For personal trainer Drew Manning, gaining 70 pounds on purpose was a personal choice. And not for the attention or to see if he could withstand the challenge, but to better empathize with his clients.
A lifelong fitness junkie, Drew took up personal training as a side job after earning her NASM fitness certification. Having never struggled with his own weight, he found himself wanting to better understand what his clients were going through. So, he decided to complete a year-long project in which he gained weight intentionally for six months and then spent six months losing it all again.
Before Drew decided to pack on the pounds, his admits that his focus with his clients was primarily on the physical aspect: The meal plans, the exercises, and the idea that people just have to to push through obstacles to lose the weight. This perspective led him to believe that if someone wasn’t able to get in shape, it was a personal choice and they simply lacked the will power.
But now, having been through the process of gaining an incredible amount of weight and then struggling to lose it all again, he has an entirely new perspective and realizes that it’s not just a physical challenge, but a mental challenge, too. “It comes down to the mental and emotional challenges, which is the key to making whatever program it is you’re doing work. It’s about understanding the psychological aspect and overcoming those issues,” he said. “Lifestyle changes are what make it last.”
So just how did Drew lose the weight? He started with food.
“What I did was start changing my diet because the most important thing when it comes to being fit is nutrition,” he said. The first month, all Drew did was eat healthier. He didn’t do any exercise to prove to people just how important nutrition really is.
Drew ate five to six small meals a day every three hours, totaling around 2,000 calories a day. His focus was on high fiber and protein, low carbohydrates, and limited sugar. He also avoided dairy as he’s lactose intolerant.
After the first month of dietary changes alone, Drew lost 19 pounds. From there, he started to exercise slowly and in different phases. But getting back in the gym wasn’t easy, even for this lifelong fitness buff. “It was very hard and very humbling to have to go to the gym and do push ups on my knees and use the assisted pull up machine for the first time,” he said. “It made me very self conscious.”
But once the pounds started coming off, Drew started to focus more on fitness – specifically, his core. “I’m a big proponent of core training, which means a lot of Pilates,” he said. “Even though I’m a guy, I’m not afraid to admit it.”
Drew works out just 35-45 minutes a day because he believes there’s no need to workout too intensely or too long when you’re working out smart. And by ‘smart’ he means, incorporating a lot of different exercises in each session with high bursts of intensity (HIIT training) to burn the maximum amount of calories. This method, he says, burns twice as many calories in half the time.
One such workout might include resistance training interlaced with 30-second sprints.
One of the other main focuses of Drew’s transformation was making it very public, which is why he documented the entire experience at his fitness site fit2fat2fit.com. Drew said he did this to show others exactly how to go about getting healthy.
“I invited people to join me on that journey and I gave everyone full access to my specific meal plans and workouts and grocery lists and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this together and you can join me for free.’ And literally thousands of people have lost this weight with me.”
By sharing his journey with others, he was able to encourage those who were also struggling to get healthy right along with him. And this idea caught on, says Drew, as he saw thousands of people join the forum portion of the site to become a part of the fat-to-fit community.
Of the thousands of fans who flocked to his site, one woman inspired Drew most: A 62-year old widow from Idaho who lost more than 100 and 70 inches, and is now his biggest fan. Drew couldn’t believe how connected he felt to other fat-to-fitters, admitting that this woman had become like a mother to him and a grandmother to his daughter. The experience, he said, left him grateful.
While it’s only about been a month since getting back to his starting weight, Drew’s already practically back to his toned, former self and looking great. He admits he lost a bit of lean muscle mass in the process of gaining and losing, which will take time to regain. But besides that, the transformation is complete.
As for what he learned from the process – besides better understanding the struggles of weight loss – Drew said he realized how crucial it is to have a support system in place.
“For me it was my wife. For others, I encourage them to join a forum where they can share stories about their progress,” he said. “Having close friends and family to help keep you accountable is key. We need a balance of encouragement and belief and a kick in the butt every once in a while to keep us motivated. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding and overcoming the psychological barriers to our health.”