How to Develop Better Eating Habits as a Former Athlete

I used to eat 4,000 calories each day.

Yup, you read that right.

Four thousand calories.

As a skinny 21-year-old college pitcher, I did this nearly every day for two years and successfully added and then maintained 20 pounds (most of it muscle) to get to my final playing weight of 230 pounds.

I was used to spending over $100 on groceries each week. For a student-athlete, it was insane.

All in the pursuit of throwing 95.

When I quit baseball, I had to unlearn this habit. I knew that my exercise levels would decrease. As a result, I was going to get chunky in a hurry if I didn’t make changes to my eating habits.

What did I do to break this habit and build a new one?

I’m glad you asked.

Building Atomic Eating Habits

I’ve written about James Clear and his new book, Atomic Habits a few times before. On his blog and in his book, Clear gives incredible advice on building habits and getting remarkable results through the power of tiny changes.

The book outlines a 4-step framework he’s named the 4 Laws of Behavior Change. They are:

  1. Make it obvious.
  2. Make it attractive.
  3. Make it easy.
  4. Make it satisfying.

If you’re reading this article, the chances are that you are intelligent and don’t want general advice on how to build better habits. You’ve come here for practicality.

For the rest of this article, I’m going to take you through a practical example of how I used Clear’s 4 Laws of Behavior Change framework to reform a habit of mine for my new life as a non-athlete.

The Vertical Diet

In college, I was introduced to THE world’s strongest pro bodybuilder, Stan Efferding. This was my introduction:

I began drinking a gallon or more of sodium-laced water each day. After flavoring it with MiO, everyone at school thought I was drinking windshield wiper fluid. No joke.

A small group of friends and I tried to piece Stan’s nutritional advice together to help us throw harder. The diet is simple, so it wasn’t that hard.

  • Ground beef is good
  • Steak is better
  • White rice is essential
  • Sodium is the unlock

This worked fairly well, but we didn’t know what we were doing.

That all changed when Stan released the Vertical Diet to the public. This comprehensive program was previously only available to high-paying clients, but Stan made it accessible to anyone willing to pay the fee (or have a generous friend).

I got a copy and tore through it in one sitting. Things made more sense and I implemented his advice on leaning out immediately. My short review of the diet: It worked.

By implementing the Vertical Diet through the 4 Laws of Behavior Change, I built new eating habits and lost 20 pounds.

Here’s how:

Make it Obvious

I make this first step extremely simple.

I prepare my food ahead of time.

Because the diet is the same every day, I can prepare various components for the meals all at once. For example, I usually cook one week’s supply of Ground Sirloin on Sunday or Monday night. I dump it in a Tupperware container and place it in my fridge.

In the same way, I prepare rice ahead of time by setting the delay timer on my rice cooker before I go to bed at night. That way, all of the necessary components of my meals are obvious each morning as I pack my lunch for the day ahead. My goal is to eliminate every choice I have other than Vertical Diet approved foods during the week. If the only foods I have ready each day are foods that follow the Vertical Diet’s guidelines, I am going to make better choices and choose to eat those foods.

Make it Attractive

The way my fiance and I view food is very different.

She is an exceptional cook and enjoys the process of taking different ingredients and combining them to form something masterful. For her, the method of cooking or baking is more enjoyable than actually eating the food (or so it appears).


From Jess: “I enjoy eating the food I make more than the act of cooking it. I like cooking because it adds depth and flavors and textures which make food taste better and more unique”

On the other hand, I view food for its utility rather than for enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong; I still love a good, carefully-prepared meal. But if I am the one preparing food, it’s going to be quick, efficient, and productive instead of a long, drawn-out process.

The Vertical Diet allowed me to do just this.

Building off of the previous law (Make it Obvious), the relative ease of preparing Vertical Diet meals is desirable. My fiance gets bored eating the same thing each day, but I love it. I can automate this part of my life. I’m all for simplifying areas of my life, and this is a lovely benefit of the Vertical Diet. The ease of preparing Vertical Diet meals appeals to me and is a significant factor in why I successfully implemented this meal plan and lost 20 pounds.

Make it Easy

Researchers have said that we have a finite amount of willpower in any given day. Because of this, automation of certain life activities becomes very important. If we can automate things in our life like the food we eat or the clothes we wear, we can save our willpower for more critical areas.

One example of this is Mark Zuckerberg. Did you know that he wears the same thing each day? He does this to avoid decision fatigue and use his willpower to make decisions that influence Facebook and its billions of users.

Packing my food and routinizing my meals each day helps me to do this with my eating. I don’t ever need to question if I want chicken alfredo or lasagna. I don’t ever have to use my willpower reservoirs to decide between processed meals in the vending machine at work or a prepared meal. Instead, I open my 6-Pack Fitness cooler and pull out a container of Monster Mash and feed on healthy whole foods.

Preparing my food well-ahead of time and packing it each day makes following the diet easy. Monster Mashes are simple concoctions and don’t take much effort to make each day.

The Vertical Diet is easy to prepare. This helps me to comply with the diet and results in the fulfillment of the final law of behavior change, satisfaction.

Make it Satisfying

“The science is compliance.” – Stan Efferding

Stan will be the first to tell you that there’s nothing magical about the Vertical Diet. If you break it down, it’s nothing more than eating natural, whole foods that give you the macro and micronutrients to perform well and optimize your gut health.

The real secret in losing weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. Well, I hope that’s not a secret any longer.

The Vertical Diet helps me to avoid snacking, which limits calorie consumption. The meals are filling, and the combination of macro and micronutrients, combined with a plethora of sodium satisfy the appetite so they don’t crave the sugary foods that are so often the culprit of plateaued fat loss.

With hundreds (thousands?) of individuals following this program, we must ask why. Why have so many people hopped on the Vertical Diet train and refused to get off?

Simple: It’s satisfying to follow.

The food tastes good. It’s not overly restrictive, and each user can customize it to our own needs and desires (Sorry Stan, I can’t pass up Oreo Cheesecake custard at Culver’s).

In addition to the immediate satisfaction Vertical Diet adherents receive from eating a meal, many people report increased energy, fat loss, muscle gain, and improved athletic performance. Some people note these changes taking place within five days or less after getting on the program. The immediate satisfaction of good tasting food helps to create compliance. The delayed gratification of improved physical well-being keeps people compliant. Both the immediate and delayed satisfaction users get from the program are vital in creating a positive habit loop that helps people like you and I achieve their physique goals.


Stan has created an easy-to-follow program which offers benefits to a broad group of people. Perhaps without even knowing it, Stan created a product that follows the 4 Laws of Behavior Change and helps people from all walks of life easily build exemplary eating habits and transform their lives.

After quitting baseball, I knew that I was destined for fat gain if I continued to eat the way I did while I played. I used the Vertical Diet as a former athlete to change the way I ate.

There’s no secret sauce to the Vertical Diet. While Stan promotes his product hard, he would be the first to tell you that I could lean out and change my eating habits in many other ways. But, I chose to follow the Vertical Diet to reform my eating habits and automate my eating so that I can focus on the stuff that truly matters to me.

It’s not too late to take charge of your habits.

I want you to recognize that you do not have to let yourself go. You can use the 4 Laws of Behavior change to transform your physical health and regain control of your life after sports.

I’ve created an eBook to help current and former athletes build a plan to move on from sports. Get it now to get live well after the final game.

Get the eBook here!

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