Focus on nutrition big rocks. Not magic feathers.

What are nutrition big rocks? 

It starts with a certain super-cute elephant in a classic 1940’s Disney movie took.

Stay with me here.

Dumbo is left alone to struggle and figure things out with what feels like no support after his mother is put in isolation after hitting a couple of circus attendees for teasing Dumbo. Trying to improve your nutrition and exercise can often feel like this. Maybe the rest of your family isn’t as interested in improving their health as you are. It can feel like your friends are trying to sabotage you sometimes and that you’ve left all alone to solve this confusing and overwhelming fitness puzzle.

Dumbo’s gigantic ears keep him from performing with the other elephants so he’s forced to spend time with the creepiest clowns you’ll ever see. Desperate to away from the clowns and change his life he takes some advice from a crow and mouse buddy of his. They tell him that if he holds on to this magic feather he’ll be able to fly and become a big star in the circus. At first, Dumbo disagrees but eventually, he gets so frustrated and fed up that he decides to give it a shot – it works! Dumbo fly’s convinced that it’s the feather.

You’re struggling to do this all on your own and starting to get a bit frustrated and overwhelmed as well. You’re getting impatient and along comes a magic pill, berry, special diet, or revolutionary exercise plan that’s going to solve all of this for you with very little effort. At first, you’re skeptical but eventually, the frustration and desperation to change and improve quickly wear you out and you give in. Early on you see results, feel great, and you’re convinced that it’s the pill, the berry, the perfect diet, or the exercise plan.

But Dumbo eventually loses that feather when a big gust of wind unexpectedly blows it out of his grips. Horrified, Dumbo is hurled to the ground. Without his magic feather, he can’t fly. 

Like Dumbo’s wind just happening so too does life. Stress, personal responsibilities, work, and other things start to take over and now you’re not able to follow your perfect plan, afford your magic pills, find special berries, or cook your specific meals.

But Dumbo could fly all along. It never was about his feather. And for you – well you already have the ability to change your life. To get healthier, more confident, and stronger both physically and mentally.

So if it’s not about the feather what is it about?


The one major flaw in Dumbo’s story and in most movies is that they give the impression that we all have some unique natural ability in us that if we can just discover one day everything will come together and be perfect. The reality is that an Elephant with giant ears probably can’t fly and if he can he surely can’t do it in an instant. If you’re 60 pounds overweight and haven’t exercised in years it’s going to take some time to get back into shape – it’s not going to happen overnight. Maybe not even in the next 3 months, 6 months, or year.

If Dumbo wants to fly in the real world he’s going to need to spend some time honing his craft. He’ll most likely need so spend some serious time training and practicing flying before jumping from a ledge and cruising over the circus crowd.

You’re going to need to do the same. 

The reality is that you can’t just show up with no experience and dominate. Real personal transformations are difficult, often painful, and full of mistakes, mishaps, and struggles.

Showing up is the first step. After that, it’s all about the consistent and persistent practice that you can measure. 


Dumbo has a pretty classic movie theme. An outcast overcomes a struggle or restriction that society places on them to realize an impossible dream by turning a struggle into a strength. But to do so they must let go of a specific crutch that’s been holding them back. In Dumbo’s case, it was a magic feather that “helped” him to fly.

What’s are some of your magic feathers?

  • Have you been telling yourself that you’ll finally start working out again when the gym opens up down the street?
  • Have you been telling yourself that you just need to be more “motivated?”
  • Have you been telling yourself that you’ll start to eat healthier after this weekend’s events?
  • Have you been telling yourself that if you’ll finally start focusing on your health when things at work, personal life, and other responsibilities start to calm down?

You don’t need to wait until Monday to start, you don’t need a pre-workout to get you pumped to exercise, you don’t need a new pair of running shoes to get you to begin, and you don’t need a gym to workout.

The only thing you need to do is get started by taking one small step. A simple bodyweight workout at home, Practicing one small but specific nutrition habit, preparing meals on Sundays for the week, performing a kitchen makeover to help promote a healthier environment.

There never will be the perfect time to do this. There will always be something. What is one small step you can take today – just one – that will get you closer to where you want to be?

Not sure? I got you covered.


Big rocks are those things that produce the most significant results when practiced consistently. If you’re familiar with the 80/20 rule or Pareto’s Principle it would be the 20% of things that produce 80% of your results. If that didn’t help you at all let me explain.

Imagine that you have an empty container. On the ground next to those containers are a pile of sand, pebbles, and big rocks. Your goal is to fit as many of those rocks, pebbles, and sand into those containers as possible. How would you do it?


Thanks, Precision Nutrition for the cool infographic

If you start by putting in all the sand, followed by the pebbles, the bottom of the container will be full and you’ll have no room for the rocks. But if you place all the big rocks in first, then the pebbles, and finally the sand you’ll be able to fit in much more as the smaller less important items can slide in-between the cracks left by the big rocks.

Well, that’s sort of how this health and fitness thing works. Instead of buying a new pair of running shoes to motivate you to start running, wasting money on magic pills and special berries, or searching the internet to discover if eating past 7 pm will make you fat – focus on the big rocks that really make a significant difference.

Great Justin! So what are the big rocks?

KAPOW! Here they are!

Nutrition Big Rock #1 – Take at least 20 minutes to eat the majority of your meals:

It takes roughly 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. By eating slower you can actually start to consume fewer calories without changing the food that you eat.

In a University of Rhode Island, study researchers took a group of people and served them a giant plate of Pasta with red sauce and cheese. All of the participants were told to eat until they felt comfortably full. However, half of the group was told to eat as quickly as possible while the other half was told to eat slowly and to put utensils down between bites.

What they found was this:

  • Fast eaters consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes
  • Slow eaters consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes

Say whaaaaa!?

That’s right. Slow eaters ate 67 fewer calories in 20 more minutes of eating. That might not seem like much but extend those 67 calories from one meal over the course of a year and that comes out to 24,445 fewer calories consumed.

Nutrition Big Rock #2 – When 20 minutes is up make it a goal to still have a little food (about 10-20%) left on your plate:

Ask yourself how much hunger you still have. If you still have hunger go ahead and eat that last little bit. Otherwise, save it for later.

As kids we had a really good thing going and then something happened that royally messed up our eating habits for life. Let me explain.

When a child has had enough to eat what do they do? They push their plate of food away from them with no concerns about what they’ve left on it. Their mission was to eat until satisfied and not until the plate was empty.

But then grown-ups ruined this natural reaction and started forcing kids to clear their plates. You know, because there are starving kids in Africa.

Reality check. You’re not saving any kid’s life by clearing your plate.

I’d like you to think about this real quick. When you eat why are you eating? Don’t try and get all Socrates on me here. Just think about it and answer honestly.

  • To finish and clear your plate
  • To reduce hunger
  • For energy
  • Because it’s time to eat
  • Because you’re bored, anxious, stressed, happy, sad, or some other emotion

For now whatever reasons you decide are fine. It’s just a simple question you can ask yourself during meals to create some awareness.

Nutrition Big Rock #3 – Drink zero-calorie beverages: 

A couple of fancy coffees, sugar-loaded smoothies, juices, and alcohol every week, and the calories can really start to add up.

The following list is the average amount of calories in some of our favorite beverages:

  • Fruit juice (8oz.): 115 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and 27 grams of sugar
  • Soda (12oz.): 140 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 39 grams of sugar
  • Vitamin Water (20oz.): 125 calories, 33 grams of sugar
  • Beer: 153 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates
  • Coffee w/cream & sugar: 120 calories, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar

If you consume only two of these drinks every day, you are adding 250-300 calories, 30-80 grams of carbohydrates, and 20-80 grams of sugar.

The tricky thing with drinks like this is that we never really think about them as contributing calories. We tend to associate eating with gaining weight but too many high caloric drinks can do the same thing. 

Don’t let Zealander fool you. Orange Mocha Frappuccino’s don’t solve your problems.


Nutrition Big Rock #4 – Include protein with all your meals: 

hand portion estimates portion sizes

Protein is used primarily by the body for structure and function. It can also be used as an energy source, but your body prefers to use carbohydrates and fat for this. It will only go to protein if the other two sources of calories in your diet are being neglected.

You can think of it like this: The Bat Mobile may run on diesel fuel, but it will probably perform and run better if you put supreme gasoline in it instead. 

“That’s wonderful Justin but Just tell me how much I should eat.”

Dang man, alright alright – keep your pants on.

I’m sure a lot of you have heard that you’re supposed to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. The truth is there is no real good supporting science around that. What it really comes down to is you, your needs, your goals, and what you’re doing daily.

If you are not very active, then you can get away with less protein in your diet because there is less repair, structure, and bodily function that need to be accounted for.

On the flip side, if you’re killing yourself in the gym, have a fairly active life, or maybe are under a lot of personal, professional or lifestyle stress, then it may be beneficial for you to take in a little more. My apologies if you are looking for an exact number. I’m not going to give you one. It really needs to be individualized to the person.

But to keep things simple – because that’s what we do here at Limitless. About a palm-sized serving for women and 2 palms for men per meal will do the trick.

Nutrition Big Rock #5 – Eat more vegetables: 

More specifically, include them with all your meals. 

Vegetables also promote feelings of satiety. Thus, causing you to feel fuller longer, eat less, and burn more body fat. One way in which they help to do this is through the large number of nutrients they give your body.

When you’re not getting the necessary vitamins and minerals that your body needs to thrive, you can start to crave foods and experience ravenous hunger in search of the nutrients that you’re currently missing. You’ll also likely experience mood swings and fluctuating energy levels.

Vegetables are far and away from the winner when it comes to increasing your food consumption while keeping your calories in check. You’d have to eat 40 cups of spinach to equal the same amount of calories in 2 oz. of a chocolate bar. YIKES!

Nutrition Big Rock #6 – Include healthy fats with your meals:

About a thumb-sized serving for women and 2 thumbs for men

A common mistake people make when they start to eat healthier is not taking in enough healthy fats, which are important for satiety and getting through workouts.

Awesome Saturated Fats (you can heat these)

  • Coconut
  • Palm
  • Butter (grass-fed) and ghee
  • Lard and tallow
  • Chicken and duck fat
  • Lamb fat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Eggs, meats, and seafood

Awesome Unsaturated Fats (cook with low heat or use as dressings)

  • Olive oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Nut oils (pecan, walnut, macadamia)
  • Flaxseed oil (limit to 1 tablespoon per day)
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds (1-2 ounces maximum per day for fat loss)

Nutrition Big Rock #7 – Choose the right carbs at the right time:

Swap most of your grains with greens and low sugar berries

Luckily, swapping grains with greens and other veggies is a pretty simple process. When you typically would be having bread, rice, and pasta, you will now be swapping those bad boys with lettuces, broccoli, spinach, and other veggies or low sugar berries.

You’ll want the majority of your meals to include carbohydrates from veggies and to save the starchy carbohydrates and higher sugar fruits for post-workout meals only. And when I say post-workout I mean a good hard workout, not just a casual stroll around the block.

Nutrition Big Rock #8: Are you ready, willing, and able to make changes? 

This is a technique that I learned from my time with Precision Nutrition. A very simple ready, willing, and able analysis can help you figure out if you’re to make changes in your life.

Start with Big Rock #1 above and practice only that habit for the next 2 to 4 weeks. Before you start, go through the following process.

Ready – Ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how ready you are to take 20 minutes to eat all of your meals. If you’re not at least at a 9 ask yourself what you can do to help get yourself feel more ready to do this.

Willing – Ask yourself how willing or confident you are on a scale of 1 to 10 that you can take 20 minutes to eat all of your meals. Again, if you’re not at least at a 9 try shrinking the change that you’re making so that it feels less overwhelming. One example would be to take 15 minutes to eat all of your meals. Another example would be to take 20 minutes just to eat one meal a day and not to worry about the rest right now.

Able – This is the easy one. Are you physically, mentally, and emotionally able to practice this habit? In most cases, the answer to this will be yes. If it’s not, what’s standing in your way? 

If you need some help with food choices and serving sizes when practicing those habits feel free to borrow this chart.


Great athletes, brilliant musicians, phenomenal artists, and successful entrepreneurs were not born into their success. They didn’t have a magic feather and they never found one later in life that all of a sudden propelled them forward. Sure, they may have a few particular traits that helped them to become successful but the majority of their success can be attributed to the time and energy they dedicated to really honing their craft. It’s easy to forget how hard they had to work to get where they are today. They became obsessed with improvement – not perfection – but improvement. You’ll have to work just as hard and become just as obsessed. 

So I guess there is a magic feather after all.

Consistent, persistent, practice, and hard work on the basics.

Damn it! That was the last thing you wanted to hear, wasn’t it?



Photo: Jeremy Ricketts