The DAO approach to food
An apple is an instant snack that takes time to chew and keeps you full.

The DAO 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

What’s the skinny?

  • It’s not about “diets,” but a sustainable approach to food.
  • This article will give you a framework, PFfCW, to structure this approach.
  • With this way of life, you can make smarter, more organic decisions, no matter where you are.

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

Here, we will focus on the PFfCW framework.

PFfCW 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 PFfCW framework is a principled approach with flexibility to adapt based on the situation.

Why the PFfCW makes meal prep unnecessary

Because I follow this framework, I don’t need to spend a ton of time on meal planning. I make sure my shopping list has foods from each category and I mix and match, just like my outfits.

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 PFfCW 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.

“PFfCW”= protein, fat, Fiber, carbs and WATER.

This is the “PFfCW” formula.

Throughout the day, meals and snacks should combine P,F, and C – which is protein carbs and fat. This is an approach recommended widely by most nutritionists/dieticians.

Throughout the day you should be getting a minimum amount of F – Fiber and W – water.

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, best derived from whole foods. Eggs, chicken breast, canned tuna, beans, and steel cut oats are some examples of easy to prep food. 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. Rotisserie chicken is also a lifesaver. You can make it last at least 3 or 4 days in the fridge! Because protein takes longer to break down, I always eat the protein part of my meal first. If I have fish or chicken with a salad, I eat the fish or chicken and then the salad last.


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. 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 little “f” is for fat. Because fat has the most calories (9) per gram, it’s on a smaller scale than protein or carbs. The Paleo and Keto diets helped dispel the notion that “fat is bad” but all the coconut oil, avocados and butter in coffee caused overcompensation. You could unwittingly undermine your fitness goals by eating too much fat, because it is so deceptive in volume. Also, as this article explains, too much fat can undermine your overall health.

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).


The W component is for water AND DESERVES ALL CAPS. I am sure you have heard that water is important, but it is REALLY important for weight loss. 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.

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.

Leave a Reply