green and red apples on white plastic container
An apple is an instant snack that takes time to chew and keeps you full.

The DAO “PFC” approach to food

In the DAO, the action follows from the Decision. The decision is not to “diet.” The decision is to embrace a principled, sustainable approach to food.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

1 Corinthians 10:31

The DAO approach to food

The DAO is a way to approach the busy life of a #fitprofessional with agility, flexibility, and a purpose. That is the reason for the above quote: eating is not only necessary, it is divine. What the diet industry has done is demonize many foods, even entire food groups, that are natural and nourishing. This approach is not about that rigidity. It’s about a principled, sustainable way of life. We will review in these next three posts the following three pillars of the DAO approach to food:

  • The PFC framework to meals;
  • 80/20 approach to eating; and
  • Appropriate guardrails

Here, we will focus on the Fab 5 Framework

The Fab 5 – PFC +FW framework

Most people jump straight into meal plan when approaching a food. The problem with this approach for #fitprofessionals is that there is no flexibility. What are you supposed to do when your next meal is at an airport, or a large conference (post-Corona, this will be part of your life again). Or if you are on vacation in a hotel? Even if we are working at home most of the time, we need an approach that works for getting crazy busy and on back-to-back calls all day.

The foundation of this appraoch are the three basic macronutrients: P, F, and C – Protein, Fat and Carbs. The FW stands for Fiber and Water, which are not standalone food nutrients, but should be consumed consistently throughout the day to ensure hydration ajnd fullness.

Why the PFC makes meal planning and prep easier

Because I follow this framework, I don’t need to spend a ton of time on meal prep – planning is enough, and I have the flexibility with this formula. I make sure my shopping list has foods from each category and I mix and match, just like my outfits. I talk about the DAO of meal planning in my post here.

This for me is a more realistic alternative than spending hours on meal prep and meal planning. The fame of Sunday as a “meal prep day” is well documented – but for me, I am usually working Sundays! And if not, taking some much needed time to binge-watch, take a long bath, or work out. The last thing I need is to be stressed about meal prep! I used to diligently dedicate time on the weekends to do so, and by the end I was exhausted. I need that time on the weekend and I imagine you might too.

By following the PFC framework, I can quickly combine foods, many of them pre-prepped. Unless it is a special occasion meal, I do not spend more than 15 minutes prepping any meal. For breakfast and lunch, my meal prep is only 5 minutes.

PFC = Protein, Fat and Carbs

This is the basic “PFC” formila. The other two elements of “FW” equal Fiber and Water, which should compliment the basic macronutrients P, F, C.

There are very few foods where you can get all five of these, so getting various combinations of the fab 5 throughout the day is the key strategy. Start with protein, and make it a goal to add two more of the FAB 5 to each snack or meal. 

By eating water rich carbs, like fruit and vegetables, you can also get C, F, and W.

Combing P, F, and C is also pretty easy for most meals. Think of it like building a bowl when you order from one of those quick places like CAVA – you have your vegetable base, grains, protein, dressing and topings with fats (e.g., seeds, avoicados).

For snacks, I generally combine two of the above (protein and fat, carbs and protein, carbs and fiber). 

Here is more of an explanation of each component of the formula:


The foundation of a satiating meal or snack is protein, which is best derived from whole foods.Every cell in the human body contains protein.You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. The obvious benefits of protein from a fitness lens include their role in muscle growth, because of their amino acids. Without enough protein, you won’t feel full and will be hungry an hour later. That’s why you feel that way if you are one of those “grab a muffin on the way out the door kind of people. Proteins also help improve mood. For example, tryptophan, which is found in turkey, helps support sleep and mood

Eggs, chicken breast, canned tuna, beans, and steel cut oats are some examples of easy to prep proteins. You can find pre-cooked chicken breasts in most grocery stores, and oatmeal in pre-rationed packets. I like the Think thin variety, a protein oatmeal that has a lot of Fiber. Here is a complete list of protein sources:

Lean meats: Chicken, turkey fish (salmon, tilapia, steelhead, tuna, mackerel, mahi-mahi, rockfish, branzino, grouper, halibut), filet mignon, lean sirloin. It also includes types of beef and lamb. To the extent possible, I cook as many proteins as I can ahead of time for the week. So I will buy, for example, precut chicken breasts or salmon and then make them in bulk with the first meal of the week. 

Eggs: Eggs, eggwhites: It is so simple to mix an egg with some eggwhites and whip up a quick scramble or even microwave them. 

Vegetable proteins: Beans, legumes, kale, seeds, soy and tofy, and nut Milks. You can do a lot of salad recipes with these and nut milks are an excellent base for homemade smoothies and good choices of creamer for coffee. Some whole grains, like quinoa, have a significant amount of protein content. 

Dairy proteins – yogurt (especially greek yogurt), cheese, milk. Greek yogurt and honey is one of my go-tos for all the PFFC. 

You can also get proteins from protein powders to supplement your desired protein goal but be careful with the selection because many brands throw all kinds of toxins in them. In fact, in a study conducted by Harvard Health, researchers screened 134 products for 130 types of toxins and found that many protein powders contained heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), bisphenol-A (BPA, which is used to make plastic), pesticides, or other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. Some toxins were present in significant quantities. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA.

One caveat on protein – there is a conception that more is always better, but that is not necessarily the case. There are a couple of reasons why this approach could backfire. First, the body can only absorb so much protein at one time. That is why dietitians often recommend spreading out intake throughout the day as opposed to eating large amounts of protein in one sitting. Excess protein is also excreted through the urine. Hence the term “expensive urine.” The expense is not just on the wallet, though, it is also taxing to the system. Work with a dietitian to see how much protein (and of other macros) you should be getting. There is no universal formula. We will explore more macros under the DAO nutrition tools section.


Protein and Fiber most people are on board with. Where it starts the debate is carbs and fat. This should be common sense, but it is rampant through diet culture to demonize either carbs.fat or both. But neither carbs or fat makes you fat. 

The second F is for fat. We need to spend more time on this one, because fat, along with sugar, has gotten demonized over the years.

The second F is for fat. We need to spend more time on this one, because fat, along with sugar, has gotten demonized over the years. 

First, let’s clarify what fats we are talking about. There are several different kinds of fats:

Saturated and Trans Fats

  • Saturated fat – This fat is generally solid at room temperature, and found in foods like butter and oils. Generally, there is no recommendation to completely eliminate saturated fat, but keep it in a moderate quantity of about 10% of daily calories
  • Trans fat – this fat has been changed by a process called hydrogenation and is often called on for raising cholesterol. It lives mostly in processed food, like cookies, cake and chips.

So there is no reason to eschew ALL saturated fats – some, like the kind found in eggs and coconut oils, are good in small quantities (we will get into this in a minute.) . For example,a recent study found that women who consumed 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day for 12 weeks had less body fat than those who did not. This of course does not mean eating gobs of coconut oil is a great idea – as I found out the hard way, those calories can add up and lead to weight gain.  

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fat is more favored by nutrition experts because of its potential to improve cholesterol and weight management. . It is liquid at room temperature. It is mostly in oils from plants. If you eat unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat, it may help improve your cholesterol levels. Try to eat mostly unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are types of unsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fat is in avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils. Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats may help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats may also keep “good” HDL cholesterol levels high. But eating more unsaturated fat without cutting back on saturated fat may not lower your cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fat is mainly in vegetable oils and seafoods. The two types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. A healthy diet includes 8 ounces or more of these types of fish a week, averaging 250 mg a day of these omega-3 fatty acids.

Source: Types of fats

In terms of the short list of fats, here are the main types of “healthy fats”.  First, there are what I call the healthy oil fats:

  • Coconut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, olive oil, peanut oil
  • Eggs (with the yolk)
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Fish, particularly fatty fish
  • Fish oil

Then there are what I call the edible fats:

  • Seeds – Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and chia seeds 
  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Nuts (including WALNUTS)

Fat is very important for the diet, in several ways:

  1. Fat makes you smarter- Fat, and particularly cholesterol, is responsible for rapid-firing connections between neurons. A brief brain lesson – your brain is made of 70 percent fat. Neurons are responsible for the functioning in the brain and central nervous system. The rapid firing that takes place between the neurons enables them to “talk” to each other. The better this rapid firing is, the stronger your brain will be, and able to protect you from disease and other trauma. And it is well documented that fat enable the rapid firing of neurons in your brain
  2. Fat is your fountain of youth- Fat is important to prevent hair loss.Now, I only get a few stray hairs when I brush, and my hair is noticeably thicker and grows faster.  Fat, especially combined with Vitamin C, is especially great for anti-aging treatment for the skin
  3. Fat makes all the money you spend on expensive supplements and healthy food worth it.-  Without enough fat, all of the vitamins in the vegetables do not get absorbed and get excreted through your system. Same with all those supplements you are taking – many of which I recommend. Those that are fat soluble require fat to absorb, or again, they will just pass through the system. This is called, “expensive pee”
  4. Fat makes you fitter- Fat makes you fuller for longer – Finishing a tough workout and guzzling a protein shake or eating some cereal or oatmeal is part of the perception the fitness industry has created on what is “right,” But without enough fat,  the body won’t feel satiated for long because the food will pass quickly through the system – and, as discussed above, take all of the nutrients with it. Healthy fats stop cravings for white sugary and flour foods
  5. Fat makes you happier. Diets high in Omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids help prevent and treat existing symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially in women.  This is true of a good diet, overall. Whereas, low-fat diets are associated with more depression

More: 10 “rules” for eating fat (Mindbodygreen)

Whatever I am eating, I follow the “thumbful of fat” rule. That means a thumb sized portion of cheese, avocado, 6 olives added to my protein and carbs, or 7 nuts. Literally being able to chew your fat is more satisfying than dressings or oils, because those disappear into the food. Plus you get so little for so many calories. I will go into the pitfalls of cooking oils and portion sizes in future posts.


C is for “carbs” and for “Crucial”. It took me a long time to come to terms with a fact that I cannot sustain a lifestyle on restricted carbs. All the fruit we went over above is a great source of carbs. Whole grains, legumes, and sweet potatoes also have the double benefit of the F and the C. Bread is on the menu as well, especially for breakfast. If you haven’t discovered Ezekiel 4:9 bread, you are missing out. Generally, I limit “white carbs” (white bread, white flour, candy, and cakes) to my 20 percent “joy eats”. (which is the subject of the next 80/20 post).

C is for “carbs” and for “Crucial”. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I cannot sustain a lifestyle on restricted carbs. All the fruit we went over above is a great source of carbs. Whole grains, legumes, and sweet potatoes also have the double benefit of the F and the C. Bread is on the menu as well, especially for breakfast. If you haven’t discovered Ezekiel 4:9 bread, you are missing out. Generally, I limit “white carbs” (white bread, white flour, candy, and cakes) to my 20 percent “joy eats”. (which is the subject of the next 80/20 post).

Why carbohydrates are so important 

For fit professionals, carbohydrates are crucial. Though our brain is only 2 percent of our bodies, it accounts for 20 percent of function.  Carbohydrates are one of the most important nutrients needed for healthy brain functioning. 

In the fad diet section, we talked about how carb deprivation can affect mood, memory, and brain function. Even if weight loss is your goal, carbs are your friend, not your foe. Carbs will give you energy to fuel your workouts and build lean muscle, which will increase metabolism. Protein usually steals the show, but we have seen that in the American diet, getting too much protein is common. And this comes at the expense of getting enough carbs. If you are very active, in fact, it is recommended that 50 percent of your calories come from carbs. So if you are eating about 1600 calories a day, that is about 200g. 

If you don’t get enough carbohydrates to fuel your workouts, one of two things can happen:

  • You stop early and don’t train for as long as you had planned.
  • You finish your workout, but hold back and don’t push as hard.

In both cases, you don’t burn as many calories or reap the benefits of the workout. So what’s the point? 

Maximize the F and W from your carbs

The more you can get “F” and “W” out of your carbs, the better. For example, eating a good amount of fruits will give you both fiber and water, which will keep you full and also prevent a sudden blood sugar spike that may result when you eat the types of carbohydrates that do not have much fiber, like candy, white bread, or white rice. For me, that does not mean never eat candy or white-flour. Those are some of the treats I like to enjoy occasionally. I know just from experience that my digestion and mood is better when I eat the slower digesting carbs. I have a better streak of energy throughout the day, as opposed to a sudden sugar rush and crash. 

Timing of carbs around workouts

When I was training with a fit figure competitor, I got a great piece of advice related to nutrition strategy: Time foods with more carbs around your workouts. 

As we discussed in my post on workout nutrition, it’s really important to eat after a workout. Basically the hour after your workouts, she said, is the best time to get carbs. In fact, science supports this. Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient to get in after you work out. This is primarily what replenishes your glycogen stores, which as we discussed, are the natural storage of sugar hanging around in your liver, which needs to get to other parts of the body, like your muscles, to give them the energy they need. You may be thinking, what energy? The  workout is over. But the most important part of working out isn’t while you are doing those bicep curls, it’s AFTER you leave the gym. This is a point that Mike Matthews makes in one of my favorite fitness books, Thinner Leaner Stronger. He talks about the fact that muscle growth is the result of protein synthesis rates exceeding breakdown rates over an extended period of time. So after you work out, your muscles are breaking down, and they need energy to rebuild. Carbs come to the immediate rescue.They are kind of like the ambulance, to get the body the vital stuff it needs. Then proteins and fats are the treatment the body gets, but they take longer to digest so the body needs something that can quickly be absorbed in the meantime. 

If you have a craving for a joy food like candy, chocolate, cake or pastry, the best time you could possibly use for this is after your workout, especially if it’s in the morning. The 1 hour window after your workout is a time when your body is screaming for fast-digesting carbs -in fact, the faster it can process the carbs the better. This is why strangely enough many trainers and even doctors recommend eating gummy bears after a workout!! According to this research, gummy bears and other high-glycemic carbohydrates with dextrose or maltodextrin provide a quick source of sugar to help start replenishing what’s been lost. Because your body is still using energy, the sugar is used immediately and doesn’t get stored as fat.


This formula may seem pretty basic, but I have noticed that many people neglect the Big “F”. This is why we eat something and then feel hungry an hour later. The recommended daily allowance for fiber is about 25 grams a day on a 2,000 calorie diet, but it could vary depending on sex, age, weight and other health needs. Great sources of fiber for meals include:

Whole grains: quinoa or brown rice, farro, millet, or sprouted grain bread. You can buy pre-frozen or pre-made brown rice or quinoa from almost any grocery store. If I am ordering in Asian food I usually ask for several extra sides of brown rice to use for the rest of the week.

Legumes: basically any kind, but chickpeas are especially good for women

Fruits: apples are easy to stuff in your bag and take anywhere; so are clementines, plums, and pears. On weekends I make a fruit “medley” that I can eat throughout the week. Usually I combine pineapple and berries, and pomegranate seed. You can buy a lot of these fruits pre-chopped and pre-washed. Yes, they are more expensive, but the time you can save is more valuable. There are tools you can buy to quickly cut through pineapple core or deseed pineapple in less than a minute. Fruits are not only great at curbing sugar cravings, they light up your skin and have FIBER and WATER.

Vegetables: the easiest advice I have on vegetables is to buy them frozen and steam them in an instant pot; then keep them stored in glass containers until ready to use. The easiest and most filling vegetables to steam are broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and mushrooms. I am also a huge fan of Trader Joe’s cauliflower rice. You can toss the bag in the microwave and combine with tomato sauce and beans to have risotto for lunch! On the go, you can often find pre-packed veggies and dip or salads (even at 7-11, Walgreens, or CVS). Starbucks even has a vegetable and lentil protein bowl.

Seeds: I keep a gigantic container of chia seeds in a container and toss them in smoothies or salads. Flax seed tastes awesome with greek yogurt and honey (here you get PFfC in one snack!. Sesame seeds have a lot of iron, and are great to throw on vegetables with some coconut aminos (a healthy soy sauce substitute).


The W component is for water AND DESERVES ALL CAPS. I am sure you have heard that water is important, but hydration can make or break you. Water burns fat, helps your muscles during workouts, helps flush toxins and makes you feel full. It also eliminates “phantom hunger,” where you might feel hungry, but are actually thirsty. Research shows that dehydration slows your circulation. If the body is dehydrafted even by five percent, energy can drop by as much as 30 percent.

For real, most of us don’t drink enough water, especially earlier in the day when we really need it. Especially when soda, carbonated water (NOT the same as real water), coffee, and wine, are sucking away at our hydration. That combined with a stressful career and exercise makes water even more essential. I realized I was not drinking enough after getting a lot of headaches, and feeling more tired. As soon as I was diligent and deliberate about my water intake, those problems got better. The problem is usually remembering to drink water, and I will address that below.

How to drink more water

Here are some best practices I learned for drinking more water:

  • As soon as I wake up, I chug a liter (before coffee). I learned this trick from Cameron Diaz – and I would do anything she does, she is a boss!
  • You can get a water bottle that tracks your water intake – enter Hidrate spark, a water bottle that glows and comes with an app to track your water intake.
  • There are different water tracking apps. A less tech-y but also very reliable tracker is your own pee. If your pee is clear or a very light color, you are hydrated. Pee that is yellow actually indicates dehydration. There is a very handy chart here. My personal favorite is Pee ‘n See. You log all your “pees” and then the app tells you if you are drinking enough water. It’s not as cumbersome as you think – you can train Siri to log your pee. OK, enough about pee….
  • I consume most of my water in the morning so I don’t get busy and forget to drink water later. In fact, I aim to drink almost all of my daily water needed intake before noon. The morning is also a great time to munch on fruit as you work. Fruits, including, oranges, watermelon, and cucumbers are mostly water and also have F to keep you full.
  • I also drink a full glass of water about half an hour before every meal, to help fill my stomach.
  • Herbal tea is also an important part of my water intake. I drink at least 3-4 cups of herbal tea a day.
  • A lot of fruits are 70 percent or more water, like watermelon. Eating a lot of fruit naturally increases hydration.
sliced watermelon with green background
Watermelon is a great source of water, as its name implies. Photo by Amy Shamblen

A way of life, not a diet

That is the basic framework to the DAO food life. You can throw a quick meal together, or get the right foods even if the circumstances are not ideal. We HAVE to eat. Whether it is at the Hudson airport store, gas station, or wherever you may need to improvise. We need a solution for long workdays even when our kitchen is always accessible. It won’t ringfence you around a specific meal prep or meal plan because it is a principled approach.

Next, we will talk about how we can make this a balanced, sustainable approach to eating healthy and enjoying ALL foods.*


Don’t give up on grains – Harvard woman’s health watch
Six reasons why water can help you lose weight

*I have not been compensated by any third party for any products that I have mentioned, they are all products that I personally endorse.

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