Before the functional fitness industry became obsessed with macros and individualized nutrition coaching became the norm, Paul Nobles was blogging about his 100 lb. weight loss journey.
That blog, which saw the inception of Eat to Perform in 2012, grew from a niche site to a behemoth competing against the world’s biggest health and fitness brands and advising everyone from Olympians to CrossFit Games athletes. But Nobles will be the first to admit, Eat to Perform got too big too fast, causing them to lose some clients and their individual touch along the way.
Now, with a renewed focus on individualizing each athlete’s needs, Nobles sat down with Athlete Daily to talk about the beginning, the mistakes and the improved Eat to Perform.
Athlete Daily: Over the last few months I’ve seen a few postings on social media of people saying ‘don’t do Eat to Perform, they make you eat too much food, you’ll gain weight, etc.’ Which begs the question: does Eat to Perform make you gain weight?
Nobles: “Weight is really tough. People put a lot of investments in looking a certain way or feeling a certain way. Our flavor isn’t for everyone. We are emphasizing work. Truthfully, if you’ve been eating relatively restrictively for a long time and you didn’t have a big work capacity piece in place, you’re going to start to gain weight in that process.
And what we would see in that scenario is people [saying] ‘Oh it’s fine, I’m liking the food freedom, it’s no big deal.’ And then [those] people would just go off the deep end. And they’d go ‘I’ve let it go too far.’
We started hearing stuff like “I gained 20 lb. doing Eat to Perform—this isn’t why I signed up.’ And I’m like ‘You’re going to have to show me the article where I told you to gain 20 lb.’
On the one hand, we needed to get better communicating our methods, but at the same time, it’s kind of hard to say to people: your level of personal responsibility should have been [higher]. I can tell you as someone who’s been obese, been 250 lb. and worked his ass off to get to where I am now—[that] no one could make me stuff my face.
But again, could we communicate our methods better? Sure. And I think we’ve been able to address that and that’s the thing that’s allowed us to get to where we are now.”
Athlete Daily: How do you think some of those negative sentiments toward ETP came about?
Nobles: “I’ll use CrossFit as an example. We all know the CrossFitters who sit in the back of the gym and don’t push it like they could. Is that person undereating? Does that person have something that doesn’t allow them to want to perform better? Or is that person eating 1200 calories and scared shitless that they’re going to gain weight as soon as they start to eat an adequate amount of food? So you can’t say ‘Well, ETP didn’t work for this person.’ Most people that I’ve seen, when I was able to dissect their situation, they really never gave it a shot. And anyone that was working under me always had success. Right around 2013-14, we had 25% of the Masters athletes in CrossFit placing at the CrossFit Games—they were in the Games with the information that we gave to them!
We started a conversation in health and fitness that nobody had ever attempted to do. We may not get credit for that and that’s fine, I don’t really care about that all that much, but when people started saying ‘holy cow I’m under eating’, [and then listened to us] a lot of people took their level of fitness much higher than it was. But some people are still scared shitless to do that. And there’s a lot of stuff going on that you can’t deal with with just macros.
It’s like the internet—75-90% of the comments are positive, and then there’s the one person that’s completely hysterical. It just highlights the criticism. The success rate of dieting in general is beyond bad.
This left-left-left model [of constantly lowering calories] is so fucking broken, that nobody is having any success and there’s no transparency. If you want to see how ETP works, just sign up. We have over 4,000 people in our Trendsheets [Facebook] group alone. Trust me, if they were struggling, they’d be yelling at the top of their lungs. They’re not. They are seeing a lot of great success.
Athlete Daily: Do you think Eat to Perform’s popularity has helped make it more mainstream to not be on a constant diet?
Nobles: “Let’s be honest. The diet industry in general, is going to prey upon people thinking that they’re eating more than they need to be to get to optimal body composition. That’s the basis for the whole narrative. You can’t just diet your way to optimal body composition. You can’t just stay at these very low numbers. That’s what we sell. We sell the fact that you should not be dieting much more than you’re dieting. We have answers for both-but there is no other system that I can think of on a massive scale.
And I don’t know if this is a direct reflection of my work, but when you look at Chris and Heidi Powell from Extreme Weight Loss on ABC, their narrative has moved to this. So you never know the impact that you have. The fact that the industry is starting to move to the fact that you can’t be dieting all the time, is something that’s been known for a really long time but hasn’t been emphasized.
The fact that we’ve become a very effective brand selling that—selling against dieting all the time, is really opening the eyes of the whole diet industry. I think that’s interesting.”
Athlete Daily: So, how did Eat to Perform get its start?
Nobles: “When I started blogging about my journey [Nobles lost 100 lb. in two years] I really had no expectation of the level of interest that ultimately it would garner.
For almost two years, Eat to Perform was probably about 5-10 people. We were essentially selling books and we had a forum to help people. And we could give a pretty high level of attention because there was not this amazing demand for what we were doing.
When we started to do nutrition for CrossFit Games athletes and Olympians and these type of folks—that was not the intention. The intention was just to talk to people about how these constant deficit cycles are not how you truly get lean, and how if you cycle in things, it ends up being a better approach long term.
I think when you’re involved with these movements, if you’re not careful, you can make mistakes that you can’t go back on. And I would say that we definitely had our share of mistakes as we grew.”
Athlete Daily: When did Eat to Perform really start to grow?
Nobles: “Right around 2013, really closer to 2014, you could really see the shift and the movement. We got to 250,000 Facebook likes—more likes than the CrossFit Games and MyFitnessPal. You have these massive brands-like Jillian Michaels and these other kinds of people—and we’re having the same voice as they have.
In January of 2015, we took in 100 [new clients] a day. By January 2016, we would get up to 350 a day before we have to shut off the failsafe, because we were selling too much. It was overwhelming the staff and we had gone from 5 people on staff to 50 people at that point.
People were very interested in the fact that you could eat more, and live a normal life. So we went from being this niche thing to competing with the biggest brands, and because we were competing with the biggest brands, we were getting virtually everyone. And we had to sort of waft into that process and we struggled to do that.”
Athlete Daily: That’s a massive amount of growth in a very short period of time.
Nobles: “For most of the people that Eat to Perform, typically they’re going to be high-level performers. So they would’ve been the type of people that had success easily. Why? Really high work capacities. There are some people that just work out harder than other people do and some people need to be realistic about that. If you’re not doing very much, if you don’t walk a lot, if you don’t lift weights, your window is so much smaller than everyone else.
But as we started to fish with this broader net, we were getting people that weren’t this high-level type of work capacity folks. And what we were trying to do – and what we’re still trying to do – is mentor them into a way where they could gradually up their work capacity using food and seeing results. But when you fish with a really broad net, that’s not what everybody wants. Or they think that they want it when they pull out their credit card and buy it, but then all of a sudden they have one day where they’re up two pounds and they freak out.
That was a real struggle for us, because when you have super high-level work capacity people, the level of leeway they have is so much better than the average folks. If you’re not doing very much, if you don’t walk a lot, if you don’t lift weights, your window is so much smaller than everyone else.
So, there’s always this kind of trial and error process that is very individual. I think we struggled with that piece coming up to 2016 and then it came to a head.”
Athlete Daily: So how did you deal with this influx of people?
Nobles: “When we started to see this as a problem in February and March, it was about the time where people start to realize and get impatient as it relates to the things that they are doing. And as a staff, we struggled addressing those concerns.
In the internet world, it’s not like it used to be. With social media, things can spiral out of control. I remember reading some stuff in a CrossFit Masters [Facebook] group saying that we [Eat to Perform] didn’t care about people. That had me in tears.
No question- we struggled getting to scale. We’ve been able to address that and we’re much better than we were earlier in the year even.”
Athlete Daily: How have you been able to address that?
Nobles: “Now we’re starting to realize that there is a gigantic audience. When you’re playing against the competitors that we’re playing against: Weight Watchers, Metafast, and these types of places—the systems that need to be in place to get that done, we had to put those into place. We moved from basically selling books with some level of support to more of an integrated system where we could give direct feedback. And the direct feedback was not just coming from one of the 60 coaches that had success with ETP, it was coming from more of myself or the three other PHDs on staff.
The overriding message that we got at the start of this year, even though it hurt my feelings, was that we weren’t good enough. And you can take that to heart and get your ego involved in it and puff your chest up or you can listen to it. And we listened to it and we got better.
The other thing is, as a startup, you have these ambitions…I CrossFit and for my tiny little blog to have more likes than the CrossFit games was pretty crazy at one point [laughs] To see the growth that we’ve had over a very small period of time, you just don’t know where it’s going to go.
Athlete Daily: What does the future hold for Eat to Perform?
When you look at the growth that we’ve had in a very short period of time, it was always kind of confusing for me [in terms of] what do I want? Do I want to create this super gigantic brand that’s trying to change the world? Or do I want to show a very acute level of attention as well as we can to everyone that buys ETP?
I would say that the way that we can customize plans now is superior to anything I’ve ever seen as it relates to scale. Obviously if you pay a dietician $500-$1,000 a month you’re going to get a really high level of service. I would argue that our service is similar to that, but we can deal with a much higher level of demand.
I can tell you this: right now, I don’t really care about Eat to Perform becoming this big gigantic thing and taking over the health and wellness industry. That doesn’t mean much to me. What means a lot to me is that not only can I represent the level of care [that I want], but that people can see it. There’s a much more direct line of communication between the clients and the highest level of people at ETP than there used to be.
What we were in 2013 compared to where we are now is not even close.”
All photos courtesy of Eat to Perform.