My Biggest Nutrition Mistake


Throughout the course of my strength training, fitness, and performance journey I’ve made dozens of mistakes.

I’m going to share those with you in the future so, hopefully, you don’t make them on your own journey. Believe me, I’ve made a ton of mistakes when it comes to strength training and nutrition, and I definitely don’t want you to learn the hard way.

In fact, you can discover more in my letter to OCD eating habits – How to (Once and for All) Break Free from OCD Eating Habits, Regain Your Sanity, and Eat to Build a Better Body, Simply.

Today I’m going to reveal what I consider to be my biggest nutrition mistake. Instead of discussing this in the typical article format, today I’m posting a video. I thought this topic would probably be best discussed verbally as opposed to written. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse of the newest member to our family and my spiffy new glasses. (Yep. I’m going with the word “spiffy” to describe my new specs. And, apparently, I have a small head because I had to get children frames. Don’t judge me).

Moving on. It’s time I reveal my biggest nutrition mistake.

(Here’s the article I mentioned in the video where I discuss in detail My Battle with Disordered Eating and what I did to come out victorious).

If you’ve been stressing over your current nutrition regimen or want to improve your health and physique, I suggest you apply the recommendations in the video. I began that experiment many years ago, and other than a few very minor tweaks, I use those same guidelines today personally and with my clients.

The results speak for themselves — no more stress about meals plans or other strict rules, no more dieting, my clients and I have built physiques we love (and can maintain with ease) that not only look awesome but are strong and functional, and we’ve improved our overall health. We call this Sane and Simple Nutrition.

You can do it, too. Begin by signing up for the exclusive Beautiful Badass Mini Course and also receive insider only information by entering your email below.

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • Leona Kealey Vamos PT

    Sound advice Nia. Thanks :) When your clients are complete beginners do you find they struggle with limiting portion sizes for themselves? Do you give them guidelines to follow on that? Cute doggy!

    • Nia Shanks

      Usually the guidelines I mention in the video is all that they require. That, and a focus on increasing protein intake. Real food + protein seems to do the trick the majority of the time. Thanks for commenting on my new pup. He’s fit into the family well. :)

  • Denise

    Wow Nia good move doing the video over a blog or another piece to read! seems easier and more simplier to take onboard for some reason…..well spoken and very good idea! enjoyed watching this and stuck alot more hearing you talk and give your advice! Nice work. ;)

    • Nia Shanks

      Thanks! Very glad you enjoyed it.

  • Erin Cook Szczerba

    Thanks Nia! I needed to hear that. I’ve been reading the Hartwigs, Sisson, and other health/paleo blogs and have started to feel crazy when it comes to food. I want to enjoy food and I want to lose fat and build muscle. I also want to be healthy until the day I die. But I was spending so much time reading about food and prepping food and cooking food that I couldn’t really enjoy food. In 2010, I completed a Body for Life challenge and it transformed my body. Now I know I don’t have to eat 5-6 small meals a day, but I also know what I ate during that time that I really enjoyed. So as soon as your video was over, I made a list called “Foods I Love” and it’s full of items like veggies w/ hummus, fajita salad, apple w/ peanut butter, and sweet potato spears. And when I only eat when I’m hungry, I usually eat at 11, 3, and 7…so I’ll keep my fridge packed with the foods I love and I know I’ll have good things to choose from when my tummy starts to growl.

    • Nia Shanks

      I know what you mean. Information overload is easy to do, especially when it comes to nutrition. I like your game plan! I’m going to use some of those ideas, too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Cass

    Awesome video, Nia! You are right about finding what works for you. I so badly wanted to LOVE a plan like Intermittent Fasting – it’s current, it’s hip, it takes less planning and it allows you to eat large meals at a time….well, no way. I can’t go that long without food, I get migraines, I get grumpy, etc. I tried but it just isn’t for me. I stopped calorie counting, decided to make healthy choices and for me, eating more carbs on my workout days seems to help. I appreciate your honesty and wanted to thank you for sharing your experience :)

    Always a fan,

    • Meg @ A Dash of Meg

      I get grumpy without food, too, Cass! I read your comment and can totally relate!


      • Cass

        Meg, like Nia said to me, good for you for not following the crowd. Sometimes it’s hard, but with age, I’ve learned that you need to march to your own drum! Here’s to everyone finding success on their own nutritional path :)

    • Nia Shanks

      Yep, exactly. I love intermittent fasting and use it a lot myself. But I also know many women, like yourself, that don’t like it. I’m glad you’re not forcing something just because it is popular and that you’re doing what works for YOU. That’s all that matters. Keep up the great work!

  • Meg @ A Dash of Meg

    I want to give you the BIGGEST HUG EVER. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE understand how wonderful you are. I admire you so much and absolutely LOVE this video and all of its content (including Sheldon)

    I really like your approach and so badly wish I could do it. I would LOVE to just EAT. Eat as much as I wanted when I wanted and not think about portions or if I am getting enough, but I am trying to put on weight and am not sure if that will be the best thing for me right now. I really underestimate what my body needs, so I think the whole time I would be stressing if I am getting enough!?

    Oh, I wish I was a client of yours!


    • Nia Shanks

      Hey, Meg. Thanks for the kind words, lady. Much appreciated. While I made it sound like an overnight change in the video, in reality this took me quite a while to break the horrible habits I had developed. But, I’ve used these principles for the past 3+ years with great success. Don’t overthink things. You’ll get plenty if you focus on real, high quality food first and foremost. And eat when you’re hungry. Like anything else, it will take a little time and patience on your part, but give it a try.

  • Bonnie Lang

    Great thoughts, and I also second the great choice with choosing a vlog (in other news, I didn’t know you had an accent/were from the south (or midwest?)! Love hearing different accents!). I agree with everything you said and find that being simple and focusing on eating whole, real foods helps and being more mindful.

    I tried IF for about 3 or 4 months and gained 5 lbs – the exact opposite of everything I’ve read! I’m still having a hard time getting that weight off (not much in reality but adds a chunk on my 5’2″ frame) and realized that I was likely overeating during my eating periods. It’s too bad since I didn’t have a problem with the not eating (surprisingly!) but I’m finding my body responds best to eating in accordance with how I feel and not worrying about the rest. Thanks for reminding me of this truth! :)

    • Nia Shanks

      Thanks! And, yes ma’am, I’m from the south. The grand ole state of Tennessee, to be exact. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, too!

  • soniasimone

    I thought this was great! You’re good on video, I like your voice. :)

    • Nia Shanks

      :) Thank you.

  • shannon

    great post/video nia! thank you so much for sharing. it’s nice to hear something so “simple.” i’ve found my way back to strength training in the past couple of years (yay!). while i have gotten much stronger, improved my posture and balance, and having fun (because i’m one of those people who love working out), my physique has much to be desired. i know some people look at me like, “really, does she really workout?” ha ha ha. part of it is, i admit, my diet. part, i think, has to do with my changing hormones (middle age and all that come with it can be a doozy!) i’ve read up a lot on all the different “eating” regimens and listened to my trainer and others i work out with, but i would just turn off b/c they all seemed so so so regimented. my life is pretty regimented already with 3 kids, work, etc. the idea of adding one more thing to be militant about just gave me a headache. i’m also one of those people who will go all out once i start something…and like you, will get “ocd” with a specific nutrition regimen. it’s enough for me to try to feed my kids as “little” processed foods as possible. in the end, it was so nice to hear what you had to say. i have found in the past, if i just listened to my body cues (when it wanted fuel, what it wanted) and ate as little processed foods as i could and just balanced what i ate (eg., not just eat salad, or max out on protein, or max out on carbs), i felt good and looked good. i know what i’m not doing right now, and how i would change things (which is similar to what you were saying in the video) when i’m ready, but with all i had been reading and what i had been hearing everyone talk about was making me think again. i’m so glad you posted this video because now i don’t feel that i’m “alone” with my thinking.

    thanks so much again for a great video! :) happy new year!

    • Nia Shanks

      Hey, Shannon. Thanks for the comment. I know exactly what you mean about having to be “militant” about a certain nutrition regimen. I’ve tried so many different “diets” in the past that I went absolutely crazy. Let me know how everything goes.

  • leslie

    thank you….just what i needed to hear!

  • Rhiarti

    Loved the video! Hope you’ll be doing those again… especially with bonus adorable dog! Still refining what works for me, but it was your suggestions that broke me out of weighing, counting and obsessing, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

    • Nia Shanks

      Thank you, lady. :) I’ll definitely do more of these for sure.

      • Sol Catala


  • Emily


    Love it. I have been experimenting over the past few months in regards to my eating. I have boiled it down to eat when I am hungry and eat whole foods only. I am wrapping up my Precision Nutrition studying and planning to take my test soon so I have been thinking a lot about how I eat and what habits work for me and how I can apply my new knowledge to help my clients. I enjoyed eating some holiday treats over the holiday and for the first time, I really enjoyed eating and was happy. You know a little bit about my own issues with food as a dancer… has always been a struggle for me and I still have good days and bad days but overall, my food obsession is slowly dying and I could not be happier.

    Good, sound advice. I always really appreciate your straight talk. You are always a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

    • Nia Shanks

      Thanks, lady. Yeah, I know what you mean. I still have little battles on occasion, too. I was so deep in disordered eating for 3+ years, and it’s more of the thought process that’s so difficult to complete silence. But, each year things get better.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Patty

    Great words Nia. Thank you for sharing your wisdom :)

  • Roland


    Your conclusion is an enlightened one. After years of coaching hundreds… thousands maybe.. I’ve learned which “rules” are arbitrary (most) and mine and Georgie’s clients all work from where they are to where you are.

    The kicker, it pretty much always works. Of course we have to coach to making it work, but it always does.

    Keep up the good work. And video beats text.

    • Nia Shanks

      Hey, Roland. I agree. Once my clients can get a hang of these simple guidelines, it’s all they ever need. There was a time, not too long ago, when people didn’t count calories, weigh food, or do anything else like that and they looked and performed great. But still, to each his/her own. Thanks for sharing!

  • Msmac

    Love this video and so true thank you for sharing.

  • Diana Davis

    I love it…but I have tried EVERYTHING. Nothing works for everyone, but, somehow, NOTHING works for me. I have to go back to UCLA again…AGAIN, becuase what they THOUGHT was wrong isn’t. I’m not unhealthy, but I’ve tried counting calories, NOT counting…low carb, no cabr whole grain, elimination, gluten free, intermittent fasting, 5-6 small meals, 3 regular meals, two big meals and one small meals… I eat and love whole, healthy foods, the same as you…veggies, lean meats, healthy fats, whole grains and whole fruits in moderation.

    I even go to an RD. (I’ve said this all before…)She’s flummoxed

    I don’t know what to do! I’m strong, fit, not diabetic, not in estrogen is wonky, but it’s somewhere in my head. I can’t lose this fat. It’s weird!

    • Nia Shanks

      Hey, Diana. I don’t know much about you — how tall you are, how much you weigh, how much fat mass/muscle mass you carry. Do you think it’s possible you’re just not happy with how you look now, even though, now, you may look great? I could be WAY off base, but it’s a valid question.

      • Diana Davis

        It’s a very valid question. If you give me email, I can post you a picture. I’m 5 foot 1/2 inch. I’m not sure, but I weigh around 132. I am over 30% body fat; Dr Heber, a nutrition expert at UCLA says I need to lose 20 lbs of fat. He did use a pretty complex machine to see my fat percentage. He said he would be happy is I lost somewhere between 15-20 lbs, and ended up between 110 and 115. I have muscle, but I also have a layer of fat over it; I have cankles, no armpits, a big belly and heavy thighs. There is NO definition in my legs. I know I do not appear “huge”, but with my nutrition and fitness, I should not have all this fat, and should be able to lose. I seem unable to lose any. I have had numerous blood tests. I am not menopausal, I do not have diabetes, my thyroid is balanced. I do not have PCOS, although that as suspected. I have elevated androgens and low estrogen, and slightly low testosterone. Tests show my low hormones are somehow being caused by something going on in my head over my reproductive system

        • Nia Shanks

          For starters, I wouldn’t strive to hit an ideal number. For example, I’m 5’6″ and weigh about 125 pounds. I have friends who are a couple inches shorter than me and weigh over 10 pounds more than I do, but look friggin’ awesome and are healthy. Don’t worry about the number and instead focus on your actions. Keep training hard. Focus on real food. If necessary, keep a journal for a week and track EVERYTHING you consume. Don’t count the calories necessarily; just write down what it is you ate/drank. Not sure if any of that helps . . .

  • Liz

    Great vlog Nia! I have a question, actually I’ve had it ever since I read your nutrition guidelines. Let me first say that when I was your age, I couldn’t gain weight no matter what I tried. I could eat all the junk in the world and I never get over 100 pounds. Now is a completely different story. Once I hit 40 it all changed, and it got even worse during menopause. I got up to 150lbs before I was able to find a plan that worked for me. I do eat clean, and I focus on making sure my protein levels are high enough for lifting, but I absolutely must watch my calories or I will and do gain weight, quickly. So with that in mind, do you think this works for older women as well?

    Thanks so much for your blog and your programs! I love them and you!

    • Nia Shanks

      Great question, Liz. All I can really say is “give it a try and see.” It’s what I had to do, and others have tried it as well with success. Now, you *may* have to tweak things here and there, but you can at least give it a shot and see what happens (mentally and physically) over the next 4-8 weeks.

  • Susa

    Yes, yes and yes!! This is exactly where I am right now. Thank you for the video- I hope there are many more to come!

  • Sol Catala

    Thank you for the video. Keep ‘em coming!!! You’re AWESOME

  • John Allan

    Thank you for sharing :-)

    I think it is very easy to get caught up in what you ‘should’ be doing instead of listening to your body and doing what works for you. I no longer eat because the clock tells me I should.

  • Beth Ann Donnelly

    For the love of sanity, thank you SO much for posting this! I love the video, there’s something about listening versus reading. It just works… Anyways, I really needed to hear this. I keep thinking that I just need to take it back to the basics but then the whole 5-6 planed meals a day, every 2-3 hours thing lingers in my mind. I totally stress myself out just thinking about food, what I should eat and what I shouldn’t, having prepared meals, etc. It’s exhausting. I recently trained for a bikini competition and joined a training team. I was eating the same 6 meals every single day every 4 weeks until my plan would change. I was counting, measuring and going crazy. By the end, I was dying and I hated foods that I once enjoyed. Needless to say, once it was over, I dropped it all and ate whatever and my body is back to before I started and I hate that. All because I was so stressed about food, such a simple thing, right? I’m trying to get back on track and lately I’ve found myself obsessing over the same thing. SO now, I’m going to do my best to focus on “not thinking” about food and eating and just focus on eating whole foods that I enjoy. I love the idea of having a “foods I love” list that one person mentioned, and I’m going to do that. Having my fridge stocked full of fruits, veggies, cooked rice/quinoa and proteins so that I can just pull them out and whip up a yummy, simple meal.

    Sorry for the long winded comment but again, thank you SO much. :)

    • Nia Shanks

      Thank you for sharing! I love hearing stories like this. They encourage me. :)

  • Elise Miller

    This post is a fantastic reminder. I just embarked on my bodybuilding journey and went from a mostly JERF (just eat real food) style Paleo-ish philosophy that included IF to counting calories and macronutrients, making myself whey protein shakes and “recovery” drinks and getting slowly overwhelmed by concepts like catabolic vs. anabolic states and frequent meals and frigging egg whites. It’s been arduous and stressful and I am exactly the way you were—prone to spinning out into OCD-land with the eating. SO THANK YOU for this!!!! I knew it made no sense but I needed the validation of a pro like you to cement it into my skull. All best, and PS, just ordered your bodyweight PDF recommended by my bootcamp and kettlebell trainer.

  • Cass

    Nia, your email about this video couldn’t have come at a better time!! After 18+ years of whipping on myself for not having it all figured out, dieting, restricting, binging, crying, therapizing :), lashing out on my partners because of my unhappiness with my body and my eating habits, I have decided the answer to my own happiness is NOT within the 5 W’s….it’s absolutely within my ability to LET GO and LET BE. I have fought tooth and nail against my curvy proportions and scale weight, and made myself suffer daily for the “wrong” I have done by eating too much, too little, and not being what I “could” be if I straightened my habits out, slept more, cut sugar, cut nut butters, stopped overeating, consistently followed a training regimen, etc. To read that list right now….no wonder I am so unhappy and anxious every day of my life! No wonder I crave sugar all day every day! The cold, hard reality is that NO ONE ELSE cares about what you look like and what you do with your body….so the only resolution is to let yourself off the hook, put the whip down, and move forward in your life with compassion, forgiveness, and ultimately acceptance. It is only our own controlling selves standing in our own way to thrive. No food plan, diet, macronutrient ratio, or fitness plan is going to teach any of us to do the most important thing we can do for our lives and our bodies….LOVE OURSELVES UNCONDITIONALLY. Talk to and treat ourselves the way we would a small child, an elderly woman, a victim of trauma…tenderly, compassionately, and with encouragement. And the rest will probably fall into place in a way that pleases us…..

    So thank you, Nia Shanks. You are a beacon of hope in the fitness/health world. I always love your writings and shares. Keep doing what you do!

  • Liz

    I like your simple rules. I will try them. And I think you are great on video so don’t ever shut up lol :)

  • Euthalia Sullivan

    Thank you so much!!!! what you have talked about, i have been thinking all along but was too afraid to go against the 5 to 6 meals a day, every 2 to 3 hours… it never suited my lifestyle and to mention the stress and pressure it has caused me , along with binge eating….Now i can relax, eat the same foods as i was eating without the pressure and forget about counting hours ect… So relieved i found your website,Thanks again Nia, you have saved me!!! :)

  • Amanda

    I’ve been battling minor eating disordered thoughts for some time now. I am 22 years old, 5 feet tall. About 18 months ago (125 lbs), I decided that I wanted to drop down to 115 lbs, reasonable right? so I worked toward that goal by decreasing my calorie intake to 1200 calories a day, engaging in aerobics and weight training everyday, increasing protein, watching saturated and trans fat, and learning a great deal of information on nutrition that was reliable. I became somewhat obsessed. As i reached my goal, I became more determined. I am between 100-105 lbs. My doctor said I look healthy and that i look like where i should be, and i agree. I love the way I look right now, yet I’m terrified of gaining the weight back. Even though I follow the 80/20 rule between my icecream and whole foods, I find my self so totally obsessive about what i’m eating to stay healthy. I think about my diet every second of every single day. My meals are planned out and are strictly followed. If i didnt plan for a cookie that day, there is NO WAY i can eat it without feeling the guilt. Ive lost sleep, friends, and precious time. I need help. I don’t want a therapist. And your blog and articles have kept me coming back for more and is keeping me motivated to help myself. If your reading this, what other advice can you give me personally, in my specific situation? Your such an inspiration and I want to be able to live my days without stressing about food, like i used to before i lost the weight.

  • AJ

    I come from a background of years and years of dieting, starving, excessive cardio, and food anxiety. I’ve damaged my metabolism, my thyroid is slow, and I can’t drop body fat for the life of me. (I’m not overweight, I just have to eat very little or I’ll put on fat). Building muscle is hard. I know I need to eat more. I’m just insanely anxious about my weight/fat going up before it comes back down. I lift weights several days a week, do bodyweight exercises and lots of walking (3 miles 5 days a week). I’m tired and my sleep is poor. What advice can you provide? Did your weight go up before it went down when you finally started eating to fuel your workouts and to drop obsessive food behavior? I’m starting Crossfit in a week to get some structure to my workouts. I honestly don’t know how much to eat. I’m following Primal Blueprint.

  • Jessica

    Awesome article Nia…I’ve already implemented your suggestions and I feel WAY better! Thanks for taking the time to help others :)

  • Luzmin Fernandez

    Carrying muscle is actually very healthy for us women. Thank you Nia for this message. We need to get women off this idea that being skinny is healthy, being strong is healthy. And yes, love the pups in the videos!