Why you are Gaining Weight: ETP Panic Checklist

13 May


(Click here to jump to a summary of this article.)

If you walked into your CrossFit gym and complained every day that your Fran time sucked, but you didn’t put in any of the work to improve, none of your coaches would be interested in hearing what you have to say.  Intuitively, you know you need to expend effort at the gym to see any return on your investment, but for some reason people think that nutrition is different.  It’s not.  

We have here a system that allows you to figure out how to get the most from your body, but until you take the reins, a major component of success is missing.  Remember that no one shows up here completely put together.  While we can provide guidance and support, we don’t climb the mountain for you; we are more like sherpas.  You have to figure things out for yourself.

When I started Eat To Perform, the goal was to expose people to a performance diet focused around a moderate carbohydrate intake.  This went well initially, until I realized that A LOT of people were drastically under eating…So I created the ETP Calculator.  There were a number of WOD killers focused on performance that took that info and started crushing things.  That was really the genesis of this site getting so popular.

At this point, I started my initial conversations with Mike T Nelson about writing something specific for the goals of our community.  His time frame wasn’t great and at that point I really wasn’t sure he was all that interested in doing it.  We only had maybe 5,000 followers at this point; I had no idea it would grow so quickly.  We both agreed that CBL had some warts, but for my purposes, it filled a need.  I decided I wouldn’t sell it unless I had a means of supporting it, because a lot of people would read Carb Back-Loading and end up in a state of confusion.  As Kiefer admits in the book, it’s not a great fit for CrossFit, but I was able to get people the basic idea without the extremes.  That is how the Science Lab came to be.

By the time Mike had opened up the time to write Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes, we  had already released two volumes of Foundations (our manual).  Many people mistakenly believe we teach CBL (Or… *gulp*…CNS) but we don’t.  Our documents talk about the Metabolic Flexibility concepts within CBL, but that’s it.  CBL brings up a lot of extremes that may work for competitive powerlifters or bodybuilders, but the numbers and methodology aren’t optimal for CrossFit.

To top it off, we support our work with seminars, a team of professionals, and a private group.  We didn’t ask a software engineer to write our book; we went straight to the source.

But I’m Gaining Weight!

I have three words for you:


We are a performance site with a secondary emphasis on fat loss and body recomposition.  Those are the two things we do well, and we can prove it with the body fat tests and personal records of many individuals.

What we can’t do, however is guarantee you weight loss.  Frankly, the laws of physics don’t allow that.  Let me explain why:

Most people are coming from an overly restrictive approach to eating. (Low carb, low calorie, and oftentimes both at once.)  Their bodies are in a constant state of energy deprivation, and as a result their weight is artificially deflated.  They’re dried out and their muscles are empty.  Their metabolism has become inflexible, and they do a relatively bad job at burning anything for energy.  That is often the reason their weight loss has stalled (though their fat loss probably stalled long before that.)  The unavoidable consequence of eating enough food to fuel performance is that the individual gains weight.  

This is exactly what you want to happen, but it’s kind of scary, especially when you’re coming from the traditional deficit dieting approach that puts so much emphasis on scale weight and other arbitrary numbers.  Rest assured, after a few weeks or so, your weight will stabilize and you’ll see the number on the scale for what it is:  one data among many.  It isn’t the be-all-end-all of judging your body.

I think many people are under the impression they are joining (or have joined) a diet site.  You haven’t.  Why would you want that anyway?  If you apply these concepts correctly, your dieting days are over.  You can get back to training hard, eating well, and living your life!

Panic Checklist

To that end, here is a checklist of what to do when you begin to enter unfamiliar waters:

1.  Have you read Metabolic Flexibility by Mike T Nelson?

If you haven’t, you probably don’t fully understand the Eat To Perform concepts.  Here is the link on how to get started.  We can certainly try to help you coming from the standpoint of CBL, but in the end that’s not what we teach.

2.  Do you know what your body fat percentage is?

We wrote this article on ways to test your body fat.  I basically get two complaints from people concerning getting tested:  one is legitimate and the other is typically not.  The first complaint is that they don’t have one of these facilities; that’s a legitimate excuse.  The second is that they can’t afford it.  Now, I am not in the business of judging people, or telling them what they can and can not afford, but if you look down and you have $139 pair of customized Nano’s, you can afford a body fat test.  BodPod’s are the cheapest method ( under $50 usually).  Hydrostatic weighting/DXA Scan are more expensive.  The prices vary wildly, what I can say is that DXA calls the body fat test a “BMI” test, so if you call and say you need a DXA they will assume it’s for bone density.  Those are the more expensive tests.  Most clinics that test bone density have DXA.

3.  Do you have the ETP Challenge Spreadsheet and how long have you been tracking trends?

What we teach people is to eat adequate amounts of food to fuel their performance.  The problem lies in the details; some people have a lot of fat to lose (actually everyone THINKS they do) and others are lean trying to dial in their body composition (the majority of people we work with fall into this category.)  When a lot of people show up, they are focused on losing body fat, but it’s the “adding and maintaining muscle” part that makes the biggest difference.  We also teach people to eat carbohydrates around their workouts with some attention to timing, but most of the value comes in the actual volume of food.  Figuring out the right amount of carbs is a process, but the same could be said for fats and proteins.

To track trends, you need to allow time for them to develop.  I don’t need people to count calories as much as I need them to understand the value of cycling carbs for athletic performance while relying on fats for energy at rest, and of course eating adequate amounts of protein to add/maintain muscle mass.

4.  Have you done the 2 week Control Day Challenge?

We were doing this longer at first,  but then we realized that people didn’t need to do it that long to realize what was going on.  Control Days are basically low carb days that you time around rest days.  Sometimes, you will do them on days you WOD (those days typically suck, which is why we only do it for two weeks.)  What people find out is that a lot of the things they thought they knew all along were wrong.  For instance, they perform better with some level of carbs, so when you take those out, your WOD’s and work capacity start to suck.  It’s okay to have a sucky WOD here and there because it might fit your goals (in terms of fat loss) but too often and you’re back with the “eat less do less” model.

Which brings me to a very important part.  I talk a lot about “eating for joy occasionally”, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you should “eat less occasionally” as well.  Eating less occasionally was never the problem for most people; it was the fact that they ate less all of the time that slowed their metabolism and compromised their hormone function.  When you have a functioning metabolism and eat less occasionally, you see EXTREME results but you never know this until you test it.

5.  Have you been to the seminars and asked questions, or watched any of the seminars?

People struggling with fat loss tend to get highly personal with it; they feel that they are all alone, and that no one has ever been in a situation similar to theirs.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  We have about 2,000 lab rats now, and almost 700 in the private group, all sharing their experiences.  Someone has been in your shoes before, trust me on that one.

6.  Are you an active member of the private group?

It’s time for a little honesty.  Being confused has value; it makes diving into that piece of cheesecake a little easier when you know you probably shouldn’t.  Eating for joy occasionally wasn’t most people’s problem, it was eating for joy all of the time, or in a lot of instances not eating enough to support athletic performance.  Either way, it’s a lot easier to say “I don’t understand what is happening” than to actually join the conversation and figure it out.  Stop being a victim; take the reins and forget everything you ever knew about body composition.  Start fresh, track things (not obsessively) and lift heavy stuff.

You are no longer a dieter; don’t throw away the scale, but don’t let it reign over you the way that it used to.  Do this, and I think you will be better off as a result.


  • Like training, nutrition requires time and dedication to reap the rewards.  You have to take the reins and put in the effort to figure out what works best for you.  No two people experience the same results.
  • Eat To Perform and Metabolic Flexibility are more suitable for high-intensity athletes than Carb Back-Loading because we take a much more moderate approach to carbohydrate consumption, but on average eat carbs more frequently because we train more frequently.
  • ETP is NOT about losing weight/dieting.  We’re focused on performance and health!
  • Gaining weight is the natural consequence of eating enough food to fuel performance and achieve a high-functioning metabolism.  Once your weight stabilizes, you’ll find that you feel, perform, and look better.
  • Before you panic over weight gain/water retention, ask yourself these questions:
    • 1.  Have you read Metabolic Flexibility by Mike T Nelson?
    • 2.  Do you know what your body fat percentage is?
    • 3.  Do you have the ETP Challenge Spreadsheet and how long have you been tracking trends?
    • 4.  Have you done the 2 week Control Day Challenge?
    • 5.  Have you been to the seminars and asked questions, or watched any of the seminars?
    • 6.  Are you an active member of the private group?
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