The Minimalist Plan for Better Health

Raise your hand if you've ever tried a fad diet?  A liquid diet?  A super-crazy complicated diet that required books, courses, meal cards, and purchasing food at specialty stores?

I've been there.

I've had short-term success with some of these plans, and a lot more failure.

I don't have a minimalist body.  I have the body of a person who has struggled with excess weight for her entire adult life.  I have a lot of excess weight, but even if you only have a little bit, you might be able to relate.

Why do we make it so complex?

author Karen and her beautiful daughter
Why do we go to such extremes to control our weight?  Maybe it's because our bodies feel extreme.  I know what it's like to look at a picture of myself and feel even fatter than I already know I am.

Our culture's ideas about beauty are also extreme.  Flawless, unwrinkled skin, long, thick hair, and above all, thinness – the criteria for attractiveness are demanding and ever-changing.

Maybe you're horrified by a little extra around the chin or a bit of extra arm wiggle.  That shocked response pushes you toward a deprivation diet or extreme workouts.

What does healthy eating look like?

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains
  • lean meats and fish
  • low-fat dairy
  • very few sweets or highly processed foods

fresh apple
It's not that hard to figure out, but we let laziness and bad habits make it hard.  Laziness causes us to eat a lot of processed foods, and bad habits cause us to binge on sweets, salty foods, or fat.  (I've never heard of anyone binging on apples or grilled fish.)

And what does healthy exercise look like?  What did thousands of generations of our ancestors do to "keep in shape"?

  • lots of walking
  • occasional sprints
  • bending and stretching
  • carrying things from one place to another
  • dancing

So you don't need gym equipment or a personal trainer, you just need to stop driving everywhere and do some actual work.  Get outside and walk, ride a bike, climb stairs, run around with your dog or your grandkids, carry your child or your groceries, use a vacuum cleaner and a mop, do your own yardwork, wash the car.

So what's the problem?

urban traffic
As overweight and obesity become more prevalent around the world, they start to look normal.  I'll admit that I appreciate being able to find clothes that fit with more ease than I could 20 years ago.  But maybe that's not such a good thing.

Humans are very adaptable.  This is both beneficial and harmful.  When you consider the typical lifestyles of a modern developed nation, you see urbanization, car dependence, a prevalence of fast food and processed snack foods over healthy home-prepared meals, tons of screen time, and other factors that contribute to the problem.  This is nothing like the way humans have lived for countless generations, but we have adapted to it in a relatively short time span (basically since my parents were born).

This "new normal" is just as destructive to an optimal life as the "normal" consumerist lifestyle that minimalists are hoping to leave behind.

Here's what we need to decide.

What do you want for your body and your health?

If I say I want to be healthy, but I have a caramel latte every afternoon, or dessert after dinner every night, and then feel guilty every morning, I'm just hurting myself.

It's the same thing if you go to the gym or to a Zumba class (like I used to go to Jazzercise back in the 1980s) with the idea that you can treat yourself to a large smoothie afterwards (with more sugar than a candy bar).  I bet a walk through the park followed by a glass of lowfat milk and a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter will make you healthier.  And it's a lot more pleasant than an hour on the elliptical followed by some raw kale.

Your health, your diet, and your fitness don't need to be complicated.  A minimalist body – just sticking with these basics which we all know – is within reach of anyone.  I have to believe that.

Renee at The Fun Sized Life recommends imagining your end goal.  She writes:

Imagine what you want your life to have been like
when you've reached the end of it.
Now, slowly begin getting rid of anything
that isn't going to help you achieve that life.

fresh mandarin orange
This applies to clutter, busyness, and everything else, including diet, fitness, and health.  Do I want to eventually be diabetic and unable to walk around the block?  No way.  So I'm slowly getting rid of added sugars, processed foods, and high-calorie drinks.  I'm nixing the drive-thru.  I'll keep trying to keep up with my active grandsons.

It could be that simple.


  1. A major problem is that many Americans are lazy and don't want to do stairs. For example, when building our new house four years ago, I had to argue with two sets of architects since I wanted my laundry room in the basement solely for exercise purposes. I prevailed, and I love having the laundry room in the basement as I do a LOT of laundry and the stairs are helpful in keeping me fit.

    1. Funny that you had to argue with architects YOU hired. I have a bad knee and a bad back, so stairs are hard for me. I use them if I only have to go up or down one flight. Thanks for the comment, Rachael!

  2. Very thoughtful and wise. Thank you for your practical, hopeful writing -- I really love your approach to living!

    1. Thank you, Bette! Just be aware that sometimes I'm "preaching" to myself!

  3. Hi Karen. I'm a mid-60's woman whose weight creeped up and up, till in 2020 at my annual physical my weigh-in put me at the number I was when 8 1/2 mo. pregnant with my last child. That did it for me. I simply removed 90% of the 'white food' from my diet- bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, crackers, salty snacks, which are my weakness. It was not easy- but WOW, was it effective. I dumped 27lbs., and can keep it off. Was able to 'maintain' because i allowed myself certain 'deal-breakers'- half and half in my coffee, whole grain sourdough toast@ breakfast ONLY, red meat, nuts, an occasional bite of dark chocolate, a little vodka and wine. It's the carbs that keep you 'fat'. Not saying it was easy- but it works SO fast, you see result fast. I do a first thing in AM weigh-in, and adjust my diet over days to push my number down as needed. No special food, no tracking. Just, at every meal, even@a restaurant, i ask myself "what's NOT a carb?" That's what I eat. 2nd nature now, and easy.

    1. Hi! I've heard of the "no white" food plan, but never knew anyone who kept it up long term. I like that you include some "deal breakers" which make it more sustainable for you. I'm sure that has contributed to your success. Congratulations!

  4. I have an acquaintance who is a professional singer who lost 100 pounds. I met her at Structure House which is a residential facility that has a psychological component to weight loss. I also lost a lot of weight but she kept hers off better than I did.

    1. Wow - 100 pounds! What an accomplishment, especially since she's been able to keep it off. I think that any sustainable weight loss plan must include an emotional/psychological component, don't you? Congratulations on your own weight loss, and don't lose hope!

  5. I lost 61 pounds with Intermittent Fasting during Covid lockdown. My motivation was to stay off a statin drug. I ate pasta, noodles, pancakes, crackers, etc. but only within the noon to 8 pm time . It was coupled with a half hour daily walk. My protein was salmon, sardines, tuna, or skinless chicken breasts. No salads, but blueberries, apricots, and peaches in addition to cooked veggies. It seemed effortless with camomile and mint teas for treats. So far, I’ve maintained the loss.

    1. That sounds very doable! And a good motivation, to stay off statins. Thank you for your comment.


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