Keeping it Real: The 80–90% Whole Food Rule Of Fat Loss Explained

Keeping it Real: The 80–90% Whole Food Rule Of Fat Loss Explained


Oct 09

Why do I crave junk food and not the healthy stuff?

Do I have to shop in a health-food store to level up my nutrition?

Do I need to need to buy supplements to boost my nutrition?

Do I have to buy organic?

When it comes to deciding the best foods for a healthy, vibrant lifestyle and a hot bod to match – confusion reigns. So many differing opinions and solutions, mainly because we are all unique and there is NO “one size fit’s all” in the world of nutrition.

That said, there are some key principles and guidelines that apply across the board that will help you on your journey. Scientific research can help with somewhere to start and I hope to clear up some of the facts from the fiction here.

At the very least, I’ll save you some hard-earned cash and enable you to focus on what really matters for your health and physique.

The ideas and research I’ll offer here are NOT about me preaching “this is good” or “this is bad” – an unnecessarily reductionist mindset – I want you to make the right choices for yourself.

Hopefully you’ll feel a little more informed after reading this and will find deciding what may be best suited for your circumstances a bit easier.

In my mind knowledge is power, and being able to adjust your nutrition as you face different situations in life is key.

Nutrition isn't black and white, and having a flexible mindset to nutrition offers the best success. [1]


The big idea of this article is that the biggest part of your meal plan must come from “real”, “whole” or unprocessed food. Just simple “as nature intended” food – nothing complicated!

The shorter the chain from source to table the better. For example, in the ideal world your meat and two veg would come from a local farmer, that’s just one link in the chain between you and your dinner.

And when it come to fat loss – if the overwhelming majority of your foods are minimally-processed whole foods, you’ll wildly increase your chance of success.

Not because these foods have magical fat burning properties - but because of all positive benefits they offer on vitamins, minerals and satiety.

Think about it – ever binged on a plateful of plain white potatoes and veggies, even when full? Didn't think so. A warm gooey chocolate dessert though? Yep you somehow “found room”.

Not saying it need be bland and boring or you never eat “instant gratification/fun” foods – just highlighting the fact that: every food choice you make moves you closer to or further away from your health goals.


Before I dive into the benefits of real food – you must be crystal clear too that: to burn body fat you must consume less calories than you use regardless of food quality. [1]

Read that sentence again!

As you’ll discover, when you choose “real options”, you can quite easily keep good portion sizes AND drop a shed-load of body fat by eating MORE food. Winner!

Especially because we know that hunger is the biggest killer of transitioning to a healthy eating plan.

What you’re gonna learn

What food will serve you and what will not.

  • Why whole foods are essential for sustainable fat-loss
  • Target levels
  • What to target first!
  • How to small-win in the real stuff

What I mean by real food.


Here’s a list of the real, whole foods - an easy way to think of this is “single-ingredient” foods. All minimally processed and natural.

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fatty Fish
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Leafy Greens
  • Whole Grains
  • Pulses & Beans
  • Whole Dairy
  • Natural Fats
  • Raw Nuts & Seeds

What about organic?

In my book if you’re on point by eating primarily from the above list – you’re 90% there in success terms. If you can get organic versions and are happy to pay the premium – absolutely go for it.

Currently there is no strong evidence that organic produce are more nutritious than conventional foods, however they may reduce exposure to pesticides commonly sprayed on crops. [2] Think – potential added bonus, but not essential.

“Health” foods

Now here’s where the going get’s a little tricky. Food manufacturers know that you may want to eat healthier, but they also know that you can easily be swayed by marketing. For example – a “healthy-option” or “all-natural” label on ice cream, cookies or a fizzy drink – really!

This is referred to as the "health halo"a natural tendency to assume an item is a better choice because of a “healthy” label. [3] Beware guys - labels can be very misleading.


And … ever checked the calorie breakdown of these foods? Whilst the actual ingredients may be healthy, they are often super high in calories due to the added fats. More on this later – it’s not in your favour though!

Always remember extra calories (even from healthy sources) adds unwanted body fat. It's super easy to forget this when we put the “health halo” on certain foods.


Quick reality check guys. Yes, some foods have more nutrition in them in terms of vitamins and minerals compared to others – but if you're thinking some foods inherently are some sort of magical cure or fix … they don’t exist. [4]

Superfoods fit this bill nicely – a highly ambiguous term with no real meaning. Very fad-esque, with a new one you just “must eat” to live longer coming out in the media every few months.

They give the impression that just by consuming them - you can erase or undo poor nutrition as a whole. Not the case at all …


A supplement is just that. Supplementary to your eating plan – NOT a replacement or cover up for lazy food choices and a lazy lifestyle. Whilst yes, some can be useful, they barely make the list when it comes to sorting out your nutrition.

Buying the most expensive branded whey protein in GNC won’t mean jack shit until you have sorted out your food choices and quantity in which you eat them.

Fake it ‘til you make it … BIG MISTAKE with food choices for fat loss!

Why Real Food Is Key To Fat Loss Success

Real food wins hands down as an ally in your fat-loss efforts.

STRESS – A key consideration most guys overlook before embarking on a fat-loss plan. Bumping up you’re whole foods is THE most natural way to reduce stress via your digestion and immune systemMore on that here. [5]

FULLNESS – This is a real game-changer when transitioning to a predominately whole food plan. The high water and fibre content of these foods as well as the extra volume will fill you up and keep you that way for much longer. [6]

FIBRE – The fibre also has an awesome effect on your digestive system, which in turns boosts your immune system. Win … win! [7]

CRAVINGS – Completely not an issue with this approach. You feel satisfied and your hunger signals fall back into a naturally controllable state. [8]

BRAIN FOGMental clarity is a massive bonus of eating all this wholesome food. In my book – clear thinking is crucial to executing your plan and staying consistent. [9]

TESTOSTERONE – And if you’re not fully on board with this already, how can you turn down a boost in libido and testosterone, the ultimate male hormone! [10]

How Much?

There is absolutely no physiological need for highly processed food in anyone’s food plan – these foods do you no favours and as you’ll discover actually promote failure in many areas of your life.

You only need look to native populations who thrive on 100% unprocessed foods and obesity is not an issue. [11] As soon as they are exposed to our western ways of eating, everything falls apart – hello obesity!

Now obviously our lifestyles are radically different and we do derive pleasure from tasty food. Its all about how much, and how often. Whilst going 100% is not impossible, I fully accept it would be challenging socially and practically.

Going 80–90% is completely doable and I would encourage you to push as high as possible most of the time.

“There currently is no compelling evidence suggesting that a diet whose calories are 80-90% from whole and minimally processed foods is not prudent enough for maximizing health, longevity, body composition, or training performance.” ~Alan Aragon

Unlike our native counterparts, who primarily eat for physiological reasons – sustenance and energy. Our reasons in the West for eating are overly emotion-based.

Junk food not only fills the emotional gap, it unfortunately promotes a vicious cycle of more of the same. Let’s take a look what junk food is and how we can mindfully enjoy it’s funside.

What is junk food?

Junk food
– food high in calories but low in nutritional content.
– something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no nutritional benefit

Junk food exists due to the world’s ever-growing population and the need for cheap, mass-produced foods. Unfortunately food production is driven more by making larger profits than making the population healthier.

It’s way more cost effective to use cheap ingredients and then process them for longer shelf life than it is to deliver wholesome, nutrient-packed foods.

And, this is the least your worries.

As you’ll discover below: they’re nutritionally empty AND they’ve been manipulated to make you crave them over the healthier stuff. [12]


Although very few foods in and of themselves are nutritionally “bad” for you – if they take the place of highly nutrient dense whole foods as described above, you have a problem.

Now, I’m NOT suggesting a complete ban on junk food at all times, but given the inherent problems with these foods I recommend a bit of caution with these “fun” foods.

Knowing what you’re dealing with and eating with awareness is the key here. Remember – your nutrition plays a role in practically all areas of your life, not just how you look.

So What’s The Problem Here?


Researchers have coined our current society as “obesogenic” – meaning our environment is set up to encourage overeating and being overweight and in no way is it helping us live a healthy, lean lifestyle. [13]

How fast could you get your hands on a chocolate bar right now? Five minutes? Click of a button? Short stroll down the road? It’s too easy to be overweight.


These foods are also packed with empty calories. Let’s look at a donut versus a large apple. The donut weighs a quarter of the apple, however has almost twice the calories.



Combine this with how damn easy it is to eat it – all by design. It melts in your mouth, no need to tax yourself with chewing or any of that nonsense. You’ve practically inhaled that donut and are psyched for the next one. Too easy!

A medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal, the United States' biggest movie theater chain, contains 1610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat!


Large food manufacturers go out of their way to enhance this effortless eating and have learnt that with a magic combination of sugar, fat and salt they can literally change the way your brain thinks and reacts. [14]

Junk food is designed to trigger the same reward centers in your brain that sex does! BIG PROBLEM! [8] Think about it – sex and reproducing should be THE number one drive for a man. Not waiting to get home to tuck into a packet of Hobnobs!

If food becomes a viable sub for sex or worse “better than sex”, can you see the problem here? Yea – effortless fat gain is driven by an almost primal instinct.

Delicious by design foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream and pizza, even in small amounts, can be really tricky to control for a lot of guys due to this addictive-like quality. [16]



And here’s the most messed up part - you’re still no more satisfied than when you started! [17] It’s bad enough you eat at lightning speed and distracted by any number of things - mobile, TV, work etc.

These so-called foods are practically free from useful nutrients, enzymes, probiotics or fibre. Your body registers nothing of use from eating these and as such leaves you wanting more. Combine this with “food porn” – vicious cycle anyone?



You won’t go far wrong with this thinking - a low-fibre eating plan can not only lead to constipation, but also a boat-load of other problems linked with poor digestion. Headaches, brain fog, weakened immune system, skin problems … [18]

Not too mention, fibre is extremely thermogenic – meaning it takes more energy for your body to break down and assimilate than say dietary fat for instance. A good thing for fat loss and getting that hot bod. [19]

By design, highly processed foods scrap most of the fibre in favour of easier eating aka overeating!


Whilst it’s important to note that added chemicals don’t automatically mean “bad” and all-natural doesn't automatically mean “good”. As a rule of thumb, the less additives and enhancers a food contains, the healthier it is going to be for you.

“As a general rule, the less refined & removed from its original state, the healthier the food” ~Alan Aragon

Of course there are exceptions such as whey protein powder which is highly processed, but has been found to have a number of health benefits and helpful in muscle building. [20] [21]


Yo fellas, pay extra attention to this one! You need the right kind of fat in your food plan - especially to keep your testosterone levels on point. [10] [22]

The fat I’m recommending you avoid comes from hydrogenated oils. This stuff is nasty and should be avoided at all costs! [23] It’s been linked to cancer, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, and strokes. [24]

As part of the sugar, fat, salt madness - hydrogenated oil takes the leading role of the fat element in processed foods. It’s cheap and readily available.


What Do I Target First?

Here are some of the items my clients consistently need to work on to in order to get down to that 10–20% sweet spot for sustainable fat loss and health benefits.



Snickers / candy bars / crisps etc.

Fruit / High-quality Dark Chocolate

Donuts, Cookies, Cakes & Pastries

Seeds / nuts [in the shell if you can get them}

Sugary Drinks

Water, green tea, black coffee

Sugary Breakfast Cereals


Mocha, Cappucino, Frappucino

Americano, Espresso

Fast-food Meals / TV Dinners

Lean meats & jacket sweet potato
[ready in the same time frame]


Make yourself using real ingredients

Ice Cream

Homemade frozen fruit smoothies


Popcorn (no added crap)

Milk Shakes

Whey protein powder

White Bread

Rye Bread

Fruit Juice

Real Fruit

Vegetable Oils

Extra-virgin Olive Oil/ Macadamia Nut Oil


Butter, coconut oil

Syrups / Sweeteners

Local Honey

I hope this give you some ideas to get going in your individual situation.

What does 10-20% junk look like for the average male

As I’ve said before you’re not about to tax any jaw muscles of spend a lot of time smashing through the list above.

In fact, on closer inspection you can effortlessly chug back your 10–20% food budget with just half a fancy coffee - yea really!

“You’ll have to moderate your indulgence. The 10-20% guideline is the best way I’ve found to do this." ~Alan Aragon

Let’s take an example of the average male needing approximately 2500 calories a day to maintain a healthy physique. So 10–20% equals 250–500 calories of the “fun” stuff.

That breaks down to ONE of the following:

  • 1–2 Slices Of Pizza
  • 1–2 Small Fries
  • ½–1 Starbucks Chocolate Mochas
  • 1–2 Donuts
  • 2–3 Coronas

Now I don’t know about you, but that looks like a pretty tasty lunch? Can you see the problem here? You can smash your 2500 calorie budget with absolutely no effort – zero! – in ONE meal!

Again, you’re not going for elimination – more like striking a balance and maintaining a healthy respect for these calorie bombs.

I see guys making this mistake all the time - thinking that their morning frappé won’t hurt or that a couple biscuits really won’t make a difference.

Well I’m here to tell you otherwise – all else being equal an extra frappe at 300 calories per day could lead to 31 POUNDS OF EXCESS FAT over the course of a year!


What about alcohol?

Booze can certainly fit into the BodyPhi™ lifestyle. Especially when you slot it into your 10–20% discretionary calories. The key is managing the volume and frequency of consumption – both should be kept low for the most part.

Remember it’s what you repeatedly do that counts, not what you sometimes do. More on this later, but I want you to know that the odd glass of wine, scotch after a meal or espresso martini can certainly be workable in your plan.


What Next?

Changing any habits that aren’t serving can be challenging and as you may have already experienced – upgrading your food choices can be one of THE most challenging.

Adopting the right mindset is key to your long-term success and that means long-term thinking. Ask yourself: “Do I want this change and can I see myself sticking with it for years to come?”

After all – we are about a lifestyle upgrade, not a quick fix where we drop a bunch of weight quickly without picking up good habits along the way.

If not – either the change may be too big or your circumstances may not be right just right now. It’s better to be honest with yourself and come back when you feel your lifestyle suits.


It’s also important to shine some awareness on the situation and recognise your hunger hurdles – more on that here.

Nailing your eating signals and “small-winning” your eating plan by upping the real food ratio is 90% of the battle for fat loss and having a winning physique.


Whilst I suggest you don’t label food as “good” or “bad” – I hope you now appreciate that “real” foods are going to offer so much more value in terms of nutrients, fullness and energy compared to highly-processed options.

Not only this, but they’re generally the foods that are harder to overeat. Have fun trying to get fat of bowl fulls of salad for lunch. Compare that with a tuna panini, brownie and coke though – easy.

There may, however, be circumstances, especially in the early days of cleaning up your nutrition – where you may have to adopt a “cold turkey” approach.

Complete abstinence of some "trigger” foods may be a really smart move, due to the ingrained emotions and high levels of control needed for these foods.


Only you can make this call, but it's one that I recommend if you know you struggle with certain foods where moderation is next to impossible.

From my experience the top three foods guys generally find the cold-turkey approach works well are:

  • Chocolate and “snacky” food like cookies, donuts and biscuits.
  • Fast-food takeaway and beers with the lads on a Friday night.
  • Calorie-bomb desserts & ice cream.

Yes, I’m probably likely to get some stick for this, but you know what, sometimes a cruel to be kind attitude, at least for initial parts of your journey, is completely necessary in my book.

Daily Small-win Strategies

Below are some simple small-wins to get going and up your real-food ratio:

Switch a junk item for an apple at lunch or dinner – eat it first and be mindful of your fullness level as you eat the rest of your meal.

If you food-snack mid-morning try a coffee, water, socialising or movement snack instead – no food until lunch.

On the weekend experiment with some healthy breakfasts to replace cereal – like spinach & mushroom omelette.

Switch a “fancy coffee” for green tea and a piece of fruit.

Keep individual portions of unshelled nuts in your bag for stress emergencies where you normally reach for something you’ll regret later.

Try courgette pasta instead of wheat pasta – you can have double the volume and still cut calories!

If you are going to have a takeaway – opt for a fish and chips without the batter. Will save you a boat load of calories compared with your standard Friday-night Indian Korma, washed down with some beers.



Adopting an 80–90% minimally-processed food plan wildly increases your fat-loss success.

Whole foods not only benefit fat loss the following are improved too:

• Stress levels
• Hunger signals and cravings
• Fullness and satiety
• Mental clarity
• Digestion and immune system

The calorie concentration of junk foods is off the scale

Junk foods are designed to promote overeating and cravings

Focus on calorie-bomb foods to get to the 10–20% junk-food sweet spot

Managing frequency and volume is key for booze intake