Expert Dustin Maher’s 16 Rules to Eat By (Part 3)

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 2 here.

11. Don’t eat grains after 4 p.m. As a general rule, I avoid grains and starchy carbs in the evening. This means no bread, pasta, or rice with dinner and no sweets after dinner. I don’t even like to eat fruit after 4 p.m., because my body doesn’t need that type of fuel for the level of activity I engage in most evenings. This rule doesn’t apply if you’re working out later in the evening, because you definitely want to have some simple carbs as an energy source for your workout. But if you’re not working out and you’re not very active after you come home from work or pick up the kids from all their activities, watch your carbs closely. That’s when you run the risk of storing carbs as fat because you aren’t using your muscles and your body isn’t looking for that fast energy. Your dinners should really be made up of lean protein and a little bit of fat, and then a lot of non-starchy vegetables, like asparagus, broccoli, spinach, and hearty lettuces. Those foods have a lot of nutrients without a lot of calories, and they’re going to have very low carbs in them, too. This gets us back to the glycemic index. Especially later in the day, you want to choose carbs that have a lower glycemic index, more fiber, and fewer carbs. I’m not opposed to people eating regular potatoes, but sweet potatoes or yams are a much better option, especially in the evening. Calorie-wise they’re about the same, but the latter have higher fiber and more nutrients.

12. Be careful what you eat in the evening. Some experts discourage eating later at night or after supper. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t eat after supper if you like to stay up late, but what you’re eating after supper matters. It should be a balanced snack or small meal just like you eat the rest of the day. A lot of people eat sugar or processed fats, cookies, chips, ice cream, and that sort of thing as they’re sitting in front of the TV at night. Some people link this to not getting enough protein early in the day. Try increasing your protein at breakfast and see if those late-night cravings go away. Think about what type of fuel your body needs at the end of the day. One great food for later in the evening is cottage cheese. Cottage cheese does have some natural carbs from lactose, but it has high levels of casein protein, which breaks down really slowly in your body. So it’s one of the best things to eat before you go to sleep, because those proteins will circulate through your bloodstream throughout the night, for four to six hours. (In comparison, whey protein will break down within about an hour.) You could eat some turkey or any sort of meat, or some raw almonds. I’d say you want to have between 100 and 200 calories. That should feed you through the night, and you should wake up in the morning feeling hungry but not ravenous.

13. Give yourself two to three cheat meals per week. There are a lot of different reasons for giving yourself some cheat meals every week, both psychological and physiological. First, if I said you could never eat dessert again, or french fries, or whatever food it is that you really enjoy, you would probably feel really deprived, and you’d rebel and binge at some point. You might not even try the program in the first place. So you have to allow yourself to eat something that’s less virtuous every once in a while.

Also, if you’re on a lower-calorie diet, at some point your body will start to conserve energy. That’s not a good thing, because it’s going to start to store fat. So what we need to do is shock the system every once in a while and let your body know you’re not in a famine—you’ve just chosen not to eat as much. So about once a week we bump those calories up for a few meals, and your body kind of resets itself and realizes it’s not starving, and will continue burning fat at a higher level.

Knowing it’s okay to cheat occasionally is also what makes my program realistic for your life. There are holidays, birthdays, and special events when you want to be able to eat special foods without feeling like you’re breaking the rules or derailing your diet. How many times have you said you can’t start your diet until after the holidays? How many times have you thrown all your good habits out the window because of a meal or a day when you didn’t eat well? You won’t have that excuse with this plan. Just count it as your cheat meal or cheat day and get back with the program the next day!

There’s one other thing about cheat days. Let’s say you totally pig out for one day and enjoy everything you feel you’re missing out on the rest of the time. I guarantee that if you’re eating well the rest of the week, you’re going to feel awful after that binge. You’re going to be bloated. You’re going to have gas. You’re probably going to have low energy. You’re going to feel stuffed. It helps you realize how much better you feel when you eat well. A lot of people actually can’t wait to get back on the wagon after their cheat day!

In terms of how to do your cheat meals, I recommend ignoring the rules for two to three meals per week and trying to keep those all on the same day. Another way to think about it is to try to maintain 85 percent compliance to my rules each week. That gives you wiggle room to eat some of your favorite foods or celebrate a special event without going overboard. Around the holidays or during other busy times, my recommendation is to eat 100 percent clean whenever you’re at home or preparing your own food, saving all your cheating for parties and events.

Be careful not to give yourself the whole weekend “off.” I’ve seen a lot of clients who lose one to two pounds between Monday and Friday and then gain it all back on the weekend. So they’re putting in all that hard work during the week to lose the same two pounds over and over! (If you do this but only check your weight once a week or less, it looks like your weight is just staying constant.) My friend and fat loss expert Joel Marion became famous for his Cheat Your Way Thin Program, where he shows you what cheat foods you can eat and still lose fat. You can pick up his program up at

14. Be prepared. It’s not hard to eat the way I’m recommending, but it does take preparation. You aren’t going to find many acceptable foods in a vending machine or at a convenience store. I think the most important tip of all is knowing what your day is going to be like and preparing either the night before or on the weekend. Preparing means planning what you will eat for each meal, as well as spending the time shopping and preparing food so that you can follow through with that plan.

I encourage you to take some time on Sunday to look at your week and plan your meals—not just your dinners, but also what you need to have on hand for all your other meals. Think about how you will get your protein in for each meal and what vegetables you will be eating. Then go buy a lot of your ingredients and the foods you’re going to need for the week or the next few days. I recommend you do some precooking. Cook as much as you can in one day, making big batches and putting things in the fridge and freezer for later in the week. Then you won’t give in to temptation to eat unhealthily, because everything is ready to go. Stash some raw almonds in your purse or your car so that you’re never caught off guard. I’ll talk about other ways to be prepared in the next chapter.

15. Eat grass-fed meat and free-range poultry. I’ve focused on this more in the past year. I love meat, and I don’t think I’ll ever become a vegetarian. But now I focus on eating grass-fed beef and free-range or pastured chicken and eggs. Some people have philosophical and ethical reasons for doing this, but it also makes a big difference for your health. The fatty acid profile in a grass-fed cow is completely different from in a grain-fed cow. It’s almost like salmon from the ocean, in terms of the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids you’re getting. My good friend Mike Geary, author of the ebook Truth About Six Pack Abs (, goes in depth on the benefits of grass-fed meat compared to corn- and soybean-fed. The same thing is true with egg yolks. In an egg from a chicken that has roamed around eating grass and bugs, the yolk has a very healthy fatty acid profile, including more omega-3s and less cholesterol than you get from conventional eggs. Eggs from pastured chickens are also filled with many more vitamins and nutrients than conventional eggs. Conventional meat and poultry are raised on corn and soybeans now, which is not what those animals were meant to eat; I believe that’s detrimental to their health and metabolism as well as to ours. (The documentary Food, Inc. describes all of this and makes these points really well.)

So my advice is to buy local, like at a farmer’s market or right from a farm, where you can ask the farmer how the meat, poultry, or eggs are produced. That’s the ideal. (The labels “free range” and “cage-free” on chicken and eggs just mean the chickens have access to the outdoors. They do not say anything about how they were fed or whether they actually spent any time outside. Ask the farmer whether his or her chickens are pastured, or what they eat.) I know in some places this can be hard to do. If you can’t buy these foods locally, find online sources. Yes, it’s more expensive, but I think it’s worth it for the difference it will make in your health. You’ll get more nutritional bang for your buck. And you can make it less expensive if you’re able to buy it in bulk. For example, you can buy a full butchered beef and split it up with family or friends, or buy a quarter of one and put it all in the freezer. You can buy poultry in bulk, too. When you do that, it really becomes almost comparable, price-wise, to the stuff you buy in the stores.

16. Buy organic when possible and practical. There are a lot of different opinions about how important it is to buy organic, how bad pesticides are for us, and how much pesticide residues there are in our food. I take a middle road. I go by the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists from the Environmental Working Group (see the 2011 lists on page 68), which list the fruits and vegetables grown with the highest and lowest levels of pesticides in conventional farming. The Dirty Dozen are the ones I buy organic. The Clean 15 are the ones I don’t worry about as much. My advice is to spend your money first on the higher-quality, grass-fed, and free-range meat and poultry as I described in Rule 15, and then add organic fruits and vegetables if you can afford it, starting with the ones at the top of the Dirty Dozen list. Make sure to compare prices of organic and conventional produce when you shop. Often, organic food on sale is cheaper than its conventional counterparts. In addition, seasonal produce is usually the cheaper and more nutritious way to go.

If you really can’t afford to buy organic foods, that’s fine. Just focus on getting fresher, less processed food. Use a vegetable wash to clean non-organic fruits and veggies. Try to eat more items from the Clean 15 list and fewer from the Dirty Dozen to reduce your pesticide exposure. It’s definitely a continuum, and I’m not saying you have to be perfect. There’s really no end to the number of pesticides and chemicals we encounter every day in our modern lives. So you have to make the changes you can and be practical about it. You’ve got to do what is good and right for your family.

Foods to Avoid

There are really only a few foods I would say you should never eat or eat as little of as possible. First, limit your consumption of foods that contain trans fats. Those are the highly processed fats that have received a lot of attention in the news lately. A lot of fried foods, doughnuts, and other baked goods with a long shelf life have trans fats in them—indicated by the words “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredient list. Unfortunately, trans fat substitutes used in manufactured baked goods may have negative health effects similar to those of trans fats,4 so it’s probably best to steer clear of those products in general.

Soy is another ingredient I encourage everyone to research and eat with caution. This book is not about soy, so I’ll just say you should read up on it. It’s very controversial. But it is pretty clear that our society has consumed huge amounts of soy in the last 20 to 30 years. It is very processed soy, and we get it in everything, from the meats we eat to breads and processed foods. That’s on top of the soy milk and Boca Burgers and tofu people eat in an attempt to be healthy. I believe we’re seeing estrogenic changes in both women and men as a result. Increased levels of estrogen increase the level of fat in your body. I stay away from soy whenever I can, especially the more processed forms.

The other things I steer clear of are fake sugars and chemicals in general, as I mentioned above. Other than that, I don’t consider any food off limits. Let’s say you love ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream on a hot summer day? Sure, it’s not the best food for you, if you eat tons of it. But I see no problem with enjoying it in moderation, as long as you choose ice cream that has all-natural ingredients—you know, the ones your great-grandma would recognize—like Breyer’s Natural or Häagen-Dazs.

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
    Jennifer Reyer Young says:

    Thank you for this list! I’ve been following the first 2 parts of this as well!

  2. 2

    I need to make a printable version of the clean & dirty fruits and veggies to keep in my purse during shopping trips, until I have them completely memorized!

  3. 3
    courtney b says:

    yes eating in the evening is the worst!

  4. 4
    Janet W. says:

    I’ve never heard “Don’t eat grains after 4 p.m. ” before. Very useful information!


  1. […] 30-40 percent of your calories from each of the three macronutrient groups per day. He also has his 16 rules to eat by which have been stated in earlier posts. Maher has tips on what to eat before and after a workout, […]

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