Nutrition is the biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting a body and life you love. The problem is that nutrition is bogged down by dogma and one-size-fits-all advice. All you want to know is how to start eating healthy, but the more you search the more confused and frustrated you get. Until now.
Once you understand the truth about fitness for weight loss (that eating healthy is 80% of your results), the next question you find yourself asking is, “So how do I start to eat healthy? What exactly do I eat and what do I stay away from?”
Well, I’ve come up with a helpful acronym that gets to the root of healthy eating in a very personal way using the acronym, “ANTI.”
Applying this acronym to your eating habits and understanding the context and intricacies is one of the first steps in changing your relationship with food.
“ANTI” food is (A)ddiction-Feeding, (N)utrient-poor, (T)oxic, or (I)nflammatory.
The goal of this model is not for you to eat less food or to become hyper-restrictive. The goal is to give you a tool for which to grade food so you can eat more “rich” food and less “poor” food, and truly nourish your body.
This model also gives you the knowledge to avoid the pull of marketing, the persuasiveness of dogma, and the confusion of conflicting advice.
In effect, it’s the most practical, sustainable, non-dogmatic approach to healthy eating because it’s based on eating the foods that work best for your individual body and goals.
Before we start, there are three statements I want to preface this model with:
PREFACE #1: There’s no black and white answer for how to start eating healthy.
Once you’ve identified a food is an ANTI food, you then have to ask yourself, “How ANTI is it?”
Life may get pretty boring if you strictly adhere to this model and strive for perfection. For this reason, I’d suggest that you aim to use the ANTI food model as a tool to change your personal relationship with food and eat to a degree of health that you’re comfortable with and that helps you reach your goals.
You can be a long way from perfect and still ride off into the sunset with all of your goals achieved. But with that said, everything has tradeoffs. The more you venture into the gray area, the more murky your ability to be successful is going to become.
PREFACE #2: What’s ANTI for you might not be ANTI for me. Eating healthy looks different for everyone.
Food is personal. That’s why diets have such a high failure rate and it’s why Total Body Reboot is focused on helping you reboot the connection between your body, your brain, and your food. The one-size-fits-all model is dead.
The potato is a great example of this. On the surface, the potato is a pretty innocuous starch. For most people, it doesn’t fail the ANTI test. However, if you have a sensitivity to nightshades — a group of plants that contain a substance called alkaloids — then the potato is an ANTI food to you.
It can seem complicated at first because there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve done the work, you’re empowered to nourish your body in a way that will lead you to long-term success.
Seriously, once you figure this out for yourself and put this model into practice, you’re good to go for the rest of your life. If you’ve been struggling for years, or decades, that means your struggle can finally come to an end for good in the very near future.
PREFACE #3: This is a model for health, not quick weight loss. If you want to know how to eat healthy as a means to some superficial end, you’re going to lose.
Keep in mind that this is a model for health, not a magic formula for weight loss.
Is it likely that you’ll lose weight by following this model? Sure. But success comes from focusing on authentic core principles and sustainable healthy habits—not on weight loss. Sustainable fat loss is a side effect of living in a truly healthy environment.
Success is also highly dependent on your mindset. Authentic health is a long-term play. If your mind is hyper-focused on weight and that’s your only core goal, you’re highly likely to abandon authentic approaches and gravitate toward band-aid protocols that promise a quick fix.
In my Make It Stick Master Class, I teach a very important concept – that following “means to an end” style approaches is not what successful people do.
In fact, I take it a step further. I make the.bold statement that if you eat healthy – or exercise for that matter – as a means to some superficial end, you will never succeed. Ever. You can’t, because that relationship with food and fitness undermines your ability to be consistent.
How to Start Eating Healthy: An Overview of the “ANTI” model
Premise: When you know what to avoid based on your individual needs and goals, all that’s left is including the maximum variety of everything that’s left.
That’s highly empowering and easy for most people to understand and achieve.
So, here’s a breakdown of the ANTI model with suggestions for how to apply it to your life in the most effective way.
Health and weight loss are not achievable when you suffer from food addictions and dependencies, eat emotionally, use food as a symbolic substitute, or are otherwise triggered to the point where you can’t align your behavior with your intentions.
The side effects of addiction (a simplified term for practicality) are three-fold: you’re drawn to certain types of foods, you’re very likely to overeat, and you’re unable to trust your hunger and satiety signals.
To avoid this, the ANTI model disposes of almost all processed, hyper-palatable food products (aka junk food). That’s because these food products are based on scientific formulations of fat, sugar, and salt that don’t exist anywhere else in nature and are not made from real, whole foods.
When you eat these foods, you’re triggering an evolutionary mismatch. In essence, you’re eating against your biological programming.
This is one of the biggest challenges for most people. Processed and sugary foods are everywhere. Simply trying to avoid them and limit them is not possible unless you know the truth about moderation.
*The ultimate goal is to change your relationship with food. When this is done authentically, there’s no longer an “addictive” category. Doing the work to change your relationship with food gives you the ability to moderate your eating. Of course, moderation is impossible until this change occurs inside you.
[N] Nutritionally Poor*
In Why Diets Don’t Work, one of my main arguments was that diets fail because they don’t account for nutrient density.
Nutrient density is one of the main satiety triggers. Nutrients help you feel full. They help your body work properly. They guard against disease and degradation.
If the majority of your food consists of things that are nutrient-poor, you may quench hunger for a short period, but never long-term.
Eating foods that are nutrient poor contributes to overeating and overeating makes you fatter and less healthy. Eventually—especially if you’re also limiting calories—you’ll trigger a destructive state of nutritional poverty.
It’s especially important in this day and age to focus on nutrient-density because our entire food supply has been compromised by industrialization and domestication. The foods we eat today aren’t the foods of yesterday.
While it’s not harder to be healthier today, it does require more nuance and a stronger, more connected relationship with food. Instead of being the chess piece in the new food supply, you need to be the chess master.
This doesn’t mean you can never eat foods that are nutrient poor. Again, no food is “excluded” forever. Nutrient poor foods *can have other benefits. Rice is not a nutritionally “rich” food, but it can still be beneficial depending on your lifestyle and goals. Using the ANTI scale is all about understanding the context of a truly healthy, non-dogmatic lifestyle.
Toxins occur in certain foods that don’t wish to be eaten as an evolutionary survival trait (and have no other means of defense from predators). Toxins also occur in foods as a man-made addition (such as pesticides) or as a natural occurrence via contact with other organisms (like fungus).
For the most part, animals have defense or escape mechanisms and don’t require toxins. Plants find it fairly difficult to escape predators and thus are more likely to employ toxins for defense.
To be clear, I’m not talking about active defense toxins like snake poison. Snakes employ toxins for defense, but are safe to eat if you happen to kill one. I’m talking about passive toxins that attack you when you consume the food.
Let’s talk about the five most prevalent toxins you’re likely to run into and be sensitive to.
Aflatoxins are carcinogenic toxins in food which is produced by the Aspergillus flavus fungus. The toxin can also be found in the milk of animals which are fed contaminated feed.
Alkaloids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds that have varying effects on the human body (both positive and negative). The most common negative reaction alkaloids that people eat daily are found in a species of plants called nightshades.
Some people are more sensitive to nightshades than others. In sensitive people, nightshades can drive up inflammation (and pain–particularly joint pain) and contribute to poor gut health.
Goitrogens are a class of toxins in food which suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake. These should be avoided by anyone with diagnosed thyroid issues but may be suitable for people with functional thyroids.
Lectins are toxic protein compounds found in most foods, but in heavy amounts in many seeds, grains, and legumes. Large amounts of lectins can damage the heart, kidneys and liver, lower blood clotting ability, destroy the lining of the intestines, and inhibit cell division. Lectins can also inhibit insulin function leading to stalled weight loss.
Disclaimer: There is a debate on how much lectins are destroyed by cooking and stomach acid. But we’ll discuss later why high-lectin foods are often excluded as a blanket recommendation.
These toxic substances act on the body’s internal opioid receptors and can alter the perception of pain and affect respiration, digestion, and mood. These toxins are the cause of many food intolerances with a wide range of severity from nuisance ailments to full blown hospitalization. They are: Casomorphin (found in milk/dairy), Gluten exorphin (wheat gluten), Gliadorphin/gluteomorphin (wheat gluten), and Rubiscolin (spinach).
Phytates are compounds found in many foods, but especially soybeans, whole wheat, and rye. In the human gut, phytic acid acts as an anti-nutrient. It reduces the absorption of valuable minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc by binding the minerals into an insoluble salt.
Disclaimer: Special food preparation can severely cut down the phytate level in certain foods. We’ll discuss later why certain foods high in phytates are often excluded as a blanket recommendation.
I listed five main naturally occurring toxins, but you also need to be wary of consuming toxins added by humans. This is mostly true for consuming plants.
You’ll want to reference Organic.org’s dirty dozen list to help decide which foods you should buy organic and which foods you can probably get conventional.
Some of the foods high in these toxins are also excluded because they fail other parts of the ANTI model as well.
*Almost all foods have toxins. You can’t escape it. So the question is, “how much is it affecting me? Do I feel better when I remove or add this particular food?” Perfection is not achievable. Sustainability is the ultimate goal.
Many foods are inflammatory because they contain the naturally occurring toxins that we just discussed. However, a food can be inflammatory even if it doesn’t contain toxins.
Inflammation is an immune defense mechanism. The proper function of the immune system is to inflame (to increase blood flow and nutrients to an affected area), deal with the problem, and then “shut off” the inflammation.
However, when you continuously feed the body things that trigger an immune response, the immune system never gets to cycle down and the inflammation becomes chronic. And chronic inflammation leads to disease.
Inflammatory foods include: processed trans fats, sugar, alcohol, vegetable oils / polyunsaturated fat, pasteurized milk, and MSG. Those are just a few examples. And of course, toxic foods will likely create an inflammatory response as well.
Whether or not foods are graded as inflammatory also depends on how you cook them. For instance, cooking at high heat has been linked to increased inflammation. This doesn’t mean I advocate a raw food diet. It’s just important to understand that everything has tradeoffs.
Putting the ANTI food model to work for you…
Many people ask why I recommend people avoid cereal grains, so let’s use that as a quick example.
For most people, wheat-based grains fail all parts of the ANTI model. In most popular forms, they’re [A] addiction-feeding/hyperpalatable and very easy to over-consume.
While mainstream nutrition seems to think they’re nutritious, they’re actually quite [N] nutrient-poor compared to real foods (wheat is a processed food). In fact, almost all wheat-based products are fortified with synthetic vitamins for this reason.
Wheat-based grains are [T] toxic, containing gluten, lectins, and phytates. These factors also make wheat-based grains [I] inflammatory for a lot of people (ranging from very low to no inflammation response to complete auto-immune hellfire).
It’s possible that wheat-based grains are not addiction-feeding to you. It’s possible that your body greatly tolerates the toxic nature of them and eating wheat-based grains doesn’t result in inflammation…for you.
I’d still offer this: by including wheat-based grains in your diet, you’re consuming a large amount of relatively [N] nutrient poor calories. This exacerbates hunger and cravings and drives overeating for most people. By committing to real, unprocessed food you’re going to reach your goals of beating cravings, sustaining satiety, dropping excess fat, and having a healthier relationship with food much faster.
The ANTI model does not create rules, it simply highlights a very useful cost-benefit analysis.
This model offers guidance for how to start eating healthy in a personalized way, but it also offers real empowerment.
The ANTI model is very useful for learning about your individual body and guiding your journey. When you know which foods work for you and which don’t, your eating is empowered forever. When you understand the context of truly healthy eating, you’re empowered forever as a sovereign individual.
One thing I would caution against, though, is adopting a mindset of exclusion. For example, “what I don’t eat defines who I am.” It’s a very pessimistic view of health.
Your healthy lifestyle should be defined by all of the amazing real food that you can get your hands on. It should be defined by how committed you are to nourishing your body, loving your body, and loving your life. It should be defined by the stake in the ground that says, “I’m choosing myself.”
And it’s not just about food. It’s about how to be healthy by understanding all six pillars of an authentically healthy lifestyle.
If you’re not sure where to start or want help with this process, Total Body Reboot is designed to guide you through it so you can finally have a body and life you love.
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.