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Best-selling author Nir Eyal gives science-based insights to build healthy habits, improve productivity and focus, and manage distraction. He’s the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
So if I am trying to watch my weight, meaning I need to lose a couple, I try and stay around a particular range. But if I need to lose a few, the only way I have successfully found to do that is to calorie-track. And it’s a not fun process, but it’s the only way I’ve been successful. So I use an app called Carb Manager, and I try and eat basically the same things because that’s the easiest way to track what I’m going to eat.
So for breakfast, I have oatmeal, gluten-free oatmeal, with low-sugar jam, decaf coffee, a protein shake. And then for lunch, I’ll have cauliflower rice and chicken breast and green peas. And then for dinner… Oh, sorry. For lunch, I’ll also have a dessert of some peanut butter. This PB2 stuff that’s this powdered peanut butter, plus some more jelly.
And then for dinner, I’ll have shirataki noodles, which are these low-calorie noodles with salmon, and typically some kind of vegetable like mushroom. And yeah. And then there’s probably a few other things I missed there. But basically, I calorie-track when I’m trying to lose a few pounds because that’s the only way I’ve reliably found to make sure I’m in a caloric deficit. That there’s really just no way to escape that. So it is a bit of work, but I found that I can make it much easier by having my go-to calorie restricted meals that I jump to.
And if I’m on that for a week or two, then I lose the pound or so that… More than a pound or so. Typically, two or three pounds, if I need to recalibrate and get back to my target weight.
What do you eat when you’re on the run?
So I try and eat food that I can track. So there’s no food that I say I will not eat. I eat anything I want. Well, I do have one restriction that I’m gluten sensitive. So I can’t have too much gluten, but other than that, I eat whatever I want. But I try and eat anything that I can track. So with Carb Manager… There’s other apps that track calories, as well. As long as I can put it in the app, then I can watch my calorie intake.
So the only numbers I’m looking at are calories and protein content. And as long as I don’t go too far over my calories for the day, then I eat basically whatever I want when I’m on the run, as long as I can track it. And sometimes, funny enough, fast food can actually be great because it’s standardized.
So you can put into the calorie tracking app exactly what you’re eating at McDonald’s or KFC or whatever, and there’s no guesswork. So you can actually lose weight when eating fast food because it’s very trackable.
Let’s say you got to choose your last meal on Earth, what would it be?
My last meal on Earth would be a meal with my family. And I don’t really care what we eat. I know that’s not what your question is asking, but that’s the truth.
Food can be a way to bring people together. The food itself is not what it’s all about. But I would say in terms of what foods I think taste best… I live in Singapore and one food that I’ve really gotten into lately, that’s a very controversial food, is durian.
I didn’t used to like it. It’s the world’s stinkiest fruit to some people. To other people, they call it the king of fruit. But good durian is absolutely amazing. And there is no dessert I would rather have. I don’t care if it’s chocolate cake, creme brulee, ice-cream, nothing can hold a candle to a good durian.
What is your go-to comfort food?
So a great food that I will go to when I just need a little snacking, something to do in-between meals is microwave popcorn. But not the kind from the bag. I get the whole kernels and then I found this silicone microwave popper. Essentially, the reason I like it so much is that you don’t need anything like butter or extra salt.
You just put the dried popcorn kernels into this silicone bowl and you pop it in the microwave. And so it has no additives, it’s just the popcorn. And you get a lot of volume for not that many calories. How do you recover after indulgent eating? So I don’t try and beat myself up too much. If I have a day where I’m not tracking and I go a little overboard, then that’s okay.
I just recover by the next day, starting over or even in the middle of the day. So if I know I’m going to have an indulgent meal coming up, let’s say, I’m going out to a nice dinner and I don’t want to count calories, well, I’ll just count calories for the first two meals.
And then I know I can only go overboard by so much.
How do you find time for fitness?
The best thing is exactly what you’re asking here. It’s making the time. It’s not finding the time, it’s making the time. So planning time in your day. So I have a very specific time. Every day, 10:00 AM, that is when I exercise.
And so planning the time in advance is a big part of becoming indistractable, the subject of my second book. It’s all about planning the time. If you plan the time, then it’s much more likely you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do. But what most people do is they say, “Oh, I’ll find time sometime in the day.” And then of course, that time never comes because they don’t really want to do the exercise. So planning the time is absolutely essential.
What do you like to do for exercise?
So I lift weights for five days of the week. I try and do complex movements: chest, bench press. Compound exercises, four or five days of the week, where I’ll do: shoulders, arms, legs, chest. Each have their own day. And then I’ll also mix in at least one, four-mile run per day and then one kilometer swim each week.
Sorry, the run is one per week, not one per day. So typically, I’ll have two cardios in there. And then on Saturdays, I go to the beach where I have a few friends. We get together, we do a Tabata workout and then we do hill sprints. But that’s on the weekend. And then I also like to go to the driving range every once in a while on weekends as well.
What are your three favorite workout songs?
I actually don’t listen to workout music. I like to listen to articles. I find that I can… I have a rule that I’d never read articles on my computer because that’s when articles will suck you in, into the content vortex. Sites like the New York Times and CNN, they don’t really care how much time that you spend reading the news.
Even if it’s not good for you, they’re not going to tell you it’s time to stop reading the news. So you have to take responsibility for that yourself. But I find if I read news online, then I just go and keep reading and keep reading. So I have a rule I never read online. I always send articles to my phone. And then my phone in this app, called Pocket, reads the articles to me. So that’s what I’m doing while I’m working out. I’m listening to interesting articles.
After a challenging day, how do you de-stress?
Again, back to this principle that I talked about in my book, Indistractable, it’s about making time for traction. So I find that I have a lot less stress when I have a timebox calendar. That’s really a huge part of my philosophy around being indistractable.
There’s nothing wrong with watching a movie on Netflix or going on social media or doing whatever it is you want to do with your time, but plan that time in advance so that you’re not doing it because of stress. You’re doing it because it’s planned in your day and you enjoy it. Training yourself to look for relief because you feel stressed is not so great because you start forming bad habits, right? You start drinking, you start watching TV, you start scrolling social media to escape stress. Really, what you have to do is deal with the source of the stress to begin with, not try and escape it with distraction.
How do you treat yourself after a long week?
So I’m very thankful that I get to do what I love. So I never feel like I’m suffering throughout the week, that I get to write for a living, which I think is a wonderful job.
And I really enjoy what I do. So I don’t ever feel like I have to indulge, so to speak, because I’m not sacrificing anything in that regard. But on the weekends I will definitely spend time with friends and my family. Typically, I’ll have one full afternoon with my daughter. This weekend, we’re going to the water park, which we’re looking forward to.
So I always have time with her during the weekend. And then Saturday mornings, as I mentioned, I go to the beach to do a Tabata workout with my friends. And then I’ll typically go to the driving range with another friend on a weekend. So it’s really time for friends and family.
Do you have a nighttime ritual?
So at night, I try and go to bed relatively early. I try and be in bed around 9:30 and asleep by 10:00. And that’s, again, timebox on my calendar. And I don’t know if it’s too much of a ritual other than while I’m brushing my teeth, the one weird ritual I do is that I always do a squat.
So I always go down as low as I possibly can. I have an electric toothbrush that has a timer for two minutes. So I try and stay in that fully-squat position, with my heels on the floor, in that position, down in that position for the entire two minutes. So that’s part of my ritual, I guess you could say.
Is there a motto or saying you say to yourself that helps you?
Yes. So my motto, when it comes to these subjects, is consistency over intensity. Consistency over intensity.
Many of the things we want in life, whether it’s a great relationship with our family, our friends, our spouse; whether it’s doing great work, professionally; whether it’s being physically fit, the key is consistency, consistency over intensity. It’s not about a fad diet with a deadline that as soon as you hit that deadline, that mark, you’re done and you go back to your old ways.
It’s about consistently putting in the effort in everything we do. That’s how we make changes in our life.
Is there anything you’re working on changing?
I’m always working on something. So one thing I do is that I make landmarks for myself for the year, and then I check how I’m progressing in those landmarks every month.
So once a month, I sit down and I ask myself, “Hey, how am I progressing in this life domain?” Whether it’s my relationships, whether it’s my physical fitness. Sometimes I’ll set landmark achievements that I’d like to hit. For example, I’ve been working on handstands and I’m trying to get a 30 second freestanding handstand this year. So I’ll work towards these goals by checking in regularly with myself every month.
Why do you think so many people think being fit and successful can’t coexist?
I don’t know. I think it’s probably because they feel like they lack control and agency over their time. And that’s why I wrote the book, Indistractable, because there’s no facet of your life that is not dictated by your ability to control your attention and control your time.
That is truly how we control our life. The good news is that all of us can become indistractable, but that starts by turning your values into time. We all talk a good game about our values, we say we value our health, we say we value our relationship, but do we make time for those things?
So we’ve got to absolutely make time for them. And if we do, we can actually be successful in all those life domains because success is defined by how you want to spend your time and attention. So if success to you is playing video games all day, that’s great, but plan a time for it. But if success to you means having a healthy body, having healthy relationships, that time has to be planned for as well.
And doing that in advance is the only way you can make trade-offs. The people who don’t get what they want in life, don’t sit down and ask themselves what’s possible in their day. And so what do they do whenever they feel stressed, tired, fatigued, fearful, uncertain? They look for escape, right? Too much news, too much booze, too much football, too much Facebook.
They look for escape from reality because they can’t deal with that discomfort. Well, becoming indistractable is all about learning to cope with that discomfort in a healthy way that leads you towards traction rather than distraction.
What is something you know about health fitness you wish you knew 10 years ago?
I would go back to that motto, consistency over intensity. That fad diets and big changes don’t work. That’s one thing. The second thing is that behavior change necessitates identity change, that if you want to create change in your life, you have to see yourself differently. You have to call yourself an athlete and define what that means for you. So to me, an athlete is someone who exercises consistently. Doesn’t mean I have to run marathons, it doesn’t mean I have to win any recognition.
I just have to exercise consistently. But defining myself as that, calling myself an athlete, makes me more likely to achieve those goals I said to myself to be true to my identity. Just like a person who’s a vegetarian calls themselves a vegetarian, because it makes them more likely to do what they say they’re going to do.
They don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hmm, I wonder if I can have a bacon sandwich.” A vegetarian does not eat meat. It is who they are. So it’s fundamental, in any change in our life, that you call yourself a moniker, an identity, a noun by which you use to describe yourself.
And I call myself indistractable for this very reason. It is who I am. Indistractable sounds like indestructible for this very reason.
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