Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: Fit2Fat2Fit, by Drew Manning

Drew Manning was a militant personal trainer who pushed his clients hard. Like many of us who have worked hard to achieve better health and fitness, the Salt Lake City fitness guru failed to really understand the plight of overweight, out of shape people, chalking up their lot in life to bad choices and lack of discipline.

I suspect Manning’s world view of obesity and poor fitness is quite common among our ilk—those of us who run every day because we enjoy it. Nothing will stop us from getting in the miles—not rain, not sleet, not snow, not even injury and illness. The same could probably be said of cyclists, triathletes, weight lifters, CrossFitters, etc. And yet, paradoxically, many of us, including me, have weight loss stories. Over time, the fat burned away and we developed lean bodies, big lungs, hard muscles...and militant attitudes. As we lace up our shoes for another 20-miler, we wonder why it’s so hard for others to also get it together when our lives prove that it can be done. Yeah, they must be lazy. Too much Judge Judy, too little blood, sweat and tears.

Some of us develop almost hostile feelings about obesity. We self-righteously dismiss people who are obese as lazy, weak and undisciplined. We stare at them, silently judging their appearance, behavior and decisions. While our commitment to health is almost militaristic, the obese, because of what we perceive as personal weakness, make bad choices—from living on the sofa to visiting the drive-thru daily. In a world of rising obesity (two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese), the disdain only intensifies, giving way to righteous indignation.

As told in Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 Lbs. on Purpose, Drew Manning lived in that world daily. Sure, he had his fair share of client success stories—those who overcame their weight problem in discovering better health through lifestyle changes—but too often Manning’s clients didn’t make it. Takes James as an example.

For a few months Manning had been working with James, a family member who was struggling with his weight. James showed progress in the beginning, but soon he began skipping workouts, falling prey to old habits and putting weight back on. Manning was perplexed, unable to understand why James had fallen off the wagon when he had seen encouraging progress. Manning stewed over the situation, pushing James hard. Then came James’ decision to go it alone, effectively firing Manning.

Manning’s experience with James proved pivotal, caused him to question his entire approach with clients. Maybe he’d been doing something wrong all these years. Maybe clients didn’t need a drill sergeant; maybe they needed something more—someone who could truly connect with them in their journey to better health, someone who had been there themselves.

Manning was, he writes, on top of a mountain, and James was at the base, stifled by the fear of having to get to the summit by himself. Manning had failed to understand why James couldn’t get to the top. But then Manning realized it wasn’t the summit, per se, that hindered James; it was the journey through endlessly challenging terrain that overwhelmed him. James didn’t have the support he needed to navigate the pitfalls on the way to the top. “If the start of my trail was at the top of the mountain, enjoying the view,” he writes, “how could I understand what it was like for people to find their way from the bottom?”

That realization ultimately drove Manning to do something few of us could ever conceive. To the shock of his family and friends, he decided to stop working out, stop eating healthy, and put on 75 pounds over the next six months. Green smoothies would be replaced with big bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He'd shop the junk food aisles, avoiding the produce section. Time spent at the gym would now be spent in front of the TV. He would document his journey via a blog that would soon attract legions of followers.

Not surprisingly, the weight came on fast, and soon Manning began experiencing what it was like to live with obesity—shortness of breath, judgmental stares from others, exhaustion, addiction to certain foods, chafing and even problems tying his own shoes. He had trouble keeping up with his daughter. Even his marriage was affected, despite his wife Lynn’s support of the experiment (his wife authors a chapter in the book).

But Manning’s journey to obesity is only half of the story. In his book, he also documents his return to fitness, which didn’t come as easily as he expected it would. A full 75 pounds heavier, he had developed addictions to certain foods, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Mountain Dew. Overcoming these addictions and getting back in shape were a far greater struggle than he anticipated. Early on, he decided to correct his diet, and then eventually he got back in the gym, having to compensate for his weight as he worked out. This part of the story reveals the true plight of the obese in confronting the many daunting obstacles to achieving better health—and it’s what ultimately helped Manning become a better personal trainer and motivator for his clients.

At only 135 pages, not including sections with recipes, meal plans, exercises and workouts, Fit2Fat2Fit is an easy, fast read. In many ways, it’s a touch and go account of Manning’s extraordinary journey. He probes some significant issues related to obesity, like food addiction and troubling grocery store marketing practices, but I would have liked a far deeper dive into his experiences with getting fat and getting fit again, and into the environmental factors related to obesity (like food marketing).

Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 Lbs. on Purpose, by Drew Manning with Brad Pierce, is recommended.

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