No one is immune to a "kick". Neither you, nor me, nor the "people". Former professional cyclist turned journalist, writer and founder of the Fitnext 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 …
On the home page of his coaching site, Erwann Menthéour appears relaxed, smiling. No big 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 which has just been "swallowed up" and which six months earlier had not at all the same physiognomy? When I join Erwann at home, in his Paris apartment, this facade shatters. Happy to go 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 passed away 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 movie of my life and happy days with those I had lost. What was very hard was that everything was fine apparently. I had a solid couple, an extraordinary woman, my two daughters delighted me, my Fitnext company developed 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 wasn’t allowed to. 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! That’s 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, I was getting really stupid … The time had come to face evil.
It is paradoxical to be the boss of a company promoting health and well-being through sport and nutrition and to be "caught" by depression … So can anyone "dive"?
Yes, really, I don't think anyone 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’s often uncomfortable to live. And this is also what makes our lives exciting. 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 made of that too. It forces you into humility, it gives you empathy, benevolence and understanding (I must point out that you don't 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 an alcohol, an engine: we can fire everything at the bottom. As far as I am concerned, the trials were not going to end there. When Kristel left, my whole world fell apart. I tried to face 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 it was there that 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 my granddaughter Margaux 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 that she would not come back until I became 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 key word is patience and I don't have the slightest sample of it, sometimes I tell myself that this story about shoemaker shoddy is true! I’m 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 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 trying to apologize to me, high performance sport does not leave us "intact". However, I confusedly knew that it would be 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 Lelab 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 have 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 internships 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. I did a lot of bodyweight and a little gym? Cycling five days a week. The program was: "decided to be happy …" That was my mantra, and it didn't come in eight days. 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 believe 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 Fitnext 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 that 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 coaches 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 Fitnext!
The concept of "losing weight" seems to be omnipresent today in advertisements and promotions around online coaching sites. Is this the number 1 reason why people come to Fitnext?
It's kind of normal for you to have that 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! It's crazy, right? However, scientists have 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 have to 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 UN.
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 physical transformation. Unlike many diets or sports programs, Fitnext has a comprehensive 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 have left, story of the 6th extinction sounds like a cry of alarm. Do you really believe in the extinction of the human species?
I would love to say 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) have 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 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’m afraid it’s the end of the world if we don’t make a difference 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, it could go much faster than what we imagine and that is what worries the UN and the whole scientific community.
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 increase methane emissions disproportionately in the event of permafrost melting, which would lead to an 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 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 it?
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 alterglobalist. 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 you think it would be enough if you stopped buying it and it no longer sold …" That's exactly it! It's a very powerful credit card, we have to realize that. Besides, 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 one hundred and fifty years … Even the most lazy or sold governments could do this to save the planet and its inhabitants …
What is the bridge between Fitnext and this fight for the future?
Fitnext is the implementation of the main principles of eco-responsibility! On the new app, we are supporting people to stop meat. On each recipe, there are three indicators: the microbiota, the acid-base balance and the eco-impact. So every time you cook, you can measure what's good for you 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’s a great pride for me. To change yourself is to change the world!
Self-portrait of a whistleblower
Of Secret High at And if we stopped poisoning our children, I’ve only done one thing, actually, just one thing: 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 realized 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 the voluntary ignorance and the 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 precision: between the moment when we produce greenhouse gases and the moment 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 in the post-war era, the consumption practices of the 1950s by our grandparents. They have become our standard. Throughout the first part of the 20th century, the transportation industry was primarily responsible for global warming – it now accounts for 13% of greenhouse gases. For forty years, it’s meat (15%). But 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 one who turns to vegetarianism, nine turn to meat while coming from historically vegetarian emerging countries. Do not be scarred by words. We are running towards chaos. With The chances that 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 may 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 otherwise seized, like the inhabitants of Pompeii, in the lava and the fire of disasters. Each of us must rediscover, individually, his intimate, rebellious power, his humanity in what is singular, we become dangerous again. We will no longer be predictable. "We can be heroes," said David Bowie? It’s good it’s about saving the world. So let's go !