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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.

Minimalism Is Healthy: How I Lost 70 Pounds

Health Essay

The most important thing in your life is your health. Without it you have nothing else.

The Time Of Our Lives

“I don’t have time to exercise. I’m just too busy!”

We’ve all told ourselves this lie before, that if we had more time then we could get into shape, that if we weren’t so darn busy then we could lose those extra 15, 20, 90 pounds, that if there were just more hours in the day then we’d make the trek to the gym.

I used to tell myself that same lie. I was 70 pounds overweight in my early- and mid-twenties. I avoided mirrors because I was embarrassed when I saw myself. I was fat and out of shape and I hated it.

And there’s another lie we tell ourselves. We say, “I’ll start exercising next month or next week or tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes, does it? That’s because we’re just as busy—or even busier—tomorrow or next week or whenever, and so we put it off again and again and again until it’s no longer on our radar at all. Tony Robbins calls this the ultimate Mañana Syndrome, because tomorrow never comes. There is only today.

Did you know that both of these lies are essentially the same exact lie? You see, we tend to do some funny things with time. We think that we don’t have enough of it today, but somehow we’ll magically have more time tomorrow, that somehow—even though we don’t change anything that we’re doing—we’ll be able to exercise and eat healthier and get into better shape tomorrow.

It’s funny, we don’t do the same thing with food though, do we? If you didn’t have enough food in the house to eat this week, do you think you’d say, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll just start eating again next week.” Of course not.

The first stop on the road to better health is to stop lying to ourselves.

Two Solutions

There are two things that will help you get on track quickly:

  1. Make change a must. Not a should, but a must.
  2. Minimalism. Get rid of life’s excess so you can focus on what’s important.

It took me over a year and a half to lose those 70 pounds of disgusting fat, but that was seven years ago and I’ve kept the weight off and I’m not turning back. I’ll be 30 years old in June, but I’m in the best shape of my life, by far. And it’s only going to get better from here.

How Did I Do It?

First, I made exercise and eating healthy foods a must. It became a must for me to exercise at least three times per week, and it was a must for me to eat less than 2,000 calories per day, with no fried foods and no sugars.

It was hard for me though because I was still extremely busy and I still felt like I didn’t have time to exercise more than three days per week. I had too much stuff in my life that I was focused on and that’s why it took me so long to get into shape.

Minimalism would have drastically accelerated my healthy lifestyle…

Minimalism’s Role

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook (you should if don’t), you’ve probably noticed that Ryan and I often hit the gym together around 5 or 6 A.M. We don’t post these Twitter updates to impress you, but rather to impress upon you that it’s possible to make time for exercise, even for a guy like Ryan who still works over 60 hours per week and who has other obligations like his family and his longtime girlfriend. Heck, Leo Babauta has six kids and he still exercises daily. You can too.

It isn’t always easy, but when you’ve made it a must, you have no other choice. When you must do something you don’t have the option to say no. Ryan would have a much more difficult time if he didn’t embrace minimalism as a lifestyle. But after getting rid of life’s excess, we are able to better prioritize our lives. Your health should be towards the top of that priority list.

Joshua’s Personal Exercise Musts

Health is certainly at the top of my priority list. I’m continuing to grow and get into better shape.

Going to the gym at least three times per week used to be a must for me. Can you guess how many times I was going per week? Three! Occasionally four if it was convenient (should happens when it’s convenient). And I only did cardio when it was convenient for me too.

My must changed to five times per week recently. Can you guess how many times per week I go to the gym now? Five! And during those five days, I must do cardio each day, and I must do weight training each day. No exceptions. Exceptions don’t exist in the world of must.

It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? When three days per week was a must, that’s what I did. Now I don’t have the option to go less than five days per week, even when I’m tired and I don’t want to get out of bed at 4:30 A.M. to go exercise with Ryan, I don’t have an option. It is a must. Holding each other accountable has helped as well.

“But I made it a must and I still didn’t have time to exercise this week.” I’ve heard that plenty of times before. Hell, I used to say it. The truth is that you didn’t really make it a must if you’re saying this. It was still a should for you.

After about six months of consistent exercise, I started to look forward to it, I started to enjoy it, I even started to crave it. Many people who exercise consistently will tell you the same thing.

Joshua’s Personal Diet Musts

It’s also a must for me to eat even healthier this year. I still eat less than 2,000 calories, and I also I cut out breads and sugars, and it’s going extremely well.

While writing this, fellow Daytonian Randy Johnson—the guy behind Eight Deuce Media—asked me about “cheat days.” My answer: I don’t believe in them. Food is not entertainment, it is nourishment. That said, if you’re going to “cheat”—which, think about it, you’re just cheating yourself—then I would limit it to one meal per week.

Personally, I don’t eat meat (other than fish), but I believe you can eat meat and still have a healthy diet. You should, however, eliminate (or drastically reduce) your intake of three things: sugar, fried foods (or anything with a lot of fat), and most carbs (bread, pasta, etc.). That’s really it; it’s not that hard.

I tend to eat two to three meals per day. I don’t snack anymore (snacking is evil). I eat a lot of salad and fruits and vegetables, and I drink at least 100 ounces of water per day. I’m addicted to burrito places like Chipotle, but I eat burrito bowls (no tortilla) with light rice, lots of beans, vegetables, and a little cheese. I also respect the Paleo diets of people like Julien Smith and Jeff Sarris, which is somewhat close to my diet, although my diet doesn’t have a name, I just call it “eating healthy foods.”

Eating healthy foods is no more expensive than any other diet. In fact it can be cheaper because you buy less stuff. I intentionally keep very little food at home for two reasons (yes, this works for families too):

  • I’m not wasting money buying a bunch of food
  • I don’t even have the opportunity to snack at home

What about cravings? This might sound a bit flippant, but it doesn’t take discipline to not eat something. Just don’t eat it. Again, food is not entertainment. I tend to associate pain with any junk foods I crave, because I’ve personally seen the results in my body when I eat them. If you do this (i.e., associate pain with junk foods) then you’ll have enough leverage not to eat it.

How do you associate pain with junk food? Try this: before you eat the piece of crap you’re about to eat, take off your clothes, stick out your gut, and look at yourself in the mirror completely naked. That used to work for me. Still want that piece of cake?

The best part about my diet and exercise is that I feel great. Do you know how good it feels to say I’m in the best shape of my life? I want you to be able to say that too. I’m certain you can do it. Let me know if I can help.

More Time

Ironically, exercise actually gives you more time, it doesn’t take it away. Not only does it add years to your lifespan, but in my case it allows me to build a stronger relationship with my best friend. And when I exercise alone, it gives me time in solitude, time for myself, which we all know is important. Exercise is a surprising way to reclaim your time.


I encourage you to take some sort of action today W/R/T both diet and exercise. You don’t need to join a gym to exercise—although that’s what I prefer—you just need to do something that gets you moving. So shut off your computer now, go for a walk or a jog or a run or bike ride or something. And start eating healthy foods today too. Make it a must.

Also read: 18 Minute Minimalist Exercises