By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
On May 11, 2011, a youthful, buff trainer named Drew Manning decided to undertake a radical experiment. After a lifetime of athletics and with a self-avowed addiction to working out, this part-time personal trainer with the perfect pecs who’s never had a weight problem, began a six-month weight-gain odyssey.
Why? His web site name, Fit2Fat2Fit, provides the hint. In his own words:
“My goal is to inspire people to get fit, teach them how to do it and give them hope that it IS possible to get fit and stay fit… People that are overweight have to overcome both physical and emotional barriers when it comes to losing weight. I hope to have a better understanding of this through my experience over the next year. Also, I hope to better gain an understanding of how hard it really is to be overweight. I know it’s only going to be for 6 months, but at least it’ll give me a small window of the physical and emotional issues that come with being overweight.”
Fast forward 6 months later and Drew’s gained over 75 pounds. Clicking onto the link from his web site, I watched his recent appearance on the Jay Leno show It was apparent he was very uncomfortable in his baggy pants and belly-popping shirt. He reiterated his original mission statement but this time something was different. He was hedging on how long it would take him to drop the weight. It seemed he was blown away by how much he gained in a relatively short period of time and how food addicted he had become. “It’s become easier and easier for me to eat these processed foods without even thinking about it. When my wife asks if I want some vegetables with my meals, without even thinking about it, I say no,” he said.
Manning joked with Leno about his “Santa tummy”and “man boobs”and noted that small things in life became big as he himself got bigger — like bending to tie his shoes over his belly and standing up red-faced and out of breath. And then there was a quick quip about his blood pressure now being 161 over 113. I dropped the remote and stared in disbelief as he nonchalantly noted, “I’ll reverse that once I drop the weight.” That may be true, but walking around with a blood pressure that high is asking for trouble.
So instead of launching into my thoughts about Drew and his experiment, I decided to create a discussion group on my Diet Community and see how people felt about Manning’s weight gain quest. Here is a sampling of the comments:
Nursingbug: First, I would have to say it is stupid to gain weight on purpose, just for the risk to himself for developing disease… I like the idea that he is trying to get an idea of what it is like to be overweight, to help people. However, I hope his takeaway isn’t that he absolutely knows what it is to be overweight for the average person, someone who has always been overweight, been struggling for years, etc, because he won’t. He says himself that he has “a passion for fitness” that he developed at a young age. When he is done gaining the weight, he can just go back to his passion, he already has the skill set to do everything he needs to do to lose weight. Most people with weight issues do not have this skill set, and the largest difficulty lies in not knowing what to do, but believing in themselves, and not giving up, making small changes, and often giving up on routines that gave them comfort for most of their lives, and living often in a completely different way. The real experience of an overweight person is impossible to replicate. It will be interesting to see what happens with his weight loss. Although I don’t wish it on him by any means, it would be very enlightening for him to experience a large setback when he is trying to lose, so he wouldn’t be able to lose as quickly as he had thought. There are few things that feel so defeating.
Jis4Judy I think this trainer is playing with fire making his body unhealthy on purpose is not a great idea… sure, with his background he maybe will be able to reverse this but I think it will not teach him anything about years of being overweight and the emotional struggle to remove the weight.
He may actually harm himself along the way.
Init4Life: My immediate thought is that he’s doing this to show his clients, and web fans, how “easy” it is to lose the weight with the right tools. In my opinio,n this doesn’t translate to people with food issues, addictions to certain foods, and low self-esteem. One validating factor though, is that he’s discovering how eating certain foods can be addicting, thus perpetuating the misery cycle. The difference is that he has muscle memory and a lifetime of healthy habits to fall back on. His comfort zone is being healthy, so my guess is that he won’t tolerate the weight gain, and doldrums from not exercising for long. I think he’s setting his clients up to be frustrated by how “easy” it seems for him once he switches into fat burning mode. There are so many factors. Mental weight, age, metabolism, focus, support system, gender, lifetime conditioning. It seems like for him the only factor he has as a detriment will be the actual weight. He doesn’t seem to have any of the other issues (although I didn’t go to his web site so I may be missing something). I think if he wants to help people he should take some classes in empathy, motivation techniques, and life- coaching. Modeling good behavior makes people see that it’s possible, if he learns how to make it accessible to others in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way.
AmpleTerri: I don’t care how much weight he gains… He will never know the humiliation of years from “fit” people and how that hinders. He will never know the vicious cycle of doctors telling him all his problems come from his weight and not being able to lose because of those problems.
Nursingbug’s one-liner,”The real experience of an overweight person is impossible to replicate, ” resonated with so many people, as did AmpleTerri’s comment, “I don’t care how much weight he gains… he will never know.” And Init4Life cautions, “I think he’s setting his clients up to be frustrated by how ‘easy’ it seems for him once he switches into fat burning mode,” which was something no one else had considered.
Here is a summary of my thoughts on Drew Manning’s experiment:
1) Playing with fire: No one should ever radically alter their weight. Yes, I know that actors do this all of the time, but they’re all playing with fire. This was rapid weight gain that was turned into a weekly game. People would vote on what kind of food he would overeat, from jars of peanut butter to mountains of real butter, to a dozen doughnuts at one sitting. With rapid weight gain, you’re making permanent changes. Drew has added 75 pounds of extra fat cells throughout his body. In the future, it will be very easy for him to regain weight. He has also picked up food addictions he never had before. This is also permanent. Should he eat this stuff again, he will awaken the sleeping dragon and he may have problems stopping a binge and weight gain. Metabolically, he has raised his lipids, put a huge burden on his pancreas as it churns out a tsunami of insulin for his rising blood sugars, and he’s packing his liver and other organs (including his heart) with extra fat. His blood pressure is through the roof, telling me that he probably has a genetic propensity for hypertension. His genes have altered their genetic expression and impacting upon immune and metabolic functions. He’s short of breath, and he’s accumulating fat in and out of his neck, resulting in obstructive breathing and snoring. I don’t know what his family medical history is, but he’s playing with his life. He may not feel it now, but it may come back to haunt him. I hope he is being followed closely by credible medical professionals.
2) Making money: On his web site, Drew notes he wants everyone to use his meal plans. First, Drew is a fitness professional, not a registered dietitian. Most of the fitness certifying boards would not be happy with his stepping over the line of appropriate scope of practice and now rendering nutritional guidance. Second, under “supplements” Drew is offering his own “value packs” and “starter kits” of vitamins costing at least $90/month. Third, his site offers Isagenix Supplements at $382/month and Drew touts himself as a personal Isagenix success story. I happen to believe that a multivitamin is a good idea for most people. However, I’m wondering whether or not his entire journey was influenced by his affiliation and obvious income stream from these companies. With enough media attention and eyes on his website, there are sales to be made. I would much rather see Drew use whole foods all day and slug it out with the rest of humanity during the weight reduction phase of his experiment than asking people to cough up $500 per month.
3) Rude awakening: As Drew has noted in his blogs and on camera, he is surprised by the level of addiction he has experienced with his overeating. He is also looking at his weight reduction with more hesitation noting it may indeed take much longer than 6 months to reclaim his original body. That might be a good thing, as then he can truly identify with the difficulty facing folks when they attempt to drop excess pounds. On the other hand, what if his weight just peels off? What does that really teach the client who has been struggling for so long — that a buff trainer who’s never had a weight issue can easily get back to being buff.
4) Potentially inspiring: Despite all of these objections, I hope that perhaps someone who’s heard about the story might be moved to change their life for the better. Maybe by observing how easily one can destroy their body in such a short period of time, people might be compelled to change for the better.
5) Empathizing is the goal: Init4Life said it best when she noted, “I think if he wants to help people he should take some classes in empathy, motivation techniques, and life- coaching. Modeling good behavior makes people see that it’s possible, if he learns how to make it accessible to others in a compassionate and nonjudgmental way.”
A lesson for trainers and other professionals who have never been heavy is to avoid saying, “I understand,” because you don’t and will never truly understand the weight struggle. What you can say is, “I empathize” and show genuine compassion. That gift is priceless and does not require draconian measures to get the point across.