By Drew Manning
Fitness trainer Drew Manning was the guy you love to hate. The guy who would rather drink a protein shake than indulge in a cheeseburger, the guy who made a six-pack look easy. Until he gained 75 pounds in half a year -- on purpose.
He stopped working out and started eating junk food. In just six months, he went from 193 pounds with a 34-inch waist to 265 pounds with a 48-inch waist.
In June, he gained public popularity with an appearance on "Good Morning America," where the audience learned that he not only gained all that weight in six months, but then lost it all in the same amount of time -- all so he'd empathize more with his clients.
Before his transformation, he "was convinced people used genetics or similar excuses as a crutch ... You either wanted to be healthy or you didn't," Manning wrote in his new book, Fit2Fat2Fit. Having to lose the weight he gained made him realize how hard it can really be for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and lose weight.
Manning shared with AskMen Lessons what he learned through going from fit to fat and back again.
1. Losing Weight Is All About Your Mental State
Gaining 75 pounds in six months was not only more than I bargained for physically but opened up my eyes to how much my journey (and the journeys of everyone else trying lose weight) was psychological. Most of us know it's simple to lose weight -- just eat healthy and exercise -- but it's not easy. The mental and emotional challenges are tougher than we think. I was humbled going through this experience and I now better understand that it's more of a mental and emotional battle than anything else. So, yes, the meal plans and exercises are important, but if you can overcome the psychological hurdles (plateaus, lack of motivation, cravings, lack of confidence, etc.), that’s how you make it a lifestyle, rather than just another diet (which will never work long-term).
2. Losing Weight Is A Lifestyle, Not A Diet
Here in America we unfortunately have what I call the "Biggest Loser mentality," which is what we see on weight-loss shows or diet infomercials that show us ways to lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible. This mindset is why we go on all these starvation or deprivation "diets." With a mentality that
extreme, it's tough to make it a lifestyle. My goal is to get people to embrace a lifestyle change, rather than to "go on a diet." So whatever program you're on, whether it's mine, P90X, Paleo, Atkins, Insanity, etc, make it a lifestyle! Meaning, make it something that you can do long-term that doesn’t feel too restrictive.
3. Being Overweight Affects Your Entire Family
Because I was doing this intentionally, I didn't think it would affect me as a husband or a father. I figured I would grow some man boobs, get some love handles and a big gut and then I’d get back in shape and that would be it. I was definitely blown away by how gaining 75 pounds affected my marriage and my parenting. As I got larger, my confidence and self-esteem diminished. I felt embarrassed for my wife to see me naked, so I kept the lights off most of the time during sex, and I’d cover up in front of her even getting out of the shower.
4. Being Overweight Makes You Lazy
Just because you're overweight doesn’t mean you have to be lazy. I believe that wholeheartedly, but if you're not eating right and you're not exercising, then it’s a different story. During my Fit2Fat stage, I did become lazier. I was surprised at how much my energy levels dropped. I was always tired and I wasn’t sleeping well. I started snoring just three months into this journey (my wife didn't like that part too much). Because of this, and my lack of self-confidence, I became less attractive to her. Nothing is sexier than confidence (and a man who does the dishes and vacuums, my wife says). I felt bad as I became larger and didn’t have the energy to keep up with my 2-year-old. I would convince her to watch a movie or TV with me instead of going outside and playing with her and being active. Chafing also became an issue, which made it hard to run with my daughter, which she loves to do. One night, after trying to keep up with her for a minute or two, my shortness of breath, lack of energy and my chafing became too much and I told her I had to stop. To see her cry because I couldn't run with her anymore was heartbreaking for me, even though I was doing this to myself on purpose.
5. Food Addiction is Real and Powerful
I used to listen to my old clients tell me things like, "I have to have my bowl of cereal at night before I go to bed" or "I have to have my Pepsi at least once a day." And I used to see these things as excuses. And, yes, ultimately it does come down to a choice, but it was easy for me just to tell them to stop doing it because for me it was easy. I was never addicted to Pepsi or Cinnamon Toast Crunch -- until I went through my Fit2Fat stage. I became easily addicted to things like Mountain Dew and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. If I didn’t have my Mountain Dew at least twice a day, I would get headaches, grumpy, moody, etc. So, having experienced that, I learned that food addiction and cravings are real issues and they’re not as simple as just choosing to say "no." They are a lot more powerful than I thought before, and studies show these types of foods can be just as addictive as drugs, so trying to come off of them is just as hard. Unfortunately, we downplay our addiction to processed foods, because they're everywhere, they're legal, they're affordable and our bodies need food -- unlike drugs. I feel that acknowledging that food can be an addiction, giving yourself a clean break for 30 days to overcome some of the more intense cravings and habits, and sharing with everyone your intentions of becoming healthier is key to overcoming your food addiction.
6. Your Support System Is Crucial
My journey back to being fit was a humbling and challenging one. For once in my life, I was starting out at the bottom of the mountain. Most of my life I was always toward the top of the mountain so it was easy for me to stay in shape. Making my journey public definitely made me more accountable. I feared going to the grocery store and giving in to my Mountain Dew temptations and having someone come up to me and recognize me. Having that image in my mind helped me to not give in to my temptations because, for me, the cravings were real and they were hellish to overcome. If I tried to lose this weight without my online community, without friends or family, it would’ve been 10 times harder than it already was. Having a support system in place to give you a kick in the pants when needed and also some belief and encouragement is essential when changing your lifestyle to become fit.
7. Publicly Declare Your Intentions
This one goes along with the support system, but unless you tell your friends or family or online community what your goals are specifically, they won't know to keep you accountable. So the more people you tell about your goals and lifestyle change, the more people will be willing to help you and the less people will try and sabotage you. Hopefully your true friends, the ones who know you're on this lifestyle change, won't try and rub doughnuts or other junk in your face. Many times, people who declare their intentions get other family and friends on board with them to help motivate them!
8. Cheat On Your Diet
A lot of diets out there that require you to live off of 500 calories per day or don't allow you to eat certain foods make it harder for you to make these changes long-term. Many people have asked me if I ever used to eat pizza or burgers or fries, and the answer is yes. I don't live in a bubble. I go to birthday parties, I go to barbecues with friends and I take my wife out dates. The key is to schedule these "breaks" or "treat meals” in advance. This gives you something to look forward to and your friends will know that you're not a robot all the time and that you're still human. So for my daughter's third birthday party coming up, I know I'm going to have a cheat meal (which will also include a piece of cake). However, my other meals on that day will be healthy ones. Same thing goes for holidays. We need to have balance in our lives, and if we beat ourselves up over every mistake we make, or if our program is too strict, we're going to want to rebel.
9. Prepare Meals in Advance
What you eat is more important than exercise, in my opinion, when it comes to actually seeing results. So, in order to eat healthy, it's so important to be prepared. When I was gaining the weight, I had to travel for work (three hours one way). On those days, I ate a lot of fast food. Since my food wasn't prepared for me, I was starving and fell mercy to the quickest options that were available to me. This is why I try and get people on board with spending two nights a week preparing all their meats and veggies for the remainder of the week. On Sunday night, I spend an hour cutting up and cooking all my meats and cutting up all my veggies (to last for several days). I do this again on Wednesday night. The last thing most of us want to do is come home after a long workday and spend 30 minutes to an hour preparing a meal. This is why so many of us go out and order pizza or just pick up fast food on the way home. Knowing what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it is key to sticking to a new and healthy nutrition plan!
10. Don't Focus on Scale Weight
If you look into a mirror and love the way your body looks, does it really matter how much you weigh? Scale weight is not the be-all-end-all of our health and fitness. Just because someone is "skinny" or losing weight doesn't mean they’re becoming healthier. If we ate 1,000 calories per day of Zingers we would most likely lose weight (mind you, that’s probably only two packages to last you all day), but we would feel awful and our insides wouldn’t be too happy. If we can focus on becoming medically healthy first (HDL, LDL, triglyceride levels, blood pressure, etc.), then weight loss and the "beach body" will be a byproduct of living that healthy lifestyle over time. People generally want the scale to show us the results of the efforts we’re making at the gym and in the kitchen, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I try to remind people that the scale is not the most accurate measure of health!
11. Eating "Nonfat" Foods Can Still Cause Weight Gain
Do you still think that just because something is advertised as low-fat or nonfat it's healthy? Let's look at a few facts. People think that during my six months of gaining 75 pounds all I ate was junk food and fast food (pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, doughnuts, etc.). In reality, I focused on eating a lot of foods that were low in fat and some nonfat. These foods included white breads, white pastas, cereals, granola bars, sodas, juices, crackers, cookies, chips and even some salads. A lot of these foods are advertised as low-fat and nonfat. So how did I get fat? From the highly processed, refined, sugary foods listed above. These processed foods cause your blood glucose levels to surge. This insulin surge tells your body that plenty of energy is readily available and that it should stop burning fat and start storing it. This is why eating those foods caused me to gain those 75 pounds in six months. So be careful the next time you see something that says "low-fat," "nonfat" or "no sugar added." Sugar is often used to replace the flavor that is lost when the fat is removed. And as if that's not bad enough, without any fat to slow it down, the sugar is absorbed into your blood faster.