)

Even the best diets and nutritional plans will fail if we don’t stick to them. Sad but true. I used to spend hours and hours developing AMAZING meal plans for clients down to the exact grams of protein, fat and carbs and when to eat them. They LOVED them. For about 12 hours. And then they failed and got cheese fries instead. Why? It was too much, too fast. You can’t go from jogging a 5k to running an Ironman overnight. The same is true for changing your diet if you want to achieve steady, healthy and sustained change.

So. What’s my answer? I implement small, manageable changes (usually 1-2) week over week. If my client can 100% nail the small change for a week or two, then we move on to the next and build from there. Over the course of weeks or months the client has learned what to eat, why it’s needed, how to shop/prep for it and most importantly how to add it into a daily/weekly routine without becoming overwhelmed. I wish I had some magic miracle fad diet to sell you. But honestly, this simple s*it works. Ask Sarah. 

It usually starts with a food journal. I simply review what my client eats and drinks on a typical day for the course of a few days. They can jot everything down on a fancy template I provide, on a napkin, in their iPhone, in an app--whatever works. And then I review it and give the first set of small changes.

First things first, I look for vital things that are missing before I even begin to hack away at the things that need to be reduced (like over processed foods, alcohol, fast food, etc.) You can’t get fit or healthy if you are malnourished. The cells of your body simply won’t cooperate. Over the last year I’ve reviewed about 100 of these food journals for clients, other trainers and friends. Almost across the board people tend to be one or all three of the following:

  1. Dehydrated

  2. Protein Deficient

  3. Micronutrient Deficient

We address these things first. So, ladies and gents, I give you my most widely recommended ADDITIONS to a daily diet to help you reduce body fat, gain muscle and become healthy, strong and fit from the inside out.


  1. Drink more water. And measure it. Most of us think we drink “TONS” of water. But when we actually measure it out many of us are falling short. I recommend getting a 1L bottle and filling it up. Don’t refill it until you completely drink it all. Are you drinking at least 2L per day (or about 1L per 1,000 calories)? If not, address this first. The cells of your body (including those in your brain) cannot function without proper hydration and you cannot change you body composition. Water will make you feel better, look better and think better. Don’t argue. Just do it. Oh, you can’t bear the thought of all those trips to the bathroom? Get over it. Odds are you probably sit too much and could use the extra time on your feet to extend those hips and move around. And yes, you can drink sparkling. And yes, you can put some fruit in it. No, you can’t put Nutella in it. ;)

  2. Consider adding a superfood protein smoothie to your daily routine as breakfast, a snack or before dinner. Most people are not getting enough protein. And if you’re killing it in the gym and breaking down muscle, your body needs it to recover. And even if you’re not trying to get bigger, your body still needs adequate protein. Trust me, even trainers struggle to get adequate protein. So this is the one area where I typically see the need for supplementation. My favorite recipe is to blend the following for 30-45s and drink while I’m walking to work in the morning. Honestly, it’s delicious, will keep you satiated/full and is full of nutrients. It literally takes three minutes to prepare and clean up and you can get everything at Whole Foods (or your local store).

    1. 2-4 scoops protein (any will do but I like Bio Chem Whey Vanilla)

    2. 1 scoop Amazing Grass Green Superfood

    3. 1 banana

    4. 2 handfuls of spinach

    5. 8 oz Water (see #1)

    6. Flax seeds or chia seeds (optional)

  3. Eat a veggie bag as a snack. Big surprise, most of us aren’t eating enough vegetables and aren’t getting enough fiber. And most of us fall prey to the office munchies and end up mindlessly eating garbage like chips, cookies or some other snack devoid of nutritional goodness. So everyday, to avoid the cravings for crap, I eat a sandwich-sized bag full of raw vegetables with as many colors as I can squeeze in there. Eat whatever veggies you want: carrots, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, zucchini--whatever you like and try different things. It will keep you full and fill your body with micronutrients. Let me be clear. I do this everyday. And I hate it. Seriously, I do not really enjoy all the chomping. But I do it. Because it’s good for me. And I bitch and moan while I do it. And when it’s all over, I feel good. My body feels good from the nutrients and hydration and my ego feels good because I did something awesome for myself. So if I slip up later and eat a cookie or a slice of pizza at least I know I put the good stuff in first. I recommend prepping your bags for the week on Sunday and grab and go every morning.

Try these and let me know what you think. I’ve seen many clients implement these small things into their lives with success. They look better, feel better and are healthier. Check out some of these testimonials for yourself.


Additional Resources