New York Times best best-selling author and personal trainer Drew Manning caught the nation’s attention back in 2011 with his Fit2Fat2Fit journey, in which he gained, then lost, 75 pounds over a 12-month period in order to better understand the mental and physical processes that some of his overweight clients were going through.
The story was picked up by CNN, Good Morning America, and the Tonight Show, and provided proof that weight and body fat can be lost in the same time it takes to gain it. His story even inspired a spin-off TV show on A&E.
Now at age 40, Manning decided to repeat the process once again, this time as a test to determine whether maturity would slow his ability to get back in shape.
He embarked on Round 2 in 2020, and over the course of a year gained 60 pounds, then lost it. Not only did Manning drop the excess weight again, but his finishing weight was a pound under that of where he had started. And to top it off, his body fat level dipped to 4.5%, as opposed to his opening measurement of 8.4%.
M&F talked to Manning, who credits a Paleo- and keto-based diet for his ability to shed fat. The trainer says that during this physically and emotionally stressful process, he’s developed more empathy for the challenges that some of his clients face when trying to lose weight. In order for others to win their weight-loss battle, Manning says start with making sensible choices while at the same time finding balance. As an example, Manning shared a clean peanut butter cookie recipe that he used often during his Fit2Fat2Fit journey to demonstrate how you can both make gains and enjoy life.
Was it scary working to becoming the most out of shape you’ve ever been?
The idea was to stop exercising for the entire six months, which, naturally, got me in the worst shape of my life. Was it scary? Absolutely! I’d never been overweight in my life, so this was my first experience.
How did you find the process of ‘letting go’?
It was fun at first to let myself go, but that’s short-lived. It was fun for maybe a couple of weeks, but then things got a lot harder. Gaining the weight felt like a loss of identity for me, so I kind of freaked out. My identity was based on my body looking a certain fit way, and now being overweight was a very humbling experience.
Did you develop any food addictions during these experiments?
I wouldn’t use the word “addiction,” but I definitely had cravings that were very intense. Plus, I did notice that my body was, on a daily basis, craving these foods that I kept feeding it. But even though those foods temporarily made me feel better, in the end they made me feel worse.
Did you have any health concerns while overweight?
I didn’t have anything major that would cause me to stop what I was doing [in the short term]. The body is pretty resilient and can take a lot of abuse, but my blood pressure was very high, my testosterone dropped to very low levels, and most of my lipids were out of whack.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect of putting on body fat during these experiments?
The most enjoyable part was the convenience. It’s a nice feeling when you’re hungry and no matter where you’re at, you can have food delivered to you or you don’t have to drive very far to find the closest fast-food place. The food definitely tasted amazing and it makes you feel amazing — if only for a short period of time.
Were you surprised that you could lose the weight just as fast, or faster, than you gained it?
I think one factor that shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that I was only overweight for four or six months, and so my body’s homeostasis is naturally leaner and skinnier. I’m sure that helped me lose weight within the timeframes that I gave myself. For others who have been overweight for years or even decades, their weight loss might be a little slower depending on their lifestyle and the habits that they’ve developed over the years.
I was also really impressed with how my body responded at 40. Age is just a number, and although it might be harder for some as they age because of hormones and metabolism changes, it is still possible.
Do you think people could have better results with getting in shape if they set tangible goals?
Yes, I think so, but it’s more than that. Instead of seeing their bodies as something they hate and despise, it’s time to change that up and appreciate what you have even though it’s not perfect you should relish any progress. That’s a much healthier approach versus hating yourself your entire life. This is why transformation is way more mental and emotional than people might think.
How important is it for people to understand that the fitness journey is full ups and downs, rather than simply going in a straight-up direction?
This is a big component for people. A lot of people think they need to be perfect all the time in order to be successful and when they “mess up,” they think they have to start over. It’s almost like an ON and OFF switch for them. Either they’re 100% off or 100% on. There’s no in between.
I like to teach people about the “dimmer switch” approach. So instead of being ON or OFF, use a mental dimmer switch, which allows you to turn up the brightness sometimes or turn it down. So, if you have a cheat meal/cheat day, don’t turn that switch OFF, just dim it a little. Then, the very next, day turn it right back up to where it was before. When it comes to health and fitness it doesn’t always have to be about getting skinny or lean. Sometimes it can be more about therapy, healthy habits, stronger mental clarity, positive emotions and dealing with stress. This is not a sprint to some imaginary finish line. There is NO finish line. The journey never ends and it’s OK to take breaks on this journey, but don’t ever give up on yourself.