Food and I? We go way back. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love food. Cooking, eating, taking awesome photos—I’m fanatic. But being a food-loving fitness professional isn’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s like I’m living a double life. Like nobody really knows the true Ben.

On one hand, people think that “loving food” means I eat a ton of broccoli, chicken, and sweet potatoes. Because fitness. Meanwhile, other people—the people who’ve actually seen how I eat—assume I just work out so much that it cancels everything out. Again, because fitness.

The truth? Neither is accurate.

Sure, I’ve got broccoli, chicken, and sweet potatoes in my kitchen right now. And yes, I consistently go to the gym. But here’s the thing—I don’t walk some razor’s edge of strict discipline. I don’t eat perfectly. And I don’t live in the gym. I love things like bacon, ice cream, and just about anything salted caramel. I’ll skip workouts just because—actually did exactly that a couple days ago. And guess what. It’s okay. In fact…

I’m not fit in spite of this moderation. I’m fit because of it.

Having the wiggle room to indulge in my love of food has been key in helping me, a former chubster, become a fitness professional. But I have a confession. (Actually, 9 of them.) When I say I indulge, I’m not talking about having a protein cookie after I work out. I’m talking about going full fat kid—that’s at least what I call it.

Deep within, my inner chubster is alive and well. At heart, I’m still a fat kid, always a food lover, but also a fitness professional.

And I’m about to confess some of my biggest full-fat-kid moments. For one, I want people to understand it’s okay to eat. Food is a friend, not an enemy. It’s meant to be enjoyed, not feared. But I also want to help people understand how and why these over-the-top foodfests don’t derail progress.

With that, and without further adieu, I give you:

Nine Confessions of a Food-Loving Fitness Professional

Coming up with this list has been interesting. I’m half embarrassed, half shocked, and half proud. But the important thing is this—I don’t feel guilty. Not even a little bit. Given the chance, I’d do it all again and delight in the the deliciousness that is each thing in this confessional.

Why? Because I’m a food-loving fitness professional. Shamelessly.

1. What Happened in Vegas

On the drive from Utah to visit my parents in California, Las Vegas serves as a great pit stop. I’ve made the drive countless times and usually enjoy stopping and grabbing good food in Vegas before settling in for the home stretch of the 10-hour journey.

One particular trip with my brother and sister-in-law included a restaurant they wanted to show me: Hash House A Go Go

Known for their “twisted farm food” and massive portion sizes—featured on TV’s Man vs Food—Hash House was worthy of giddy excitement from a food lover like myself. Especially after how much my brother talked up their sage fried chicken benedict.

food-loving fitness professional

Which is exactly what we both ordered. Plus a lemonade.

It was easily enough food to leave two people stuffed and three people satisfied. But we finished everything on our plates. The worst (best?) part is that we didn’t even stop there.

On our way back to the car, we stopped for ice cream. I mean, of course we did. There’s always room for ice cream, right?. That trip to Vegas quickly earned a permanent spot in Johnson Family lore.

2. Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog—Wait for It—In An Inverted-Maple-Bar Bun

I can remember the first time I had a bacon-wrapped hot dog. It was at a USC football game. And it was magical. Even though my BYU Cougars lost the contest, the game was a win. Why? Because I realized you could—and should—wrap hot dogs in bacon.

They were stupid delicious and became a staple at family BBQs (even if they might take a week of your life).

It wasn’t until years later that I thought to use a maple bar as the bun. And by turning it inside out, the sweet, mapley goodness could make all kinds of friendly with the salty savor of my bacon-wrapped dog.

Cut the maple bar like a hot dog bun, but fold it around itself so the icing ends up hugging the meat. Let the hot-off-the-grill bacon and dog melt the icing a bit and enjoy the sweet and salty fusion. It should go without saying, but forgo usual condiments with this one.

I must admit that I can’t take full credit for the originality of this idea. While it did come to me in a potentially questionable epiphany, it was inspired by another one of my favorite full-fat-kid foods…

3. The Perfect Marriage of Sweet and Salty

Sweetness and saltiness belong together. I’ve been a fan of their relationship ever since we topped tart backyard apples with a pinch of salt. Ever since the first time I had fried chicken and waffles. And ever since I experienced love at first bite with salted caramel.

It’s a match made in heaven.

And I consider bacon cheeseburgers in a Krispy Kreme bun the perfect marriage of sweet and salty. I know, I know. It sounds weird. That’s what I thought when I saw it on a Food Network special that featured the best baseball park food in America. But I couldn’t not give it a try.

The verdict? Delicious. And simple—all you need are burgers, bacon, sharp cheddar, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Cook the burger, bacon, and sharp cheddar normally. But when it comes to the bun, cut the doughnut like a bagel and lightly toast the inside on the grill.

When you build the burger itself, flip the doughnut so it’s glazed-side in and you hold the toasted side. This does a couple of things. One, you’ll keep your fingers from getting too sticky with the glaze. And two, that glaze melts and marries the saltiness of the bacon cheeseburger. It’s glorious.

Naturally, I made double-bacon cheeseburgers and ate two.

4. Eating All of the Carbs for a Photo Shoot

Photo shoots are interesting adventures. There are all sorts of strange strategies that help you look as lean as possible when stepping in front of the camera. Carbs play an important role in a few of these strategies.

About a week before a shoot, I cut out all carbs except for non-starchy veggies. (If it sounds awful, it pretty much is.) The purpose is to intentionally deplete muscle glycogen, which our bodies get from carbohydrates and store in muscles for energy. After a few days of that combined with depletion-specific workouts, your muscles are starved for glycogen. You need carbs.

Morning of the shoot, you give your body all of the carbs.

The depleted muscles soak them up like a dry sponge and literally swell, making you look bigger—even leaner—on camera. On the morning of one shoot, I played zero games with my carb consumption. My goal was to hit ~400–500 grams of carbs before the afternoon shoot. (For anyone keeping track at home, that’s 2000 calories. Just from carbs.)

I crushed that goal with stacks on stacks of Snicker Pancakes swimming in syrup, half a box of Pop Tarts, and an embarrassing amount of dried mango. All before noon. As for the photos themselves? I think they turned out pretty well.

training emphasis

It’s funny to think I went full-fat-kid before taking that.

5. The Single Greatest Meal Experience of My Life

I have a strange pattern that repeats itself no matter where I live. Somehow, someway I always end up making friends with chefs. One such friend, Dario, was voted Best Chef here in Utah a few years ago.

Naturally, I got excited when he told me about a 10-course meal he puts on once a month. When he told me was exclusive, in his home, and gave me the official invite, my excitement compounded. When he told me he aged the meats in-house (including a 64-day aged ribeye), I was sold—before we even talked price.

Simply put, it was the single greatest meal experience of my life.

Ten courses of giddy excitement from Ben, a food-loving fitness professional. And ten courses of culinary artistry from Dario, a chef with next-level talent and passion for his craft.

Homemade. Homegrown. Holy delicious.

It wasn’t until the end of the meal that he announced I was only the second person to ever finish without needing a to-go box. Basically, I licked every plate clean for 10 courses. And considering courses included reductions of things like bourbon and cabernet sauvignon, can you even blame me?

6. Two Boxes, One Food-Loving Fitness Professional, The Little Caesar, and Captain of Crunch

Breakfast cereal is amazing. But not for breakfast. In fact, I love having cereal just about any time—especially as a midnight snack. Or a quick, easy dessert.

One Saturday afternoon on my way back from the gym, I was in a food mood.

At the time, Little Caesar’s had a pretzel crust pizza. The pretzel dough, salted crust, and cheese-based sauce intrigued me. Considering the magic that is the pretzel bun, I figured it was a must-try. As I made my purchase, I had a feeling I couldn’t ignore…

Alone, the pizza wouldn’t be enough. I needed something more. I needed cereal.

Before diving into my pretzel pizza while watching football at my brother’s place, I made sure to snag some cereal. Then, with enough food to feed a small family, I posted up in his kitchen to enjoy my lunch and the afternoon games.

My brother and his wife watched in mildly disgusted awe as I proceeded to eat the entire box of pizza followed immediately by an entire box of Captain Crunch.

I didn’t know twins was a possibility when it comes to food babies, but it definitely is. Me and the Cap’n made it happen.

7. Gotham Bar and Grill: The Meal I Deserved, But Not the Meal I Needed

Like I said in number four, prepping for a photo shoot is intense. Specific and strict strategies, while effective, aren’t necessarily fun. If you’re like most people, you look forward to finishing. If you’re like me, you go full-fat-kid at Gotham Bar and Grill (one of the best restaurants in New York City). On a whim. As second dinner.

It was amazing food and, considering I met up with an old friend, even better company. Each of us had an unbelievable five courses of delicious flavor and my dessert is the best I’ve ever had.

(As if the passion fruit souffle wasn’t enough, it came with house-made coconut gelato they inserted into the warm souffle when it hit the table. It was unreal.)

The whole meal was unforgettable. But it also came after I had first dinner at 2 Bros. Pizza. #wheninrome

Was I hungry when I got to Gotham Bar and Grill? Not really. But after months of hard dieting, getting too full was a practical impossibility. I didn’t need a second dinner at Gotham. I deserved it.

8. All-You-Can-Eat, Sleep, Repeat

For me, all-you-can-eat tends to be more of a challenge than an invitation. Instead of merely having the freedom to eat as much as I want, it becomes a mission to eat as much as I can. Buffets—always a great decision on the way in and a mildly regrettable one on the way out.

Two buffets in a single day? That’s just tomfoolery. Can confirm: It was a foolish—albeit delicious—adventure.

All-you-can-eat sushi and Brazilian buffets are probably two of my favorite ways to treat myself. Endless delicious flavor? Yes, please. A few years ago, I had both. Like, consecutively in a single day (separated only by a food coma).

Upon treating myself to sushi for lunch, I needed to sleep it off and took a lovely nap. When I woke up, a text from my roommate told me we were going to a Brazilian buffet to celebrate his birthday that night.

I rolled out of bed, laced up my shoes, loosened my belt, and was ready to go. To eat as much churrasco as possible. And to enjoy going full fat kid for the second time that day.

9. Drinking My First Pint (It Won’t Be My Last)

This is a two-in-one confession. Not only does it include what could easily be called overindulgence, but it also involves the first time I drank a pint. And if I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t really drink—I chugged. If that sounds surprising, you know me well. Because I don’t drink. This was actually my first pint. Ever. But it won’t be my last.

Now, I should clarify something before you make too many assumptions. It was a pint of Talenti Gelato—Sea Salt Caramel, my favorite flavor.

By mistake, it had been put in the fridge. I noticed as I was cooking dinner a couple days later. The damage was done and it was completely melted. Sure, I could refreeze it, but then all of the chocolate-covered pieces of salted caramel would be stuck at the bottom. And I’m a man that appreciates even distribution. It’s important.

Considering the freezer wasn’t an option, I took a sip. Because curiosity.

It was like an amazing milkshake. The kind of milkshake that’d even make Kelis jealous. (Like, if my apartment had a yard, all the boys would have been brought to it.)

Minutes later, the pint was gone and I continued making dinner. Because, ya know, a 960 calorie appetizer is perfectly normal for a food-loving fitness professional.

Indulging Doesn’t Have to Derail Your Progress

Going full fat kid doesn’t ruin my fitness progress or get in the way of my goals. And it shouldn’t for you either. In fact, you should enjoy indulging. I’m here to show you how to make sure your indulgences don’t derail your progress—even if they’re like the over-the-top indulgences I’ve listed above.

Trust me, I’m a professional—a food-loving fitness professional.

The fact of the matter is this: You need flexibility in your plan. If you’re following a program that leaves no wiggle room for a night out or a skipped workout, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Consistency and progress matter way more than perfection.

Progress is possible, even probable if you put in the effort. Perfection, on the other hand, is like hunting for unicorns. It may sound cool, but it’s just going to end with frustration and disappointment.

Here’s how to avoid that. How to keep consistent, see results, and how to make sure indulging doesn’t derail your progress:

Shift Your Paradigm

Fitness isn’t all-or-nothing. Adherence is the biggest indicator of long-term success. It’s not a matter of having a perfect plan, it’s about following your plan perfectly.

Nobody can perfectly follow an overly strict plan. Nobody.

It’s important to realize that there’s a time and a place for everything—even junk food. As long as you establish the right foundational habits, you should indulge every now and again. It’ll lead to adherence. And that’ll lead to success.

Increase Your Metabolic Rate

Ever been jealous of those people that can eat whatever they want and still look amazing? Their fast metabolisms are annoying for any of us normal people that didn’t win the metabolic lottery.

Luckily, you can speed up even the slowest of metabolic rates.

The simplest way to have a faster metabolism is to build lean mass. Another great way to light your metabolic fire is eating more food. Ironically, chronic dieting and fat loss programming takes a toll on your metabolism, making it harder lose fat.

End the perma-diet the right way, strategically eat more, and you’ll ignite your metabolic rate.

Find Your Plan

Having a good plan will help. Having the right plan will be a game-changer. With all the fitness information that’s out there, it’s often hard to tell the difference between the two. Allow me to illustrate:

On a good plan, you’ll get results. On the right plan, the results will be better and the plan itself will be simpler.

Real talk: Most of the progress you make comes by way of your nutrition plan. (See just how much right here.)

Deep down, I’m still the chubster that enjoys eating—ever the food lover. But thanks to shifting paradigms, increasing my metabolic rate, and finding my plan (the right plan), I’ve been able to transform. To maintain my progress. And periodically go full fat kid.

Everyone can.

Now it’s your turn.