Meet The Minimalists during the Everything That Remains Tour

The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. They live in Montana by way of Dayton, Ohio. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, USA Today, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Toronto Star.

A Minimalist’s Thoughts On Diet

Air Millburn, photo by Adam Dressler

I no longer catch the common cold. Yes, that’s right: I don’t get sick anymore. Ever. I didn’t get sick even after hugging 2,000 people during our 33-city meetup tour, many of who were themselves sick and didn’t want to hug me for fear of “getting me sick.” I hugged them anyway, because I don’t believe in “catching the common cold.” I no longer maintain the environment for the common cold to live in my body.

So you don’t ever get sick, Joshua?

Nope.

Never?

No, not at all.

I bet that’s a strange thing to read, right? I know that it’s a strange thing to write. And I know that it might sound like complete bullshit. I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical, but I’d like you to bracket your skepticism for a moment and hear me out.

It’s been two years since my last cold. Clearly, much has changed over the last two years: I started The Minimalists with Nicodemus, I left the corporate world, I started pursuing my dream, I wrote the best literary fiction of my life, I published several bestselling books, I cofounded a community for writers and creative people, and I started teaching an online writing class.

There is, however, one subtle change I haven’t talked about much: my gradually changing diet. A few years ago, I used to be a meat-’n'-potatoes kind of guy. And I used to catch a cold several times a year; even when I wasn’t sick, I didn’t feel great. To be honest, I felt like shit most of the time. I used to weigh 70 pounds more than I weigh now, I had stomach problems, and 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. I no longer have issues with energy or focus like I used to. And most important, I feel better. My stomach problems are gone, the excess weight is gone, I no longer get sick, and the spring is back in my step, as it were. And this is why…

Food. My diet today consists mostly of plants and unprocessed foods. I eat an abundance of vegetables and fruits. 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 consume beans and/or rice at most meals, and I eat fish and nuts several times a week. My ideal meal looks something like this: a bowl containing a small portion of rice, half an avocado, a diced tomato, a 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 or 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 that I feel much better without it, and feeling better is my true test). But Joshua, how do you get enough protein, calcium, iron? Well, 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). And you likely need less protein than you think.

Intermittent Fasting. I eat two meals a day (generally no snacks besides liquids), both consumed within an eight-hour window, usually around 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. I fast during the day’s remaining 16 hours (i.e., 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 find out why and to read more about I.F.

Water, Liquids, and Juice. I drink roughly half my bodyweight in ounces of water each day. I weight 165-ish pounds (I used to weigh 240 pounds), so I drink 80–90 ounces of water per day. I’m also fond of drinking 1–2 powdered green drinks every day for increased vitality (I enjoy Amazing Grass GREENSuperFood). Additionally, I own a masticating juicer that’s great for juicing 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 and almond milk, 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), fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids for heart health), St. John’s Wort (mood health), and cranberry supplement (urinary tract health). 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 or effort or focus on it. Instead, I do only two things: 1) I walk three-to-eight miles a day, allowing me plenty of time to think and breathe and de-stress as I meander the streets of Dayton, Ohio, and 2) I workout for 18 minutes. I’m not worried about building vanity muscles; I’m concerned with how I feel. I’ve discovered that 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 Vic Magary is the fittest guy I know and he exercises 10 minutes a day. Same goes for my friend Maria, who records videos of her quick around-the-house workouts. Everyone has 10–20 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 awake 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 couple years ago.

Stress. You don’t get stressed, you 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. When we start to feel stressed, we do certain things with our bodies: 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. Sure, 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. (N.B. these techniques also 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 need to 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? Yes, most likely. But maybe not. There’s only one way to know for sure: test it out yourself. You can emulate my diet for 10 days and see how it makes you feel, see what aspects work for you. Or try any one aspect for 10 days: go without meat 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 10 days. See how those changes make you feel, adjust accordingly.

Improving one’s health is the foundation of living a meaningful life. Without your health, nothing else matters. Truth be told, 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 if you’re a vegetarian or 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 and contribute beyond yourself.

Oh, and never getting sick sure is a nice bonus.

Also worth reading: A Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet