The Real-Life Diet of Eric André, Who Counted Calories to Lose 40 Pounds

The comedian caught up with GQ about eating clean, finding balance, and why it's more important to get sleep than work out.
Eric Andr Counted Calories to Lose 40 Pounds
Courtesy of Eric Andre

Eric André is no stranger to going to the physical extremes. From concussions to damaged knees, the pursuit of a laugh has caused his body to be pushed to levels that would make professional stuntmen think twice. But for Season 6 of The Eric André Show on Adult Swim, the comedian put himself through a different kind of wringer: After gaining 40 pounds, André decided to shed that weight and get ripped for the latest edition of his anti-late-night talk show. 

While the physical transformation made for great mirror viewing, ditching the fine cognac, hot Cheetos, and chocolate for bland pre-made meals was a different kind of physical torture. GQ caught up with André to discuss the grueling six-month process he underwent—and how he threw it away within a few weeks.

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

GQ: What led to getting ripped for this season?

Eric André: For the last season, I gained 40 pounds. This season, I got ripped and shredded up. Neither was fun. Getting fat, at first, is fun. I was eating pizza every night and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Piña coladas. But you start getting depressed. Getting ripped, you look good in the mirror and you’re happy with what you see but you’re hungry—and you can’t drink alcohol. You can’t really have fun. You have to eat in with every meal. You get these pre-made meals that become just boring and dreadful after a while. You can’t drink alcohol either. 

How long was the overall process?

Six months. The last big drinks I had were at the top of October and then we started shooting in March. I was about 213 and I got down to 173 pounds and under nine percent body fat. 

What did your food consumption look like?

It’s a lot of meat. For muscle, you need meat. I would have a ton of chicken, fish, turkey, no-sodium tuna, and steak. I wouldn’t have too much steak—but it’s really good and nutrient dense. And then tons of fruits and veggies. The only carbs I would do towards shooting were Japanese sweet potatoes and sourdough bread because they have the most nutrients. If I were dying, I would have some rice. It’s moderation, not deprivation. 

It sounds overwhelming and discouraging at first but if you were losing your mind and you need a bite of ice cream or chocolate, just have it. Satiate the craving and then go back to the healthy food. You don’t want to go fuck it, I can’t do it and then eat a bunch of crap. Admit that you’re human and have a little bit of ice cream. 

Were you counting calories?

I had the calorie-counting app Noom. I would type in the number of calories I burned for the day and the amount I took in. The apps really help—MyFitnessPal and all that shit. That’s actually the most crucial part of it — the calorie counting. If you’re only going to take away one thing from the bullshit that I’m saying, it’s calories in, calories out. If you put in your age, weight, and all of your stats into the app and you say how much weight you want to lose—there’s like a math to it and you just follow exactly what your calorie budget is for the day every day. 

What was the hardest part during those six months?

The hardest thing was sleep. You have to get eight to nine hours of sleep because your testosterone builds in your sleep. So, if you’re a bad sleeper like I am? I have insomnia and love caffeine. When you start stressing about sleep, that makes it even harder to sleep. One of my trainers said I rather you get eight hours of sleep than get five hours and come to the gym. It’s more important to sleep than to work out. 

Going through that process, how would you break down your training formula?

The most important thing is food. Food is 90 percent of it, then sleep, and then the gym. I would wake up, eat my little shitty pre-made meal, and work out for about an hour and a half with my trainer. I would drink a gallon of water a day. Then I would try and do abs in the middle of the day. I would just do a 15-minute ab set—maybe 10 minutes. At night, I would do low-intensity cardio. I would do an hour of walking because of the yellow fat on your —the cottage cheese-looking fat, not the white fat. The white fat is easy to lose but the yellow fat is the hardest thing to lose. 

With fat, you have to think of it as burning a candle, or low-heat oil. You need low-intensity cardio like walking to burn it. I learned all of this through training for the show, I’m not an expert. I also tried to get sun because it helps with testosterone growth, it has vitamins, and it sets your circadian rhythm. It’s basically all the things we would do 10,000 years ago before the Ice Age. Our bodies are not meant for a technological society. We sit too much, don’t get enough sunlight, and are in cold climates. We belong closer to the equator and should be walking, hunting, and gathering, and eating plants and animals. That’s what our bodies are designed for—but I like hot Cheetos, rum, cognac, and playing video games. 

That’s a hell of a combination. 

(Laughs). I’m not really a health nut. In fact, as soon as we wrapped, I went to Prince Street Pizza and I ate an entire pepperoni pizza. And then I went to Portugal and drank my weight in wine. I got back from the trip and stepped on the scale, and I undid six months of work in about three weeks. 

It’s hard to lose it but easy to gain it.

It’s like with your house. It’s easy to make a mess but it’s very tough to clean it up and keep it tidy.

How did the sleeker physique help with filming?

It was nice fitting into all my old jeans and shorts. My assistant came up to me and asked me I feel—fucking hungry! I remember being irritated. There is a reason skinny people are bitches and fat people are jolly. Fat people are happy—sumo wrestlers, Santa Claus. Skinny people have fucking attitudes because they’re fucking starving. I say stay fat. If you’re fat or chubby, stay that way. I felt great…but it wasn’t worth cutting out French fries. 

You mentioned the struggles with sleep. What ways have you tried to help with that? 

I’ve been really bad with sleep historically throughout my whole life. I’m still struggling with insomnia, but I just quit coffee recently. I just had to. I couldn’t sleep and you don’t want to get addicted to sleep aids or taking pills, which I have been on and off. You don’t want to have to take Zzzquil or Benadryl, and you definitely don’t want to have to start taking Xanax and things like that because that’s all habit-forming and addictive, and you’re still not getting the proper, quality sleep. You want to get rid of the screens an hour or three before bed, which is the hardest part for me. No iPhones, laptops, or TV! You want to live in the medieval times before bed. If you can read a book by candlelight—I know that sounds fucking miserable—it’ll help. 

Caffeine, alcohol, and screens are not your friends for sleep. Eat and drink your caffeine early in the morning, and don’t go to bed too drunk. But every once in a while, you have to party it up and blow off some steam because life is about balance. This sounds counterintuitive but writing down everything that’s stressing you out before bed helps. Some people think that would make you more stressed, but it actually alleviates a bunch of stress and makes it easy to go to bed. Also, don’t toss and turn in bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re tossing and turning for 30 minutes, it’s totally normal. Just get out of bed, go into another room, and do something analog. Read a book with dim lighting, journal, draw, play solitaire, or do a crossword puzzle or something. 

Also, sunlight sets your circadian rhythm so in the morning, you want to get a lot of sunlight for about two to 10 minutes, and you want to also have sun setting light because that triggers the melatonin to be released. It’s all about the cortisol being released in the morning to wake you up. You don’t want too much caffeine because your adrenals will start blasting you with too much cortisol, which can keep you up at night. As I’m talking, I’m realizing I’ve done more research than I thought. 

You sound like Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

(Laughs). It’s because I’ve had such bad sleep and I’ve listened to all of these different podcasts—the Huberman Podcast, my friends send me articles and my sleep has gotten better. Caffeine was the issue for me, which is a heartbreaker because I’m such a huge coffee fan, and I love chocolate, Coca-Cola, and all the other things that keep me up. But what can I do? Sleep is more important. It’s the foundation of health. 

You recently turned 40. How has your philosophy on dieting and life overall evolved over the years?

Life is about balance. There’s a metaphor in Buddhism where you’re like a string instrument—like a violin. If you wind your strings too tight, they’re going to pop. If the strings are too loose, then you’re all out of tune and don’t perform right. You can’t be too hard on yourself. You have to know when to focus and be diligent. But you also have to live a little and give yourself some relief from the stress of life.