Wedding Weight Loss Tips

How to Turn Your 13 Favorite Midwestern Meals into a Weight Loss Diet

Recently, my personal training client wanted to ramp up her weight loss efforts. Our first step was examining her current slate of meals (the typical Midwestern diet) and identifying the healthy alternatives. Take a look…the same meals are probably in your diet too!!

Quick Swap/General Changes to Your Typical Meals

-Organic ingredients only (more flavor!).
-Reduced sodium for all canned products (less bloatedness!).
-No lard in any of the canned bean products (less of the unnecessary bad fat!).
-Meat (including all red meat, white meat, fish, seafood, etc.) should not be more than 25% of any dish (vegan is preferred for ALL 3-4 meals).
-Eliminate cheese or swap it for a SMALL amount of Diya's Chopping Block Cheddar Cheese Shreds. I still hesitate to recommend a cheese substitute since it's still highly processed and you will continue the craving (which will be dangerous when the substitute isn't available).
-No butter.
-The portion of vegetables must always double the size of meat at a minimum.

Common Meals (and their Healthy Alternatives)

Chili mac

-Healthy Alternative: Mexican mix (below) using the taco seasoning recipe (below) with Banza Chickpea Elbows Pasta (boil until el dente, and then quickly rinse with cold water). Meal Ratio: 1/4 ground chicken (2-4 oz), 1/2 veggies, 1/4 pasta.


-Healthy Alternative: 365 Everyday Value Cauliflower Pizza Crust, 8 oz (frozen), tomato sauce, Diya's Chopping Block Cheddar Cheese Shreds, roasted red bell peppers, fresh garlic cloves, basil.

Lemon garlic sauce chicken, veggies, and pasta

-Healthy Alternative: 1/4 chicken (2-4 oz), 1/2 veggies, 1/4 Banza Chickpea Penne Pasta (or substitute with boiled and drained cauliflower rice).

Grilled chicken breast and veggies

-Healthy Alternative: 1/4 chicken (2-4 oz), 3/4 veggies (grilled asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, etc.).

Grilled cheese

-Healthy Alternative: Whole grain bread with Diya's Chopping Block Cheddar Cheese Shreds but this still isn’t a nutrient-dense option alone. Make this a 1/4 of your meal and add veggies for the rest.


-Healthy Alternative: Mexican mix recipe (below) using the taco seasoning recipe (below). Meal Ratio: 1/4 ground chicken (2-4 oz), 1/2 veggies (beans, corn, sauteed onions, bell peppers), 1/4 El Milagro Corn Tortillas (only ingredients: corn, water, lime).

Beef chili

-Healthy Alternative: 1 diced medium yellow onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 cup dry green lentils, 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce, 1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes, 1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles or hot Rotel, 2 tsp chili powder, 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp oregano, 2 green peppers, 3 tbs of Worcestershire, 1 can of drained kidney beans, and 1 can of drained pinto beans.

Crockpot BBQ chicken

-Healthy Alternative: Chicken breasts, green pepper strips, strips of sautéed onions and diced garlic, and Annie's Original BBQ Sauce. The chicken is only 1/4 of your meal and veggies for the rest.

Tuna salad

-Healthy Alternative: Wild Planet Wild Albacore Tuna Pouch (No Salt), 1 tbs of Real Mayo, 1tsp of Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper seasoning, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp onion powder, lemon garnish, and 1-2 tsp of diced pickle or relish.

Chicken casserole (chicken, peas, cream of chicken soup, breadcrumbs)

-Healthy Alternative: Chicken breasts, peas, vegan cashew sauce (, and oats or quinoa (instead of breadcrumbs). The chicken is only 1/4 of your meal and veggies for the rest.

Tacos (chicken, lettuce, cheese, shells)

-Healthy Alternative: Mexican mix using the taco seasoning recipe. Meal Ratio: 1/4 ground chicken (2-4 oz), 1/2 veggies (beans, corn, lettuce as well as chopped spinach and green peppers marinated in squeezed lime juice), and 1/4 El Milagro Corn Tortillas (only ingredients: corn, water, lime)…no cheese.

Taco salad (same as above but in a salad)

-Healthy Alternative: Mexican mix using the taco seasoning recipe. 1/4 Ground chicken (2-4 oz), 3/4 Veggies (beans, corn, lettuce as well as chopped spinach and green peppers marinated in squeezed lime juice)…no cheese.

Beef meatloaf

-Healthy Alternative: Ground chicken, diced green peppers, diced sautéed onions and garlic, oats or quinoa (instead of breadcrumbs), Organic Large Omega-3 Brown Grade A Eggs, Heinz Simply Tomato Ketchup, and Annie's Original BBQ Sauce…..but this still isn’t a nutrient-dense option alone. Make the meatloaf a 1/4 of your meal and add veggies for the rest.

Base recipes

Mexican mix

-1 lb ground organic chicken breast sauteed with 1 chopped medium onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves
-2 cans of Bushes black beans
-1 can Hot Rotel (or any diced tomatoes)
-1 can Mexican corn

Taco seasoning

-2 tbs chili powder
-1/2 tsp garlic powder
-1/2 tsp onion powder
-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
-1/2 tsp oregano
-1 tsp paprika
-3 tsp cumin
-2 tsp salt
-2 tsp pepper

Photo Credit: Bon Appetit. com: Can grilled cheese ever be healthy?


My Personal Training Client’s SPECIFIC Plan to Lose Weight

After a frustrating stream of weight fluctuations, I couldn’t be prouder of my personal training client’s new plan to lose 20 lbs for good! This is a great template for anyone serious about long-term weight loss.


-Get Down to 187 Pounds on my Home Scale by 7/1/2019
-Get Down to 181 Pounds on my Home Scale by 8/1/2019
-Get Down to 176 Pounds on my Home Scale by 8/31/2019
-Get Down to 171 Pounds on my Home Scale by 10/15/2019

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Losing 1-2 lbs per week is the most sustainable way to achieve weight loss. Matt is taking a realistic, achievable approach to reaching his ultimate goal. Setting milestones is a great way to carry this out at a micro level. While the actual results may vary slightly depending on unexpected factors, Matt has set the intent. Since most people seek to change life every 3-4 weeks, the dates are appropriate.


Personal Trainer Wisdom: As a human scientist, I am constantly testing the body’s sensitivity to food and movement. When developing a weight loss plan, the same approach applies. Matt has created guidelines below based on his true physical needs and the principles of cleaning eating for optimal health (the weight loss is just a result). While each line seems strict, it is adaptable. Most important, it sets the intent once again. All choices will extend from this list. This approach is a stark contrast from the most common effort of extending choices from one’s wants instead (which doesn’t necessarily reflect a person’s needs and most likely leads to faulty guesses with unsuccessful, long-term results).

Foods Ill Eliminate Until I Reach my Goals

• Eliminate STARCHY VEGETABLES (Potatoes, Rice, etc.)
• Eliminate 80%+ of DAIRY PRODUCTS
• Eliminate Fried Foods like Chicken Fingers, Fried Chicken, Fried Appetizers, Fatty Foods: Bacon, Chicken Wings, etc.
• Eliminate Energy Bars of All Kinds (Except in Super Emergencies/Damage Control)
• Eliminate All BEER, and any Indulgent, High-Cal Booze Drinks
• All NUTS Except Pistachios in Shell, Counting When I Eat
• Popcorn in Emergencies
• BBQ Sauce on Meat
• Cereal
• Candy
• Peanut Butter

Foods Ill Keep in my Diet but May Eventually Eliminate for Clean Eating

• Diet Coke – try to limit to 24 oz a day, MAX
• Splenda – Do not use willy nilly
• Diet Soft Drink Squirts
• Turkey Jerky & Beef Jerky
• “Lean” Mixed Drinks & Wine – Always Attempt Moderation. Only get drunk “if necessary”
• Arctic Zero Ice Cream (the Extreme Low-Cal Ice Cream) – 1 Pint, 2-3x per week max
• Sugar-Free Creamer for Coffee, in moderation

At-Home “Yes” List

• My Smoothies w/ Almond Milk, Pea Protein Powder, Frozen Fruit, Spinach, Carrots, Bananas, Flax Seeds
• Fruit of All Kinds
• Powdered Peanut Butter in Moderation
• All Raw Vegetables
• Non-Starchy Cooked Vegetables
• Chicken, Shrimp, Jerky
• Dry Soaked Cooked Beans
• Edamame
• Pistachios with Shells

Partying, Dining Out, etc.

• I will drink Canned Seltzer Alcohol Drinks like Truly, Spiked Seltzer, Aqua Fierte
• I will drink Rum or Vodka + Club Soda or Sometimes Diet Coke
• I will NOT eat any heavy, junk foods after drinking
• I will eat the best option on the menu when I dine with my girlfriend
• I will eat in great moderation when there are no good choices
• I will eat SLOWLY and MINDFULLY
• I will NOT eat bread that comes out beforehand
• I will NOT eat Chips & Salsa that comes out beforehand

Photo Credit:
Love One Today .com: What guidelines will you set to lose weight?


What to Keep in Mind When Adding Treats to a Weight Loss Diet

The Big Challenge:

It's very difficult to eat healthy and/or lose weight while eating treats.

Assumption: I need to eliminate everything I love (especially the biggest culprits: dairy, meat, grains, refined sugar, processed foods, and alcohol).

The Breakdown: Well, yes and no. Our bodies are adaptive systems that fight unruly environments, diseases, and relationships 😊 There’s always a perfect combination of factors, including dietary choices and type of movement, for a given point that helps it operate efficiently and effectively. The further I skew from this beautiful recipe the less efficient and effective my body operates (comparable to the different grades of gasoline and car performance). What does this mean for eating treats? The answer is simple and not always fun to recognize: I need to figure out what I can get away with, accept the consequences of going beyond my boundaries, and adapt appropriately. Here’s what I specifically consider when I’m in the mood for treats:

What I Keep in Minding When Eating Treats

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The first key to cheating in any diet (diet as in one’s eating regiment…weight loss or not) is establishing a consistent structure of habits. This is my foundation….my day-to-day approach, my go-to. A treat every once in a while is an outlier that won’t skew my results….as long as my every daily approach is consistent and nutrient dense. I define a treat as a choice that doesn’t provide whole nutritional value, and most often counters my health in one form or another. Examples of treats include bread, ice cream, braised beef, chocolate, alcohol, and pretty much everything I grew to love over a lifetime. Similar to many economic principles, random treats in my diet are just small dents in the vehicle of life. It won’t stop this car from moving! It is an outlier and won’t affect my health goals.

On the other hand, if I eat my treats 5-7 days per week, this behavior is now a habit-a part of my foundation. The difference is a hail storm pounding my car to a total wreck instead of Preston’s baseball accidentally dinging my bumper. Can I still drive my car after a hail storm? Most likely, yes (but maybe not well). My body is a machine that can withstand many illnesses, bone breaks, and Snickers bars. It’s important that I’m always mindful of my body so that I can be aware of its boundary lines, though. I can run when I have a headache, but should I run a marathon when I have a migraine? I can lift weights with a sore shoulder, but should I perform a chest fly with a torn rotator cuff? I can eat a Snickers bar every night, but should I eat a treat every night after eating tasty crackers, cheese, and meat all day?

Choosing to eat a treat isn’t an isolated experience. This choice must be evaluated with all of my dietary habits, physical boundaries (think: a diabetic and his relationship to blood sugar level spiking foods), and other choices in mind. My choices outside of that moment can determine whether or not I’m pushing past my dietary boundary line. Ideally, I will develop an autopilot system that unconsciously evaluates these decisions and helps me adhere to important nutritional guidelines, including the choice of non-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods as well as the dedication to a consistent eating schedule. I feel lucky that my generation doesn’t need to think about survival every waking moment. My life usually isn’t threatened daily, and food will be on my table. I can’t imagine living life under that type of scrutiny! It’s a good reminder for me when I do need to increase the focus on myself, though. The scrutiny isn’t always fun, but it’s necessary.

I see the reasons why many people avoid this awareness. I’m often frustrated facing the change I need to make (especially if I don’t understand how to adapt the situation). I guess that’s what is often missing from my goals: Acceptance. Accepting that I sometimes need to think about what I’m doing, who I am, and why I am doing something. And accepting the answers I discover and the things and situations that I can’t change now (or ever).

It’s especially frustrating when I’ve made a great change, and the results are the same. For instance, I finally substituted that delicious Snickers bar for a bar half of the calories at 4 pm every day, and it still isn’t enough to lose weight or body fat. Or I continue this healthful exchange, and I find myself back to the Snickers bar after 4-6 weeks. Emotionally, this is tough to face. It feels like a failure. Is it a failure, though? Times likes these are important lessons of what I still may need to change. Maybe eating at the same time creates a craving. When my low calorie, low sugar option isn’t available I still pursue a sweet (or sweeter) alternative. This can often be a dangerous line to tip-toe on if it is a trigger food (like chocolate). No wonder I eventually went back to the Snickers bar!

Losing weight. Focusing on myself. It’s a frustrating process that I was never prepared for by school. By becoming a human scientist as an adult now, though, I will finally receive the anatomy, nutrition, and behavioral lessons that have been missing from my life. I will finally learn about “Me.” With an objective and curious mind throughout this process, I will truly figure out what I need as well as what I can get away with.


The Questions I Wish I Asked my Grandfather Before He Died

In 2009, my grandfather passed after a long bout with diabetes and heart disease. While preparing to launch my podcast, I can't help to think of the one interview I never did. Ironically, the time was there to do it. I called him every day for over three years with the exception of four days (until two months before his passing....not an exaggeration). I guess I saw the writing on the wall. Despite those phone conversations, I never took the chance to ask him the questions that still keep me wondering.

The Questions I Didn’t Ask

-When you were seventeen, your mother passed, and then your father nearly one year later. Tragic losses at such an early age. How did those moments shape your perspective in life, and how do you believe they steered your path? How have those experiences changed your interactions with new people? What was the greatest lesson from each of your parents that still resonates today?

-You married my grandmother, and you were drafted for the Korean War shortly after. Describe the day you found out that you were drafted. Did you receive a letter or phone call? Where were you standing? What were the first thoughts that crossed your mind upon learning this new fate?

-Lying on your cot at night while stationed in Germany during the Korean War. The unofficial Korean War officially ended three months earlier, but you were still serving in the army. What thoughts passed through your head while trying to sleep? Did you believe that the war truly ended? What uncertainties did you fear?

-People were shocked to hear that the president JFK was shot. In that period of US history, the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. added to an unsettling spirit. What was your perspective of such a time? Where does that period fit into your life span that started in the 1930’s?

-What was your morning ritual? Did you wake up the same time each day? Did you have breakfast with all five kids? Did you follow the same regiment daily? When you were operating at your best, how did you structure the days of your weeks? What were the rituals or routines that helped you to create your best self and best performance? What is one habit everyone should begin today?

-Tell me a story about one of your most memorable rejections in the beginning days.

-As a 7th grader, you mentioned in a church bulletin that you wanted to become an engineer when you “grow up”. Fast forward nearly a decade, and that was, indeed, what you became. What sparked your interest in the industry, and who was your mentor? Did you consider pivoting towards another career at any point? If so, what were you considering? Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like to be in that career instead?

-How did you choose a personal or professional project, and how did this approach change over the years? What were the highlights of your career? If you did an autopsy, what are the takeaways?

-Is there a line or passage in a book you’ve read over a lifetime that still resonates today? Has there ever been a moment in your life that led you to say, “Something has to change”? If so, how did you respond?

-You have met many interesting people and checked off several impressive career milestones while working as an engineer at Santa Fe Railroad, and then for the city. What valuable lesson would you share with my two-year-old son, your great-grandson, Preston, and why?

Personal Trainer Wisdom: In our pursuit for wisdom, we often overlook the resources in front of us. My grandfather was an incredible person that certainly shaped who I am and my approach today. Although I can’t ask him these questions, I will do my best to no longer overlook the lessons that surround me daily.


1 Life Lesson I Wish I Would’ve Listened to as a Child

I try to live without regrets, but I often wonder how different my path would’ve been if I followed all of the important “life lessons” taught to me. Although I absorbed quite a bit as a child (and teenager), here is one lesson I would pay more attention to if given a round two.

Hug everyone.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: As I mention this lesson, I now fear that my neighbors will think Ill chase them down the block for a hug. Why not? Everyone deserves a hug! I’m not sure every stranger would welcome my open arms. A hug isn’t always welcomed, and I’m mindful of that. Nevertheless, I know that the root of being is interaction and hugging is an emotional manifestation of this philosophy.

Although I’ve always realized the importance of physical interaction, I’ve been guilty of isolating myself at times. Call it insecurity or a simple way of protecting myself. It minimized my intimacy with people in all types of relationships-friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships, etc. Should I blame myself? My family didn’t hug much (although the love was apparent) and I didn’t see many examples of this affection growing up (known by me as “Eastern European Love”: a stoic emotional exhibit of love but present in its own way).

Words of love are enough, right? Not sure anymore. Something is missing: Vulnerability. The alternative to hugging, lying on our backs like a dog, isn’t the socially acceptable exhibit of this intention for humans. Hugs are the next best thing. It is a statement of: “I trust you,” “I’m letting down my guard,” and “I accept you”….and who doesn’t want that love? My verbal language of love was useful but not complete for many years. My new hugs truly represent a new level of comfort with the people I love or don’t know very much, and my life is enriched as a result. I'm not a perfect hugger, and I still draw the line on hugs with complete strangers, people who don't show signs that they're interested in hugs, or hugs extending beyond a minute (and, yes, I did just say that). It's a work in progress, and I look forward to reaching new (and longer) hugging heights in the next decade!

Photo Credit: Indy 100 .com: Could hugging a person be the life lesson most of us have overlooked?