The Glow Up “Diet”- The Steps to Transforming Your Appearance With Food (With Downloadable Guide and Meal Plan)

If you’re in the process of trying to glow up, transform your body, or simply trying to improve your health, this article is for you. I am calling this the Glow Up Diet, but in reality, it’s not a diet at all. Instead, I have put together a list of small but powerful changes you can make when deciding what to put (or not put) into your body.

Why should you listen to me? Because I did it. I glowed up—I lost twenty pounds, transformed my body and went from lacking confidence and being overweight to becoming a model, nutritionist, business owner and completely reinventing myself without spending a dime on cosmetic procedures. And most of my “glow up” transformation happened before I even set foot in the gym, it was primarily fueled by what I ate. (I now have a very consistent workout regiment that has offered its own array of benefits, but more on that in another post.) For me, changing how I ate and my relationship with food was one of the most important parts of my journey, so I am here to share what I did and what worked when nothing else did.

This Glow Up Diet, is the key to changing your lifestyle and sustaining healthy eating habits over time.

In this article I am going to explain the power that a single meal has on your health and appearance, and the compound effects that happen when you consistently make better choices over time. This article is also going to give you the ins and outs of navigating the grocery store, tell you what to eat more of, what to eat less of and tips to make it easier to change. I also have put together a comprehensive Nutrition Guide and 7 day meal plan that you can download and have to reference.

The Power of Food

Before you can begin the Glow Up Diet and start transforming yourself, you must understand the power that food has on your overall wellbeing and appearance. It turns out the expression “you are what you eat” tends to have more validity that you may have realized. While of course, there were many things that played a toll in my glow up journey from dressing better, taking better care of my skin, to changing my routines and lifestyle, but if I had to choose one thing that had the most influence, it would be the changes I made in my diet.

I was blessed with good jeans and surrounded by family members who were all slim and fit. For this reason, I assumed that I would always look good regardless of what I ate (although, I discovered in my early twenties, that this was not the case). So I developed a terrible relationship with food, I would eat whatever I wanted with zero consideration of what it would do to my body. After educating myself on nutrition and changing the way I ate, I was able to completely transform my body, improve my complexion, have more energy, be more productive, feel better, and so much more—without traditional diets or calorie restriction.

Below are some of the things that food can do:

By eating the right foods, you can experience the benefits on the left, while eating the wrong foods can have the adverse effects. So what are the right foods and what are the wrong foods? We will go through it later in this article.

1. Change the Way You Think About Your Body

The first component of the Glow Up Diet is changing the way you think about your body. You will never be motivated to change what you eat without regarding your body as what it is, the vessel that carries you. I think we have a tendency to overlook the truly incredible capabilities our body has when given the proper care. Your body is the battery that powers literally everything you do and it’s the only body you will ever have. But as the famous saying goes, you get out what you put in. If you put junk into your body, you will get junk out of it and it will translate into your appearance, mood, energy, brain functionality, and physical performance.

2. Change the Way You Think About Food

Eating the right foods can help you look fit, fight disease, stay young and make your skin radiant and clear. Unfortunately, many of the wrong foods are loaded with addictive additives, refined sugars and harmful ingredients that are designed to reward your brain for eating them. This creates a vicious cycle where your brain craves terrible food and is rewarded for indulging in it.

Instead of thinking about food as a way to satisfy your brain, think about it as a way to satisfy your body—which unfortunately, can’t always tell you what it wants or needs. It will take some repetition but if you continuously let this new way of thinking dictate your food choices, you will begin craving the healthier options and begin finding the unhealthier options less and less appealing.

3. Use Each Meal as an Opportunity to Improve

Every time you eat, you have the opportunity to either improve or worsen your health and wellbeing. One good meal can supercharge your metabolism, sharpen your mind, boost your immune system, improve your energy, clear your skin, lower your cholesterol and more. Of course, the compound effect of consistently healthy meals creates substantial impact, whereas the effects of one meal are comparably minute. But nonetheless, one meal can help you improve and take you closer to your goals.

The impact of one bad meal

On the contrary, one bad meal can have the adverse effect and even undo some of the progress you’ve made with your healthy choices. One bad meal can cause a chain reaction in the body that involves a blood sugar spike, a frenzy of insulin and an excess of available energy that ends up being stored as fat. The blood sugar spike caused by the bad meal will also lead to a crash which will result in cravings and escalated hunger later in the day which makes it more likely that you will overeat and make other bad choices later in the day.

The impact of one day of bad meals

According to this study by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder, one day of binge eating can cause 1/5 a pound of fat to be gained and a weekend of eating what you want can gain you 1/2 a pound of fat. How about a week of bad meals? According to the same study you can expect to gain as much as 1.5 pounds of fat.

Now perhaps 1/5 a pound of fat doesn’t sound too bad, but let’s put it into perspective. Below is a picture of a single pound of body fat. To think that one fifth of that can be gained in a single day, and one and a half times that can be gained in a single week…

To burn off one pound of fat you must burn 3500 calories or be in a 3500 calorie deficit. This means either burring 500 calories a day for a week or eating 500 calories less every day for a week.

It’s easy to dismiss a meal, after all, “what’s one McDonald’s burger going to do.” but a week of “I’m on vacation”s or even a day of throwing your regards out the window can have a pretty big impact.

image from dietdatabase

Now, of course, I am not going to sit here and tell you that I am perfect. I certainly have had my fair share of unhealthy indulgences, and I try not to prohibit myself from enjoying the finer things in life. There are times where I just really want the lasagna instead of the whole grain pasta, and days where I just want to order a pizza rather than putting together an elaborate meal. And I think it’s important to treat yourself. But many times, the bloat, fatigue and other side effects of a bad meal hangover are not worth the few moments of indulgence.

If you are going to indulge

While I believe the key to making this Glow Up Diet work for you is being consistent, and thus, avoiding binges and unhealthy meals as often as possible, there are times where it’s going to be unavoidable. And I understand it’s not realistic for most people (including myself) to be 100% healthy 100% of the time. Whether it be a family gathering, a holiday, a barbecue at the neighbor’s house, a party with pizza or damn it, you just want to have dessert tonight. That’s fine, allowing yourself some variety will promote longevity. If you are going to have an unhealthy meal, there are some hacks that can mitigate the effects.

When I do make the decision to order pizza or give in to the cheese board I take two things beforehand:

Apple Cider Vinegar

When I can, I take a shot of apple cider vinegar and mix it with water and drink it before my bad decision. The additional acidity helps your body break down the food more effectively and various clinical trials have linked vinegar consumption with reduced CVD biomarkers. Additional trials have found a positive association with vinegar consumption, BMI, hip circumference, and adiposity index (fat mass). There are some other benefits to drinking apple cider vinegar daily but be careful not to drink it straight as it can damage the enamel on your teeth.

Digestive Enzymes

Another way to mitigate the effect of a bad meal is to take some digestive enzymes right before eating it. These enzymes can help jumpstart the digestion of your meal and can even reduce the impacts of common allergens like lactose (keep reading to see why I opt for these before I indulge in a dairy-rich meal.) For this reason take one or two of these digestive enzyme pills (depending on how bad the meal is) and it helps your body better break down and digest the food. It also can slow the digestion which makes you feel fuller quicker.

4. Eat More Vitamins and Antioxidants

It’s no secret that we should eat more fruits and vegetables, you’ve been told it since you were a kid (hopefully) and I am not here to preach what you already know. However, I will kindly remind you why you should eat more fruits and veggies. Obviously fruits and veggies are fairly low in caloric density which means they are great for losing weight and keeping you slim—they can give you the feeling of fullness without all of the additional calories. However, the real benefits from fruits and vegetables comes down to the two things they are all rich in: vitamins and antioxidants.

While each vitamin offers something unique to the body, adequately consuming the key vitamins can:

  • Reduce your risk of disease including cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Look younger
  • Have more energy
  • Stay healthy
  • Have clear, radiant skin
  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improve brain function and sharpness
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Boost your metabolism
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol
  • and much, much more

While there are many micronutrients that we should account for in our diet, I chose to highlight a few key ones below. Below is an infographic I put together that highlights the benefits of the 5 key vitamins. For more details on vitamin and antioxidant rich food, download my free nutrition guide.

Girl let's glow, benefits of 5 key vitamins and antioxidants

Note that there is considerable evidence that show that eating your vitamins in food versus relying on supplements is a far more effective method to reach recommended micronutrient intakes. For this reason, you should try to eat a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients (fruits and vegetables) instead of relying on supplements. Although, incorporating a multivitamin into your diet is not going to hurt you.

5. Drink Less Alcohol

Cutting back on alcohol can have a huge impact on your overall health, body and skin. When I looked my worst, I was in my early twenties. I was going out all the time, drinking too much and it definitely had a toll on my appearance, my productivity, and more.

We all know that drinking in excess can have a terrible effect on you in the long term—from potential addiction to cancer, liver disease and more. But even if you don’t have a drinking problem, drinking too much can prevent you from reaching your goals. It can cause liver stress, dehydration, dull skin, and additional pounds of fat, not to mention the dreaded morning-after hangover.

While moderate drinking has not been shown to have negative side effects, (the CDC classifies moderate drinking as one drink a day or less for women, two drinks a day for men), every drink brings extra calories into your diet without added nutrients. This can obviously lead to a calorie surplus which can lead to weight gain.

For instance, one long island iced tea has as much as 780 calories!

If you don’t believe me, next time you go out drinking, try logging each drink in MyFitnessPal and seeing the total calories you just added to your day. Besides, alcohol is after all, a toxin. For this reason, it’s best to try and cut back.

6. Drink More Water

The next ingredient in the glow up diet is good ol’ H2O. Water can have many benefits on your health and appearance—some examples include: helping maximize the impact of vitamin and nutrients, aiding in digestion, helping with weight loss, reducing bloating, improving your skin, and increasing your energy. If you exercise regularly, adequate water consumption is even more important (as additional fluid can be lost during exercise.)

How much water should you drink?

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine suggests 2.7 liters for women and 3.7 liters for men. Although, on the glow up diet, I suggest drinking even more than that. Try to drink your body weight in ounces.

For instance, if you weight 130 pounds, you should aim to drink 130 fluid ounces of water each day.

Tips for drinking more water

I acknowledge that drinking a gallon of water is easier said than done but here are my top tips for making sure you are staying hydrated:

  • Keep a 26 ounce thermos on your desk at all times
  • Drink a glass of water right when you wake up
  • Keep a thermos of water by your bed
  • Use reusable straws
  • Track your water intake
  • Drink herbal tea
  • Eat a healthy variety of salty foods to provoke thirst
  • Drink when you’re thirsty

My favorite thermos: Yeti 26 ounce Rambler

My favorite reusable straws: silicone straws

My favorite herbal tea: Buddha tea turmeric ginger tea

7. Eat More Fiber

Fiber is one of the most important nutrients in the glow up diet. Fiber can help reduce your body fat, improve digestion, control your appetite, reduce your blood sugar, and increase your lifespan. While I could get into the technicalities of soluble vs. insoluble fiber, I figured I’d spare you the gruesome details and instead suggest that you eat a healthy variety of fiber-rich foods, which will help ensure you are getting both.

Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains are excellent fiber-dense options. Check out my nutrition guide for more details on the foods that contain the most fiber.

8. Eat More Whole Plant-Based Foods and Less Meat and Dairy

This is a controversial one, but I have found it to be an effective solution for many of my nutrition clients as well as myself. More and more research has come out about the benefits of a whole-food plant based diet compared to the Standard American Diet (also, coincidentally known as SAD). Kaiser Permanente has even started suggesting that all patients switch to a primarily plant-based diet.

I do want to clarify that there are plenty of ways to achieve a healthy diet and reach your goals while still eating a diet with animal products. However, when it comes to a simple, non-calorically-restrictive diet, plant based eating tends to take the cake with adherence, satiety, and results—which is why I suggest it in this instance.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect by cutting back on your meat and dairy consumption (and I can vouch from experience that the benefits go far beyond what I’ve included on this list):

I am not insisting that you become a vegan or switch to an 100% plant based in order to stick to this glow up diet. But there are tremendous benefits to eating more plants and less animals.

Explantation/clarification about a plant based diet:

While clinical trials have demonstrated plant based diets are highly effective of weight loss as well as prevention (and even reversal) of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes—it is not the only way to achieve a healthy diet. It seems that the benefits of a whole food, plant based diet exist because the alternative (SAD, in this instance) is frankly worse.

Here is why a plant based diet can be effective for most people:

It is a non-restrictive way to decrease caloric intake while maintaining satiety, satisfaction and nutrient intake which makes it a sustainable solution to many health problems for many people. Basically, the benefits of a vegan diet derive from the abundance of healthy plant foods, and general healthier choices, rather than the absence of meat.

In other words, unprocessed lean meat, eggs, and dairy are not necessarily bad for you on your own. However, they are more calorically dense (particularly fatty meat, eggs, and dairy) and offer fewer micronutrients than their plant alternatives. Furthermore, they are often included in many unhealthy options such as pizza, burgers, fast food, etc.

With every meal, you are faced with an opportunity cost. Your body only needs a certain amount of calories to maintain an energy balance. So, if you choose not to eat a chicken or steak, you will eat vegetables instead—giving your body additional nutrients and less calories.t.

What about protein?

For those of you who read the section above, you may have noticed that the key nutrient that meat offers protein. In fact, animal products and soy are the only complete proteins, meaning that they offer all essential amino acids that your body needs to function. So you may be wondering how you will get adequate protein without animal products. Well, contrary to popular knowledge, plant foods have protein too! And by eating a balanced plant based diet (that includes legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, etc.) you will get all of the essential aminos and reach an adequate protein intake for most people.

Who the plant based diet may not be ideal for:

Competitive athletes and those looking to completely change their body composition (already lean folks wanting to build muscle mass to displace fat) may require a high-protein diet to promote muscle synthesis. By nature, animal products have far more protein than plants, so these folks may need to incorporate unprocessed meat, poultry, fish, and perhaps some protein supplements to maximize their performance.

While this is certainly the exception to the rule, people in this category should opt for only unprocessed meats and include a very generous serving of mixed veggies, nuts, legumes and fruits with most meals.

Additional resources about plant based eating:

If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind a plant based diet, there are far more adequate resources than this out there on this topic. Here are some of my favorites:

How Not To Die, Dr. Michael Greger

I have listened to the audiobook of this three different times and have the e-book on my iPad. I have also recommended it to countless people. It’s truly changed the way I think about food and largely influenced a lot of the nutrition recommendations I make on this site. Each time I have listened to it, I have found new bits of fascinating information. And the way the book is written is very engaging and interesting. It’s written by an M.D. who has spent most of his life studying nutritional science and each claim is backed by various clinical trials and medical research.

Nutritionfacts.org

This website is the brain child of Dr. Greger from the above book. He keeps the site up to date with the most recent research and data on plant-based living and general nutrition.

VegNews.com

An excellent resource for learning more about plant based living and accessing thousands of delicious and nutritious vegan recipes.

Game Changers

This documentary follows the journeys of some of the world’s top athletes and how they reach peak performance by relying on a plant based diet.

Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives is a documentary and website with scientific resources about choosing and maintaining a plant based diet. It also is full of healthy, whole food plant based recipes. They have plenty of articles, recipes, courses and more. You can even download their apps for free meal plans and recipes.

9. Cut Out Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra processed foods including chips, candy, processed meats, and frozen meals can have adverse effects on your body, your skin and overall health. Eliminating these (to the best of your ability) from your diet can help transform your appearance and wellbeing. Here are some of the benefits you can reap by avoiding processed foods:

Not all processed foods are equally bad for you. I have included some notorious culprits that you should do your best to avoid below. However, for more details on how to decipher bad and acceptable forms of processed foods and for my grocery shopping cheat sheet, check out my free nutrition guide.

10. Eat More During Your Meals and Less Snacks

The tenth step in the glow up diet is to eat substantial, planned meals rather than snacking throughout the day. While there are mixed opinions on this throughout the industry, this has been something that’s been effective for me. You often put more thought into your meals than you do a snack, so by having three adequate meals a day, you are more likely to make healthy choices.

I especially try to avoid eating after dinner. This is something that has been a bit of a challenge, since this is my husband’s favorite time to raid the pantry…

Tips to Get Started With the Glow Up Diet

Now that I have shared the ins and outs of the glow up diet with you, I want to give you some tips on how to make this lifestyle change as easy as possible to implement:

Keep healthy snacks on hand

If you eat three substantial meals, you should feel less tempted to snack during the day. However, the urge will inevitably arise. By purchasing healthy snacks to have on hand, you will have to reach for the carrots rather than the chips.

Shop on a full stomach

Eat before you go grocery shopping so you are not influenced to grab the frozen pizza when you stomach starts growling.

Plan your meals in advance

I love to plan my meals in advance and get all of the groceries up front. This way, if I work late or have a super busy day, I don’t have the excuse that we don’t have anything to eat. This also holds me accountable to my meal plan, because I already paid for the groceries. I use the app Mealtime to do this.

The app has hundreds of healthy and delicious recipes and you can pre-set your dietary restrictions. I have mine set to vegan. Choose which meals you’d like to make that week and the app will compile your grocery list for you. When you’re ready to cook, it will also walk you through the recipes.

Learn how to cook

To me, learning to cook has been one of the most fun ways to stick to the glow up diet. As I detail in my nutrition guide, there are many plant-based, healthy alternatives to your traditional meals. And by familiarizing yourself with cooking techniques and tactics, you can create your own delicious and nutritious plates.

Not sure what to make? I have included 7 days of ideas in my free nutrition guide. Mealtime and Forks Over Knives also have some great healthy recipes you can refer to get started.

Eat a healthy breakfast

The next hack I have that will help you stick to the glow up diet is eating a healthy breakfast. This is so important, in fact that I have included it in my morning routine checklist and my healthy habit tracker.

Not only is skipping breakfast heavily correlated with obesity, but your body metabolizes the food you eat early in the morning far more effectively than the food you eat in the evening. This is due to your circadian rhythm and your body anticipating more required energy expenditure throughout the day. Basically, your body converts more of the energy you consume in the morning into glycogen rather than storing it as fat. For this reason, you can see breakfast as having an additional calorie credit…basically you can eat more in the morning with fewer consequence.

By starting with a healthy breakfast, like a nutritious green smoothie, you will be able to front load many of your nutrients, reduce snacking and binging later, and also make healthier choices later in the day.

Make enough for leftovers

To eliminate the need to prepare an additional meal, I like to double the recipe so I have enough for leftovers. I then put the leftovers in two tupperware containers, one for my husband and one for me to eat for lunch the next day.

Ready to Glow Up?

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