Personal Trainer Gains 70 Pounds to Better Understand Client's Plight

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago I came across a blog regarding personal trainer, Drew Manning of Utah, who decided in May of this year to take on the challenge of gaining weight via an unhealthy diet and lifestyle so that he could better relate with his overweight clients and the daily struggles they undergo to reclaim their health. In six months Drew Manning went from a healthy 193 pounds to a whopping unhealthy 264 pounds.

I'm not too sure if Mr. Manning is doing this to better understand his client's plight or for publicity, but regardless of his intentions, you can't argue the impact the videos and pictures have when you see how quickly one can lose his/her health by resorting to unhealthy habits. While most of us will not gain 70 pounds in 6 months, even just 5 pounds a year (less than half a pound a month) can add up to well over 50 pounds of extra weight in just a decade.
On November 1st Mr. Manning began the second phase of his Fit2Fat2Fit mission by going back to the healthy lifestyle he had before embarking on this jaunt of unhealthy habits. He will spend these next six month chronicling his journey to reclaiming his health.

I know the challenges of being 80 pounds overweight and the struggles that go along with carrying the extra weight, but in all fairness I am not sure anyone could relate to me and my issues.

While I may not know what it is like to be 100 or even 150 pounds overweight, I struggled and do struggle  with many of the same issues countless of  those who are or who have been overweight. The need to let go of perfection, along with the shame and guilt was a big turning point for me in letting go of the diet mentality. After 30 plus years of dieting, I finally learned that I do not have to have a PERFECT life to have a healthy life! However the biggest factor I discovered on my journey was the power in having others help me along the way.  The support and encouragement, not to mention accountability from others, whether here on SparkPeople or in my real life, was a huge turning point. I felt I was able to reach my goals, not only in my weight loss journey, but my running journey as well, by having others boost me up when it would be far easier to throw in the towel.

Having  worked with a number of certified personal trainers over the years, the relationship between trainer and client can be quite motivating especially when there is a strong rapport and respect for one another. In all honesty I must say I never considered my personal trainer's past history as a factor for hiring. What I  needed was someone who could encourage me and educate me on the process of reclaiming my health. They weren't supposed to be my friends and tell me what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear.

Four of my all-time favorite personal trainers were men. Not one ever had a weight issue. They were all young enough to be my son. One was a runner, one a former NCAA swimmer, one a minor league baseball player and one a Lieutenant in the United States Army. But the one attribute they ALL had was a positive attitude in helping others reach their goals. They all encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and live the dream of being healthy and fit. They didn't sugar coat things--in fact they told me like it was and never accepted no for an answer. They believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. They pushed me when I wanted to give up and most importantly they celebrated my successes no matter how small. To me, those are all signs of a great personal trainer.

If given a choice, would you choose a personal trainer who has struggled with their weight in the past over one who never has?  What do you consider good attributes for a personal trainer?

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The guy probably meant well, but for many people gaining weight in the traditional way, as an unhealthy response to life stress, means as you lose physical weight you must lose the weight of the world simultaneously. For him to believe a superficial weight gain followed by a superficial weight loss will result in anything more than a superficial understanding is very naive. Training with someone who has overcome a true struggle might help motivate me, but a manufactured one borders on mocking. Report
Once you have weighed a certain weight it is very easy to regain to that weight again. Even when he loses the excess pounds he will find it easy to go back to that weight again and also to eat unhealthy. I am maintaining but those old unhealthy habits are still lurking and just waiting for me to lose my determination. Report
I'm *trying* to view this as an admirable attempt for this trainer to connect with his clients, but I'm just... not... getting there.

It seems hard to believe that voluntarily gaining 60 lbs with the full belief that you can lose it in the same amount of time enables you to sympathize with overweight clients any more than putting on a pointy bra would make me understand what it's like to be Madonna.

For me, among the worst things about being overweight is the shame I feel about having "let myself go." If I were this man's client, watching my trainer voluntarily gain the same amount of weight I'm trying to lose, I think I would consider it to be a bit disrespectful to the regret I feel for having 'let' the same thing happen - in addition to smacking of self-interest and a desire for attention. Ick. Report
I think a personal trainer has to be an encourager in a way that sets high expectations, but works with people where they are. I don't think they must have a weight problem in order to be helpful. Report
I don't think you need to have cancer to be a great oncologist and I think struggling with weight is not always a precurser for empathy. I've never been a fan of "if I can do it, you can do it" philosophy. When one fails the message aren't as good as___________. I prefer someone who is going to motivate ME. Tell me what I am capable of, not what they've done so that I can start calculating all the ways I don't measure up. I think an athlete who can see an athlete in me is going to be more motivating. Report
I prefer my personal trainer owner of Curves.She has had the struggles with food and exercise,etc. as I have.I feel much more comfortable with the fact that she understands but I don't think you should ruin your health just to understand your clients.He should of make weight loss videos instead of ruining his health to understand.I don't think he will ever really know what is like to be overweight and struggle with the issues of emotional eating,etc. Report
Ane excellent blog. I especially appreciate the point about the pyschological aspects of overweight. I doubt that ruining your health improves empathy. Report
I am not so sure that compromising the very things we try to learn from personal trainers, is going to win any points in my book. I do think that learning from someone that has been there would be more beneficial to me at some points, but like many others have said- a few months of extra weight can't compare to years of dealing with it. Report
If I ever had a personal trainer, I would prefer one that has either struggled with weight or motivation. I have never been a large person but have roller coasterd with 20-30lbs over the years. I certainly would not want a 'ken" or 'barbie" as my trainer. Report
I just spent the last 90 minutes reading and watching most everything I could find on this guy. I can tell you that I am going to get some spinach and bananas today! And, I am starting each day with 16 oz of water...before my one cup of coffee. And I am going to do more stretching also. Stretching will make my workouts easier and I will feel better. I am also going to do as much of the core stuff that I can. I am working with trainers already, so I will really be getting a great benefit. I think this guy is smart, dedicated, industrious, and the kind of guy I would want in my camp! Report
I agree with the many of you who said this seems like a "scam". I dont care what their background is as long as they are honest, positive, upbeat. Noone can understand what others go through on a daily basis for their whole lives and "gaining weight" like this is not going to help. Those of us who have struggled with weight and eating most of our lives cant just turn it on and off like a switch. Its a day by day, sometimes moment by moment conscious effort to becoming more active, healthy if you were not raised that way or never lived like that before.
I would rather see a trainer who honestly cared about their clients and their health...maybe he does but I'm rather suspicious of his motives... Report
Even though I think this idea is pure madness, I do think I'd prefer a personal trainer that knew my plight as a overweight person a little better. Report
I've only had one personal trainer, and I do not know her background, so I don't think I can make an accurate judgement. Report
I can't imagine why anyone would intentionally put on unhealthy weight! I will be interested to hear his follow up though. Report
I'm actually struggling with this decision right now - we have a new trainer who became a trainer because he lost over 100 lbs and being new his sessions are less expensive, but I'm really wanting to work with the senior trainer who I know did a Warrior Dash last year, to help me prepare for June. I'd like to support the new guy, but I'm thinking the other trainer might fit my needs better. But then there's the money...ARG! Report
I call my trainer Mr. Squat Police - I doubt he's ever had a weight issue, and he doesn't take any crap from me. He is supportive and understanding. He's also slightly older so I feel like that is important to me. I would have a hard time choosing a young guy in his 20's because I don't feel like he could relate. My trainer is great and even though he's changed gyms 3 times due to promotions, I have followed him to all 3 and now drive 45 minutes each way just to see him once a month. I think that speaks to how great I think he is! Report
I would not think so. However, for the first time after longing for a personal trainer I am finally going to have one starting Monday. Although I like several of the trainers at my gym and considered all of them to be my personal trainer. I decided on the petite height one, like me I am 5'1". She was always thin until she had a baby than had to "do" something to lose the weight and get back into shape(she was not a personal trainer before or worked at a gym). So, yeah I guess I wanted someone that could relate to me as well as I relating to her. Of course, she was one of the ones I was considering before I knew her personal history. I guess that was what finally pushed me into asking her instead of the others. Report
I think in order to pick a personal trainer you should be looking at his/her credentials, success rate, client recommendations etc. I admire Drew for wanting to take the time to put himself in his clients position (even a little bit) so that he can better serve them. I think getting hung up on the facts that his background (past history) didn't lead him to gain weight is a cop out a lot of folks are using in order to be angry at him. We all gained weight for different reasons (past abuse, addiction to food, laziness etc) so is his purpose for gaining it in order to better understand how it feels to struggle to lose it any different? I've read his blogs, I've watched his videos and I think his intentions are well seated. I don't care if my trainer has ever been obese or not, my part of our journey together is to tell him why I am where I am and why I want to get to healthy and then his job is to guide me to get there. Report
I would prefer a trainer that had struggled with their weight, even it if it was just ten or twenty pounds. I think it would give them a greater level of compassion and understanding, and the ability to speak in terms that would resound with me in a way that someone who has always been naturally athletic and slender could not. Report
I want a trainer who is educated and knows how to motivate. Whether or not they have been where I've been doesn't matter to me. Report
Sorry you can't "gain" weight to understand me. I've struggled forever with my weight I didn't have the choice to gain or not. If I don't work my Ass off I gain. If you are pre disposed to be heavy its hard. And I work harder than people who where thin and get heavy. Report
I don't know about all the pros and cons. I do know that this type of experiment has been done in the past. One of the British TV companies ran a series of programmes, one item of which was for a fit person (usually an athlete or sportsperson) to live for (I think) 4 weeks on a poor diet. Fast food: burgers, hot dogs, donners, chips, etc., and lots of bread and cola etc. And none of their vegetables, fruits or salads.
They were monitored by doctors, but their video diaries said it all. They felt themselves getting bloated and lethargic. They knew that their systems were "failing" them - sleep was disturbed, toileting habits went out the window. They wanted to sleep, Spots, boils, bad hair, poor skin. They didn't want to be bothered to move or exercise or cook or.....
I seem to remember the doctors becoming quite concerned in a couple of instances.
I remember each of them being so relieved to be able to shut down that episode in their lives and get back to proper food - and enjoying their food and their water.
What I don't remember is - any follow-up programmes. And that is too often the down-side of "health" documentaries - we only ever get to see the point they want to make, and don't give us the follow-up which is crying out to be provided. Report
I think anyone TRYING to gain weight is out of their mind, and I would NEVER consider them to be my trainer. That does not motivate me, it actually makes me feel like a failure for getting to be over 100 lbs over weight. What ego he has!! Report
Hmmm... I commend the guy for his DESIRE to relate to his clients. That tells me he does have compassion and wants to truly help by understanding better.

However, the question at hand is the following:

"If given a choice, would you choose a personal trainer who has struggled with their weight in the past over one who never has? What do you consider good attributes for a personal trainer?"

In my opinion, as long as the trainer has the attributes I am looking for, it doesn't matter how they attained said attributes. For instance, if someone has been thru weight-loss and succeeded, but is impatient with me because I'm not moving at a similar pace that they did when they succeeded, then who cares if they've been thru what I've been thru or not.

However, if there were a trainer that hadn't necessarily gone thru weight-loss of any kind, but is very knowledgeable and compassionate, yet has a way of persuading and motivating me when I just want to give up, then who cares if they've always been superwoman or superman? As long as they are able to help ME with MY issues in a way that is firm yet gentle, compassionate yet empowering, and actually gets me to my goals- safely- I could care less what their past was. Report
what?! That is outragious! I've had a personal trainer who knew what it was like to once be over weight. But I totally disagree with gaining weight just to understand your client? I think it teaches them negative things rather than positive! That's like saying you want to try cocaine because you want ti help someone in rehab, so you could understand what it was like! How about simply talking to your client to find out how they got to where they are?! Besides, as mentioned, the emotional aspect of it will never be achieved simply by forcing yourself to gain weight! REDICULOUS!!! Report
I was blessed to find a trainer at 24 Hour Fitness who was a perfect fit for me. I don't care if he never had the same life experiences that I have had. I only need to know that he is empathetic and supportive of my situation and sincerely passionate about helping me acheive my goals.

I wrote a letter to 24 Hour Fitness commending this trainer and the job he did for me. You can find it on my SP page under blogs entitled "My Letter to 24 Hour" Report
I would probably feel more comfortable with a trainer who fully understood, but I wouldn't necessarily turn down a good trainer just because they were smart enough to know about health and fitness their whole life. Report
I'm not so certain he did for publicity. Living in Utah, I know the story was just a local human interest piece until Jay Leno latched on. If Jay Leno hadn't, it might still be just a local story. A concern I have is if such a ploy might backfire on him. He might discover it isn't so easy to take it off and that it becomes a struggle for years to come.

A few years ago a trainer approached me at the gym about training me (at the time members got one free training session a month). She took me to a grouping of 4 photos on the wall and asked me to pick out which was her. After studying the photos, some of which were of heavier women and some lighter, I pointed to the one the looked the most probable. It turns out they were all her, that she had been in my position and had lost the weight. I was very impressed and set up an appointment with her, but the next time I was at the gym I fell getting off the rowing machine and caused a major injury to my knee. By the time I was healed (probably a year later) she no longer was a trainer at that gym. Report
Honestly if I could afford a personal trainer I really wouldn't care about whether they had a history of weightloss. My viewpoint would be can this personal trainer help me achieve my future goals and does he/she have practical knowledge to get me past any potential problems I currently have. Report
I would definately prefer to have a personal trainer who understands what I am going through. That is why I really like Richard Simmons. He used to be fat, battled with weight for years before he became fit. (I also like that not all of the people on his tapes are super thin!)
He is probably the only one of the "weight loss experts" I believe really understands how I feel. Report
I've worked with a personal trainer just once. It was ok. If I would choose a PT, that person must and I mean MUST understand that I have health issues as well as being over 60. I'm just a little scared of these young PTs who have no understanding what it's like to have limitations. Report
While I commend him for the effort in better understanding his clients, I don't believe that he will really understand what it is to battle the ups and downs many of us have faced in a lifetime of battling the bulge. I have found my inspirations to be those who have truly battled and are winning. Report
I kind of feel like this just seems a little forced and some kind of publicity stunt. I think him thinking these 6 months would make up for the years and years of issues piling up, the self-doubt that results, and the other people in your life underestimates the power of these things. Also if my trainer were to say - i was where you are for 6 months, and i got over it so just do it, seems like the wrong kind of support. On the other hand if my trainer had been larger for years, I would worry about them projecting their issues on to me. I guess at the end of the day it all comes down to the right personality and the right motivational & exercise style to stick with the program. Report
One part of me thinks it was very commendable of Drew to have gained the weight to see how his clients feel. Another part of me thinks, hopefully this won't cause issues for him but the fact that he is being monitored by doctors should keep him on the right track back to health.

I personally know what it's like to be thin, then fat, then fit. I was always a thin person most of my life. I did not become overweight until my late 20's, early 30's so I never really knew what it truly was like to be almost 100 lbs overweight for all of my life. However, I was overweight for several years before I made the decision that I needed to do something about it and to lead a healthier life.

The main traits I would like to see in a personal trainer is the complete knowledge of a human's anatomy and how our systems work. Pschologically speaking and physically, a personal trainer should be knowledgeable of both those factors. Report
I think it's still going to be hard for him to understand the mental side of the struggle. He has always had the fitness mentality and knows he can do it. That is the part that most people struggle with is the realization change is needed and then fight with themselves to actually make those changes. He's just going back to his normal way of life. Report
Who would I chose as a personal trainer ? Someone who really knew what they were talking about. Good trainers really do come in all different shapes and sizes.

Personally, I would probably lean towards someone who'd struggled with their weight in past, but then learned to live a healthy lifestyle. That is a person I could easily identify with. They have walked in my shoes.

I'm not being critical of a PT who's never had a weight problem. BUT you do have to wonder if they have the empathy to understand what weight related issues you might have with your body. Some personal trainers don't understand what it's like to carry a lot of weight. As a result, they make assumptions about what you can and can't do. they have a one size fits all mentality.

Now, that's a generalization. I would choose a personal trainer based on their experience and once again, personally, I'd prefer a trainer with a bit more life experience.

Personally, I find it a bit condescending of him to gain weight he doesn't naturally have. And in view of a study in the health section about people who were put on a plan to gain and then lose extra weight, which showed many of them never did regain their 'before' hormone balance, and thus had trouble keeping it off, I hope it doesn't backfire for him.

I don't think this was wise or helpful on his part. Even though he has weight to lose, it's not weight that he's lived with for 30 years and that's settled in for the duration! His weight will be easier to lose, I think. And he will never experience all the emotions that contribute to weight gain since he did it on purpose.
Either he's an effective personal trainer or not - this is irrelevant. Report
I just don't know if this is going to be that educational for him. He already has very good habits established, he won't be starting from scratch the way some of his clients might.

I would go to a trainer who had struggled with their weight. Report
Well, I think it's crazy to gain excess weight on purpose because he runs the risk of having opened a Pandora's Box of trouble. If it is truly to understand his clients however, then I do commend his commitment to what he does. Like others have pointed out, however, those of us with real weight and food issues - whether we be 100lbs oe 10lbs overweight, or even at a healthy weight - have to deal with more than simply excess weight. There are desires for food and the feelings that food gives us that he probably won't experience. Report
Most definitely, I would choose a trainer who's struggled with their weight. Those who have not tend to be pretty clueless about what a weight struggle means to one's health and day-to-day life. I wouldn't waste my time on someone who hadn't faced a GENUINE struggle with their weight, i.e., didn't gain weight just to see what it was like (!). That's lunacy. Report
He took a big chance. Just for arguments sake lets say after putting it on he couldn't take it off. Why would anyone take a change like that. I've had a weight problem since age 9 and have been every size from 10 to 24. I hope he didn't screw up his metabolism and create future problems for himself. What he did is commendable because he really tried to put himself in someone else's shoes. I just hope it doesn't backfire on him. Report
I have been following Drew for months and maybe this isn't the healthiest thing in the world for him to have done, but he has been working with doctors. He currently on November 5th started his journey back to fit. He has inspired people from all over the world to join him. He posts a grocery list (for men and women)his meal plan and exercise plan daily, videos to show you how to cook and make things as well as exercise, and now has hundreds of thousands of people making the journey back with him. I have read the comments from his followers on the journey and they are so full of hope and grateful to have him helping them .

Regardless if you agree or disagree with his putting on the weight, he is making a difference and helping thousands, and thousands of people around the globe. If he can help only one person change and save their life (Although I guess it will be a lot more than one) then in my opinion he's done a great job.

GO DREW! Report
Empathy doesn't mean you have to go through exactly the same situation as somebody else; it means you can understand what they're going through. Since being overweight and struggling with food and fitness issues is a personal experience, I'm not convinced that this trainer will be able to understand his clients better because of what he did.

I wouldn't pick a trainer based on whether they've ever struggled with weight issues. I would expect him or her to be understanding but most of all knowledgeable and motivating. Report
This PT really has no clue what it is like to be truely overweight. Being overweight starts and ends in your head and this PT did not have to deal with that. I have a great personal trainer. He has been through struggles in life and understands how "life" can put up barriers and teaches techniques on how to break through those barriers for success. I have lost 200 lbs and he has helped me along that journey. He has also learned from my struggles and others. As he always says "In ones journey, you never stop learning". I feel that knowledge is the best attribute that a trainer can have. Getting the knowledge of the human body and gaining knowledge about the human mind and psyche wether through personal experience of listening and learning through others. Report
To me there's still a difference between someone who has struggled all of their life with weight & making unhealthy choices and someone who quickly gains weight to prove a point. He also runs the risk of it getting out of hand. Will he be able to go back to the healthy lifestyle he had before? Or will the sugary sweets & fat-laden goodies keep calling his name? Sounds kind of like someone deciding to become a drug addict so that they can understand the plight of drug addicts - it's a huge risk to take. Report
I am very fortunate in that I have a wellness program as part of my benefits at work. They sponsor a number of different "single focus" programs and classes, and have a gym with cardio and weight machines and free weights. I was finally able to get connected with a personal trainer. He has always been athletic, played ball in school and such, but that isn't important to me. I like the fact that he is encouraging without being pushy, gives positive feedback, and watches the same tv shows I do, so we have something to talk about that makes the workouts a little less onerous. If I lose count during and exercise he even "lets" me get a couple of more moves out of it. :) There are a couple of things that keep me motivated. I don't want to have to tell him that I don't feel like working out, so I go even when I really don't want to, although he is good about not nagging me when I really feel lousy, and I can't let a punk kid out do me. lol I have a certain amount of pride about my ability to do things, and I feel like I have to show this 20 something kid with a degree in gym that this old lady can take it!!!! As far as this gut gaining weight just to loose it, I think there are better ways to learn what his clients are dealing talking to them, getting them to open up about what they they are fighting on a daily basis. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about giving up the junk foods he's been eating for the past six months. I read a little bit about him where he said he had got used to his new eating habits, and could understand a little about food addictions. I wonder how easy he's been thinking this is going to be. Report
You know, I have read the comments everyone has left and as someone who has struggled with weight for years understand why most think he was out of his mind! I checked out his web site and read his comments and I for one applaud him. He admits he only has a fraction of the understanding but I believe after listening to what he has said that he will better understand his clients needs. He understands the food addictions and how it affects you physically as well as mentally. He also has awareness of dangerous these addictions are and has had a taste of it.
To see how dramatically his body changed in just a mere 6 months is pretty shocking. I encourage everyone to really check out his story before making an opinion. Report
Having personally lost a bunch of weight and gained half of it back, I think it is a horrible stupid idea to gain weight intentionally for any reason!! I've been fortunate enough to be able to work with a few different trainers. One of them had lost over 100 lbs before she decided to become a personal trainer. I liked working with her because she did understand where I was coming from and knew just how to push me. What is more important for me though is working with someone who understands my particular physical issues. No matter how fit and healthier I get, I will never be able to do certain types of exercises or lift weight above a certain amount. The best trainer I ever had was a young lady who never had issues with her weight but she was willing to go above and beyond and learn as much as she could about my physical problems so she could help me safely exercise. Report
I have to concurr with most here, that the P.T. gaining weight like he did, can NOT help him truly understand just what his overweight clients deal with. "Walk a mile in my shoes" , really does NOT help....maybe donning a FAT suit would help more. Watched that on ET, normal skinny gal, wearing a Fat suit making her look over 400 lbs. It DID help her to see things in a whole differnt light. But gaining the weight, well, quite frankly that is NOT healthy at all.....and does not really tell what it is like to deal with weight issues all your life. Report
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