3 Steps To Creating A Winning Nutrition Plan (without counting calories)

Today’s blog post comes to you from a trainer at the downtown Des Moines AnyTime Fitness–Zach. I met Zach a few months ago when he was new to the gym and I’ve been following his fitness journey on Instagram ever since! Look for his bio at the end of the article. 

Today, with social media, YouTube, and the Internet there is no shortage of information. In fact, most people struggle with information overload–not the opposite. Which diet should you follow? Eat 6 times or 2 times per day? Carbs make you fat? Wait, I thought fat made you fat?

Whether you’re a newbie to the fitness world or an experienced vet, anxiety levels can easily creep up when you’re trying to develop a winning nutrition plan. Today, I’m going to break down the nitty gritty of how to set up a nutrition plan that actually works–without counting calories.

Keep in mind, calories are still king. However, for a lot of people counting calories becomes a tedious task, adding more stress to dieting. Setting up your nutrition plan the way I’m about to show you molds your daily habits in a way likely to yield a caloric deficit.


What’s The Goal?

Before we get started with the meat and potatoes of the plan, we must decide what the overall goal is. Do you want to lose weight, improve performance, or gain muscle? These are a few common examples. With this overall goal we focus on an outcome goal. Meaning, what is the ultimate result? As we get further into the plan we focus on behavior goals, think of these as daily actions. Use the acronym S.M.A.R.T to set a well thought out outcome goal.

SSpecific. “Lose weight” won’t cut it, specifically how much weight?

MMeasurable. “Look skinny” can’t really be measured; therefore, is hard to determine if you reach it.

AAchievable. You can’t lose 100 pounds if you only weigh 110.

RRelevant. Is the goal worthwhile? Is this the right time to achieve it?

TTime bound. Do you want to achieve this in 6 weeks or 6 months?

Result Yielding Behaviors

Now that you have your outcome goal picked, set it to the side and shift your focus. One crucial mistake people make (with weight loss in particular) is obsessing over the end goal and missing out on the daily goals. Truth is, your daily habits are what yield your outcome goal. We can’t always predict the exact timeline, but properly picked behaviors will always yield your end goal.

With behavior goals, you always want to ADD versus take away. For example, add in vegetables to every meal, drink more water, eat 2 servings of fruit per day, etc. In my personal experience anytime I’ve “banned” foods for clients, it creates an almost immediate craving for whatever has been banned. There are certain habits we want to minimize, in this case we opt for swapping them out with a good behavior rather than banning.

Here are some common examples of result yielding behaviors:

  • Hunger awareness
  • Meal planning
  • Eating whole, fresh foods consistently
  • Staying hydrated

Which of these goals would benefit you the most right now? Maybe there’s a different behavior you want to work on, go with that.

_Making the change stick is more important then making more change_ - Dan John (1).png

Breaking Down Behaviors

A plan is great, but execution is everything. Now we’ll get into the action steps which produce the behaviors consistently. Action steps are simply taking the behavior and breaking it down. How can you ensure you do this on a daily basis and what does the behavior look like?

Let’s go with the example of hunger awareness. Eating slowly would be a great action step to build the behavior of hunger awareness. Doing this allows you to be more cognizant of when you are actually full, and therefore gives you an opportunity to stop eating before it’s too late.

In the example of staying hydrated, for an action step, you might use setting alarms to make sure you drink your water (albeit a little too strict for my preference). Another option would be preparing your water bottle in the morning before you head to work.

Listing action steps gives you a crystal clear plan of how to execute and build new habits.

Tying It All Together

As stated earlier, feeling overwhelmed is a surefire recipe for added stress. The key to laying out these behaviors and action steps is to incrementally introduce them. Ideally, you lay out your big outcome goal, pick 4-5 behaviors that will get you to the goal, and then add 1-3 action steps per behavior to work on forming the new habit.

With your action steps laid out, focus on one behavior at a time. Sticking with the weight loss example, let’s roll with the hunger awareness habit, utilizing eating slower and perhaps 1 other action step (eating to 80% full). After 1-3 weeks, once you feel the behavior has been set in stone, you can add another 1.

How do you chose which behavior to go with? Look to find a balance between a behavior you need to work on and a behavior you believe is a realistic change you can make right now. Let’s say you want to add in more vegetables. Currently, you don’t eat any vegetables let alone particularly like any vegetables. Aiming for a behavior of eating 5 servings of veggies a day is a recipe for disaster. I suggest you either hold off on that particular behavior or adjust it to a more reasonable goal such as eating 1-2 servings of veggies per day.


Calories Do Matter

You might be scratching your head a bit, wondering why I haven’t mentioned a peep about calories. Totally understandable, the reality is, from my experience working with well over 100 clients, following and tracking calorie guidelines is great; however, it’s a lot more difficult without setting solid behavior beforehand.

Focusing your efforts on forming new, healthy eating habits puts you in a phenomenal position to effortlessly track calories in the future. Plus, depending on where you are in your health journey, adjusting a few behaviors can bring on massive results without getting caught in the nitty gritty. Eventually, you want to get to a place where you can eat intuitively. No need to constantly track calories or stress over every little macro. Accomplishing this requires a host of solid eating habits and embedded action steps.

Good luck. Happy goal-setting. Peace out. And stay strong,


PS: Perhaps you already have a nutrition plan set in place. But, maybe you aren’t quite getting the results you want. If you feel like you’ve been left trying to figure out what’s going wrong, I created a special 3-part video series showcasing the three most common “hidden” mistakes I see people make.

You can check those videos out here: http://bit.ly/2q06Zg1



Hey there, I wanted to take a second to introduce myself. My name is Zach Lohner, I’m a personal trainer at Anytime fitness in downtown Des Moines and work with clients online as well.

In short, I’m a gym nerd who’s spent the last decade soaking up as much information as I can about all things health and fitness. I’ve been a “fitpro” for the last 7 years. My goal is simple, help as many people as I can who feel stuck and dissatisfied with their health. As a kid who struggled with confidence and body image (I still have my moments), I aim to provide the most accurate and actionable information, based on science and my personal experience. 

If you ever have questions feel free to reach out on Facebook or instagram (@zachlohner)

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