When I think of Matt Tullman, a partner at No Meat Athlete and the co-founder of Complement, “unhealthy” is not the word that comes to mind.
The dude drinks an entire Vitamix of smoothie every morning, and literally does a kettlebell workout during many of our phone calls.
And he has a “30×30” goal — for 30% of the population to be plant-based by 2030, which means health shapes everything he does, both personally and professionally.
This is the Matt Tullman I’ve gotten to know over the past several years, so when he recently shared that not that long ago, he was 30 pounds heavier and functioning primarily on coffee and junk food, I could hardly believe it.
But it’s true.
It wasn’t until something big happened — a loss of a family member — that he began to take a good hard look at his diet and his health (inside and out), and found that he needed to make a change.
This isn’t a story of radical transformation or dropping 100 pounds in 50 days. The internet has plenty of those, and oftentimes, they’re unrelatable.
Instead, this is a story of how eating whole plants can not just help you lose weight, but shift your entire physical health, way of thinking about food, and lifestyle.
‘I’m Healthy-ish, Right?’ An All-Too-Common Story
As Matt puts it, he never really thought of himself as unhealthy.
As I barreled through my 20’s, I felt ‘healthy’ and was content with my physical appearance. I had no idea that, on the inside, things weren’t going as well as they appeared.
At the time, I was running a start-up that helped K-12 schools transition from textbooks to technology. I spent much of my time going between classrooms and district offices, often taking two flights per day. I ate whatever was in front of me. Or, if there was nothing around, I’d go all day without eating, except for large quantities of caffeinated liquid, of course. I was a slave to our corporate
mission,and never gave a thought to long-term health considerations.
You’re young. You’re invincible. And you’re not that unhealthy, right?
Aside from the whole K-12 start-up, I could have written a similar story. Many of us could. We grow up and go through college on a pretty standard, junk heavy diet. Maybe drink a little too much beer. Maybe drink a little too much coffee.
We might get to the gym for a little weight training from time to time, but that hardly makes up healthy.
Then as we get a little older, the weight starts to build up.
Then… something happens. For Matt, it was pretty dramatic.
I lost a loved-one to malnutrition and Coronary Artery Disease. I was shocked, confused, and determined to understand how this happens to the human body.
‘Stop eating everything. It’s all poison.’
If you know Matt Tullman, you know he doesn’t do things half way or gradually. He’s the kind of guy who commits to a 100-mile bike ride 6 weeks away. After not having been on a bike since high school, buys a bike, signs up, and sets out for a 40-mile training ride.
(That’s a true story, it just happened.)
When he started doing research and began to fully understand the link between food and health, his all-or-nothing instincts began to kick in.
I was determined to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. I remember calling my girlfriend (now wife), Adriana, and saying, ‘Stop eating everything. It’s all poison. I’m pretty sure organic lettuce is fine. I need to do a little more research. I’ll get back to you.’
I was joking, of course, but the alarm was real and our approach was radical. Overnight, we became ‘vegan.’
I immediately felt a boost of energy. My need for copious levels of caffeine subsided. It was like the difference of how you feel after a thanksgiving dinner of turkey compared to a bowl of quinoa and spinach. I could recognize that my body wasn’t exerting so much energy trying to digest the food I ate.
But while I started to feel better, I also recognized that we had work to do in order to attain the goal of ‘whole food plant-based.’ We were vegan, in the sense that we ate everything except for animal products.
But that included sugary processed food, refined carbohydrates, and lots of oil.
And while he was seeing results, he knew that to get to where he wanted to be, it would require a bit more than simply not eating animal products.
With Whole Foods, the Pounds Fell Off
Like many new vegans — especially in the age of plant-based meats and cheeses — the transition to veganism often includes foods most people would call “indulgent” to say the least.
Vegan mac and cheese, Beyond Burgers, pizza…
That’s not to say you should always avoid these foods — there’s a time and place for these tasty treats — but even if they’re vegan, these processed foods are a far cry from whole fruits and veggies.
So Matt and his wife sat down to come up with a plan.
We established a goal — 50% of our meals would be whole-food plant-based (WFPB). That’s when the real magic began. My energy levels further increased; I started to feel better overall; and I started to lose weight, despite not increasing my level of exercise.
So we increased it to 75% — 3 out of every 4 meals would be WFPB, and the results continued to improve — for both my wife and me.
What’s more is how my relationship with food began to change. When I saw candy (my favorites were Swedish fish, sour patch kids, or anything chocolate), I didn’t have the same desire. In fact, over time, they lost all appeal.
Instead, what would excite me was the colors of fresh fruit and vegetables. My friends made fun of me more than once. When a salad would be delivered to the table, I would rave about the vibrant golden beets, yellow tomatoes, purple cabbage, or red onion – knowing that’s where the antioxidants come from… I’m sure my friends assumed that I was on some sort of powerful antidepressant or something. (I was not. I just got really excited about great food!)
By this time, I had lost about 30 pounds, and my wife did so as well. (Adriana also cured her hypothyroidism during this time, by the way.)
When results are good, it’s easy to want to keep going. So they did.
90% whole-food plant-based, 95%, all the way up to nearly 100% whole foods, and eventually even giving raw-vegan a shot.
But then… the honeymoon phase wore off.
Sticking to a 100% WFPB diet became something of a chore. Eating out with friends was hard enough as a vegan. Finding no-oil or no processed carbohydrates at a typical restaurant was an extra layer of difficulty (unless, of course, you’re willing to eat a salad without dressing every time you go out with friends.)
Clearly, a compromise had to be made.
Finding a Balance that Worked
They settled on 80% whole-food plant-based, a sweet spot where the vast majority of calories come from whole plant foods, but it still leaves a little room for indulgent meals, or cooking with oil or refined carbs.
The best part? It feels 100% manageable for the long haul, and they’ve never felt better.
We’ve maintained this diet for over 5 years. Adriana is now on to her second pregnancy and hasn’t shown any sign of hypothyroidism. We get regular blood tests and always impress the doctor with our cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (My son is also a chubby baby, so if that’s any indication of her health as a nursing mother, we’re good!)
Most importantly, this feels like an eminently sustainable way to eat, and the weight-loss and energy-increase seem to be permanent.”
Lead by Example, How Matt’s Family Also Saw Results
After seeing the results from Matt and his wife — and maybe after a little push from Matt himself — his whole family started focusing on nutrition.
While not fully vegan, his parents aim for around 50% WFPB as well, and the results are impressive.
My dad, who suffered his first heart attack at 48 years old, has lost 25 pounds and has a blood cholesterol level of 109 mg/dL (he still takes a
cholesterol loweringmedication, but they’re looking to reduce that, given his cholesterol has been cut in half!) My mom also lost 20 pounds and has been able to stop her cholesterol and blood pressure medications. Even my sister, who is a Type 1 Diabetic, lost some weight and saw an improvement in her A1C (a measure of blood-glucoselevels over time).
When you look at the family together, they’ve collectively lost over 100 pounds, improved or reversed diseases, and are thriving on new energy levels.
And they’re doing it without crazy physical training, counting calories, or eliminating their family foods.
All we did was focus on getting nutrient-dense, whole plants. For my wife and
I, the goal is 80% WFPB. For my family, it’s a little less. But the results have all been the same: real improvements in our health, on the inside and out.
Find Your Sweet Spot
No two people are alike. We all have different metabolisms, goals, desires, and cravings.
That’s why no single diet can or should look exactly the same.
But if you focus primarily on the good stuff — whole, unprocessed plant foods — it provides a base for everything else. And from there, you can tweak your diet, exercise, and lifestyle to find the right balance — or the sweet spot — that works for you and your needs.
That’s the premise behind a brand new program the No Meat Athlete team (plus several others, including a former Olympian) developed called 80/20 Plants. Work towards an 80% whole-food plant-based diet, and tweak the other 20% to fit your lifestyle.
Right now we’ve opened up the program just to the No Meat Athlete community. Click here to learn more.
But regardless of whether or not 80/20 Plants sounds good to you, we encourage you to experiment and find your own sweet spot between whole-plant foods and your indulgences.
Because that could be the ticket for you and your family to live a long, healthy life.