Erwann Menthéour: the interview

No one is immune to a “soft blow”. Neither you, nor me, nor the “people”. A former professional cyclist who became a journalist, writer, and founder of the Fitness method and the online coaching site fitnext.com, Erwann Menthéour had a difficult year in 2018, which saw him lose his bearings, gain weight and sink into depression. A test from which he was able to recover, to return sharper and more determined than ever.

Fall, get up …

Erwann Menthéour appears relaxed, smiling. No large swollen biceps, protruding pectorals, cut abs. However, under the T-shirt, the “beast” is impressive, built like a fighting bull. The photographs taken at the end of June by Emmanuel Bournot show a cut, full-body, a power in the rough that one imagines indestructible. How can we believe that this is a facade that has just been “swallowed up” and that six months earlier had not at all the same physiognomy? When I join Erwann at home, in his Parisian apartment, this facade shatters. Happy to go back up the hill, he speaks frankly about the trials he has just gone through, the way he fought and the new challenges that motivate him.

At 46, you display a vibrant physical form. However, last year, at the same time, you weighed 15 kg more and you were at the bottom of the hole. Without going into details, what happened?

Being a coach does not immunize you from the vagaries of life or its torments. Since the end of my pro cycling career at the end of 1997, several of my generation’s old friends have committed suicide or died of illness around me. In 2013, I lost one of my best friends: Philippe Gaumont. It was a real shock to see him lying like a crusader on his deathbed. Then it was my big brother Pierre-Henri, my idol, who died in 2014, literally eaten by cancer. Death was lurking around me … I could feel it and I believe that subconsciously, I had to put a compensation mechanism in my head to be able to bear this incandescent pain in the middle of my chest. Every night I played the film of my life and happy days with those I had lost. Which was very hard, is that everything was apparently fine. I had a solid couple, an extraordinary woman, my two daughters delighted me, my Fitnext company was developing remarkably, I was on daily life on France 2 with Stéphane Bern, and each of my books was a bestseller. I couldn’t complain, I had no right. But if you throw the trash every day in the cellar and imagine that it will never catch up with you, you are going astray. The day will come when the cellar will be filled with trash and you won’t be able to add anything! This is what I did conscientiously for four years. By pushing back the time when I had to face the problem, it freaked me out. My wife left me in 2016 and it hurts to admit it but she was right,

It is paradoxical to be the boss of a company advocating health and well-being through sport and nutrition and to be “caught up” by depression … So can everyone “dive”? 

Yes, really, I believe that nobody is safe! But you don’t have to “pathologize” everything, suffering is part of life, you just have to know how to make it motor. We want to tell ourselves that life is cool, and social networks have become very guilty for that, but nothing is more wrong. It is often uncomfortable to live. And this is also what makes our lives fascinating. One should not feel guilty for going wrong, one should not try to run away from it. Of course, we would happily do without the tiles that fall on our faces, but let’s face it, life is also made of that. It forces you into humility, it gives you empathy, benevolence, and understanding (I point out that we obviously do not have to sink to have empathy!). And we can then make moments of depression the place of unexpected metamorphoses. Let’s make everything that thwarts us alcohol, an engine: we can fire everything at the bottom. As far as I am concerned, the trials were not going to stop there. When Kristel left, my whole world fell apart. I tried to cope as best I could but my armor was cracked. It was then Fitnext’s turn to have problems at the end of 2017, very big problems related to my technical teams when launching a new application.

I had one last burst of pride: I changed the technical teams and recruited a new partner to manage the company with me. We were then in the summer of 2018. And this is where I really sank… I ate less well than usual, I drank and, above all, I could no longer devote serious time to training … My depression had made its way for four years, its seeds had turned into fruit and I could not find any resources … In January 2019, I had to face the death of one of my very close relatives. I went down to Brest for his funeral, and Margaux, my grown-up daughter, told me that Lou, my youngest, 11 years old, could not bear to see me on the ground anymore, that she now preferred to stay with her mother. I did not expect it, I was struck, struck down…

Where did the trigger come from that made you get up? 

Lou agreed to see me and explained to me that she would not come back until I had become myself again, the one who was always happy, the one who was strong. ”  I love you daddy but I need you, the real you, please become yourself again”. It was an outstretched hand … That was the click, my little girl showed me the way and I was going to seize this chance!

Was this resilience a necessary evil?

I would have done well with these tests, frankly. But if we are patient, that we are really determined to get out of it, I believe that we are all equipped to overcome everything that life imposes on us. The keyword is patience and I do not have the slightest sample of it on me, sometimes I tell myself that this story of shoemaker shod badly is true! I am a wellness coach who sometimes goes bad, very bad, but suddenly, I made the antibodies. When it hits me, I know how to react. I also believe that we should all accept our vulnerability, that we should not be proud, it never does anything good to keep it all inside.

Concretely, how did you manage to go up the slope? With what help?

I started by going to see a shrink, this is the basis I think. It helped me a lot to have a neutral outside opinion, and especially to recognize that I had a problem. I also discovered that a lot of boxers and cyclists suffer from this disease. Depression affects more and more people. I almost want to say that it would be a little crazy to pretend that we are doing well in this crazy world! Without looking for excuses, the high-performance sport does not leave us “intact”. Nevertheless, I confusedly knew that it would be the sport that would pull me from there. I asked one of my best friends to help me. I went down to Nice to join Greg Ibeknoussen in his Lab room to regain control.

What program did you follow?

I know myself well when it comes to nutrition and I followed the main principles of Fitnext. It’s really a great program, especially when you’ve lost the right reflexes. As for sports, I let Greg take care of me, I gave him the keys. I went there with my eyes closed, he’s a great coach. From February to June, I did two one-week courses with him in Nice. My partner supported me, my editor supported me and we worked hard on my two new books and on Fitnext. I imposed myself a training of 10 hours per week and an impeccable nutritional background. Did I do a lot of bodyweights and a little bit of gym? Cycling five days a week. The program was: “decided to be happy …” That was my mantra, and it didn’t come in a week. But after six weeks, I felt that something had changed, that I was going to be able to be well again, serene, beyond anything that could be imposed on me. And even if I stumble, I will get up again and again…

What do you learn from this experience?

Let everything go … You have to trust yourself, there is always an incomprehensible phase of scarring of course, but I think that we are recovering from everything. And also that you have to embark on projects, dream …

On the business side, where is Fitnext, after eight years of existence? 

We are about to succeed in the bet we made a year ago with Cédric Girard, my partner, that of straightening Fitnext. We have put the fundamentals of our product back in place while developing a much more customer-centric approach. The Fitness program is all the more effective as it is easier to follow and integrate into your calendar. It’s good to see this band fighting and to feel this new dynamism which strengthens the team spirit.

Did the “savage” competition between companies like “Comme J’aime”, very offensive in the media, push you to reposition yourself more towards food?

It is true that competition is fierce, we no longer have the right to make mistakes with such important competitors. Our strength is to teach our coachees to eat better, not to eat less, by focusing on the microbiota, which conditions 70% of our immunity. We also offer new features by accompanying him to the restaurant and always giving him good advice wherever he is to help him optimize his progress. In addition, you can choose dishes that are easy to prepare or choose to really cook like a chef, that’s also the new Fitness!

The concept of “slimming down” today seems to be omnipresent in advertisements and promotions around online coaching sites. Is this the number 1 reason why people come to Fitness?

It is a little normal that you have this impression; in 2030, almost 30% of the population will be obese in France. Look no further! Everyone wants to lose weight because people are massively magnifying. And nobody wonders what is causing this inflation! Isn’t it crazy? However, scientists explained to us that the origin of this disease was the quantity and variety of bacteria that we have in the intestine. This microbiota is formed between the fourth month of pregnancy and the fourth year of existence, it is in a way our bacterial identity card for life. During this period, you must be very careful and try to be as little as possible exposed to antibiotics, pesticides, GMOs. In short, everything we are exposed to today with industrial food. Just drink milk, eat meat or fish and you know the culprits. Most industrial breeders administer antibiotics to prevent diseases, they give animals cereals from North America, that is to say, GMO cereals saturated with pesticides! They are also the people behind the antimicrobial resistance epidemic that worries the United Nations.

How does Fitnext take this into account, and what does your application have more than the others?

For us, well-being is just as important as a physical transformation. Unlike many diets or sports programs, Fitnext has a complete contribution to health, energy, sleep, sports performance, and morale. We help our coachees to reveal the best of themselves. Our strength is also a daily program that adapts continuously to our coachees according to their feelings, their progress, their goals and desires, and their agenda. The goal is to deploy pragmatic solutions around the coachee to make his life easier.

Your new work,  The Chances That We Remain,  History of the 6th Extinction, sounds like a cry of alarm. Do you really believe in the extinction of the human species?

I would love if we said to ourselves in twenty years: “Look at what this stupid Menthéour said, he who believed in a possible end of the world, he really got it all wrong! Really, I would love … The problem for twenty-five years is that all the scenarios envisaged by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editor’s note) had designed a grid with “worst-case scenario” of the worst, note) has been exploded by reality! For example, in 2000, they projected that six years later, carbon dioxide emissions would reach 8 billion tonnes at worst, and they reached 8.4 billion tonnes. Each time, man has found resources to do even worse than the worst of the scenarios envisaged. Some glaciologists have been paralyzed by the discoveries they have made in Greenland in the past eighteen months. They never imagined being confronted with this reality during their lifetime. So yes, I’m talking about the sixth extinction and I assume it better than any scientist because I can afford to say bullshit. This is, moreover, the role of the whistleblower. In conclusion, I am afraid that the end of the world is looming if we do not change things in five years. If we do not drastically reduce our production of greenhouse gases, we will be faced with a domino effect of which no scientist is able to predict the consequences in the short, medium and long term,

You have been fighting for this awareness for years. Do you have the feeling of being listened to today? Taken seriously?

Taken seriously? This is not the subject, I think. I would especially like to be heard. What does prominent glaciologist Peter Wadhams tell us? He thinks that the current changing climate context could disproportionately increase methane emissions in the event of permafrost melting, which would lead to almost immediate warming of 1 ° C in a few weeks. And the reality that the melting of this ancestral layer of ice would confront us with is that the methane it covers could then raise the temperature of our planet by several degrees, even several tens of degrees. It is quite simply the end of life on earth that we are talking about here, that is to say, the extinction of human hope before 2100.

Is “political time”, always very long, compatible with taking the radical measures necessary for the survival of humanity as you imagine?

I definitely believe in our individual ability to make a difference. Let’s take an example: if I had asked you to buy organic in 1980 while explaining to you that pesticides destroy our health and our environment, you would at least have taken me for a retarded sixty-eight or a basic alter globalism. Result? Everyone today has adopted organic, even industrialists, for better and for worse! We must be aware that we have a massive building weapon in our pocket, we have a credit card! It’s better than a vote. In 1982, Coluche rightly said, “When we think it would be enough that we stop buying it so that it no longer sells …” That’s exactly it! It is really very powerful a credit card, we must be aware of it. Otherwise, if I ask you if you want the change, everyone agrees; if I ask you if you are ready to change, almost no one looks up and nods. However, without change, without transition, it is the collapse that becomes clearer and takes shape day after day. Isn’t it time for all of us to question ourselves individually? Isn’t it also time to impose on companies that are causing the evil to return more than half of their profits to finance the ecological transition? We know them, nearly a hundred companies have produced 73% of greenhouse gases in less than a hundred and fifty years … Even the laziest or sold governments could do that to save the planet and its inhabitants … if I ask you if you are ready to change, almost no one looks up and nods. 

However, without change, without transition, it is the collapse that becomes clearer and takes shape day after day. Isn’t it time for all of us to question ourselves individually? Isn’t it also time to impose on companies that are causing the evil to return more than half of their profits to finance the ecological transition? We know them, nearly a hundred companies have produced 73% of greenhouse gases in less than a hundred and fifty years … Even the laziest or sold governments could do that to save the planet and its inhabitants … if I ask you if you are ready to change, almost no one looks up and nods. However, without change, without transition, it is the collapse that becomes clearer and takes shape day after day. Isn’t it time for all of us to question ourselves individually? Isn’t it also time to impose on companies that are causing the evil to return more than half of their profits to finance the ecological transition? We know them, nearly a hundred companies have produced 73% of greenhouse gases in less than a hundred and fifty years … Even the laziest or sold governments could do that to save the planet and its inhabitants … it is the collapse which becomes clearer and takes shape day after day. Isn’t it time for all of us to question ourselves individually? Isn’t it also time to impose on companies that are causing the evil to return more than half of their profits to finance the ecological transition? We know them, nearly a hundred companies have produced 73% of greenhouse gases in less than a hundred and fifty years … Even the laziest or sold governments could do that to save the planet and its inhabitants … it is the collapse which becomes clearer and takes shape day after day. Isn’t it time for all of us to question ourselves individually? Isn’t it also time to impose on companies that are causing the evil to return more than half of their profits to finance the ecological transition? We know them, nearly a hundred companies have produced 73% of greenhouse gases in less than a hundred and fifty years … Even the laziest or sold governments could do that to save the planet and its inhabitants …

What is the bridge between Fitnext and this fight for the future?

Fitness is the implementation of the main principles of eco-responsibility! On the new app, we support people to stop the meat. On each recipe, there are three indicators: the microbiota, the acid-base balance, and the eco-impact. So that each time we cook, we can measure what is good for being and at the same time good for the planet. It is not trivial because it accompanies the coachee towards responsibility. The future of our world depends on individual awareness and Fitnext is an accelerator of this awareness. It is a great pride for me. To change yourself is to change the world!

Self-portrait of a whistleblower

From  Secret Fucked to  What if we stopped poisoning our children, I only did one thing, in fact, only one: raise the alarm. By setting up my food and sports coaching business, Fitnext, I very quickly had the ambition to help people take power over themselves, to regain control of their internal chemistry, of their food environment. Then I measured how much our choices in terms of nutrition had direct consequences on our environment. And I was able to measure, like others, the gravity of the situation in which we were: I am fascinated by willful ignorance and denial in which we are. For climate skeptics, still far too numerous, know that emissions linked to human activity have increased CO2 levels by more than 40% in a century and a half. Even the IPCC’s conclusions are sometimes dramatically optimistic. This optimism threatens us, this optimism kills us. Small clarification: between the time when we produce greenhouse gases and the time when we warm the climate, it happens forty years. In other words, the record heat waves we are experiencing today are due to changes in lifestyles and mass industrialization after the war, the consumption practices of the 50s of our grandparents. They have become our standard. 

During the first part of the 20th century, the transport industry was the first responsible for global warming – today it represents 13% of greenhouse gases. For forty years, it has been meat (15%). However, with globalization, the UN plans to increase beef consumption by 78%, which would propel greenhouse gas emissions to 45%. Every four days, 10 million people are born on this planet. For a person who turns to vegetarianism, nine turns to meat when they come from historically vegetarian emerging countries. Do not be scared by words. We are running towards chaos. With the chances we have left, that I dream offensive and enthusiastic, I would like to invite everyone, with strength and optimism, to awareness and to combat. Because today it is crucial to get out of the denial, of the voluntary ignorance in which our society, history, the abstract torpor of globalized finance have plunged us. Our still-new century can become that of an unprecedented revolt. We have the means to mobilize, to choose not to abdicate and, above all, not to continue collaborating on our loss. I would like to show what we can do, very concretely, to reverse the tragic course of things in which we will be if not seized, as the inhabitants of Pompeii, in the lava and the fire of disasters. Each of us must rediscover, individually, our intimate, rebellious power, her humanity in what is singular, we become dangerous again. We will no longer be predictable. “We can be heroes,” said David Bowie? That’s good, it’s about saving the world. So let’s go!

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