Seven Part Lifestyle Plan- STEP ONE: Eat Real Food

Whenever someone tells me how confused they are about diet—which is pretty much every day of my life—this is what I tell them to do. It’s the simplest, easiest “intervention” you can do. It doesn’t require counting grams, calories, ounces. It doesn’t require that you evaluate the pros and cons of high fat, low fat, paleo, vegetarian, raw food, high protein or any of that stuff.

In fact, it’s so simple it’s hard to believe it works as well as it does.

But it does work. Probably more powerfully than any diet program and certainly easier to sustain for the rest of your life.

So here’s the deal. Every morsel that goes into your mouth has to pass one test, and one test only.
It has to be real food.

OK, I can almost hear some of you saying, “I wonder what he means by “real food”?”

Good question. We all know that broccoli and almonds are real food, and we all know that Twinkies and Corn Flakes aren’t. But most other foods fall in between.

So here’s the rule: If you’re not sure if it’s “real food” or not, it’s probably not. Don’t eat it. Don’t give it the “benefit of the doubt”. If it comes in a box, if it has ingredients you don’t recognize except from chemistry 101, if it looks like it could live on the shelf for a couple of years, don’t eat it. Period.

I realize there are exceptions and some decent “real” foods might be tossed aside, but I’d rather you err on the side of safety and clean eating. I want you to eat from what I call the Jonny Bowden Four Food Groups: Food you could hunt, fish, gather or pluck.

I don’t care what or how much you eat, as long as it passes this single test: Is it real? Is it food your great grandmother would recognize as food? (Hint: Great grandma would have no idea what to make of “Lunchables”. Or a box of juice. Or a frozen dinner, even the supposedly “healthy” kind like Amy’s. Sorry.)

I don’t even care if you eat dessert. Raw food desserts are beyond luscious, especially if you like the taste of coconut, and even though they’re sweet and delicious, they’re still made with real food, so they get a green light.

You get where I’m going here? This is not a diet. It’s a “pre-diet”. You can always figure out the proportions of protein, fat, and carbs later on. You can always figure out the timing of meals later on. All those things are details. Will fine tuning make a difference? Sure. But right now, let’s save the fine tuning for the “advanced course”. We’re working here with basics—basics that will make an enormous difference in how you feel and how you look.

Real food is the first step. And allow me to let you in on a secret—sometimes a first step is all you need.

In 12 step programs like AA, there are a whole lotta people who got sober without going beyond the 1st step (“Admitted I was powerless over alcohol”.) They may never get to the amends part or the inventory part, but they still get sober because that first step is so powerful.

Real food is your first step. It might even wind up being your only step, which would still be OK because by eating nothing but real food, you wind up eliminating half the junk in the American diet.




  1. Catherine

    But it IS still confusing! First you read paleo is the way to go..heavy on meat and non starchy veggies.. then you hear no meat; meat causes cancer, esoecially red meat. No eggs then eggs are good.. we don’t know what to eat anymore. Please help!

  2. jack weinberg

    real food does not have a barcode

  3. Mary

    Thank you, it is the truth, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, rice and legumes so basic, so perfect.

  4. Lori

    Thank you Jonny, again you just make so much sense ,sometimes that’s to much for people to take in. But I thank you and can’t wait for your next advise

  5. Kathie

    Simple, yet not always easy, but so true; thanks for the reminder!

  6. Randy

    Appreciate your acknowledging fish has a Real Food. In fact there can be a little dispute that seafood is perhaps the most “real” of all foods given that humans have been consuming it longer than anything else you’ll find in the grocery store. Last month I had the pleasure of visiting a paleoanthropological site in South Africa where shellfish remains have been dated at 162,000 years–which is about 150,000 years longer than we’ve been practicing agriculture. Seafood is also among the most nutrient dense and potentially sustainable of all foods, requiring little or no inputs of arable land, water, fertilizer, veterinary drugs, fossil fuels, etc. It’s not only great for human beings, it’s good for the planet too.

  7. Dolores Geyer

    I have been trying to eat just real foods for awhile now, but do sometimes resort to prepared foods. I like knowing what is in my food so I can calculate how much I am eating. Over the course of 15 months I have lost 10 lbs, some of it due to following your advice, some due to my exercising daily. There is so much information out there to sort through, often contradictory. I appreciate all that you do to make it simple. I watch the You Tube videos to supplement my search. Keep up the good work!

  8. Cathy Johnson Campbell

    There’s no doubt it can seem confusing Catherine and Jonny makes a good point of this just being the first step. Perhaps if you need something more to go on, how about you base your ‘real food’ on the type of diet that’s been traditional to your heritage? i.e. Did your grandparents eat meat and 3 veg, or a medittaranean diet, or?? That gives you a basis to start from, and you can adjust it as you go along and learn more of what is true/works for you. What do you think?

  9. Sarah Ferguson

    Thanks for this message. Sometimes we complicate and overthink things because there is so much conflicting thrown at us. I’ve lost a little over 100 pounds by eating real foods, but I still second-guess myself. I guess I’m just a slow learner. Lol.

  10. Chris Leckliter

    Jonny, what is your opinion on Statins, everything I searched says their dangerous.