Expert Dustin Maher’s 16 Rules to Eat By (Part 2)

Excerpt from Dustin Maher’s Fit Moms for Life: How to Have Endless Energy to Outplay your Kids ~ Chapter 5 Fuel as Food.  We will be doing a full review of this book and have a great giveaway next month!

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 3 here.

6. Keep your portion size under control. This is closely related to Rule 5—if you’re going to eat frequently throughout the day, you really can’t eat huge portions. I talk to a lot of people who say, “I think I eat pretty healthy; I just eat too much of it.” That can definitely be the case. One of my clients had lost 20 pounds under my coaching, but then had plateaued. She was getting frustrated because she was doing all the right things exercise-wise. And the foods she was eating were healthy. I had her do a food journal and weigh her food and calculate her calories. Well, there was a salad she loved to make for lunch. It was a really hearty one, with nuts on it and all kinds of good things. Once she weighed each thing she was putting on it, she figured out she was eating an 800-calorie salad for lunch every day. She usually had a couple other healthy things on the side, so she was typically consuming 1,000 calories just from lunch. Yes, she was eating the healthy, whole foods I recommend—but if you’re trying to eat 1,500 or 1,800 calories a day, you can’t really afford to use half or more of them on one salad!

We have a pretty skewed sense of portion size in our culture right now. Some restaurants include five servings of pasta in the big bowl they sell as a single meal! It’s just ridiculous. Dinner plates are bigger now. Everything is “super-sized.” To get your sense of portion size back on track, I’d recommend a couple of things. First, get your food scale out and weigh things. That’s going to be your best bet. If you don’t have a scale or you don’t have it with you, you can go by the following visual guidelines: A portion size of a vegetable or fruit is roughly the size of your fist. That’s about a cup for most vegetables. The same rule goes for carbs like bread, pasta, rice, or potatoes—a portion is about the size of your fist. For meat, poultry, or fish, a serving is about the size of a deck of playing cards or the palm of your hand. A portion of fat is about the size of your pinky or somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. For most of your meals, you want to have about one portion of protein, one portion of carbs, one to two portions of vegetables, and a portion of fat.

7. Drink three to four quarts of water each day. Here’s another one you’ve probably heard before. There is definitely conflicting research out there about how much water we need for optimal health, and newer studies say we don’t need as much as was  recommended before. But I still drink three to four quarts of water each day and tell my clients to do the same. (You can also take half of your weight and aim to drink that many ounces of water each day.) Maybe it’s a little bit old-school, but I haven’t seen any negative side effects besides having to go to the bathroom a lot. It’ll keep you hydrated, of course, but I think it cuts down on cravings too, and helps you feel fuller. I just feel better and cleaner when I drink enough water.

The best way to do it is to use a quart water bottle, fill it up in the morning, and just keep drinking and refilling it throughout your day. Always keep it in front of you. If it’s not around, you’re not thinking about it, and you won’t think to drink water until you feel really thirsty; by that time your body is becoming dehydrated. If you get bored from drinking plain water, there are some ways to make it a little bit more exciting. You can put some lemon or cucumber slices in it. You can make green tea or other varieties of tea that don’t include any additives. Just keep the water going throughout the day. You might have to work up to drinking three to four quarts per day, so just slowly increase your  water each day until you hit that amount.

8. Don’t drink calories (juice, soda, alcohol). The problem with drinking calories is that they send sugar into your bloodstream and don’t make your body feel full. Many people think juice is healthy because it’s made from fruit. (By the way, check the label of the juice you buy and see whether it is 100 percent fruit juice or if it contains added sugar and preservatives!) I’m not saying it’s bad for you in moderation, but I’ve met people who were drinking almost a gallon of orange juice a day and not understanding why they couldn’t lose weight. Now, if you’re juicing fresh fruits, and especially if you’re adding in vegetables, it’s a little bit different; but in general, when you drink juice, you’re not getting the fiber and some of the nutrients that are in the peel. I’d always recommend a piece of whole fruit rather than a glass of juice.

Then we have soda—or pop, as I like to call it, because I’m from Minnesota. Soda is one of America’s favorite sources of empty calories. Everyone knows soda isn’t good, because of its high sugar content and all the chemicals used to make it. (A lot of people still believe diet soda is good for them. We’re going to talk about fake sugars in the next rule. For now, let’s just say that if you’re going to drink a soda every once in a while, I’d rather see you drink the regular stuff and avoid the fake sugars in diet soda.)

The other main liquid source of empty calories is alcohol. Besides being a sugar with little nutrient value, alcohol has the added bonus of lowering your inhibitions, which leads a lot of people to make poor food choices once they’ve been drinking. I know there are a lot of studies out there that say a glass of wine in the evening is good for the heart or for your cholesterol. I’m not denying that. I think a couple of drinks a week is fine, and some people can handle that better than others. Some people report that when they stop drinking altogether, they see a fair amount of weight loss. Obviously, when people are overdrinking, we all know that’s not healthy for you. You’re damaging your liver and you’re also making bad eating choices, generally when you’re drinking a lot. The phrase “beer belly” exists for a reason. Studies show that the people who drink the most—especially those who drink a lot of beer—do get that fat accumulation around their gut. It’s a lot harder to have a lean, flat stomach if you’re drinking a lot of alcohol.

Now, if you’re going to drink juice, soda, or alcohol occasionally, the most important thing is to go back to Rule 1. You need to combine it with a protein or a fat to decrease the chance of all that sugar getting stored as body fat right away. With juice and soda, I’d also say your best bet is to have those sugary drinks right before or after working out, so that your muscles absorb the sugar quickly.

By the way, I get a lot of questions about kids and juice. If you’re going to get juice for your kids, be sure to buy 100 percent real fruit juice. Some moms dilute juice with water, and their kids never know the difference. Other than that, the same rules apply. Kids are just like adults in the sense that if you give them a lot of sugar, they’re going to get a sugar high and then they’re going to crash. So you want to combine any juice they drink with a fat or protein.

9. Avoid fake sugars. As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners or fake sugars. They come in a lot of different forms—aspartame and sucralose are the most common ones you’ll find in diet sodas and many “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” products, including a lot of yogurts and many protein powders. The research out there is inconclusive as to whether fake sugars cause diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. But the way I see it, all those chemicals are foreign to your body. They are toxic things your body doesn’t know what to do with. I don’t even touch them for that reason alone.

But there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that consuming fake sugars is counterproductive from a weight-loss perspective. Research on rats has shown that consuming fake sugars increases calorie consumption, weight gain, and body fat. Rats that were fed fake sugars consumed more calories later on than rats that were not.2  We also know from human studies that people with high levels of fake sugar in their diets are more likely to be overweight.3 Now, there could be a lot of psychological and behavioral reasons for that. Many times, people who eat a lot of “diet” food believe they’re making up for eating other bad food—so they had the diet soda and low-calorie yogurt in the afternoon and then feel justified eating pizza for dinner. But as the research with the rats shows, there may be some physiological things going on as well that make fake sugars ineffective as a weight-loss tool. So try to get rid of them. Stevia would be a good calorie-free natural sweetener choice.

10. Eat enough protein. We’ve already talked about how protein helps you feel fuller for longer and how it burns more calories than other types of food. There are many different viewpoints on how much protein you need. If you talk to the majority of mainstream nutritionists or you look at the government’s nutritional guidelines, the advice is to eat a very grain-based diet that is not particularly high in protein. I’m not going to get into the politics I believe are behind those recommendations; I’ll just say that research has shown that higher amounts of protein are linked to lower body fat. So I promote a high-protein diet. I tell people to try to get 1 gram of protein per pound of their ideal body weight each day. If your ideal weight would be 150 pounds, try to get about 150 grams of protein. If you break that down into your four to six meals, you want to average about 30 grams of protein each time you eat. I’ve worked with nutritionists who tell me their clients often struggle to get 30, 40, or 50 grams of protein a day. You’re not going to feel full from that. You’re certainly not going to be able to build muscle from it. Your body’s going to be atrophying.

Stay tuned for more in our final post on the 23rd…


I am Dustin Maher, America’s Trainer to The Moms. I am a leading expert on getting moms in shape. I have appeared 88 times on local and national TV, appeared in many magazines, and newspapers and been on over 25 radio shows. I have a blog ( that receives over 1,000 visitors per day and an active mailing list of 6,000 people. I run 11 fitness bootcamp locations in Madison, Wisconsin, and have sold over 10,000 fitness DVDs. My mission is to reach one million moms by the end of 2015 with the support they need to change their mindset, eat better, exercise effectively, and be part of fit families and communities so they can transform their bodies and their lives.


4 Vega-Lopez, Sonia, et al. “Palm and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oils Adversely Alter Lipoprotein Profiles Compared with Soybean and Canola Oils in Moderately Hyperlipidemic Subjects.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 84.1 (2006): 54-62. 5 Hollis, J. “Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35.2 (2008): 118-26.




  1. 1
    Alex Liz Robinson says:

    I used to drink diet soda, but not anymore. They are just as bad as regular soda. Thanks for shainf some more tips!

  2. 2

    Drinking enough water is the toughest for me. I don’t drink other beverages beside my 1 cup of morning coffee and a bit of fat free milk, but still.

  3. 3
    Janet W. says:

    I think I struggle with keeping my portions under control. Sometimes I just feel SO hungry and then I just end up eating it all to clear my plate.


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