Personal Trainer Misses the Point

Thanks to the more than 20 readers who sent me this article [trigger warning for all the things I’m about to mention].

Basically Drew Manning, a personal trainer, has gained 70 pounds on purpose. He decided to “spend six months (he has about 4 weeks left) eating  unhealthy food and not exercising, then he will take six more months to get fit again. Why? To experience for himself what it’s like to be overweight, how tough it is to lose weight, and ultimately show others how to get fit.”  What the…

I truly want to believe that he has good intentions, but even so this is deeply problematic.

First of all, being overweight means that in the equation of your weight in pounds times 703 divided by your height in inches squared, the result is greater than 24.9.  And you know what conclusions we can draw from this formula?  That the result is 25 or more.  That’s all.  It tells us nothing about the person’s health, eating and exercise habits, intelligence or anything else. The result is 25+, end of story. People get all caught up in the idea that since it’s math it must be scientific.  But then start to ask yourself why do we square the height?  If we wanted  a ratio couldn’t we just use weight and height?  Why are we using a formula made up by a statistician for the sole purpose of studying body sizes in large populations as a way to study health in an individual.  That’s like trying to use the quadratic formula to solve for the hypotenuse of a right triangle. The formula was not meant to do that so you can plug in some numbers but the result will be useless. (And can I get a gold star for pulling those concepts out of my back of my brain where the math from 15 years ago lives?).

Of course, people have a right to eat whatever they want and move their bodies, or not, however they want, and it’s not anybody’s job to judge that.  But to say that eating unhealthy foods and not exercising for 6 months is experiencing being overweight is ludicrous.

Being overweight is not a single way of eating and exercising and this idea that all fatties eat the same way, exercise the same way, and think the same way is as widespread as it is ridiculous.  There are people of all shapes and sizes who eat vegan diets and there are people of all shapes and sizes who eat processed food based diets.  There are sedentary thin people and highly active fat people. We need to examine our history and realize that this kind of stereotyping of a group of people never works out.

Drew’s eating and exercise habits do not give him the experience of being overweight, his eating and exercise habits give him the experience of eating a diet of processed foods and not moving his body.  The “experience of being overweight” is an individual one, and I would say that it’s much more about what it is like to move through society in a body that people think they have the right to stereotype and judge than it is about a way of eating and exercising and I think it probably takes more than 6 months for that experience to sink in.

He is eating “sugary cereals, granola bars, juices, white breads, white pastas, sodas, crackers, chips, frozen dinners, mac n cheese, etc.” and not exercising at all.  He says “I’m to the point where I feel lethargic and uncomfortable.”

Well, Drew, how about you eat a giant bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes.  You have found that eating a diet of entirely processed foods and not moving your body leads to lethargy and discomfort.  That is not news.  It’s also not about being overweight.

Unsurprisingly, his metabolic health markers have changed with his change in habits.  Drew says ” I want to show people how living a healthy lifestyle can change all of those risk factors.”

If his healthy lifestyle changes his risk factors but does not lead to weight loss, then Drew will be having my experience of being overweight and I’d like to hear about how he would deal with that. In truth, what he will prove when he changes his habits is what happens when a body with an excellent baseline of fitness returns to a lifetime of healthy eating and movement after a six month sabbatical.

He does say “I know I’ll never know exactly what it’s like for every person that’s overweight and I don’t claim to, but at least I understand better than I did before when I never had to struggle with this.”  So he sort of gets it.

Again, I really do want to believe that he has good intentions but that doesn’t stop this from being incredibly insulting and offensive.  I rarely compare my experience to the experience of other minorities because I like to stay away from the Oppression Olympics, but the best comparison I can think of is putting on blackface and engaging in stereotypical behavior to try to experience what it’s like to be African American.  Especially considering his before picture where he is smiling, hyper-tanned, hairless and flexing hard, and his after picture where he is frowning, pale, hairy, purposefully hiding any muscle tone.  None of those are bad, they’re just very different than the before picture.

I think the best way to understand a population is to realize that they are more competent witnesses to their own experience than you could possibly be and check your own assumptions, beliefs, and prejudices against what they tell you to be true.

31 thoughts on “Personal Trainer Misses the Point

  1. I’ve been following Drew for about three months now and have emailed with him several times, especially after his posts have just missed the mark by a wide margin. He’s not a bad guy, just incredibly clueless. I also find that he is quite sure that he has all the answers, and especially now that he’s “walked in our shoes”, so to speak.

  2. He so doesn’t get it. Too bad he can’t exercise every day and still remain over a 25 BMI (I don’t write “overweight” because I don’t believe in the concept). And have people criticize him all the time for having a body that does not meet the standards of some arbitrary aesthetic. Wonder how he would feel then..

    And where did the chest hair come from? Did he decide not to shave it or something? As an appreciator of male chest hair and heavier men’s bodies, I actually like his chest better now..(he would probably fall over if he heard that:.)

  3. I think this is better than someone putting a fat suit and claiming to know what it’s like to be fat. He can’t just unzip it and be fit and muscular again.
    I am curious about what he will do if he can’t get his “before” body back again.

    1. He’ll quietly get liposuction or something, exercise until he pees blood and eat so little that getting up off the toilet makes him go lightheaded, then magically appear again trumpeting how see, he knew it was just a matter of willpower!

  4. How is this different from chronic dieters knowing ‘what it’s like’ to be naturally thin, or assuming that they’re undernourished, overexercised experience must be the same for all thin people (or ‘normal’-weight people)?

    When I was in my chronic dieting days, I used to eat very little, mostly veggies and fake foods, and exercise at the gym for up to two hours a day. All this to get me to ‘normal’ BMI, bordering on overweight.

    My ‘underweight’ boyfriend at the time was on a diet, too — a diet to gain more weight. He made weight-gain shakes, carb-loaded, and started lifting weights. He gained 15 hard-won lbs at the end of four months, which he promptly lost as soon as he stopped his regimen (which was taxing…shake prep and drinking took at least 1 hour a day, weight lifting was an hour, and he worked at a busy Boston lawyer’s office).

    I know FOR SURE that my experience getting to and maintaining (i.e., cutting my diet by even more draconian measures as my body fought against starvation) a ‘normal’ BMI was vastly different from my boyfriend’s experience doing the same.

    All this fellow in the article is going to do is further spread the propaganda that the vast majority of fat people are fat because we work at eating junk and being lazy, and that thin people are thin because they’re ‘doing it right,’ not starving and over-exercising. However, given that logic, I should be able to say that as a fat person who has dieted thin, all thin people must be eating next to nothing and doing hard cardio in the gym two hours a day. But that is, of course, absurd.

  5. FYI, for BMI we DO just use the height and weight — the magic number 703 is to convert to kg and m for the SI system. In countries where kg and m are the standard units (ie, pretty much everywhere but the US!) BMI is simply weight / height-squared. (Not that this substantively changes any arguments about it, but the 703 itself isn’t really relevant.)

  6. I noticed something interesting when I read the article yesterday (I almost sent it to you too). He mentioned at the start of the article how much he itched to go to the gym, and said it was like any addict going through withdrawl. Later he says that eating the foods is addictive like any controlled substance can be addictive. So, Drew, you saying it’s bad to be addicted to Twinkies but not to be addicted to exercise? Wait a minute, isn’t being addicted to exercise considered oh, I don’t know…disordered? A big red flag for an ED? Isn’t addiction to anything, whether is be Ding Dongs and Coke or the treadmill, a BAD thing? And I’m concerned the way he tosses around words like addiction and withdrawl. He’s not discussing drinking alcohol and smoking crack, he’s discussing eating and moving his body.

    Sorry I went all Ranty McRantersons… I just get so PO’d when people toss around the word “addiction” so casually.

  7. That is horrendous. Even if he does have the best of intentions, which honestly I can’t quite see, just “lead by example” if you want to showcase your version of healthy. This is just sounds like a narcissism, even if it’s subconscious.


    I wonder if this is just his version of “Supersize Me” vs. “Fat Head” (vs. “Super High Me”.)

    Publicity stunt hoping for his 15-minutes of fame…..


  9. As ever, you have written a brilliant article on this. You had me laughing out loud at your “eat a bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes” comment and I have to agree with you. For those people where it IS a simple eat less/move more equation then he will experience exactly what it is to be a “bit overweight”. Until he suffers with PCOS or an underactive thyroid or any other endocrine problem that makes us overweight then he won’t really get any inkling as to what it is like to be ME!

    I want to applaud him for trying to find out for himself how difficult it is to lose weight, but he’s not actually starting from the point that most of us are starting from so it’s not going to give him the right impression is it? Unless he really does struggle to shave off the pounds once he starts exercising again then it’s a bit of a pointless exercise – if you pardon the pun!

    1. I couldn’t agree more with sterlingsop – I wanted to write this comment too, but now I don’t have to as you have already said it so well!

  10. He’s basically saying that everybody’s body is exactly like his. That it reacts to a particular set of circumstances the exact same way (except the circumstances aren’t even the same since most fat people never started out thin and muscular) which is just ridiculous. That’s the entire problem to start with- thinking that all bodies are the same and act the same. *sigh* as far the black face comparison.. it’s been done:

  11. And what doesn’t make any sense to me is the idea that IF he has always been a ‘naturally lean’ person, how can he gain 70 pounds to begin with? There are any number of ‘naturally lean’ people who eat a good deal & exercise litte or none, but stay thin. He doesn’t have a clue & I am not even willing to grant him ‘well meaning’, but, gee, Drew, have you spent your whole life working out hours every day (&, from what I have heard & even experienced in my own exercise history, 2 hours daily would not cut it, more like 4-6 hours daily) & being afraid to eat more than whatever amount you ‘allow’ yourself to stay much thinner than you are genetically programmed to be? And what is new about assuming that ALL fat people are fat because we eat a great deal of food (&, sorry, I don’t believe in ‘bad’ foods, but most of us do not eat just what is listed above) & never move? It sounds as if this guy is trying to justify…& likely, in his own mind, PROVE….that his own stereotyped beliefs are true. And, like Frannie above, I also do not use the term ‘overweight’, don’t believe in it, it is totally meaningless.

    I have never deliberately tried to see how much weight I could GAIN, but I have certainly done the opposite several times in my life, & strangely enough, even working out 4 hours daily for a period of 4 years only netted me a weight loss of 18 pounds, while returning to normal exercise for me (usually between 45 & 90 minutes daily), has, along with the process of aging & finishing menopause, netted me a weight GAIN over the past 8 years or so since I finished the last compulsive exercise period, of about 50 pounds. Gee…could it possibly be because at least 80% of my body size & shape is caused by genetics & I am built like my sister & grandmother, among other relatives? I am sure that Drew would say no, but I say yes. And I wonder, if he DOES get his pre-publicity stunt body back, will he ever admit to anyone just how LITTLE he has to eat & how MUCH he has to work out to make it happen, as if this is a normal, healthy lifestyle for the majority of people. After all, he’s a personal trainer, working out is what he does for a living. Most of us do not.

  12. You know, when I eat a diet full of varied food that makes me feel good, and move regularly and energetically, I feel better and my health improves. When I don’t move enough and eat a limited diet of foods that make me feel icky, I feel icky and am also less healthy. I don’t force myself to consume large quantities of processed food past the point of enjoyment, but if I did, I bet I’d feel like crap. So far, the results seem to align.

    The thing is, I can eat lentil soups and spinach wraps and hit the rowing machine every day and still weigh nearly as much as he does when forcing himself to drink unwanted sodas. Is he going to look into that anomaly, or is he going to do the usual thing and insist that all fat people who don’t live the way a thin person would have to eat to force that much weight gain are lying?

  13. The thing he’s overlooking is that if he’s never had to diet before, if he’s always had a BMI of less than 25, that’s his “normal”, and it probably won’t be that difficult for him to lose the weight he’s gained when he goes back to his normal way of eating and exercising. He doesn’t realize that most fat people have dieted numerous times, lost (and gained, and lost, and gained, ad infinitum) more weight than he could ever think of gaining in his little experiment. And his little experiment isn’t going to enlighten him one bit on how to help those people. He’s still going to think the Nightmare on ELMM Street is the answer to getting thin because it worked for him, and it’s never going to occur to him that he’s an anomaly.
    He needs to educate himself on the truth of fat and genetics and how yo-yo dieting affects that. Until he does that, he’s going to remain clueless (unless a fat person gets fed up with him and sits him down for a come-to-reality talk).

  14. I think he is somewhere between being clueless and “getting it” as many of his critics are as well. I think this is just a personal experiment of his, one that he has a right to make. Maybe he will learn from this.

    Although I admit I also thought, “WTF” when I first read the article on him the other day. I wasn’t sure what to think so I figured I would wait until I heard more thoughts on the matter.

  15. Love the No Shit Sherlock Flakes. I can think of a number of diet pundits who could use a heaping bowl full daily. 🙂

    Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I find his “Fat Like Me” experiment to be offensive. I feel he is trying to co-opt my experience as a fat person. I wouldn’t feel so unhappy but for the fact that his goal is to invalidate the fat experience by returning to his former size when he goes back to his former regimen.

    I have little doubt that he’ll have much trouble returning to his former set point. I have read about a study where young male volunteers were fed extra calories. Most gained a lot of weight. Some only a little extra. The majority of the volunteers returned to their former weights once they stopped consuming the extra calories. I’ve tried to find this study so I could site it here, but I’ve not been able to. If anyone else recognizes the study I’m talking about, I hope they can post a link to it. I’m going nuts trying to find it. 🙂

    I don’t see an attempt at empathy in Mr. Manning’s experiment but rather the start of a new marketing strategy. “If I can take off the extra weight caused by eating “bad food” and not exercising, so can YOU!”

      1. The study by Dr. Ethan Sims mentioned in the second half of the article you linked to is indeed the one I was talking about. Thanks. Now i can quit looking. 🙂

        I had not heard of the first study discussed in the article. I find that one fascinating as well. It sounds like every diet I ever went on. It is nice to see that when I obsessed about food when dieting (and actually once chased down a single pea under the table) that I was NOT just some food obsessed fatty.

  16. It was the experiment with conscientious objectors many years ago, I think. Actually, I am thinking of two…one, where young men volunteered to live in a diet for months, then refeed; some lost a fair amount of weight, some lost little, but during refeeding & FOR SOME TIME AFTERWARD, they were ravenous, couldn’t get enough to eat, until after they returned to the pre-diet weights. The one you mean, yes, they overfed them, but only SOME of them even gained the weight, some were eating 10,000 calories daily & still unable to gain more than 5 pounds or so, which is what led me to believe that somewhere in Mr. Manning’s ancestry, there had to be some genetic tendency to gain weight. If he has always been athletic & relatively young, maybe it never showed it. I couldn’t get thin with 4 hours daily exercise, but if exercise is your LIFE & you are in motion 8 hours per day or more, maybe it works. It is a publicity stunt & a marketing strategy. And he is an athletic male, so he has a chance of losing the pounds easily (though I do still wonder if he has spent most of his life on a diet). If he doesn’t, he will have a rude awakening, but I doubt that he will learn anything meaningful.

    It does indeed remind me of Supersize Me, where Spurlock also proved nothing, because he changed his whole lifestyle, stopped exercising, ate every meal at McDonald’s, which virtually no one in real life does, supersized everything, forced himself to eat all of it even if he felt stuffed, etc. A female reporter proved him wrong, though she actually didn’t prove anything either, by eating exclusively at McDonald’s for the same length of time, choosing only what she wanted, eating only as much as she wanted, & losing a few pounds. NONE of this has anything to do with the health, the lives, the genetics, metabolism, experiences of REAL, honest-to-God FAT people & it serves only to strengthen myths & misconceptions & strengthen prejudice.

  17. One other thing I wanted to mention, too. Vesta said what if he maintained a BMI under 25 without trying. Well, first, we don’t know that his prior BMI was under 25; very fit, muscular athletes, especially males, can get away with a BMI over 25 BECAUSE it is muscle. Also, if he spent years monitoring virtually every mouthful he ate & working out hard several hours daily, working out as a way of making a living, in fact, then he did not maintain his former weight naturally or effortlessly. He put a LOT of effort into maintaining his weight.

  18. There is also the small point that if he has always been ‘naturally thin’ as he claims, he hasn’t grown up as a fat kid. Fat adults get a lot of crap, but if you’ve been fat in childhood or adolescence, you’ve experienced the full force of society’s cruelty in the years when your self-esteem is barely formed. Specifically, you’re way more likely to have been turned off physical activity by that cruelty, which is a big deal in this case because working out is such a large part of this guy’s life. He’ll be going back to it from that place – not from the place of someone who was rejected from the team at school, yelled at by a sadistic gym teacher and mooed at if he ever ventured outside in a pair of shorts. (Perhaps I’m wrong, and perhaps he was a fat kid – all bodies are different, and some kids naturally get thinner as they gain height – but unfortunately, fat kids who become thin adults don’t always remember how they were treated and/or gain any empathy from it.)

    Yes, comparisons are odious, but I’m thinking of several experiments in which well-off, middle-class people have slept in a cardboard box in an alley for a few nights to try and ‘understand what it’s like to be homeless’. But when you do that from having no history of abuse or addiction or poverty or mental health issues, and a warm home to return to at the end of the week, no, you don’t ‘understand’ at all. And neither does this guy.

    1. I was a fat kid, so I know exactly what you’re talking about here. I recall one time when everyone had to run laps in High School. If anyone didn’t run all the way then EVERYONE had to run another set of laps. I was the last one and was having trouble finishing. Did I get encouragement from the coach or the rest of the class? Nope. They all taunted me and threatened me. The coach just looked on and shook her head when I finally couldn’t run any more. I look back and wonder why I even tried so hard so that the rest of these rude people wouldn’t have to run some more.

  19. It seems like he’s gaining insight into what it’s like to be Tom Hanks or Renee Zellweger… thin/lean person puts on weight temporarily for a role (or in this case, a publicity stunt) and then goes back to their own personal normal size. Maybe next he can get Botox in order to experience what it’s like to be a pre-teen with great skin.

  20. Idea: Online art sale to support your world tour. I’m sure you have several artists in your corner. You hopefully have tech savvy ppl too that can make it happen if you want. Maybe getting online next month would be good prior to winter holidays where ppl buy gifts. Or maybe it’s better next year after Christmas, etc. where ppl focus on themselves again. Just a thought as I’m getting rid for a charitable art show in Memphis.

  21. If he wanted to know what it feels like to be fat, why didn’t he just put up a blog and ask people to write what they are going through? Or he could have just done some research and read blogs such as this and others on what we are going through. Or he could have just minded his own business and stuck to his narrow-minded life. He really isn’t helping anyone out and like others in this blog have stated, he’s only helping others to believe into the stereotype that we fatties only sit around eating crappy food all for most of our lives and that’s just not true.

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