Friday, February 4, 2011

How To Walk The Talk and Unlock Your True Potential


For some this just might be the most important article you ever read. For me it was satisfying because it will possibly be as no bullshit as it gets. Those that liked and could relate to "The Marshmallow Test" will find a few similarities here.

Friends always come to me for nutrition and training advice and I always give them great advice, but I can never apply it to my own life! Why is that?

That’s the reader question JC from JCDFitness forwarded to a few trainers like myself, Alan Aragon and John Romaniello. I have no clue what they answered and I have actively avoided to look at JC's site to see what they said. In either case, my answer to this was so long that I had to put it up as an article here.

Anyway, this - the fact that a lot of people know what to do but can't apply it to themselves - is something a good deal of people are secretly dealing with right now. I'm saying "secretly" because it's something they would be embarrassed to admit to their clients and to the people they give advice to. Coaches and other knowledgeable people simply don't "walk the talk." This article is directed to them.

The Coaching Paradox

I can relate to this question personally and have covered it briefly before: "How People Fail Their New Year's Resolutions."

In that short article I outlined a few different reasons for how experienced trainers, who by virtue of their profession should know better, rarely do to themselves what they teach others.

This is true for a lot of people who know enough to give others sound diet and training advice. But no matter how good their advice, they don’t practice it to a large degree. I’m almost inclined to state that there is no connection whatsoever between how much book knowledge someone has and how effectively they manage their own diet and training.

I’ve read hundreds of questionnaires by now, from Average Joe's and Jane's to paid personal trainers and other nutritional consultants. There is a very weak link between theoretical knowledge and practical application. We could call this the "coaching paradox." Professionals are almost just as likely to be on stupid training routines and stupid diets as any other non-educated client who casually reads the forums. Interesting, or so I thought before I gradually thought more and more about this issue.

And I've done a whole lot of thinking about it throughout the years. I've seen the patterns so many times. But I've also noticed things that I think can explain it - personal details and behaviors that are revealed in conversations, questionnaires and in between the lines.

This question is not quite what it first appears to be. This is about a deep understanding of the self, yourself and others' selves. Before I only covered the question on a very superficial level. I didn’t really answer the core question. The big “Why?”

This is the final piece of the puzzle, the one many will never learn. It goes way beyond nutrient timing, calories and finding the right diet. It is also about turning a weakness into a strength. Some people speak of bodyrecomposition as the Holy Grail in bodybuilding. Well, this is the true Holy Grail, and it goes beyond just training and dieting.

There is an answer to the question and there is a fix for solving the problem. I’ve fixed myself. Today I’ll tell you about the “why” – the theory I have - and the “how” – the fix that I propose to those who this article speaks to.

Why Don't You Walk The Talk?

Personal trainers and dietitians, and other training and nutrition specialists, are definitely overrepresented among the consultation request emails I receive. I’ll be referring to these folks as coaches here, a catch-all term for anyone involved in teaching and managing others in training, nutrition, or what have you.

Put yourself in that group as well if you give advice to others on an informal non-paid basis as well. Sometimes the difference between a random forum poster and coach lies only in the fact that the latter gets paid for it. On occasion the former is actually superior.

Anyway, the reason coaches are overrepresented among my clientele might partly be due to the fact that they are interested in training and nutrition by default and therefore more likely to want a consultation. But even when taking that into account, there’s a big disconnect between what they teach and know and how they apply it all to themselves. Simply put, going by what they know, you’d expect them to not approach their own diet and training like a clueless idiot.

I’m exaggerating a bit, not everyone sucks. But the main point still stands. People who should know better by virtue of their profession and theoretical knowledge, rarely walk the talk and apply that to themselves.

This “knowledge paradox” is not unique to personal trainers and dietitians. The old saying that goes a little something like “shrinks are the craziest of them all” is not just an old wives' tale. There are similar examples in other medical professions. It doesn’t mean that the explanations are the same all across the board.

However, with shrinks and training and coaching, the underlying reason we ended up in this profession was the need to fix ourselves at some point in the past. We become passionately interested, obsessive even, about things that can help us solve our personal problems or help us better ourselves.

And speaking of shrinks, Freud said, in reference to the professions people end up in, that we seek and yearn for that which is forbidden. He was on to something there; people who are involved in nutrition is in one sense obsessed with eating and food.

Taking it one step further, I think many of us are simply obsessed with nutrition to find out how they can enjoy foods maximally while minimizing the negative impact of overdoing it and at the same time improve their physique. I found my way of doing it my intermittent fasting. But solutions may vary.

Freud was definitely on to something. Our professions reflects our secret obsessions.

Anyway, back to coaching. We have now established what it takes to become a coach, generally speaking: having had, or currently dealing with, personal problems. It’s hard to find a skilled and knowledgeable coach that at some point or another was not weak and/or fat.

Coaching Skills

Generally speaking, in my experience, another truism as it pertains to the skill of the coach in fixing others – “others” is the key word here – is how many times he or she failed himself. The times you failed is directly proportional to how skilled you are as a coach. Your personal failures are for the benefit of others.

I failed consistently for a decade, in one way or another, since I was 16 and started training. It was not until ten years, in late 2007, before I finally mastered myself. Nowadays the only constraint that remains when it comes to improving my physique is ambition. I hesitate to say genetics, even though I should, but putting such limits on ourselves are dangerous. But I’m getting away and ahead from the topic.

So there’s a difference between helping others and helping yourself. Why is it then that coaches often successfully help others but fail helping themselves? After all, we are no longer talking about lack of theoretical knowledge. It’s not like you’re asking yourself how many calories you need if you are worth a damn as a coach.

Sometimes diet is a factor, of course, and in my case intermittent fasting was one of the remaining pieces of the puzzle. But I’m a bit of an oddball, an outlier for sure. Most coaches have experimented with – and failed – on dozens of various diet setups. They’ve tried everything. So why can’t they manage themselves properly? I have a theory and a solution.

Theory: The Addictive Personality Type

Much of this is based on my personal experiences with other coaches that I have coached myself. Keep in mind now that a “coach” is first and foremost someone who works professionally with training and nutrition. But it is also just about anyone who is knowledgeable enough to help others, and have done so, successfully.

Obviously, you need to apply some common sense here before you put yourself in this category. Just because you helped your 350-lb uncle lose a few pounds by telling him to go low carb doesn’t make you a “coach.” But if you know how to set up a good and effective diet for others and for yourself that might qualify.

Also, keep in mind that it doesn't explain the coaching paradox fully. There's also the simple fact that people are more likely to quit bad habits when an authority, such as a doctor, advises them to do so. Most people who are overweight have probably been thinking to themselves that they should probably lose weight thousands of times, but yet they don't take action until their doctors tells them to do so. There's a good study on this that is pretty telling but I can't find it right now. Simply put, we don't respect our own advice that much.

In my experience, many coaches have addictive personalities. Take a minute to actually read that so you know what I’m talking about.

“They are frequently connected with substance abuse, but people with addictive personalities are also highly at risk of becoming addicted to gambling, food, exercise, work, and even relationships.”

Note the bolded parts. Generally speaking, I bet most of us trainers were fat at some point. Why did we become fat? Living in modern society with its readily available and abundant supply of junk food is explanation enough. But even so, those with addictive personalities are at a much greater risk of getting fat than others.

Keep in mind that this is not an “either-or” kind of thing. We can have more or less of an addictive personality and we can be more prone to one or another kind of addiction depending on our experiences, environment, interests and personalities. Some of the things in that wiki-entry does obviously doesn't apply across the board. “Prone to” or predisposed to does not mean “condemned to.” Humans are not automatons without free will and solely slaves to genetics and inherent traits.

On a neurobiological level, this is due to dopamine and lack thereof. We need our kicks and food delivers a nice little kick to the reward system, especially to those with addictive personalities. In the case of coaches, many replace kicks from food with kicks from exercise. Exercise and food are drugs best managed by balance and moderation, but “moderation” is a problem for the addictive personality.

It is also worth noting that in order to achieve true expertise and understanding of a topic, you need to be addicted and obsessed with it. So having an addictive personality is not a bad thing per se, but it is a double-edge sword in the sense that the obsessive tendencies can be both productive - acquiring skill and information, increasing your competence - and counterproductive (for the reasons I explained earlier).

Robert C. Cloninger is one of the pioneers in the field of personality psychology and research. There's a lot of interesting writing by him out there for those who interested in finding out more about how neurobiology affects your personality type.

Going by my experience with other trainers, cutting calories too hard and training too much is very common among coaches. How is it that they cannot counter this behavior in themselves with their superior knowledge, self-control, and methodological approach – the one they apply to others? There are two reasons.

Why Addictive Personalities Screw Up: Impulsiveness and Emotions

Addictive personalities are impulsive. Emotions influence their actions to a much larger degree than rational planning and knowledge. Coaches will make decision on the fly when it comes to their own diet and training; be that in terms of cutting calories too hard or going to the gym just for the hell of it. Or shall I say just for the kick of it.

When dealing with clients, emotion is not a factor in the decision making process. Emotions only rule their personal routines and actions; emotions almost always overpower rationality in the end. You might carefully plan everything in detail. But your plans goes out the window a few hours later.

Sure, emotions can be resisted, sometimes for days or weeks, but they will win eventually. Perhaps your weight has stalled, or so you think. The number on the scale isn’t going down after all. You want to speed up your results a bit. Who knows, maybe something great will come out of it. But it rarely does. Instead you end up shooting yourself in the foot. And then you lose strength and muscle, go on a binge, regain weight, try a new brilliant and carefully planned diet that you end up breaking again. And so the destructive circle goes.

I’ve seen this particular pattern in many. It’s so predictable that I almost assume this by default when I deal with another coach and my assumption is almost always correct. The pattern is more common among women than men.

Why Addictive Personalities Screw Up: Addiction

Addictive personalities are addicted to something and coaches are addicted to training and dieting, one or the other, or both. Often both.

By "addicted to dieting" I mean the behavior that goes with it; planning meals, planning diet, reading about foods, reading about various diets, thinking about various diets, thinking about various food combinations, and so forth. They are also addicted to information, diet-related information specifically.

This behavior is encouraged and "justified" by their environment – they work with diet and training after all. Who do you think is more likely to get clean: a crack addict that attempts to quit while living in a crack house, or a crack addict that attempts to quit in a neutral environment? Just an extreme example to illustrate my point. Also, do not think of environment in purely physical terms, such as the gym; fitness forums and blogs are part of it too, probably to a much larger degree than gyms per se.

This behavior is not only self-maintaining via environmental influences but also at a neurobiological level; dieting strengthens addictive behaviors and increases the kick you get out of training, cardio and food.

The Theory: Summary

People who are knowledgeable enough to help others often fail in applying what they know to themselves. This may be due to their addictive personality type. The reason they fail can be explained by inherent traits such as impulsivity and a predisposition to addictive behaviors. Training and food are addictions.

Addictions are maintained by external and internal influences. Trainers who work in gyms and people who read nutrition forums and blogs are exposed to environments – external factors - that encourage diet-related behaviors; cardio, training, meal planning, etc. This behavior is maintained and augmented further at a neurobiological level (internal factors).

Some people might have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is often used in work related environments. I think this is by far the most popular "personality test" out there. However, it doesn't quite show predispositions towards addictive behaviors. In that regard, Cloninger's "Temperament and Character Inventory" test is better.

Practice: Self-Management

There is a quick fix, of course, but it might only work in the short-term: hire a coach (and no, I am still not taking new clients).

Hiring a coach works because it completely removes the excitement addictive personalities feel by searching and thinking about diet-related information. They know what to do; there are no longer multiple alternatives and different outcomes that need to be speculated, analyzed and tried.

The road ahead is already determined by someone else. This mental switch - the one that happens when you are removed from the decision-making process - is very powerful, especially if the plan is very detailed and leaves little room for personal interpretation. Mine are set up that way; there's flexibility but even flexibility has constraints and clear rules. I think this is very important.

Fixing yourself in the long-term should be your ultimate goal. In order to fix yourself you must first amend your impulsiveness. This is key.

Also keep in mind that there are probably some people reading this that have a true disorder, be that orthorexia, bulimia, or whatever else. They need professional help and therapy. The information here obviously does not apply to them and it may also not apply to others. I will simply tell you how I have fixed myself and a limited number of other coaches that had these problems. But then again, it’s not like you have anything to lose by trying it.

Anyway, the first step in solving the “coaching paradox” is realizing that you probably have an addictive personality, and that your addictive personality is a problem when it comes to managing your own training and diet.

A Personal Example

You are likely doing one or all of the following things different than what you advise others to do: more training and cardio, eating less calories, less structure (making decisions on the fly, deviating from your plan, etc.). I’ll give you a personal example.

In early 2007, as I started working online with a gradually growing clientele, I started to seriously question my own behavior in terms of sometimes not doing what I ordered my clients to do. I hate whatever is fake and I would have a hard time taking myself seriously if this continued. I was set on being true to the ideals I represented when it came to diet and training.

Another reason was that I got to see in hard numbers how well it worked for my clients, a few who were at the same level as me in terms of physical advancement (i.e., I obviously compared myself to advanced clients and not intermediates or beginners).

Specifically, where I deviated was in terms of diet. Early 2007 I was set on getting as lean as possible while maintaining the muscle mass I gained during the IF bulk in the Fall. There was a calorie and carb-cycling scheme – that I describe in the Leangains Guide – that I used on clients. Personally however, I applied this to myself  loosely. I would often just eat whatever I felt like eating for the moment and I would often completely ignore the cycling scheme; I just wanted to lose body fat as fast as possible.

Now obviously, I wasn’t being a complete moron about this, but I would often just cut calories – especially fat and carbs – whenever I could, such as when I found myself busy and I only had time to eat twice during the 8-hour feeding period.

For example, I would often work in front of the computer and sometimes I found myself fasting for 18-20 hours. This only allowed two and sometimes only one meal, which resulted that my calorie intake being about 30-40% lower than what I had planned for myself (i.e., what I would advise others). And though I told myself I did this because I didn't have time to eat, I truly just did it to lose fat faster.

This pattern sometimes persisted for a few days with the result being strength loss. Nothing gets me as pissed off as strength loss, so I often binged out of pure frustration. This would get my strength back but I would also be back where I started. Very frustrating – but I was quick in taking action to amend this.

Practice: Step One

The reason I stumbled over the solution might be a result of me being used to reflecting on problems a bit more than others, or it might simply be because I saw the results of my clients, or both of these reasons. I am also fairly proactive in the sense that if I don't like anything, I change it, even if that means taking radical measures, completely switching strategy and abandoning my old plans. People have a tendency to not do this; and that too is an interesting psychological phenomenon that goes for plan making and commitments in general. (What's it called's a psychological concept/term - stay tuned, I'll add the link later, I have brain freeze at the moment).

If you manage others but can’t manage yourself, here is the first step: Start treating yourself exactly as a client. I mean that in the most concrete way possible. For example, I made my diet and training routine in the very same excel sheet I used with clients, used the exact same guidelines, named the document “Martin Berkhan” and put it in the folder named “Clients.”

These details may seem trivial but they are key. They will make or break this fix. Place yourself in the exact same management system as that of your clients. For some reason, there’s a certain kind of detachment from yourself happening on a deep psychological level that is very powerful.

The way I see it, details will make or break a plan. I have dozens of various guides that I give to clients depending on goals, priorities, and routines. They are long, detailed, and leave very little room for personal interpretation and choice, especially when it comes to training. This is simply because people will screw themselves over if they think they are allowed to to add or modify things on their own. Diet is a lot more flexible as long as some fundamental rules are followed. How detailed and extensive your materials are reflects in the success of your clients.

Now, of course, all this assumes that you actually know your stuff. But again, this the situation that the question the reader email from JC assumes. Well, I guess “advice” can mean many things and advice can be more or less detailed, but I have coached a lot of people that knew very well how many calories they needed and so forth, so I’m thinking more about them than the guy who thinks he’s a diet expert because he helped his 350-lb uncle to lose weight.

Practice: Step Two

The second step is removing, or limiting, the external factors. But this either will come by itself or not be needed in the sense you are thinking.

Let me put it this way: Due to your personality, you will always be addicted to something. You need an obsession but you must direct it into something different than training and dieting after step one. You know what works now - and it will work because you are not so damn different and special compared to your clients – assuming that do unto yourself what you do unto your clients. You will therefore no longer need to direct much attention in considering and trying various new diets and training routines.

But in order to prevent that this tendency resurfaces, you must direct your attention, obsession plainly speaking, into something else. A hobby. Preferably something productive or at least something you enjoy doing. Something you can lose hours doing.

Most people, especially those that do not work with coaching for a living, would be better off finding something outside the realm of diet and training. Here's where the similarities to "The Marshmallow Test" comes in. A lot of time available for training and researching diets does not translate into better results and will beyond a certain point be counterproductive. You're a goddamn fool if you believe otherwise.

Now, as for where and into what you like to direct your time into will be highly variable and completely dependent on your personal preferences and interests. I actually like reading PubMed papers just for fun but I am aware that the information will be only for informational purposes (often) and practical purposes (rarely). I'm not into the mindset that I'm looking for ways to "optimize" my diets or the Leangains protocols. Those already work perfectly as they are right now.

However, I also have one completely different topic that will capture my attention at any given time-period. Right now I am completely gung-ho about Starcraft 2 and everything about it. I’ll read hours of threads at the TeamLiquid forum when I can. Starcraft 2 is a deep strategy game; very complex, though obviously video games will seem superficial to most people without knowing anything about them.

But I find the debates on strategy and race imbalances fascinating. It's funny how hotly debated some issues are - and you'll find many similarities with the fitness and diet community. For example, just like the "low carb/metabolic advantage" discussion stirs up a lot of emotions, similar strong and polarizing opinions are seen in the threads that deal with questions related to whether the match-ups between races are imbalanced (there are three races to choose from in the game - some people think Terran vs Zerg is “imbalanced” right now, some don't, etc.).

I'll also watch YouTube-videos of programmers playing for hours. And I finally understand why you'll have sports fans that rarely practice the sport themselves being the most hardcore sports fans out there... I rarely find time to play, but I'm crazy for watching others play :D

Lim Yo-Hwan AKA "Boxer" AKA The Emperor is my hero. Will he be able to make a strong comeback despite his age and shoulder problems? Only time will tell. Follow his progress in this exciting documentary. Can't wait for the next episode.

Oops, I geeked out a bit there but the point is that I always have something completely unrelated to fitness and training that can capture my attention for hours - and so should you, especially when you don’t work with this for a living.

Don’t geek out by posting about your diet and how you could “optimize” it if it's already perfect, that's just fueling your obsession beyond a point where it will be counterproductive if you already know the answers. Attempting to fix something that works well will break it in 99 cases out of a 100.

What Can You Expect?

What can you expect once you have implemented these steps? I did everything the same as I would with a client and at the end of 2007,  I reached the final goal I set out to achieve ever since I started training. I talked about it here: "The Secret Benefit of Being Lean."

What was different this time compared to others was that I resisted to try to speed things up or do something stupid. I wouldn’t suggest that to a client now would I? No. So I didn’t do it to myself either.

Getting that lean was the easiest diet I ever experienced. It was only testing in terms of patience; but even though the diet was easy, I longed for it to be over so I could try something, anything, else. It was a waiting game, but not a fight against hunger. Many clients have told me the same. If they don’t tell it to me straight, I notice it when discussing what to do after the diet.

Sure, I got the usual neurotic thoughts once in a while. More frequently towards the end. Most do. “Am I really losing now or have I stalled?”, etc. Water retention tends to screw with your head and you’ll sometimes see that your weight isn’t moving for 10-14 days. That’s when people are very likely to do something stupid. That’s when it becomes very hard to resist cutting calories and adding extra cardio. So most people, including coaches, do that and it backfires.

They lose strength or just get ravenous, whatever, something happens and they break their diet, binge for a day or two, attempt to get back to where they were by doing another stupid thing once again, and then they are stuck doing that. Or they just give up. It’s like domino bricks falling one after another after a tiny little wind dust moved the first piece. It gets a lot easier when you have someone else, a coach, giving you orders, of course.

What Happens Next?

So, now you have the solution. My solution, mind you. But my solutions tend to be better, more accurate, tested, and more thought out than any random strategy. Treat yourself exactly as you would treat a client. The key difference between failing and succeeding will be concrete and very specific application of that advice. Don’t just tell yourself that you’ll do this. You’ll soon forget it and be back where you started.

Do it precisely like with a client. Do a file for yourself, think of yourself in the third person. Make sure that it is identical to that of a client and put this file among the rest of your clients. No vagueness. Concreteness and specificity will make or break this process.

Am I being redundant? Maybe, but that's because this is the most important aspect of the fix. The one that will take you from making stupid mistakes to walking the talk and reach your full potential. The potential that can be unlocked if you actually start applying all your book knowledge and theory to physical actions.

Now obviously, this won’t work for everyone. For some, it will be an issue of simply not knowing how to do the basics, figuring out calorie requirements, and so forth. If that's the case, then all this stuff might come into play at a later stage in your training career. So if you’ve made it this far and felt that these things flew over your head, or that you could not relate to it, that is probably a good sign. For you it might just simply be a matter of educating yourself enough to reach your goal. (I would like to say “that’s the easier part” but that would be a lie considering all the confusing and overabundance of information out there.)

For some of you, this advice might just be what solves your diet and training issues once and for all. It might get you to your ultimate goal, like it did for me, or it might just dramatically alter the way you approach these things. In either case, you’ll be better off in the end.

Now, keep in mind that it’s not like you stop reflecting on your diet and thinking about your next meal every so often. It just doesn’t receive the same attention as before. It just “happens” so to speak. And once you have that mindset, you can maintain your physical condition for however long you wish. No more yoyo-behavior.

As a side-note, I think theoretical information and discussion is a very real obstacle in pulling things off in practice. That’s why I never, or very rarely, entertain clients with information that will lead to them getting ideas of their own about how things might potential work – be improved, if you will. I often given yes or no type of answers; and this is for the benefit of them.

Similarly, I leave no things up for interpretation or second-guessing when it comes to what it is that they are supposed to do. This is key. You need to handle yourself that way as well if you’re a coach – at least in the beginning.

Eventually, having put yourself in such a management system will allow you to be much more flexible and maintain your goal – in particular I am referring to maintaining low body fat – in the long-term.

I hope those that could relate to what I discussed here will seriously consider what I propose as a way to fix themselves. Let me know in comments whether it resonated with you. I am genuinely curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Now I'm off to see what the other coaches said in response to JC's question. Can't wait to see if their experiences and insights reflect mine.

P.S. This was not the "topic I haven't seen covered anywhere else outside the deepest pits of PubMed" article I alluded to in the last post. That will have to wait. This article was more important.

P.P.S. It was pretty cool to see that more than a few Starcraft 2 fanatics were familiar with Leangains. Seems they couldn't believe it was actually me when I showed up on their forum :D What can I say, I'm a closet nerd...Take note of this important equation in the post I linked: "Personal preferences = better adherence = better adherence > potential physiological benefits, etc."


Anonymous said...

first comment! and great article! Really made some suggestions, and leading people in the step to putting what they know into practice for themselves, and not others!

Stefan said...

Great article mate. Really resonated with many (if not all) the points in there.

Im definately going to apply both of those: treat myself as if i was advising someone else & get back into other hobbies..i spend far too long reading/watching/whatever on training/diet topics.

Zack said...

amazing article. It's amazing how ego-centric I am; I often find myself thinking that I'm "special," or "different" somehow. Thanks for laying it out simply Martin.

Also, I'm really excited for this new PubMed article and that damn Cheesecake update!

As always, your information and insight are greatly appreciated

Palmer said...

I'm bookmarking this so I can go back to this when I need to remember. I'm a dietetics major who's always ready to help out someone else. Although my physique is good, I expect more from myself; I want great. And honestly, it's more due to diet than training.

From reading your article, I guess I would say I have an addictive personality, I can spend hours on hobbies and I read voraciously on diet and nutrition. My current problem however is that my major surrounds me with food: I talk about it in class, I work in the kitchen of an awesome restaurant, I have another roommate who's obsessive about his diet, I'm in all sorts of nutrition clubs that host potlucks and luncheons etc.

I'm going to implement what you've wrote: I already did this somewhat a couple months ago to good effect, but I need to revise my meal plan to work with several lifestyle changes.

Ahmed said...

Awesome Article Martin,

Also sorry for bugging your email about becoming a client, I did not know you weren't accepting !

Any-who, I can't believe how many time I laughed at the parts where i thought to myself "Has he been watching me" I mean, i relate to them 99% even though i am an average Joe, and not a coach in anyway, i fall under this article like it was about me.

I've read tons of articles, and read countless threads and i always think to myself "Wow, it worked for them let me try it, even though i just started a diet a couple days ago, than i start second-guessing myself, and there it goes again, a cycle that never stops, never getting anywhere with my diet or training.

That is why I do not go on as much as before, maybe once a week to "Post Your Pictures" forum to get some motivation, other than that i stay away from any other forum or information about diet/training so i can stay sane, and not second-guess myself.

This article really did it for me, Patience that's what it's all about thank you Martin !

-Also on the topic of starcraft 2, I play hours and hours of "Counter-Strike 1.6" And watch hours of video as well ! glad we have something in common, haha.


Stefan said...

Fantastic article Martin. You completely hit the nail on the head.

I can't tell you the number of times that things have been going perfectly for me, when all of a sudden I stumble across some "new study/exercise program", give it a try, only to do more harm than good, pushing myself further away from my goals.

5 years ago I maintained 7-8% body-fat year-round without any hassle. I went for the odd 30-min fasted-jog in the mornings, focused on eating good whole foods, and lifted heavy weights 3 days a week. That was it. It was simple and it worked. People started asking me for advice, so I started reading up on nutrition because I wanted to know what I was talking about. One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was over-trained as hell, doing every goddamn program you could imagine, my 6-pack a thing of the past.

Every summer I did construction work which was enough to undo some of the damage (I was too tired at the end of the day to workout or worry about food), and get me back in fairly decent shape, but the obsession always stayed, waiting for me in the fall when I went back to school. It got really bad about two years when I discovered Crossfit and decided to pair it with my long-distance running program (FAIL!). I just kept piling new obsession on top of new obsession.

Things were very bad.

It's taken me a good year to finally smarten up, and although I'm not where I want to be quite yet, blogs like yours are making sure I don't do anything retarded to throw myself off track. I still get the urge to do stupid shit, but then I just remind myself that what I'm doing works, and that there's no thermogenic benefit derived from obsessing.

Anyways, this post has become way longer than I intended, but I really am sincerely grateful to have stumbled across your blog last Spring. I honestly don't know what would've happened to me if I hadn't.

Keep up the amazing work Martin - you're helping people in ways that go beyond Cheesecake Mastery and looking good naked.

Thank You.

Tauren said...

Yes, it resonated.

I wasn't sure if I was guilty at first. Until I realised today on my walk I had talked myself into reducing the amount of time I would do RFL, so I could try some more carb-cycling IF, or maybe a cyclical keto, or....

Only problem is finding a healthy obsession is hard. I got into fitness and exercise because I was in horrendous physical condition from playing another of Blizzard's games all day (my stupid username is meant to remind me of this).

Jordan said...

Thanks Martin,
Truly a fantastic article. This speaks to me on so many levels. I sincerely appreciate it.

Christine said...

Wonderful article. Thanks for this, Martin.

Plaxmodious said...

Martin, this really resonated in me.

But it did in something different than nutrition or training: I'm a regular in a forum who advises men about relationships with women; which includes broken relationships and seduction issues. My problem is about the second topic.

I've been doing this for about 3 years and it's been 2 1/2 years that I haven't seen any action for myself. Not a girlfriend, not a casual relationship, nada... However, I have already helped others to approach and have success with the girls they like.

I relate with all that you describe: I've read a lot of theory; Strauss, Mystery and some other writers in my first language. I just don't seem to know how to apply it for myself!

And, in the nutrition/training field it is the complete opposite: I've only coached my mother so far, other than myself, and most of the situations that you describe haven't yet happened to me. I'm doing pretty well with my body composition goals and with my IF way of eating. BTW, I owe a big part of this success to Leangains and you.

I hope I can apply this advice from your amazing article to this other area of my life that has been dramatically stalled (zero action for 2 1/2 years is something you don't frequently hear from a man, even less from a man who coaches others about this very subject).

Thanks. As always, your knowledge goes beyond the "simplicity" of the fitness world into the most interestings aspects of life itself.

Grok said...

Excellent well thought out post.

Isn't it amazing how hard it is to keep it simple. Crazy self sabotage all the time even if something is working. The grass can always be greener right?

The old timers are right... If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At least not until you're finished with the job at hand ;)

Rhys said...

Wow, this article nailed me straight on the head. Sometimes I wonder if you and I share part of the same mind because your articles are always strangely relevant to my life.

This was one of those reads where I finish and say to myself, "Wow I already knew that subconsciously, but I just needed somebody to pull it out into plain view"

Your strategy should be perfect for me. I know exactly what to do to reach my full potential, but I just spend too much time perusing the internet and forums for information. Finding something better to do with my time and realizing that my diet/training strategies are already perfect is the key to my success.

Thanks Martin.

Anonymous said...

Best article I've read in the last 10 years, seriously. Might just be the all-time best now that I think of it, at least as far as training/fitness stuff goes. Everything here REALLY applies to me and I'll be sure to follow your advice here.

THANKS for all the amazing info on this site, I've learned so much from you...and yea you should probably get that donate thingie someone mentioned in the discussion after the last post, yours is one of a select few blogs I'd be happy to donate to.

Anonymous said...

This is great. You really put a lot of thought into this. A lot of (elusive) common sense here.

Natalie said...

hey martin!! another great article. i love your blog and currently trying my best to follow your advice and methods to attain my desired body composition. just a few quick questions knowing ur busy.

1. on training days( i train fasted) what would the 2nd meal in terms of carb composition(hi/low) be? understanding that the 1st/pwo is high carb and 3rd is low

2. would you recommend eating walnuts as they are deemed within the health community as having the highest omega-3 content among the nuts? (even tho you advised against eating all nuts in Rusty's

3. do you consider hotdogs,sausages and the like as quality sources of protein or should i just forget including them in my diet?

Anonymous said...

Hey guys look it's Natalie, aka hypothetical guy!

Anonymous said...

Wow, very inspiriting and insightful article! I like very much reading about personal psychology.

About the basic idea you'll find some other reading, e.g. in Dan John's Never Let Go you'll have the 'can of free will' analogon, or the article from Lyle regarding self-coaching:

Thanks for putting together here more and more detailed information on this topic!

thegymnerd said...

Great post. As a personal trainer this has definitely made me think.

Also, my life for Auir =)

Pats said...

Incredible post Martin, I'm no personal trainer and I haven't been studying Nutrition for a very long time (2 years) but I certainly can relate to this article, what with not following one's own advice (cutting calories way too low is something I have been guilty of plenty of times) but giving it to others.

Also, I can assure you that most people who are into fitness and nutrition are nerds.

I'm a huge WoW nerd myself.

I also saw a study comparing people that play videos games to people who don't and it turns out that nerds are more likely to go to the gym than non-nerds.

PS: First time post, been following IF for 3 months now, saved my life, thanks!

Ed said...

I'm two months in on LG and have made good progress. but can definitely relate to this article. Weekly meal planning obsession, daily perusing of health blogs, constant eye on the scale, frustration at perceived plateaus......stick to the game plan is all that's needed!

Flo said...

Fellow nerds unite!
I really found myself in your post; not playing SC2 anymore (used to play a lot when it was released, diamond league, f yeah), but watching games on youtube all day long..

Oh, also, good article! :D

lawrenceala said...

Hey Martin!
I think this article is a great read, I can really relate to this.

I can give lots of knowledge to my family, but knowing so much about dieting, and reading so many different theories always leaves me cynical of myself!

If it's ok, I'd like to ask 2 quick questions that have always left me uncertain with my diet.
1. Is 30 minutes of HIIT in the morning detrimental? Is it pointless if I'm dieting correctly?
2. I keep protein at 200g+ a day, everyday, and calories at 1400-1600 on off days, and 1600-1900 on training days (Same foods essentially, just an extra carb meal on training days). Is that too low? Will I experience less fat loss if I do this?

Mauricio said...

Thanks Martin. I'm not a coach, but I have that addictive personality you talk about and am finding it difficult to implement what I know into practice - binge eating being the biggest problem. This article really helped me see the background of the problem and I really think it will make a difference!

Anonymous said...

Another pat on the back Martin for at great article. This is spot on some issues that I have as well.

Thank you.


Dexter said...


Great article. I think in essence we all think we are unique, which obviously isn't the fact in real life.

I am 100% positive I have an addictive personality. I have been close to being a gambler and an alcoholist. My impulsive and addictive behavior now has me hooked on 'bodybuilding'. The training, dieting etc. gives me the kick I need. Structure and something to look forward to.

Focusing on other things in life definitely makes it easier, just like with the Marshmellow Test (great article as well).

On days I am very busy, diet is a piece of cake. On days I have not much to do, it's hell.

Thanks again for putting things into perspective and showing me I'm not the only one who's crazy.

BRB searching for a new hobby..

James said...


You truly do cover all bases with your approach and articles here on the blog.

I was actually laughing out loud reading parts of this post as I could relate to it SO closely. You really have researched, though about and hit the nail on the head; and I feel that this article alone is one of the most important things you have ever posted.

As a side note, your writing strength/quality has improved ten fold, you have always been good at penning a good body of content, but the game has stepped up in recent months.

Thanks again for a piece that really hits home and resonants.


Borislav said...

Martin, please stop with this nutrition bullshit and write a philosophy book. The world needs you, man. Or at least meet me halfway do "the phylosophy of nutrition" or something. (this is serious by the way, no sarcasm)

Pontus said...

BoxeR! <3

Beth@WeightMaven said...

This comment is for Mauricio and any others, like me, who aren't coaches but whose addictive personalities interfere with doing what you know is best.

I've found that the "cleaner" you eat, the easier it is. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that getting the fat soluble nutrients in pastured meat and dairy especially helps.

But while that's a good start, I've found it wasn't enough (mostly given my decades of using food in an addictive fashion). So this past fall, based on something I read in Nora Gedgaudas' book, I started doing neurofeedback training. It's a little woo-woo, but I describe it as computer-facilitated meditation.

What I believe it's doing is helping retrain stress->overeating coping pathways. It's still early for me (been doing it since Oct), but if you google "alpha-theta neurofeedback", you'll see there's a lot of interest in this as a treatment for alcoholics.

Alas it's not cheap and it's not currently covered by insurance. But I thought I'd mention it; it may be a useful strategy for folks with food issues to consider.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, Martin. Very clear paths of reasoning in this piece, very well written... What can I say, keep up the good work.

-Alan Aragon

PS - this might be a duplicate post.

Anonymous said...

It's like you describe me. As a 4th year psychology student going into addiction studies, I absolutely believe my choice of profession is directly a result of my own addictive personality. But I'd never thought about applying cognitive mindfulness training to my diet and nutrition regimen. Thank you for throwing this together; truly this is the most important thing I have read in some time.

Basil G. said...

Bravo! Fantastic article, Martin! You've really hit the nail on the head with this one. Also, now I know why we both read so much of Jonah Lehrer's stuff, etc... ;-)

Anthony said...

I find that optimizing my diet, which means reading about food, makes me hungry. I find that it's best for me to know exactly what my diet is, what I'm going to eat in the future, and leave it at that. Otherwise, I toy with the possibilities and get hungry too soon.

Anonymous said...

Right on the money.

Alex said...

I can totally relate to having an addictive personality, even though I'm not a coach myself. However, I promised myself this year not to worry too much about dieting anymore, since it was getting in the way of fully living my life. Life comes always first. Following LeanGains is being a great improvement so far.

Thanks, Martin.

Z said...

Ihis hit the nail on the head for me. Over the last 5 years i have read everything worth reading on the internet about diet and exercise, i am fascinated by it and want to make it my career. It has worked wonders for me physically and for the people i have trained.

Over the last year or so though i have been getting more and more confused on the direction i want to take myself, so much so that it is crippling my decision making. It sames the more you know the worse off you are in some aspects. Right now i cant keep a workout routine or lose weight to save my life. Its a real pity too because i have to potential for huge success.

Martin, what would you recommend for someone who cant afford a good nutrition/strength coach (i emailed you a little over a year ago but couldnt afford it) but also cant follow their own advice even if they treat themselves as a client? I always write up a very detailed and elaborate layout for myself but the next day i will think of a better setup and the another the day after that. Eventually i will crack and ruin all of my gains or loses.

Thanks for your post and responses, it really opened my eyes but also gave me a bit of worry wondering if i have what it takes to do this by myself.

McClain said...

All those thoughts you said you started to have on your cut, ("should I reduce calories more, or do I do more cardio?") This is exactly what is floating in my head as of recently. Your article really has helped me decide to STOP on the idea of reducing calories even more.

This obsessiveness with body-building is such a interesting topic and is so true. Going from a fat-boy to a built-man is like a fantasy that has come to life for me.

The obsession I feel arises because of the fear that you will lose this dream if you deviate from your plans. I can relate to the endless hours spent in the night reading and reading because I want the best results, I want the best progress, I want to keep the new self and prevent the old from arising. I think a lot of it boils down to we don't give ourselves enough credit for what we do for ourselves. We screw it up with our emotions and our over-thinking when reality, like you said, be patient/relax and enjoy the ride because you already created the plan, just do it!

Very inspiring and helpful to me. Continue your great work and love those hours of being nerd because I know I do!

Personal Training Chicago said...

great article! Really made some suggestions, and leading people in the step to putting what they know into practice for themselves, and not others! good thing there are good trainers

Anonymous said...

Hey Martin,

Great article - it really hit close to home. I can definitely see some of those defeating behaviors in myself. I had read JC's article as well and enjoyed it, but did think an elaboration was necessary, as understanding the behavior can be the first step in ending it.

BTW it's awesome that you're a Starcraft gamer. I am very similar in the sense that I don't play as much as I watch others play (pro gamers). I've played since the original Starcraft; it is definitely my favorite game of all time. Trying to balance all three races seems impossible, and is probably why there are so many updates!

If you ever want to play some 2s let me know. My nick is Elementx and my char code is 350.


Nicolas said...

Awesome article! Really.

I've been reading your blog for a while, and, the stuff you write here is great, I mean, it's things that so many people can relate to, that become clear on the comments.
But this time, once more you were able to take it to another level, it's not just about fitness anymore, not only it's filled with scientific research(as usual) but it approaches the same problems with a very different perspective.
I laughed here to myself reading this article because every two paragraphs there seemed to be something that was written specifically to me.
I really appreciate all the work you've been doing, it definately has changed a lot of people's life.

Mert Guney said...

Hi Martin,

Absolutely the most useful article I have read in the last few years. Something may never has such well resonated with my personality in my life, I have to think hard to remember a similar instance!

I am immediately applying the wisdom here. I am also making this post my home page for some time, so that I will absorb it.

Thank you, you really rock!

Anonymous said...

Martin do you have your clients count calories?

If I don't track my calories on something like I under eat and then get really hungry during the fast.

Ruben said...

Makes sense.I probably didn't want to see this in myself for all these years. So many other (legal and illegal) addictions I had to deal with already! :)

One question:
The ideal, at least short term, when not yet able to alter your own behaviour, is hiring a coach. An inferior option (inferior in the short term, not inferior long term) seems to be coaching yourself in the third person. How about an intermediate option, such as having your partner do it?

On the one hand, they are always available, always looking over your shoulder, and if you're lucky they'll even cook your meals for you. The potential downside is, that they need to know what they are doing (not the norm), and that they may consciously or unconsciously try to sabotage you.

Could you please weigh in on this?

GĂ©rald STOPPINI said...

Excellent post Martin,

I am also a huge starcraft 2 fan :)
I never thought you to be a SC2 fan...
The addictive side is very interesting, and I think that I am gonna be less on the web to track nnew diets/trainings, (and maybe more on SC2 tips...). I will see if there are some results.

Thanks again for the post, very inspiring ;)

Philippe said...

I had a nice time reading you, thanks Martin. I am the same age as you (1982) and every year I am a little bit more close to walking the talk. My problem is, I am too impatient and this results often with cutting kcal too much. But since I am following your blog, I am not overtraining any more. Thanks again for all the interesting articles Martin and kind regards from Switzerland.

Calvin said...

Wow, Martin, I did NOT expect you to start talking about starcraft in this forum at all! shows how much we all might 'think' we know somebody over the net. I play Starcraft as well and often visit Leangains. Keep up the great posts and I'm still waiting for your book! let's do some SC2 leangains style sometime-in fact, let's all meet up in Leangains channel. As for race balance, I think all races are balanced, whether you lose or not is up to if you're properly scouting and adapting to your opponents strategies.

<3 Starcraft Ii
<3 Leangains

Life is good.

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Very interesting, Martin. I'm going to apply this to myself, thank you for a great article! :)

Anonymous said...

I've been searching throughout the site, but haven't read any material on implementing Leangains (and specifically IF) with an endurance sport like basketball or soccer. I play a lot of soccer and basketball as a recreation. I want to get leaner and lose body fat. Is it safe to assume that a strength base workout is not a good approach if I don't want to lose agility and endurance?

Also, are there any drawbacks to fasted endurance workouts (assuming I take the proper BCAA amount)?

Martin B said...

Beautiful tie-in with your Marshmallow post, Martin. I like that you're addressing the behavioral issues with diet. Hopefully your advice will help put others' adherence into place. Also, that you're a SC2 enthusiast is a plus. I wonder if you're into the FF series?

I think you've got your foot in the door with a whole other pool of clientele, potentially. :D

Matt said...

Hey Martin, since you mentioned Starcraft 2, I was wondering, for purposes of enhancing fat loss, wouldn't it be beneficial to play scary games like Dead Space or watch horror movies if it elicits a fight-or-flight response, releasing fatty acids into your bloodstream and all that jazz? Maybe it could serve to increase the effect fasting already has on our physiology.

It would literally be like scaring the fat off of yourself :)

Mark said...


I assure you when you play SC2 competitively that flight or fight response can happen numerous times in a single game. I literally have to take breaks every hour or so as the game works me up so much.

This is why many times I just prefer to watch games when I am trying to relax, as playing them can be rather stressful.


Kristoffer Widding said...

maybe my all-time favorite article! THANK YOU :)

Martin Berkhan said...


Yeah, totally. I've had some intense games where my hands kept shivering during critical moments. Great stuff.

I'm glad to see that some people could relate to what I wrote about. Like I said earlier, it's something a few would relate to 100% while others just wouldn't get it yet.

pierce said...

I seem to be doing the same thing you did in your personal example, fasting more like 20-24 hours sometimes especially after a few bad days of eating, why is this not the right way to do things? thanks, really enjoyed the post.

Calvin said...

I get that same flight or fight reaction when I play SCII as well. Shaky/sweaty hands are normal especially when I play 1v1.

Matt said...


I know, believe me, I've played starcraft competetively for a while and it gets very hectic at times. All the macro and micro is quite demanding. But it's more like excitement to me, since you don't really see yourself as a protagonist of any sort and don't fully perceive the danger to your units or buildings as danger to yourself ;)

I'm not perfectly familiar with the pysiology behind it, but somehow I thought fear would be a more primal emotion and could create a more powerful systemic response, that's all.

P.S. If you hadn't noticed I'm a fan of all things horror ;)

George Harris said...

Another very interesting post Martin, got me thinking and wrote my own followup on it. I've posted some of it below.

The bit that got me was him talking about not sticking to what we tell others to do. As I was reading it I noticed that there is another pattern possibly going on; a metaprogramme running in the background called Options/Procedures.

Options/Procedures is a deep unconscious programme that comes as a part of the NLP metaprogrammes work from back in the early days of NLP

Here’s some info about this pattern:

Options – Procedures

Does the person look for alternatives or like to keep their options open or prefer to follow established procedures?

Options: This group is motivated by the possibility to do something in another way. They are the type of people who will develop procedures and then not follow them. They enjoy breaking or bending the rules. Exploring new ideas and possibilities is of great interest. They may start a new project and not feel compelled to finish it. To motivate/influence these people, use words such as: opportunity, alternatives, break the rules, flexibility, variety, unlimited possibilities, expand your choices, options, … . Use of words such as the foregoing, will help you to identify this type of person. These people do well in a situation that requires solutions or alternatives to current systems – e.g. fashion designer, process reengineering.

Procedures: These people like to follow set rules/processes. Once they understand a procedure they will repeat it over and over again. They have great difficulty developing new processes/procedures and without a clearly defined procedure feel lost or stuck. They are more concerned about how to do something than why they should do it. Bending or breaking rules is heresy! They are motivated by words such as: correct way, tried and true, first … then … lastly, proven path, follow this procedure to the letter, … . Positions suited to these people would be bookkeeper or commercial airline pilot.

Distribution (in a work context): Options (40%), Options and Procedures (20%), Procedures (40%)

Please remember that there are always multiple patterns working, and that each pattern is context dependant, even though some patterns may also be cross contextual. Here’s a good way that metaprogrammes can be used in an informal setting.

Calvin said...

Martin, a quick food question. Since rest days are high fat, low carb-is it acceptable to eat fried chicken on rest days?

I'm thinking, homemade, fried in coconut oil?

Mountain said...

Patience is a virtue. Great post. Totally did not expect you to talk about SC2! Given how little time it takes (meal planning/prep) to follow your protocol compared to more obssessive-compulsive diets out there, it makes sense to pick up other hobbies and not brood over diet and nutrition all day long.

If this seems spammy feel free to delete it, but I just wanted to share with you an article I wrote that I think you'd enjoy =D

Anonymous said...

I'd be surprised if anyone reading this blog wasn't obsessed with diet/exercise and wouldn't consider themselves an addictive personality.

So you feed the dopamine reward cycle with a hobby? What about getting off the train all together? We're more than a bag of squirting chemicals, which of course is hard to see through the hormonal fog. Grats on peeling back a layer, self awareness comes from good writing like yours.

Dan Go said...

This was pretty mindblowing and it had me swearing out loud with how awesome it was.

If this seems over the top I do not mean it to be that way. I really did have an epiphany while reading this entire blog post.

Thanks for the insight Martin. I'm off to create my own client file now.


Simone said...

A nice read.

Immediate / deferred gratification? Was that the brain freeze moment?

Also a reason why people with immature/impulsive personalities are unable to save money I believe, psychologically/soc speaking.

Ahmed said...

Awesome article Martin! Treating yourself like a client is a great idea.

Stan said...


Speaking of clients, when were you planning to start accepting new clientele?

I tired my own leangains mish-mash but didn't work out all to well for some reason.


Anonymous said...

you need a PRINT button on your blog if that's possible. I tried to print it with Firefox but it doesn't work for some reason

MaxWater said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and this is the first article I read. I'm already loving the advice that you wrote about from your own experience. Valuable! Walking the talk is not easy but not so daunting anymore. Thank you!

Avner said...

Hi martin, love the blog. I was wondering whether your approach would be suitable for a classic ectomorph(someone's who's naturally
as lean/leaner as your 6'1 160lb modeling figure). obviously the issue is whether fasting is counterproductive to muscle growth
for people with highly active metabolism.

Fredrik said...

Great writing and very inspirational!

Donald Lee said...

Martin, I loved the article.

Back in the original SC days, I used to play sometimes with Slayers_Leader, Slayers_Boxer's clan leader. I watched a ton of Boxer's replays. SC nearly ruined my high school years.

Despite my better judgement, I decided to try out SC2. Luckily, I haven't found it to be comparable to the original SC.

Behringer said...

I imagine this is Martin while Playing starcraft:

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,

I am a personal counselor with a highly successful 30 tear track record.

This message is to anyone who does not "walk the talk." You and I know that you are living a lie. You could possibly succeed in the marketplace as a counselor as the lie you live grows larger. The price you will pay for your deceptive success is loss of self respect and a secret self-contempt that will manifest itself in depression, anxiety and inescapable guilt.

If you do not "walk the talk" don't counsel until you have for at least one year. If you stop "walking the talk" then stop counseling. You can fool others into believing you "walk the talk" but you can't fool your own mind.

Moreover, if you counsel in the more personal areas of life such as building relationships, motivational issues, depression, anxiety, etc your lies and hidden self-contempt will be that much greater. In other areas such as body building the self disgust will be less but still haunting.

One reason I have more business than I can handle and charge extremely high fees is that I have never advised without first "walking the talk." My clients know they can trust me. And I do not have to lie to them or me.

Unfortunately, I know that most couselors, coaches, therapist, etc who read this will not apply this simple lesson in integrity. In the long run they will live a life of self-contempt. And in the more personal areas of counseling they will harm their clients because their advice will be based on their own self-deceptions.

I hope you publish this free advice as it may save someone from a life of self-disgust.

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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