3: Food Substitutions

Just about everyone can benefit from lowering their overall carbohydrate intake – for the purposes of increasing insulin sensitivity. Not only will this help both fat loss and muscle gain, there are numerous health benefits – especially when you follow some of the food substitution ideas below.


I’m assuming that you don’t want to regain the weight after you’ve dropped it. It wouldn’t make sense to put all this time and energy into something if the results were only short-term. That said, here’s the blueprint for lasting change. (This expands outside of fitness, too.)

3 Steps to Lasting Change

  1. Raise your standard.
  2. Change your belief(s).
  3. Adopt new strategies.
1. Raise Your Standard

Most people are used to having some standards when it comes to choosing a mate in a relationship. For your health, it’s time to start setting boundaries, too. Think of this as the velvet rope for your new fitness habits. In other words, you have to make a mental shift to take on the role of the person you’re becoming: leaner, more energetic, productive, etc.

An example of this is that I do not consume any fast food. That’s one of my nutritional standards that I hold myself up to. Another standard is to move my body everyday. I set these up as non-negotiables.

You likely are already setting certain fitness standards in your life. Maybe it’s that you will train with me twice per week. Can you raise that standard to include a bit more? Maybe add two 20-minutes cardio sessions throughout the week. Do you need to set new standards?

2. Change Your Belief(s)

What do you believe about yourself or the process of getting fit that’s NOT supporting you?

I mentioned this in the last module. Changing your beliefs to support your goals can lead to BIG results.

Simple? Yes.

Easy? That’s up to you to decide.

3. Adopt New Strategies

The final step to lasting change, adopt new strategies, is where I feel most people start when attempting to lose weight. Unfortunately, they never even bother to implement either of the first two steps, which are arguably more important.

Each of these modules are packed with strategies. Not every strategy will work for everybody, either. The truth is that you’ll have to put in the time and take action to figure out which strategies will work for you based on results.


Once you understand the steps to lasting change, it’s time to create urgency. Why? Human behavior leads us to do what’s urgent, but not always what’s most important (aka, FOMO). Knowing this, we need to make fat loss urgent (and important) in our minds.

Think about a time in the past where you’ve successfully hit a goal (regarding anything in life). What had gotten you to take action on it, to change your pattern (at least temporarily) and what did you do that lasted a lifetime? What did you have to believe about that behavior? You had to get to the point where that behavior was below what you stood for (“I am more than this”).

We want to create the environment where not having the body you deserve equals pain on a continuous basis. (Not pain someday in the future.) This is what creates urgency.

Wear Smaller Clothes

One thing that you can do to make something urgent is by not going out to buy bigger clothes when you gain weight. For example, once you get to your ideal bodyweight, do not buy anything remotely bigger. Buying new bigger clothes takes away leverage. Actually, buy and wear one size smaller to create leverage to fit into it better. It’s going to create an emotional connection toward your goal and urgency because the tightness of the clothes will be uncomfortable. 

Walk Around With Extra Weight

How much weight do you want to lose ideally?

Whatever the amount is, put it in a backpack and wear it around for the rest of the day. Force yourself to keep it on the whole time. No breaks. You get bonus points if you wear it to bed at night.

What’s the rationale behind something as ridiculous as this?

It’s to simply get uncomfortable and reprogram your mind to feel exactly what kind of burden it is to carry excess weight (fat mass) around each day of your life. Our bodies are great at adapting over time, so it’s likely that you may not remember how much better you can feel without the excess weight.

Setup a commitment on stickK.com

stickK works by helping people create a Commitment Contract.

“A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.”

Basically, if you don’t follow through with a goal that you set for yourself, stickK will charge your credit card and donate to a person, charity or anti-charity (e.g., NRA, Democratic Party, Republican Party, etc.) of your choosing. This is an extra “incentive” towards staying committed with your fitness/health goals.

Kitchen Clean-out

If you haven’t done this already, do it today. Get the junk out of the house.


Why strength training?

Getting stronger and losing fat constitutes progression, and the key to success is to progress on a systematic basis (remember progressive overload?). Of course, progression by load isn’t the only way to progress from workout to workout. But, getting slightly stronger and lifting a bit more weight as frequently as possible does represent a significant way of forcing the body to lose fat mass.

Outside of that simple reasoning, there are other reasons why strength training can be beneficial when it comes to fat loss.

Strength training increases the overall efficiency of the nervous system to recruit motor units.

Strength training is especially efficient at recruiting the all-important high-threshold motor units. Activation of these muscle fibers is in direct relation to the amount of force you have to produce. The more force production that’s needed, the more the nervous system has to recruit these fibers.

This improvement in neural efficiency will also transfer to other aspects of fitness. In other words, strength training improves the efficacy of all other types of fitness performed subsequently.

Strength training improves myogenic tone.

Myogenic tone is also known as muscle tone. To improve myogenic tone to the max, it’s not the marathon cardio sessions and endless reps with the little pink dumbbells that’ll produce the best results.

Myogenic tone refers to a state of partial muscle activation. It means that even at rest the nervous system is keeping some tension in the muscle, probably to stay in a state of readiness if ever a situation requiring an instant force production arises.

Myogenic tone is determined mostly by two things:

  1. Neural efficiency: The more efficient the nervous system is, the greater your myogenic tone will be. Since strength training improves the neural aspect of force production much more so than lighter lifting, it’s only logical that this form of training will lead to more tonus over time.
  2. Specific muscle fiber development: Some studies have shown that HTMU’s (fast-twitch fibers) are predominantly superficial muscle fibers, while slow-twitch fibers lie deeper in the muscle. More activation of the HTMU’s, which are close to the skin surface, will give a muscle more shape.

Strength training potentiates the effectiveness of daily life activities.

This is fairly easy to understand: If you increase your strength, you’ll be able to handle the rigors of life with greater physical ease. For example, if you’ve been gradually increasing the kettlebell weight that you can squat with throughout the month from 10 to 50 pounds (which is common), your 20-pound baby won’t feel so heavy when you pick him up.

The variation and shock to your system.

Understand that the body is built for survival, not to look good at the beach. While your goal might be to lose weight, your body’s goal is to be perturbed as little as possible. As a result, it’ll strive to adapt to anything you put it through, until it’s so well adapted that “what you put it through” isn’t a bother anymore. When it reaches that point, there’s no need to adapt, which means you’re sitting atop a plateau with no more results.

If you always train using the same approach, your body will eventually become so well adapted that it won’t need to change in response to training. I cycle my strength training programs every 4-6 weeks for variety and results.


For the next few weeks you are going to omit certain foods and beverages from your diet while replacing them with others. The substances you are going to omit are ones that are common allergens or irritants, cause bloating and fatigue, or are just plain unnecessary when trying to lose fat and develop a healthy relationship with food. You’ll also omit any foods that happen to be triggers for you, no matter how “healthy” they might be.

Discipline equals freedom.

Jocko Willink

Insulin Reset

Essentially, this reset is going to allow your body and mind to regenerate its fat-burning capacities. Your intent is to nourish your body with real, high quality food, and perhaps even more importantly, to be more aware of what is in the food you eat. This phase is certainly going to cause you to look at food labels, and be more discerning about what you allow in your kitchen.

The thing that is so enjoyable about this experience is how creative you get to be while planning/preparing meals. Maybe your natural tendency is to pair pasta with meatballs, because that’s what you’ve always done. Back in college, my go-to meal was Easy Mac and tuna from a can; it doesn’t sound good, but it’s the only thing I knew how to make and I loved it.

This phase is going to teach you that not only is the pasta completely unnecessary, the replacements (such as roasted vegetables or spaghetti squash) can be more satisfying and energizing. You’ll wonder why you ever had pasta as a staple in your kitchen, and when you do enjoy it on occasion, you will notice the difference in how it makes you feel.

It’s really important that you understand this phase is not about restriction or deprivation. Nourishing your body is in no way depriving it. You might even find that you consistently ate certain things, simply because that was what you’ve always done. Realizing that you don’t, in fact, need certain foods is going to be incredibly liberating.

By far the most substantial impact of this is FREEDOM. At the culmination of this, you’ll finally feel free from cravings, trigger foods, and mindless consumption. This is the end of feeling controlled by food.

This is certainly a challenge, and may feel overwhelming. The list below is extensive, yet, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with one or two items in the list below; be sure to keep reading for substitution ideas, too.

Items to Avoid

  • Alcohol 
  • Dairy (including cheese, yogurt, milk, etc.) 
  • Grains (bread, pasta, rice, and any products made with whole wheat, wheat flour, etc.) 
  • Corn (and any derivatives of these corn such as corn oil, maltodextrin, corn syrup, corn starch, etc.) 
  • Unfermented soy and all processed soy products 
  • Junk food (candy, chips, pastries, soda, etc.) 
  • Trigger foods (foods that encourage binge eating or elicit strong cravings)
  • Artificial flavors, additives, preservatives, and dyes

Dairy and grains are common allergens that can cause many adverse reactions. Some of these reactions include bloating, fatigue, skin disruptions, joint pain, weight gain, headaches, and so on.

Corn is a grain, although it is often confused with a vegetable. It is a very irritating substance that most people don’t even think of as an allergen.

The worst part about corn is that it shows up in EVERYTHING, and not always conspicuously. So many additives are corn derivatives, which is why it’s always a safe bet to prepare real, whole foods, rather than use processed foods. The few processed items you do consume should be labeled as gluten/grain/corn/dairy/soy free.

Not everyone is susceptible to these allergens, but taking them out for a period of time will almost always produce favorable results both in terms of fat loss and performance. There is no down side to omitting these substances for a couple weeks, and they can be easily replaced.

Alcohol and junk foods not only supply empty and excess calories to your diet, they make you feel lethargic, bloated, and often, out of control. Omitting them will allow room for more nutrient-dense substances.

Soy, much like corn, is used far too heavily in many American food products. Crops are relatively easy to harvest, and it’s a cheap additive to use as a filler or in place of more quality substances. Vegetarians and vegans often use soy as a protein supplement, but in reality it has been linked with a number of troubling conditions.

Most pertinent for you is likely it’s estrogenic properties. Because soy is a phyto-estrogen (plant form of estrogen) eating it often can drastically change your hormonal profile, causing you to gain or retain weight and experience mood swings. Because soy (like corn) is in everything, you’ll have to carefully read labels on the few processed items you do consume.

Perhaps the most important thing on the “Avoid List” is the trigger foods. A trigger food is one that you have a tendency to over consume, and one that is typically tied to a deep emotional response. For a long time my trigger food was tortilla chips and salsa, and by removing it completely from my diet for a period of time, I was able to conquer that trigger. Now I can successfully consume it in moderate quantities.

The thing that makes a trigger food so dangerous, is that they typically elicit addictive responses from us. We find that the food has a significant hold over us, and this is as potent an addiction as any other. We just can’t stop, no matter how hard we try. What if instead of trying hard, we just let them go? Wouldn’t that be so much easier?

When you can honestly look at a prior trigger food and say with total confidence “I could eat just one and be satisfied,” then you have successfully overcome the addiction. Omitting these triggers during this phase will help you accomplish that.

Substitution Ideas

Remember, the Insulin Reset is not about elimination, it’s about replacement. So while you are omitting grain based items, you get to replace them with palate and physique-friendly items like zucchini “noodles,” Optimized Coffee, and cauliflower “rice.” This is going to involve a lot of experimenting and some creativity in the kitchen.

Instead of pasta use…

Zucchini “Noodles” (or any vegetable “noodle” variety)

  1. Use a julienne or vegetable peeler to create raw “noodles”
  2. Dehydrate the noodles for at least 30 minutes in a colander
  3. Sauté in a dry skillet
    (Note: You can prep these in advance and store in the fridge)

Spaghetti Squash

This delicious gourd can be cooked any number of ways, whole or sliced, conventional or microwave oven, and even in the crockpot Once cooked simply slice in half (if cooked whole) and scoop out the “noodles”.

Instead of rice use…

Cauliflower “Rice”

  1. Process cauliflower florets in a food processor/blender until they are the consistency of rice.
  2. Cook in a large skillet with cooking fat and seasonings of choice, until tender.

Instead of bread use…

Lettuce Wraps

Use butter lettuce to make wraps or romaine hearts to make “boats.” Anything you’d normally put on a sandwich or in a tortilla can easily be put into a delicious and low-carb lettuce wrap instead.

Opt for the “Bowl” Version

You ever eat at Chipotle and get one of their infamous bowls? Well, you can make your own. Anything you would put into a burrito you can put into a bowl instead. Throw in chopped salad greens, veggies, meat, and avocado—and you’re good to go.

Instead of milk and cream use…

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk can easily be substituted for most recipes that call for creamy dairy substances. I’ve even used it to make protein ice cream in my ice cream maker.

*Side note: If the idea of having to omit cream from your coffee is abhorrent, don’t stress. A tablespoon or organic cream per cup is not going to throw off your plan. However, you may want to try alternatives like hemp, almond, or coconut milk, simply to mix it up a little.

Instead of cheese use…


This creamy fruit can be a fabulous substitute for cheese. Just mush it up and add it to your favorite dishes. It’s so creamy and full of fiber, you won’t even notice the cheese is missing.

Instead of soda use…

  • Zevia (zero calorie “soda” and all natural, no dyes or additives)
  • Flavored sparking water (unsweetened)
  • Club soda or seltzer with fresh lemon or lime

Instead of chips use…

  • Homemade kale chips
  • Homemade plantain chips
  • Seasoned nori (seaweed)
  • Fresh veggies with almond coconut veggies dip

Instead of cookies or ice cream use…

Instead of wine or cocktails use…

I won’t attempt to convince you that there is a substitute for a glass of wine. If you find it impossible to stop drinking for a short period of time, that’s certainly something to consider more deeply. Why do you find it difficult to abstain from alcohol? I hear from many clients that they simply enjoy having a glass of wine at night, as a ritual of sorts. But, that doesn’t mean that wine is the only way one can ritualize.

Look to fill your “wine drinking” time with reading instead. At first, this notion may seem a bit ridiculous, although think about why you might usually have a nightly alcoholic beverage: to unwind. And reading can be a much more entertaining way to unwind.

What to Expect

WEEK 1:  How you feel at first will have a lot to do with your current diet and lifestyle. You will most likely feel worse before you feel better, but you will soon feel better. The most common thing people experience is strong sugar cravings. (Taking supplements such as 5-HTP and glutamine can help with this.) You body and brain are desperately adapting to this new way of eating. 

Common symptoms are headaches, fatigue, and constipation. Once you get over this hump, you will have more energy than you’ve felt in a long time. You will most likely experience a change in your body because you are not bloated from the food you are eating.

WEEK 2:  This is when you start to feel like you have more energy and are sleeping better at night. Remember a lot of the foods you are no longer eating have been wreaking havoc on your digestive system and it cannot heal overnight. You may still be experiencing GI distress such as: gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. The digestive system can take months to heal fully, and in the process, cause some discomfort. You are likely eating more vegetables and fruit than you are used to which in itself can cause digestive issues.

Cooking all of your vegetables vs. eating them raw may help alleviate any digestive issues. Also, consider supplementing with digestive enzymes and/or probiotics (especially, if you’re not consuming at least one serving of a fermented food each day).

WEEK 3:  More than likely you have more energy, have more mental focus, are sleeping better, and symptoms that you had when you started have begun to disappear. By now, your taste buds are starting to adapt, and you are enjoying the flavors of the foods you are eating. If you have been relying on the same foods over and over again, switch it up.

You can and should continue to eat this way until the thing you most wanted to change at the beginning of the program has changed or gotten better. If you have been eating an inflammatory diet for years it is going to take longer to see maximum results.

WEEK 4 (and beyond):  As stated above, you can continue with this way of eating until you’ve hit some big goals.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What do I eat?!?!?!?

Our society is so conditioned to have starches as part of our meals, for snacks and desserts. The prevalence of obesity in our society is now higher than ever. This isn’t a coincidence. Through the insulin reset, we are fundamentally shifting the way we consume and utilize food. The best approach for this is to get creative and think about good food replacements and pairings. I listed off a number of food replacements above that I use consistently. Start centering your meals and snacks around protein and produce.

Q. Do I have to do the Insulin Reset for the rest of my life?

Not at all. This is meant to be a short-term discovery phase that lasts anywhere from 2-4 weeks.

Q. What foods do I eat now?

Download the meal plan below for some insight.

Q. Is it healthy to eat all that fat each day?

Absolutely. As a point of reference, the Arctic Inuit and African Maasai tribes eat traditional diets that are very high in fat (about 75% of their daily calories) and animal products with very few vegetables. Neither of those tribes ever dealt with traditional western diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Just make sure that the fat is coming from whole food sources.

Expect Success,

Action Steps:

  • Commit to two leverage tactics (i.e., wear one size smaller, carry extra weight, stickK.com, kitchen cleanup) this week.
  • Begin substituting foods on the list above. Text me a photo of one of your new food substitutes.

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