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How a Cheap, $13 Dry-Erase Board Helps Me Eat Better and Exercise Consistently — Every Single Week

Learn how to stay consistent in the gym (and in the kitchen) with “front-loading”—a simple way to plan your week and stick to your healthy habits.

Nate - Board

At the top of my stairs, right before the entrance to my living room, hangs a 17 x 23 dry-erase board that basically runs my day-to-day life.

Or at least, it tells me what I’m eating, when I’m exercising, and what commitments I’ll need to work around to make sure the eating and exercising actually happens.

Much like how my notecard system helps me stay productive with my work, and how Nuclear Mode ensures that I won’t get sucked into the black hole of the internet, the dry-erase board helps me stick to what’s good for me—exercising and eating good food consistently—while significantly reducing the need for me to use ongoing self-discipline.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t think we need MORE self-discipline. Instead, I think it’s better to find ways to reduce or even eliminate the need to have ongoing self-discipline in order to accomplish our goals.

Another strategy I like to use to get important things done with less effort is called “front-loading.”

Front-loading means concentrating more effort at the beginning of an activity or process so that you need less effort (or self-discipline) to maintain momentum.

Savvy investors use front-loading to retire early. Podcasters use it to record an entire month’s worth of episodes in a day or two. And we can use it to make sure we exercise and eat well throughout the week.

How To Use Front-Loading To Eat Healthier and Work Out More Consistently

Before I get into what’s on my dry-erase board, it’s important to say that what’s written on the board should be seen more as a guide than as an unalterable plan.

In other words, even though it may look rigid, I’m not a slave to the schedule.

After all, life is complicated. Things come up, shit breaks, and plans change. That’s why it’s important to learn how to be flexible with your approach.

So instead of thinking of your dry-erase board as an unbreakable commitment, I like to think of it more as an outline.

If you’re a writer, an outline helps you stay on track and ensures you actually say what you initially intended to say. But an outline is also flexible enough to be changed and updated as you continue to work.

Gay Talese outline
Author Gay Talese’s outline for one of my favorite stories, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.

It’s the same thing with the dry-erase board.

We front-load our effort and self-discipline by sitting down, thinking about our upcoming week, and sketching out a loose outline of when we’ll work out and what we’ll eat.

This reduces the need to use ongoing self-discipline or motivation throughout the week, since it eliminates decision-fatigue.

In other words, there are far fewer instances of “What should I eat today?” or “When will I work out?”

We simply create the outline,  follow it as best we can, and update it based on what happens during our week.

When I Sit Down To Write My Board

I outline my week on Sunday, since in our house, Sunday is a day of recuperation, cleaning, chilling out, and planning for the upcoming week.

A typical Sunday may look like this:

  • Sleep in
  • Morning ritual (coffee on the couch, meditate, move for 20 minutes)
  • Make breakfast
  • Clean the house and wash the sheets while listening to a podcast or music (we have a small house, so this only takes an hour or so)
  • Write down my Most Important Work Tasks for the upcoming week (which takes about 30 minutes using my notecard system)
  • Write the outline for when I’ll exercise and what I’ll eat for the upcoming week (which takes about an hour using my dry-erase board)
  • Go grocery shopping
  • Prepare some of the food I’ll need later in the week, using PN’s Sunday Ritual technique.
  • Make dinner
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a game (Settlers of Catan, Farkle, Jenga) or watch Netflix
  • Take a bath and read before bed

A Detailed Breakdown of What’s On My Board (For Nerdy People Who Care About Such Things)

Up Close

My board is 7 rows down and 5 columns across. Each row corresponds with a different day of the week, and the columns are divided into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Move, and Other.

Below I’ll break down what’s on the board with some notes to help clarify what’s going on.

But remember: I treat this board as an outline.

I don’t follow it exactly and I’m not a slave to it. Instead, front-loading in this way helps me determine what I want to do, when I want to do it, and what I need in order to make that happen.

Sunday

Breakfast: C- Shake N- Sardines

“C stands for “Chelle” with is a nickname for Richelle, my girlfriend. “N” stands for Nate.

Richelle usually has a protein shake every morning that includes:

  • half a frozen banana
  • small handful of frozen mixed berries
  • 1 scoop of vanilla plant-based protein
  • 1 scoop of greens powder
  • 1 tsp of peanut butter
  • water

I tend to follow a carb-cycling approach, which means I eat less carbs on some days and more carbs on other days.

Some weeks I fast and don’t eat anything till lunch. For this week I had a breakfast of sardines straight out of the can with a tablespoon of coconut oil eaten separately.

Lunch: Eggs and salad

The eggs are usually scrambled with butter or ghee. Or they’re hardboiled. The salad is usually broccoli slaw with chopped mixed nuts and a olive oil and red-wine vinegar dressing.

Dinner: Chicken skewer

Chicken, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, and apple cooked on the grill or baked in the oven.

Move: 20m stretch and move

This year I made a plan to do 20 minutes of movement in the morning. Sometimes I follow this at-home workout program. And other times I just do random stretches and movements.

Other: Movie @2:30

I love matinees. I always eat popcorn and usually sneak in a beer.

Monday

Breakfast: C- Shake N- Sardines

Lunch: Eggs and salad

Dinner: Smoky black bean and kale with butternut squash and goat cheese

I’ve been experimenting with more plant-based meals. I still eat meat (as you can see) but I’m enjoying expanding my idea of what constitutes “a good meal.” Recipe here.

Move: 20m stretch and move

Tuesday

Breakfast: C- Shake N- Shake

This is a high carb day for me, so I have a shake, too.

Lunch: Eggs and oatmeal

Since it’s a high carb day I trade out my salad for oatmeal:

  • 1 1/2 cups of water (brought to a boil)
  • 3/4 cup of oats (added after water is boiling)
  • Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Add blueberries, chopped nuts, and a small amount of honey

Dinner: Chili

I like this recipe from The Kitchn.

Move: Gym

Rings

Some weeks I go to the gym up to three times per week. Other weeks I maybe go once. My workouts usually consist 3-5 exercises (lunges, pull-ups, rows, squats, deadlifts, presses, kettlebell swings, etc.) interspersed with stretches and mobility movements.

Wednesday

Breakfast: C- Shake N- Sardines

Lunch: Chili

Leftovers.

Dinner: 5 On Black

A small healthy fast-foodish kind of place. Cheap and delicious.

Move: 20m stretch and move

Other: 

N- Sauna AM

A couple times per month I go to the local YMCA to hit the sauna with Joshua from The Minimalists. Our routine looks like this:

  • 30 minutes in the dry sauna
  • 3 minutes in a cold shower
  • Repeat 2-3 times

N- Essay class PM

This the first formal class I’ve taken since I left high-school and I love it. (Why is this the first formal class I’ve taken? Well, I didn’t go to college.)

C- GUTS

Once per week Richelle volunteers with GUTS (Girls Using Their Strengths).

Thursday

Breakfast: C- Shake N- Shake

Lunch: Eggs and oatmeal

Dinner: Chicken and rice soup

I make chicken soup like this and simply add 2-3 cups of cooked rice at the end. You know, for the carbs.

Move: Gym

Friday

Breakfast: C- Shake, N- Sardines

Lunch: Chicken and rice soup

Leftovers again.

Dinner: ?

Again, my dry-erase board is more of an outline than a plan I must rigidly stick to. So this week we decided to figure out Friday’s dinner on Friday. (We ended up going out to eat.)

Move: 20m stretch and move

Other:

C- Animal Wonders

Once per week, Richelle volunteers at Animal Wonders, which I’m pretty sure she loves more than she loves me.

Saturday

Breakfast: C- Shake, N- Shake

Lunch: Sweet potatoes with turkey sausage

I roast the sweet potatoes like this, and cook the turkey sausage in a cast-iron pan.

Dinner: Josh and Becca’s

We went to our friends’ place for Ethiopian and cider.

Move: Gym

My workouts on Saturdays are way less structured. I like to think of the gym as a playground for adults, so often I just go in and do whatever sounds like fun. (This is helpful when you have access to a gym like MUST.)

This week I loaded a sled with a couple of 45-pound plates and pulled it and pushed it for about an hour. You know, for fun.

Nate Green, MUST
Mike, Kyle (RIP), Jason, Taylor, and Nate at MUST circa 2014.

A Couple More Notes And Patterns

If you’ve been following along, you probably noticed two things:

1. I eat the same few meals over and over.

This cuts down on decision fatigue and makes it easier to plan my meals. I’m not the first person to have noticed this is a good idea.

2. I make extra for dinner to eat for lunch the next day.

I mainly do this with chilis and soups, since it takes nearly as much time to make a double batch as it does to make a single. Also, I’ve found that they usually taste better after a day or two in the fridge.

Your Turn: Outline Your Week and Free Up Some Mental Space

The dry-erase board is a cheap tool that helps me stick to what’s good for me—exercising and eating good food consistently—while significantly reducing the need for me to use ongoing self-discipline.

I simply follow my outline and adjust accordingly, based on what happens in my day (or week).

But the tool doesn’t matter so much as the practice. In other words, you can outline your week on a sheet of paper, on your Google calendar, or anything else. I simply like the dry-erase board since it hangs on my wall and I see it multiple times per day.

The important thing is to take some time to practice front-loading.

By taking an hour on Sunday to sketch a rough outline of when you’re going to exercise, what you’re going to eat, and what commitments you have to plan around, you’re making it easier for Future You to follow through and take care of business.

In other words, when you front-load your self discipline, you reduce the need to have ongoing self discipline. The outline is right there, waiting for you to follow it.

And that means you can move through life a little more easily—while still getting important shit done.