Watch The Minimalists' TEDx Talk: A Rich Life with Less Stuff

The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 4 million readers. As featured on: ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, TODAY, NPR, TIME, Forbes, The Atlantic, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and National Post. They live in Missoula, Montana.

A Minimalist’s Thoughts on Diet

A few years ago, I was a meat-‘n’-potatoes kind of guy, and I felt like shit most of the time: I weighed 80 pounds more than I weigh now, I had stomach problems, I was tired and sluggish, and I lacked the energy necessary to live an active, fulfilling life.

Today, my diet is markedly different, and I’ve never felt more alive. And this is why:

Food. My diet today consists mostly of plants and unprocessed foods. I eat an abundance of vegetables: I’m particularly fond of avocados, spinach, broccoli, and anything green—not because they taste good, but because these foods makes me feel outstanding. I also eat fish, nuts, and seeds most days. My ideal meal looks something like this: a bowl containing a small portion of rice, half an avocado, a large piece of grilled salmon, a handful of almonds, and a massive spinach-carrot-cucumber side salad with almond oil and lemon.

Avoid. There are quite a few foods I’ve drastically reduced—or completely eliminated—from my diet: bread, pasta, sugar, gluten, meat (other than fish), bottom-feeding seafood (lobster, crab, and other garbagemen of the sea), most dairy products, and anything processed or packaged. There are many so-called experts out there—I am not one of them—but it was my friend, Common Sense, who advised me to avoid most of these foods. Think about it: besides humans, do you know of any animals who drink another mammal’s breast milk? What other animal eats bread, pasta, or candy bars? Our bodies are not meant to consume this junk (one can make a good argument for eating meat, but I know I feel much better without it, and feeling better is my touchstone). But Joshua, how do you get enough protein, calcium, iron? How does the world’s strongest primate, the gorilla, consume enough of these nutrients? Gorillas eat vegetables and fruit—leaves and bananas (many green vegetables are comprised of 20–45% protein). Evidence shows that we need less protein than we think.

Intermittent Fasting. I eat two meals a day (generally no snacks), both consumed within an eight-hour window, usually around 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. I fast during the day’s remaining sixteen hours (7 p.m. to 11 a.m.), consuming only water, herbal tea, or black coffee during those times. This is much easier than you think. If you want to lose weight, particularly fat, then intermittent fasting will make a drastic difference in your life. And yes, this means I skip breakfast. Visit Martin Berkhan’s website to learn more about I.F.

Water, Liquids, and Juice. I drink roughly half my bodyweight in ounces of water each day. I weigh 165-ish pounds, so I drink 80–90 ounces of water per day. I’m also fond of drinking a couple powdered green drinks every day for increased vitality (personally, I enjoy Amazing Grass Green SuperFood). Additionally, I own a masticating juicer and a NutriBullet blender, both of which are great for juicing and blending fresh vegetables and fruits, directly supplying my body with the nutrients I need. I also drink coffee, albeit appreciably less than I used to, as well as herbal tea—but I eliminated cola and all sugary liquids from my diet (including fruit juices, which contain shockingly high amounts of sugar).

Supplements. Although I eat a large quantity of nutrient-rich foods, I find it important to take daily supplements with each meal: multivitamin (comprehensive nutritional health), vitamin B-complex (cardiovascular health), and fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids for heart health). Depending on your diet, these may not be necessary for everyone, but I noticed a considerable difference in my body after two months of these daily supplements.

Exercise. I exercise every day, but I don’t spend a ton of time, effort, or focus on it. I do only two things: 1) I walk between three and eight miles each day, allowing me plenty of time to think, breathe, and de-stress as I meander the neighborhoods near my home; and 2) I work out for eighteen minutes. I’m not worried about building vanity muscles—I’m concerned with how I feel. I discovered when I eat and exercise in ways that help me feel good, lean muscles are a nice bonus. You don’t have to kill yourself to become fit. My friend, personal trainer Vic Magary, is the fittest guy I know and yet he often exercises only ten minutes a day. Everyone has ten to twenty minutes a day to dedicate to their health, right?

Sleep. Because of diet and exercise, I need less sleep than I used to. Most mornings I wake around 3:30 a.m., after five or six hours of sleep. Some days, however, I sleep later, until 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. I let my body dictate how much sleep I need, which happens to be far less sleep than just a few years ago. It is important, however, to get as much sleep as your body requires: operating on a deficit is unhealthy.

Stress. We don’t get stressed, we do stressed. If I were to ask you what a stressed person looks like, you’d easily be able to mimic his or her physiology. Frowning, shallow breathing, muscle tensing, etc. Once you become aware of your stressed physiological state, you can change your physiology—the way you move your body—to become unstressed. Nearly everyone feels stressed these days, but I am significantly less stressed than I’ve ever been, because I make an effort to be aware of my triggers and change my physical movements accordingly. When I feel overwhelmed, I’ll change my breathing pattern, I’ll take a walk, I’ll exercise, I’ll look in the mirror with a big grin, or I’ll make sure no one’s looking and I’ll jump up and down like a crazy person—anything to get me out of that stressed state. (These techniques effectively combat depression, anger, and sadness, too.)

Most important, after changing my diet and embracing a healthier lifestyle, I feel amazing.

But Joshua, your diet sounds so boring and unentertaining!

I don’t think so, but then again I no longer look at food as entertainment. Food is fuel, nothing more. I can still enjoy a great conversation over a healthy meal with friends—I simply don’t let the food be my source of entertainment. I enjoy the food I eat, but I enjoy the rest of my life, too.

Does that mean my exact diet will also work for you? Maybe. But maybe not. There’s only one way to know for sure: test it out yourself. You can emulate my diet for ten days and see how it makes you feel, see what aspects work for you. Or try any one aspect for ten days: go without sugar or bread or processed foods, add green drink or fresh juice or daily exercise, and notice the changes. I’m certain you can do anything for ten days. See how those changes make you feel, and then adjust accordingly.

Improving one’s health is the foundation of living a meaningful life: without your health, nothing else matters. I don’t care what you eat or how you exercise—I’m not looking to convert anyone to my way of eating. I don’t care whether you’re a vegetarian, a vegan, or a primal-paleo-whatever. None of these labels apply to my own dietary lifestyle, and arguing the particulars is silly anyway. What I do care about is how you feel: I want you to feel great so you can better enjoy your life.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.