The Lean Eating method

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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8 lessons on change and body transformation from our Lean Eating Coaching Program.

On Wednesday, July 19th, 2017, we’ll launch the next Lean Eating Coaching Program, and as I looked through the photos of clients from the last Lean Eating program (men’s, women’s), I thought it would be worth sharing some of the lessons we teach in the program, because:

  1. You can use them too, right now, whether you’re in the program or not,
  2. Some of them run against conventional wisdom (but conventional wisdom isn’t doing much for the physiques of North Americans these days, is it?), and
  3. If you use them, you will be leaner, stronger and healthier than you ever thought you could be.

Simple as that. Many of them aren’t about “nutrition” per se, and there’s a reason for that. You can learn the in’s and out’s of what to eat in our other blog posts and articles. Lean Eating is about actually changing, and so is this post.

Keep an open mind, read them all the way through, and ask yourself honestly: “how many of these am I actually doing?” If you really want to lose fat, then at the end, I suggest you pick one lesson and start using it right away.

Let’s get started.

1. Measure what you want to improve.

In Lean Eating, we keep data on everything clients want to improve. Wanna lose weight? Step on the scale. Wanna be more precise and lose fat? Get out the calipers and measure body fat. Wanna fit into your skinny clothes? Try them on once in a while. Wanna feel better? Then every few weeks, actually ask yourself how you’re feeling, write it down, and review it every few months.

Basic stuff right? Bullshit. I work with professional athletes and teams, I consult with major gym chains on their personal training practices, I work one-on-one with clients from all walks of life from all over the world. And believe me: practically no one does this. In fact, sometimes I feel like we’re the only ones who really do this stuff, and the reason is because it works! There’s an old saying you’d be wise to follow: “What gets measured gets done.”

2. Take photos.

Admit it: you care — at least a little, and maybe a lot — about how you look. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s healthy and normal. Who doesn’t want to look great? Well, for the same way you’d measure weight loss if you want to lose weight, you better take photos if you want to look better. In Lean Eating, it’s built into the program: every few weeks, you step in front of the camera and snap a few photos.

Understand that it’s normal to not be totally at ease about taking photos of yourself at first. Just know that it’s a) a very important step toward self-awareness, without which you simply cannot change, b) the best way to document your hard work, and c) possibly the most motivating thing you will ever do for yourself.

(And remember, everyone starts in the same place: out of shape. Take a look at the Men’s and Women’s “before” photos from Lean Eating; think they were comfortable taking those shots? Then look at the “afters” and think about how they felt then.)

3. Do something every day.

One of my colleagues once put it best: if something is important, do it every day; if it’s not important, don’t do it at all.

Bingo.

Change happens only when you slowly tear down old habits and build new ones in their place. That has to be daily, in my experience. In fact, that’s one of the reasons exercise alone doesn’t work — doing something 3 times a week isn’t enough to build a new habit. That’s also why personal training isn’t very effective (unless it combines nutrition and daily habit building, like we teach in our Precision Nutrition Certification.)

Instead, in Lean Eating, you have something to do every day. A workout to do, a lesson to read, a habit to practice, fellow clients and coaches to chat with. If you want to get in the best shape of your life, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I could start doing every day?”

4. Make it easy.

To do something every day, you have to make that “something” easy enough that you’re 100% confident you could do it every day for 30 days. That often means scaling your ambitious plans way back.

Unfortunately, most people bite off way more than they can chew. They commit to working out an hour a day, eating four healthy meals, cutting out chocolate, running a marathon, cooking more, waking up earlier — nothing less than a complete overhaul of their lives. Maybe they’re able to do it all for 3 days, a week, some people even a little longer perhaps. But inevitably, they miss a day, then two . . . then it all falls apart. They lose confidence, feel guilty, beat themselves up, and go back to doing exactly what they were doing before: nothing. All or nothing.

Instead, make it easy on yourself, way easier than you think at first. Instead of eating 4 healthy meals a day, eat 1 healthy meal a day and give yourself permission to leave everything else the same. Can’t commit to that for 30 days? Hell, eat an apple a day. Or take fish oil each day. Or switch from your morning latte to a green tea, or water. Instead of working out an hour a day, how ’bout a 10-minute walk? Is that too much? What about a 5-minute walk?

“JB, don’t be ridiculous, that’s not going to do anything,” you might think. But that’s just your ego talking: you don’t want to look foolish or admit that something so easy might be all you can muster right now. All I can say is: stop that. That kind of thinking will keep you stuck exactly where you are. Let go of your ego, accept where you are, and commit only to something so easy that you could do it without thinking for at least 30 days straight.

[Note: the principle is valid no matter how advanced you are, too. I have elite athletes training 2 hours a day wanting to jump immediately to 4 hours. Why not start with another 15-20 minutes at first? Again, put your ego aside.]

In Lean Eating, we despise “all or nothing” thinking. Instead, we commit to “always something” — no matter how small at first.

5. Practice only one habit at a time.

In the Lean Eating Coaching Program, we have clients work on just ONE habit at a time. Often they find this frustrating at first, because they expect to be able to do everything, right away. But that’s just ego-driven impatience, and unfortunately change doesn’t work that way.

Numerous studies show that people are typically quite successful when they limit their change to one behavior at a time, for say 3-4 weeks before introducing a new one. BUT: introduce even 2 new behaviors at once, and the failure rate is nearly 100%.

That’s a tough lesson to learn. In fact, one of our $10,000 grand prize winners actually complained that the one thing he wished was different about Lean Eating was this one-habit-at-time thing — why couldn’t we have taught him all this stuff at the beginning?!!

Well, because then he would have failed.

Again, put your ego aside, and change your expectation: people can only change one behavior at a time. So pick one — anything positive will do — and give yourself permission to leave everything else in your life as-is, at least for now. There will be plenty of time for the rest, trust me. People overestimate how hard change will be, and underestimate how long it will take. Stick to one habit at a time, and you’ll get there.

6. No “wondering & worrying” questions.

Ah, another tough lesson to learn. Change is an uncomfortable process, always. You leave what you know (your habits, your lifestyle, your environment) and by trying something new, you take a tentative step into an unknown and uncertain place.

So the first thing clients do is try to resolve that tension, try to make it “certain” again, by asking all kinds of frenzied questions and working themselves into a panic:

  • “What about this supplement, or that?”
  • “What do you think about this theory / guru / article I read / study that was published?”
  • “What about when (unforeseeable future event) happens — what do I do then?”
  • “What about (rare, irrelevant and highly unlikely situation) — what do I do in that case?”
  • etc., etc.

In Lean Eating, we call these “wondering & worrying” questions, and we have a strict ban on them, because although they’re well-intentioned, they don’t reduce anxiety at all. In fact, they do the exact opposite, whipping people into a froth of nail-biting and distracting them from the only two questions that matter:

  1. What should I do today?
  2. How do I do that?

The first question is asking for the next step, the “right now.” That’s the only thing you should concern yourself with, because it’s the only thing you can control. The second question is asking for clarification and instruction, so that you can do what you need to do properly.

Those are the only two kinds of questions that lead to calm, focused action. They’re all we allow our clients to ask, and they’re all you should be asking too. So next time you find yourself asking a question about fitness, take a second and think, “Am I focused on what to do right now? Or is this just wondering and worrying?”

7. Get a little help from your friends.

We call this “social support” — and it makes all the difference in the world.

Who you have in your social circle — and what they do, and how they think — will have an almost magnetic pull on who you are. In fact, there is interesting new research showing that obesity spreads almost like an epidemic. The people in your life will forever be pulling you, even unconsciously, toward being just like them. As another of my colleagues likes to say, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

That’s all well and good, except when it comes time to change, because as you change those same people will be pulling you back to the way you were — usually not intentionally or maliciously, just . . . just because. They can’t help it.

When it comes to fitness and fat loss, the same applies. Now this doesn’t mean you need to scrap your friends and family and beg the local yoga teacher to adopt you. It just means that as you start to get in shape, you better get some other like-minded people in your life, or you’ll soon be putting the pounds back on faster than you lost them in the first place. I’ve seen it time and time again.

That’s why Lean Eating is a group program, with a social component to it: you can interact daily with people who are just like you, chasing the same goals as you. No matter where you are in the world, no matter where you’re starting, you will find people in the group just like you who get where you’re coming from. That reassurance, and even the mere realization that you aren’t alone in this, exerts a new sort of magnetic pull — this time, though, toward the life you want and not the one you’re leaving behind.

So take the opportunity to join groups or befriend new people who are doing what you want to do: maybe yoga or spin class, a friendly team sport league, even reconnect with a fit friend you maybe haven’t talked to in a while. Anything. Because if you don’t, beware the subtle but powerful pull back to where you were.

8. Be accountable to someone.

As much as you need to be picked up when you’re down, as much as you need be helped and supported from time to time, as much as you need some positivity in your life . . . you also need someone to kick your ass back into gear when you’re slacking, and help you snap out of the simple laziness that we all fall into from time to time.

In Lean Eating, that person is your coach, whose job it is to stay on top of you as much as it is to support you. If you miss a day, okay, fine; miss two, and we’re on you. If there’s a legitimate problem, we’ll help find a solution; if there’s just an excuse, we’ll call “bullshit” and get you back to being honest with yourself again.

Everyone needs someone to hold them accountable, especially in the beginning of a new process that they’re unfamiliar with. So who is that person in your life right now? Who challenges your excuses? Who helps you get back on track?

Who are you accountable to?

There you go, 8 lessons you can use right now to change your body, and ultimately your life — courtesy of the Lean Eating Coaching Program.

Pick one, and put it to use today, because that’s what it really takes to change.

Coaching from the world’s top nutritionists. $250,000 in cash prizes each year. Are you in?

Registration to join Precision Nutrition Coaching kicks off on July 19th, 2017. If you want to get in the best shape of your life and take a shot at the $250,000 in prize money we give away to coaching clients each year, we strongly recommend you put your name on the presale list below for Precision Nutrition Coaching.

We can only work with a limited number of clients. And spots sell out every time we open them up. So adding your name to this list gives you a huge advantage. First of all, you get the chance to sign up 24 hours before everyone else. Even better, you’ll receive a big discount at registration.

So put your name on the list below. Because, as always, clients are accepted on a first come, first served, and when spots are gone, they’re gone.