I remember very clearly the morning I woke up and decided to gain weight on purpose. The year was 2011, and I had no idea how that decision would change my life.

Before explaining what led to this moment, let me share a little of my background. I was number seven in a family of 11 kids. I loved sports and spent most of my time playing football and wrestling, which meant I was always in pretty good shape. My weight was never a problem growing up. I ate when I was hungry, and that was the extent of my relationship with food. So, being in shape was pretty easy for me, and it’s all I ever knew.

Why I decided to gain weight on purpose

Fast forward to 2011, when I became a fitness trainer, teaching people how to get in shape. Since being in shape came easy for me, I thought it should come easy for everyone else. I just had no concept of how difficult it could be for others to be consistent with meal plans and workouts. But I was about to realize that a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness does not work. No way. No how. 

Drew Manning

One day during a training session with a client, he said to me, “you have no idea what my struggles are. You just can’t relate. It is easy for you to sit there sporting six-pack abs and tell me how to get in shape, but I will never look like you no matter how hard I try. You should try walking in my shoes for a few days.” His comments resonated with me. The more I thought about what he said, the more I realized he was right. I took that to heart and immediately started thinking of ways to better understand where my clients were in their journey and the difficulties they faced. 

And the very next morning, I had an epiphany. I would walk in his shoes by gaining weight – a lot of weight. I would document the entire process from being fit to being fat, so I could better understand the challenges of getting back into shape. This was my calling.

Weight gain is as much mental as it is physical

After a week of preparation and planning, I decided to gain as much weight as possible over six months. I would eat whatever I wanted, indulge in the typical American diet foods such as white bread, cereals, sodas, chips, cookies, and fast food, and stop working out. At the end of six months, I would then begin a journey back to fit. 

The weight came on easily. In six months, I gained 75 lbs. But what I also gained was a new perspective. I realized just how unbalanced I had been in my approach towards helping my clients get in shape. My focus had always been on physical appearance, which involved meal plans, workouts, macros, calories, and supplements. All that time, I ignored the mental and emotional side of their transformation. I also gained a sense of empathy that I had previously lacked. For the first time in my life, I truly understood what my clients felt about themselves and the real struggles they faced. 

The new me  

weight training

I grew in many other ways through the Fit2Fat2Fit journey. I had never understood the powerful, emotional connection people have with food. Not being able to resist certain temptations, in my mind, was just a lack of discipline. I now knew that wasn’t true. During my weight gain, I experienced food cravings that I almost always succumbed to. The struggle had become real for me.  

After six months or so, when I finally lost the weight and returned to my fit self, I was a different person, a more understanding person, and a better trainer. I learned that being fit is both physical and mental, and I wrote a book about what I had learned. Fit2Fat2Fit became a NY Times Best Seller and spawned an A&E TV show. 

Why would I do it again?

I turned 40 this past December, just as I hit the half-way mark of my second Fit2Fat2Fit journey. Why would I do this again, you ask? What could I possibly learn a second time? The first journey was about me learning things I needed to know for my own growth. This time it is different. This time it’s about me trying to spread the message of empathy, especially in the fitness industry, which lacks an empathetic approach in my opinion. My hope is to bring awareness to the importance of the mental and emotional side of transformation.

I also wanted to do it at 40 because I kept hearing people say that getting back in shape at 40 is incredibly hard. I wanted to show people over 40 that it is never too late to live healthy lives, even as our metabolisms slow down.

What’s different about Fit2Fat2Forty?

My second journey is much more data-driven too. I am tracking heart rates and sleep patterns, I am doing cognitive brain testing to see what impact an unhealthy lifestyle has on our brains, I am doing blood work to analyze blood glucose levels, and I am monitoring sexual and emotional health and stress levels.

The data doesn’t lie and paints a clear picture of how living an unhealthy lifestyle and eating processed food can affect our mental and emotional capacity to handle other stresses in our lives like kids, finances, relationships, and work. 

I started my journey back to fit on January 4th after gaining 63 pounds. These two journeys have taught me so much about myself and my approach to training my clients. My goal now is to share what I have learned and hopefully build a community of people who accept and love who they are, strive to make changes to their lives, and support each other in their journeys to living healthy lives, and I invite you to join me on this great adventure. 

You can follow me on my second journey and do the exact program I’m doing to lose the weight, or follow me on all social media outlets at @fit2fat2fit.

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