Chef AJ and Calorie Density: The Secret to Losing Weight?


A few weeks ago I published an interview with my wife, Erin, about her recent success losing 18 pounds in just a few months, with the help of Chef AJ’s weight loss program. That episode was the most downloaded release in No Meat Athlete Radio history, and the feedback and questions about the program have come in ever since.

So to help answer those questions, and dive deeper into the philosophies behind AJ’s approach to healthy weight loss, I asked Chef AJ herself to join me for an interview.

During this episode you hear Chef AJ’s fiery, funny, former-standup-comic personality as we discuss what it means to eat “left of the red line,” why eliminating oil isn’t the extreme step most people think, and the powerful concept of calorie density.

Here’s what we talk about in this episode:

  • What calorie density is, and why it’s so important for weight loss (or gain)
  • AJ’s healthy trick for helping Hollywood actors lose 10 pounds in a single month
  • How to eat more but weigh less
  • What AJ means when she says to “eat to the left of the red line”
  • Adapting your taste buds to enjoy less oil, salt, and sugar

Click the button below to listen now:


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  1. I never listen to these. I come here to read. I hope the new iteration of this site involves actual text. Have you ever polled your readers to see if they’re interested in these audio files? Maybe people listen to them because there’s no text version to accompany them and are forced to listen in order to glean the necessary info. Perhaps if these were instead videos with editing, succinct points and compelling imagery I’d feel engaged. But just listening to people talk is of little interest to me. And probably to many others. It’s hard to interact with audio files in a meaningful way in terms of comments and dialogue as well. It’s a one-way relationship.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the feedback. Believe it or not, we get more downloads of each new podcast episode than we do views of a new blog post. The podcast has been incredibly popular and is only going to grow as part of the brand as audio becomes a more popular medium everywhere.

      But you’re certainly not the only one who feels this way — lots of people have requested that we include a transcript with each one, and I’m trying to figure out a way to make that work financially. I also lose sleep over the best way to segment our email list between people who want to always hear about new podcast episodes, sometimes hear about new episodes, or never hear about new episodes. I’m hoping that with the new site the setup will be somewhat better for this, but I can’t say for sure yet.

      • A lot of people who work from home offer transcription services, I don’t do that, but if you need a recommendation of someone who is good, send me an email message. Transcripts of the show can also help SEO. I prefer to listen myself 🙂 but just going off the guys answer above and the fact that I know people who do this for work.

      • For what it’s worth, I enjoy the podcasts and like that you announce them on the blog. I need a lot of stuff to listen to on my long runs. To each his/her own…!

      • I work at a desk and can usually listen and work at the same time, so I love the podcasts! 🙂 Plus, it keeps me focused on being healthy throughout the day, especially on days that drag ha.

      • Although this comment is a few years old, the issue is not. I have always preferred reading to talking heads.
        Even if I like the heads.
        Even if I stop and reread parts.
        It is still faster.
        And, for me (and as we now know, others), better.

    • I’d rather read.
      If you want to record, please provide the transcript.

  2. Thanks for a great interview, Matt. I guess it’s not a “secret” anymore!!! 🙂

  3. I have to agree it’s an addiction. I am vegan but I have had a hard time giving up processed food.

    • That’s because processed foods are designed to BE addictive as Sugar, Fat and Salt are all 2 addictive and that’s what processed food is. In my book UNPROCESSED I call them the Evil Trinity. Salt, Sugar and Fat and The End of Overeating also talk about how addictive these foods are.

  4. Listened to this this morning on my run! Really interesting and engaging. I wanted to ask either of you–if you have time to respond–I’m sure the comments will start rolling in soon–about kids. It is hard to get kid-specific nutrition info. I am actually a health coach myself helping people adopt a plant-based lifestyle, but I still get confused with kids’ nutrition. All of these podcasts/articles/etc focus on adults (which is obviously most people). The only info from pediatricians (even ones that don’t mind that my kiddo who is 2.5 is vegetarian) is super standard and I tend not to think super highly of doctors diet recommendations because of their lack of nutrition education usually. And they still ask me about protein and calcium and want to make sure he’s getting enough. The main thing I wonder about is fat for kids. I’m always wondering if kids should be getting a little more fat that I do. I’ve heard that it’s important for brain development. I tend to let my little guy have more nuts/nut butters and more oil than myself, but am never really sure if its enough or if it is too much. Any thoughts would be super helpful on that front! Thanks in advance!

    • Dr, Matt Lederman (who has 2 pound kids under the age of 3) talks about this in the newest Forks Over Knives book and in this podcast I did with him:

      Of course kids can have more fat as can anyone who is not overweight who wishes to lose weight. But please realize that there is fat in everything, even in fruit and greens. Oatmeal is nearly 20% fat. How many people do you know that have actually suffered from a fat deficiency? We have the opposite problem in this country. All of the respected plant based doctors ( like Esselstyn, Campbell, Barnard, Fuhrman, Ornish, Popper, Klaper, Goldhamer etc.) recommend that we get our fats from WHOLE FOOD sources like raw, unsalted nuts and seeds (or their nut and seed butters) and avocado. A mere tablespoon of ground flax and chia a day is enough to meet your fatty acid requirement. There is a well know plant based pediatrician here in Los Angeles named Dr. Jay Gordon ( Here is an interview with him:

      All of the doctors I mentioned have raised their children on a low fat, whole food, oil free plant based diet so it can be done easily, healthfully and deliciously!!!

      Love & Kale,
      Chef AJ

      • Thanks so much for the response (and so fast too!) I will definitely check out the podcast and video you linked to! Appreciate it and really enjoyed hearing from you on the podcast!

      • Excellent response (except for the “2 pound kids” typo LOL) and terrific sources that you mentioned. Dr. Campbell’s new book “Whole” is another great resource and Rich Roll’s new book The PlantPowered Way. Rich ties in plant based eating for family, with kids of all ages, really, really well.

  5. Sandra, Italy says:

    Great questions, Jen! You’re right, finding info for plantbased kids is harder. Thanks for the feedback Chef AJ, will be checking it out too! Oh, I know Dr Fuhrman has written “Disease-proof Your Child”. I haven’t read it yet but, having read “Eat To Live”, I’m willing to bet it’s an investment with lots of food for thought (ha!).

  6. Cathy Stewart says:

    Any one who would like a nice colorful graphic of the calorie density concept to stick on their fridge can find one here courtesy of dietician Jeff Novick:


  7. Jill Rohlfs says:

    I’ve been listening to your podcast for quite some time and every time you brought up the concept of caloric density, I wanted you to expand on it – so thank you for doing that! I’ve already listened to this podcast three times and I have to say that it makes more and more sense to me every time I listen to it.

    I’m studying to be a registered dietitian and I thoroughly enjoy when your podcasts are so informational and focused on nutrition. Especially concepts like this one that are so sound and logical.

    Thanks again! Keep it up.

  8. This was great – definitely ‘food for thought’!

    We seem to know so little about food.

    Thank you for the info and your insights, Chef AJ! Good interview, as usual Matt.

  9. I loved this podcast and found it very helpful. I am one of those people who run regularly, count calories, stay within my goal, increase intensity when it gets too easy and don’t lose weight. It has caused a lot of frustration and many instances of giving up because whether I eat healthy and exercise or sit on the couch all week and don’t exercise and eat poorly I always weigh the same. I know it is about health and how you feel, and I do feel better when I eat healthy and exercise, but as mentioned in this podcast, it is challenging to be an overweight woman in this culture and not being able to get the weight off has caused a great deal of stress. I am ready to take chef AJs advice and give oil free a try for 30 days. However, what was mentioned over and over again is not needing oil to Saute, yet it was never mentioned how. So, with risk of sounding silly here, could you give some advice on how to saute and (my favorite this time of year) grill veggies without oil? Thanks.

  10. My reaction when I got the email for this podcast was “Yessssssss!!!”
    Erin’s podcast about her experience with Chef AJ’s program really inspired me and I’ve been eating veggies for brekky for the past 2 weeks. Thanks for having AJ on to talk some more about it 🙂

  11. I listened to the podcast with Erin and then this one with Chef AJ. Erin mentioned that she roasted her cruciferous veggies to eat for breakfast every morning. I’ve started doing that and I guess am just wondering if I’m doing it right. I’m not actually weighing how much I’m eating. I just fill a cookie sheet with a variety of cruc. veggies, season them with something that doesn’t have salt (experimenting with different seasonings) and put them in the oven for 10-20 min.
    I had never thought of it before, but on my last trip, I had bought a bag of those mixed leafy greens and didn’t finish them and decided to bring them home with me on the plane. That ended up being my snack!
    Thanks for all of the nutritional info!

    • Here is my favorite way to roast veggies. I’ve done this with broccoli, cauliflower, turnips and butternut squash. The recipe comes from my very own plant based physician, ENJOY!!!


      Tastes just like candy. You will want to eat the entire 2 pounds all by yourself!
      Preheat oven to 450F.
      Trim the ends off of 2 pounds of Brussels sprouts and cut in half or fourths (depending on how big they are).
      Place in a large bowl and add 1/4 cup of your favorite low sodium Dijon mustard or salt free Stone ground mustard and 1/4 cup of your favorite Balsamic vinegar. Mix well until the veggies are completely coated. Bake on a piece of parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mat for at least 30 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. If your Brussels sprouts are quite large or you prefer them crispier or more blackened, roast up to 30 minutes longer until they are done the way you like them. Make sure you stir them around every 10-15 minutes.
      Chef’a Note: A 4% acidity vinegar like Napa Valley Naturals is preferred.

  12. Great show. She was very informative, interesting, and inspirational. Matt, jump in more with questions. I know it was tough since she was quick, but I wanted to hear you prod her in different directions. The show has never been better!

  13. Hey Matt! I was really excited to listen to this podcast as well as the one with your wife; I haven’t actually listened to any podcasts in the past, but I’m a long time reader. I feel like in a lot of ways, we’ve gone in different directions over the years – I’ve started eating meat here & there again and I run less, you started doing ultras and went vegan and now even oil-free, but I’ve still enjoyed the blog and feel like it is still relevant to me in a lot of ways.

    Anyways, while I am interested in the idea of oil-free (never really considered before that oil was a processed food), there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way about this interview. First off, I really wish that there was more about how many calories one ends up eating per day on a calorie-density aware plant based diet. I know the point is that you DON’T need to calorie count, but I also feel like there’s the potential to get too few calories. Without any animal products and even vegan fats like nuts/seeds/avocado or oil, it seems like it would be hard to get ENOUGH calories, and definitely hard to get enough fat.

    This is another thing – fats are GOOD for you, and you need them to keep healthy hair, skin, a healthy brain, etc. I know that there are fats in all foods (veggies & fruits too), but it seemed to me without high fat foods sometimes that one would have trouble getting enough. I guess I am not convinced that nuts/seeds/avocado/coconut are unhealthy parts of a plant-based diet.

    There was also a lot of talk about what would/wouldn’t have been available to our ancestors (like oil), but no acknowledgement of the fact that they would’ve been hunter/gatherers who WOULD eat animals when available. I guess the thing that bothered me about this was the picky-choosey/ness of it. If the argument is to eat like our ancestors/eat unprocessed, then go paleo. If the argument is to eat vegan, then we should acknowledge that this a fairly modern idea (in the scope of human history).

    Lastly, and maybe this is unfair, but I was kind of bothered by Chef AJ’s story about cutting oil out of her diet without telling her (already thin) husband. She said that 7 months later, he had lost 20 pounds and thought he was sick until he learned that he had just (unknowingly) gone oil free. I’m sure by adding (arguably better) sources of fat back to his diet that he has gained some weight back, but this to me wasn’t a convincing argument for oil-free (as I think it was meant). It just seemed unethical to cut fat out of someone’s diet to the point that they were underweight.

    Anyways, I might try the oil-free thing, but while I liked Chef AJ’s super fun personality and admire her personal drive to lose weight and help others, I didn’t think the reasons for oil-free presented in this podcast were the most convincing. In general though, both of you, keep up the good work.

  14. Loved this podcast! funny how when I gave up smothering everything in Earth Balance and stopped shoveling in handfuls of almonds every day, I lost weight.

  15. Caloric density sounds really logical, but I”m still confused about how it works. Everyone says air-popped popcorn is a good food to eat for weight loss, it’s low in calories (per cup) and has fiber so fills you up (satiety). However the caloric density of air-popped popcorn is 1757 per pound! Almost as much as sugar. My mind can’t make that leap. How can 31 calories per cup become 1757 calories per pound? And thus eating popcorn is almost as bad as sugar for weigh loss and nutrition? Could you pls help clarify?

    • Popcorn is a bit different because of all the air- the air gives it more volume but it’s actually “vanishing satiety”, once you chew it. So yes it would fill a cup, but it doesn’t weigh much, because a lot of that volume is air, which doesn’t fill you either.


  1. […] I’m going to try a new method of eating: caloric density. […]

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