The Mental & Emotional Side of Physical Transformation

From the Show: Talk Fitness Today
Summary: Drew Manning expected physical challenges in his "fit-to-fat-to-fit" experiment. What he wasn't prepared for were the mental and emotional struggles he faced.
Air Date: 11/22/17
Duration: 25:03
Host: Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Drew Manning
Drew-ManningDrew Manning is the NY Times Best Selling Author of the book, Fit2Fat2Fit and is best known for his experiment that went viral online.

He's been featured on shows like Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, The View and many more.

His experiment has become a hit TV show, called Fit to Fat to Fit, airing on A&E.
  • Book Title: Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 lbs on Purpose
  • Guest Facebook Account:
The Mental & Emotional Side of Physical Transformation
When Drew Manning gained 75 pounds (then lost them) on purpose to better understand the challenges his clients go through, he fully expected the physical effects that accompany weight gain. 

What he didn't anticipate were the emotional and mental aspects. 

As the pounds piled on, Drew suffered from low self-esteem and low self-confidence. He wanted to explain to strangers that this was just an experiment; that in actuality he was a very fit, healthy person. Ultimately, Drew started to lose his identity.

But, it became a valuable lesson. 

"As a trainer, or someone in the fitness industry, you could give someone the best meal plans, the best workouts, the best trainer. You could provide them all the physical tools they need to be successful when it comes to being healthy," explains Drew. "But none of that matters if that person doesn’t understand how to overcome their mental and emotional challenges. It will just be another diet that they do for a little while; they lose weight but then they gain it back. The key to making it a true lifestyle change is on the mental and emotional side, and that is what I preach now."

Listen as Drew joins host Lisa Davis to discuss the emotional and mental side of physical transformation, as well as what he learned from his "fit-to-fat-to-fit" experiment.

Buy on Amazon
Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 lbs on Purpose

The Mental & Emotional Side of Physical Transformation with Drew Manning

This episode of Talk Fitness is in partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe, where knowledgeable health enthusiasts are standing by to help you thrive every day.

Lisa Davis (Host): So glad you are listening to Talk Fitness Today. if I sound familiar, you have probably heard me on Talk Healthy Today or Naturally Savvy Radio and I am so excited to be doing this show. I think it is so important to talk about fitness, ways to get fit, how to be your best, your strongest, but also how to look at the emotional and mental side of things. So, I’m so glad to be joined again by the wonderful Drew Manning. Drew is a New York Times best-selling author of the book Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit and he had to take quite a toll – or it took a toll on him for his transformation and we are going to talk about the mental and emotional side of things when we are getting fit, making changes in our life and in our diets. Hello there Drew. Welcome back.

Drew Manning (Guest): Lisa, thank you so much for having me again. I appreciate it.

Lisa: Oh Drew, I love having you on my shows. I think you are a fantastic guy. I mean look at you, you are drop dead gorgeous, you are in amazing shape. You are this really cool personal trainer. You are smart. It is all the keto stuff, which if people missed a show, they should go back and check out the show I did recently on keto with Drew on Talk Fitness Today. But seriously, I mean you had it all, right and then you decided, you know what, I’m going to put on like eighty pounds and see what it feels like to be overweight and to deal with the stress and the sadness and the difficulty that comes with it and so for people who aren’t familiar; this is something that you did and that is why you are fit to fat back to fit and so that must have been such a transformation. Talk to us about this experience, especially the mental and emotional side.

Drew: Yeah, so it was very, very humbling doing what I did and I don’t recommend just anybody to do it. But I learned so many valuable lessons and I needed it, though because I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for my clients just to do what I was telling them to do. I was giving them meal plans, I was giving them workouts and they would tell me they were struggling with addictions or cravings and they would give in, like they would be “Oh Drew I had soda, even though you told me not to” or “you know what, you gave me the workouts, but I didn’t get to the gym this week and I just got tired and I just didn’t do it.” And I’m like, “Well why don’t you just do it. It’s not that hard. You just stop eating junk food. You go to the gym, boom, you see results. It is that easy.”

But, I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for so many of my clients just to live this lifestyle. And so, I thought if of ideas of how I could better relate and the idea of getting fat on purpose, I know it sounds crazy, but it made sense in my mind. Like okay, I need to do this and so I decided to do it. And it was crazy and I learned so many valuable lessons, especially on the mental and emotional side because here’s the thing, physically, I knew I was going to get some man boobs and a big butt and a big gut. I knew that was going to happen. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much the journey was going to be a mental and emotional struggle. So, going out in public, I had suffered with self-esteem and low confidence. I wanted to go up to complete strangers and tell them heh, I’m not really overweight, this is just an experiment. Here is my before picture. This isn’t normally what I look like, because I was so self-conscious. I lost my identity and so it was very, very humbling and but the biggest lesson I learned was how much of this transformation was mental and emotional and this is we are going to get into and this is why it is so important.

As a trainer, or someone in the fitness industry, you could give someone the best meal plans, the best workouts, the best trainer you could provide them all the physical tools that they need to be successful when it comes to being healthy. But none of that matters if that person doesn’t understand how to overcome their mental and emotional challenges. It will just be another diet that they do for a little while and they lose weight but then they gain it back. The key to making it a true lifestyle change is on the mental and emotional side and that is what I preach now.

Lisa: Yeah and I think that makes so much sense. So, if you are looking – if you are working with someone and they are really struggling staying with the plan that you gave them, you are like what the heck, it is all written out. Well, you don’t say that anymore obviously, because you have gone through this huge transformation yourself. But it gives you not only empathy, but does it help you approach them in a way, I’m guessing obviously, that they will be more responsive to you, that maybe there is a kinder way of saying or be like dude, I totally see where you are coming from – I don’t know if you say dude but you know what I mean. You know that kind of thing.

Drew: Yeah, exactly. It’s helping to understand what their mental and emotional struggles are because each person is different. Some people eat out of laziness, some people eat junk food because of emotional trauma from an early age, find out what their mental and emotional issues are and help them overcome them, rather than just focus on the physical. Like oh this change will be macros of counting your calories. That stuff helps, it’s a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the most important piece of the puzzle. So, now what I do and how I have changed this as a trainer, is by focusing more on the mental and emotional sides of people’s transformation and so the top three things that I have noticed that help people out with this are 1: Is to help people to be more vocal about their goals. So, talk to their friends, their family to discuss what their goals, what they are trying to achieve because what that does is it makes you accountable by telling people what your goals are, and people are like, “Oh, you’re trying to change your lifestyle, trying to be healthy, okay, I’ll help you out. Like I’ll support you, like I’ll help you meal prep or I’ll go to the gym with you. I’ll be your gym partner.” And you – what it does is it helps you find who your support system is. And sometimes your support system isn’t always the people you think it is going to be, like your friends and family. Sometimes your friends and family are the ones who are sabotaging you, but at least get it out there in the open. Post about it on social media, just get it out there in the open, I know it is scary for some people to stay accountable but people need that accountability no matter who they are and you need to find out who your support system is, whether it’s a friend or whether it is an online community and you’re going to need that no matter who you are when you are trying to make a true lifestyle change.

Lisa: Yeah, that is really true. You know one of the things I saw recently, I forget what magazine it was, but it was showing like pictures of real like big amounts of weight loss, like big numbers, I’m trying to say and the saggy skin, right, you don’t see that and that’s really, really hard for people, right I mean you kind of see like before and after, you see them to be like 300 pounds or 500 pounds and then you are 150 and yet you look all trim and wonderful, but it is like, well wait a second, where did all that skin go and I thought is was so nice when people are like look, this is what it really looks like, and this is really emotionally hard for me and do you know what I’m talking about? Have you experienced that with people and how they deal with that and their body changes, but you are like but I don’t like all this loose skin, I didn’t like the fat, but this isn’t working for me either and I can’t afford to maybe get the surgery that I need to take care of it.

Drew: One hundred percent and the problem with our society is we put so much value on expectations or the outcome of what we are trying to achieve and the reason people are so upset about that or not happy is because they see images all over the media, on social media and magazines, TV, movies, of what they think they are supposed to look like when they are healthy. When in reality, it doesn’t happen that way and so, if you put so much value on the outcome or the expectations of what is supposed to happen, and then you get there and it is not what – it didn’t meet your expectations, they you will disappointed your entire life and so if you can learn to not put value on the outcome or the results, but put value on the habit that you are creating, throughout the process and you put value on the process and don’t worry about the results or the outcome; then you’ll be able to be more grateful and be in the moment with the way things are instead of how they should be. And so, it’s hard for people, I get it, like we all want to look a certain way. I get that, but when we let go of that, and realize that we are the best version of ourselves that we can be with what we have, then you let go of those types of unrealistic expectations sometimes and you will find that your life will be so much more fulfilling if you can place value on the process instead of just outcome.

Lisa: Now when you lost all the weight, when you gained all the weight and lost all the weight, you were able to get right back to where you were. I mean it must have taken some hard – was it like harder work I’m guessing or you might have just felt more tired. Say harder to get up.

Drew: You make it sound like it was so easy. It was not easy.

Lisa: I was like snap, right like overnight.

Drew: Yeah, the next day I had a six pack. No, people think that because they see my photos online and they are like oh yeah for sure it was easy. No, it was a struggle. It was very humbling. So, it was really, really hard. So the way I have kind of talked about this in my book is my entire life I have been on top of this mountain of fitness at the very top and my clients were at the bottom and I was yelling at them from the top like “heh, keep coming, it’s not that hard, just one foot in front of the other, stop falling back down, stop quitting” and then for the first time in my life; here I was at the bottom of the mountain at my heaviest looking up and it was a totally different perspective. It was so humbling that climb up, it was so much harder than what I thought it would be from the top looking down. But it was so valuable for me to learn that and so it was by no means was it easy. It was a very, very hard slow process where I hit plateaus, I gained weight some weeks, even though I was a trainer and I was eating right, and I would have my clients who used to tell me, “you know I’m following the meal plans, I’m following the workouts, but I gained weight this week.” Before, I used to think, well, you must have done something wrong or you are lying to me, but then here I was, the trainer doing everything I was supposed to do and the weight didn’t reflect what I wanted it to. And I was the trainer. So, I was like, okay I need to realize that it is not black and white all the time and even though you are doing everything right, it doesn’t always reflect on the scale.

Lisa: Well, what is your advice to trainers then, in terms of the way to meet people where they are at and to be more in touch with their emotional side and allowing them to express what they are feeling and also if it seems too heavy for them to be able to recognize that and say, you know, you might want to go talk to somebody, like what if somebody shares they had been sexually abused as a child and so they use food as a way to protect them and that is why they are overweight and that’s something that might be too big for someone who isn’t skilled in that area or trained. Does that make sense? Have you ever come across that?

Drew: One hundred percent. And one option for these trainers is to try out for the TV show and do a fit to fat to fit journey, but I know that’s not for everybody and a lot of the trainers end up hating it but they learn so many valuable lessons but the other thing is yeah, like increase the tools you have on your toolbelt. That doesn’t mean you need to become a licensed therapist or anything like that, but just understand the basics, rather than just staying in the fitness industry and focusing on that and only knowing that part of it; you are not going to be able to help people out so, I think just being able to- being open to reading a self-help book and personal progress and overcoming emotional challenges. There is a lot of info out there. There are podcasts out there, there are books out there, go see a therapist yourself just to better equip yourself with how to deal with situations, not that you need to become a therapist or a psychologist or anything like that; but at least you can understand where your clients are coming from and just realize that this for them, for the client is so much more of a mental and emotional journey. It is not just a physical one.

So, if you take a step back and realize that, you don’t need to freak out about the little things that maybe they are not counting their calories or maybe they went over on a certain amount of macros or they are not pushing themselves hard enough in the gym that you perceive. You need to really come down to their level and have more, in my opinion, more valuable talking instead of just doing, working out. So that way they feel understood before they can take action in the gym, in my opinion. So, you can connect with them on a deeper level, even though it is not possible for everybody, where they are like, “look, we have an hour together, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes talking to them, I just want to spend the whole hour working out.” And I get that, but there is so much more to it than just that hour in the gym. So, I think clients would appreciate that more, trying to understand where they are coming from.

Lisa: You know one of the things I love about your show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit that is on A & E is that there was a client and a trainer that really didn’t get on that well and he ended up quitting working with her and I was like what. Because you know, you are watching a TV show, and you are like well of course you are going to come together. Because they came back together to try to work it out and it just didn’t work. And I am hoping that guy went ahead and made the changes on his own, but he felt like she was pushing him too fast and she might have felt like he wasn’t working hard enough or and how do you mend that or if you can’t mend it, sometimes you just can’t; but then how could a trainer say okay, maybe I am pushing you too hard even though I don’t feel like I am, what works best for you. But then if the person, if the client is like well, I only want to lift five-pound weights for the next three months and you are like – you see what I’m saying? Like where do you find that middle ground?

Drew: Yeah, it’s just, in my opinion, it is just like any other relationship, so it is just like in a marriage for example; you can’t have one person giving so much like 100% of themselves and the other person is only giving 10% to the relationship. So, in the episode if you remember they had a very frank conversation saying okay, here’s your chance to show me that you are ready for this and here’s what you need to do. You need to show up tomorrow at this time and if you are not there, then that says that you are not ready for this and then we need to go our own separate ways. And that is what ended up happening. And so, those frank conversations are important and I think she did give him a lot of chances to understand where he is coming from and at the end of the day, yeah, you do have to be ready and realize that it is going to take hard work. It’s not like you just are going to sit there and expect your trainer to do all the work for you, you have to put in the work as well. And so, just like any other relationship; it has to be 100% on both sides, not 50-50, 100% on both sides and if someone is not giving their 100% then at some point there needs to be a sit down frank conversation with okay, here’s my expectations for you and if you can’t do those things, we need to go our separate ways.

Lisa: Well, you know, speaking of the mental and emotional side, part of it was this guy went to the doctor and he was like basically told all these horrendous things that were going to happen if he didn’t change and so of course it is the trainer is like holy crap, let’s change, let’s do this like I’m here and he wasn’t I think he was in denial and that’s hard when that comes up because for the trainer it is so incredibly frustrating. I mean I wanted to cry. I wanted to shake this guy and be like, what are you doing. You are about to have a heart attack, would you flippin work with this woman. You know, I’m like yelling at the TV. But if people aren’t there, so your show really moves me, then they are not there and sometimes you have to let go and that’s hard.

Drew: Yeah, and it’s hard to see that. Especially if it was someone you love, like a sibling or a spouse or someone you know like a good friend to know that they don’t believe they are worth it to make any changes, even if a doctor is telling them all these bad things. For some people it registers like okay, I need to make a change but some people’s self-worth is so low you can’t create that self-worth for them. They have to believe that they are worth it to make a change. And no matter how much you do, and push them and yell at them or shake them, or try and empathize with them; it has to be their decision at the end of the day. Something at some point, hopefully will trigger it in them, but some people just aren’t ready to make that change yet even though they know it’s better for them, it’s healthier for them. Some people just aren’t ready for change yet and so. But the best thing you can do in my opinion, is just to be the example and not try and push it on them. Just be the example and if when they are ready, you are there to pick them up.

Lisa: Yeah, that is really good. Yeah, because I think there could be overly tough love where you are like you know what, if you don’t do it now then forget it, but if they come back to you and you give them another chance, because this is their life you are talking about. You know, I am curious too about the mental emotional side for people making the transformation and if they have always relied on food for their comfort and they you know, suddenly that’s taken away and even though their bodies are looking better, it is sort of like, okay I’m going to feel better, I’m going to look better, but I don’t know how to cope without this thing I have always relied on. It is sort of like breaking an addiction right and you were very open on your show talking about something that you dealt with. I’ve talked about stuff like that on my show as well and it is hard, but so you let go of something but then you gain so much; but in the moment, you can feel a lot of panic.

Drew: Yeah. For sure. Because that’s part of your identity in a way and you don’t know how to cope with – if that is gone, then what am I going to – like how am I going to move forward without this and so it does take some time. It is a transition, but just I think at the end of the day, just being willing to and being open to working with whether it is new techniques or seeing a counselor or meditation or positive affirmations or breathing. Just being open to these other things that you might – maybe you don’t believe is going to work at first, just being consistent with it and see if it makes any changes and just being open to trying your best to improve and it’s going to take some time. Just being patient with yourself, realizing that you are not – it is not all about perfection, it is about progress and so, but if you stay consistent with it, for the most part, over time, you look back and you like you will see how far you have come, right, with whatever the addiction is or the coping mechanism is that you used to have, you have to learn to rewire your brain which is totally possible. We don’t think we can change but if you look at science, you can rewire your brain with things like meditation and positive affirmations and breathing and different techniques that are out there nowadays. It is called biohacking and it’s really popular nowadays and so people are kind of the mainstream media is kind of getting more into this and so just being open to I think new things that you have never tried before.

Lisa: Yeah, and then you are going to have healthy behaviors to take place of the unhealthy behaviors. And you are going to move in a good direction. What about plateaus? Because that can be frustrating. Like let’s say somebody is making a lot of strides in their transformation and then suddenly it is like nothing is moving. The scale is not moving, they are not feeling any stronger. Their measurements haven’t changed. What advice do you have for that and are there ways to overcome plateaus through mixing up your workouts or trying something new, you know stuff like that?

Drew: Yeah, so I think we all hit plateaus in life and I think it is essential for us because it kind of is a reality check for us like okay I need to change something up. But our definition of plateaus is different and I kind of challenge people to look at plateaus differently. Because people think oh, I haven’t lost weight in a couple of weeks therefore I am hitting a plateau, right, so, I don’t like that mentality because just because you are weight isn’t changing doesn’t mean that you are hitting a plateau. So, that’s why I recommend taking measurements, getting your body fat tested, tracking performance in the gym, timing certain workouts or certain weights that you use and seeing if there is any progress there, because if there is progress in other areas, like your body fat percentage or your measurements or your performance in the gym; that’s not a plateau. Right. But the traditional thought or definition of a plateau for most people in the fitness industry is like oh I’m just not losing weight. So, if you are not losing weight, you are not losing inches or body fat percentage and you are kind of stuck at the same performance; be open to new ideas when it comes to health and fitness. So, if you never tried high intensity interval training, feel free to try that out or if you have never done cross fit or if you have never done Zumba, I don’t know, anything just be open to changing up your routine because your body might need to be challenged in a different way. And then also, look into changing up your nutrition as well. So, for example you never tried the keto diet, maybe it is something for you that you maybe your body will be optimal and feel optimal or veganism or vegetarianism. It doesn’t matter. Like be open to trying new things and its fun if you think about it from scientific perspective like I get to become my own self experiment to find what’s best for my body. Like experiment with your body. See what works best for it. Don’t just stay in the same old routine that you have been doing for years and years and years and eating the same thing over and over and over again. Try something new and be open to it and give it a good 30 or 60 days of consistency before you make a judgement. Right. Don’t just say well I tried veganism for a day and I didn’t like it. You know it’s like you have to give your body time to adjust. Same thing with keto. You can’t just do it for a couple of days and be like I didn’t feel good, like well, of course, you have to give it at least 30 or 60 days of consistency before making a judgment.

Lisa: Yeah, I agree. Now when it comes to people who haven’t worked out in a long time, and are starting their transformation; what are things that they should do first? Because some of the things I worry about not on your show, but on some of the shows, I’m sure people know, they will take someone who is really overweight and hasn’t worked out in years or ever and make them like run on a beach or something and I’m like what are they doing. This is not good. So, what are some sensible starting workouts for people?

Drew: Yeah, so something that I did that worked for me, because if you think about it, my Fit to Fat to Fit journey, I stopped exercising for about 6 months and I wasn’t just going to go right back into the gym and risk injuring myself with the same workouts I was doing before, so what I did first was actually just focus on nutritional changes first and becoming consistent with those, because those are harder for people in my opinion, than going to the gym and so I didn’t exercise. All I did was I walked every day which is doable for everyone just getting started, for the most part and then doing stretching and core. Just preparing my body for working out at some point. So, for 30 days, I just changed up my nutrition, I walked every day and I stretched every day and those three things right there helped prepare my body for actual working out the next month. So, I only worked out for five months on my fat to fit journey, losing 75 pounds in six months and just doing those things initially in the first 30 days, I lost 19 pounds in the first month.

So, that’s what I recommend at first and then once you do start working out, start a very slow with body weight exercises. You don’t need to try and kill yourself right away with heavy weights, initially, in my opinion. Just use your own body as resistance and I think if you have your nutrition down, it is going to be so much easier. You will see so many more results from that anyways that I think that’s a good starting point for most people.

Lisa: You know I still chuckle about your cinnamon toast crunch. You said that was like, I never even had that, isn’t that funny. But I was just watching this thing on Netflix, there’s this new Jerry Seinfeld, I think it is called Before Seinfeld or something Jerry Before Seinfeld and he was talking about growing up in the 60s and how it was so great that they like all the people ate were all these sugary cereals. Well it wasn’t so great, but he was making a joke about it and he said then cookie crisps came along. Come on. They finally like made people realize oh holy crap, we are eating cookies for breakfast and I was just watching that earlier and it made me think of you and that. It’s addictive, right. All that stuff. That’s the bottom line. It’s funny but it is addictive.

Drew: It is. It is so addictive but the problem is, that our society is backwards. We make those foods so much more affordable and convenient and tasty and the marketing is great and I get it. I get why we give in to those foods all the time. It is an uphill battle or you have to make more of an effort to go for the healthier foods just because of the way our society is set up, right and so, I get why people get stuck in that situation with eating those foods all the time because yes, it does become addictive and it signals- or it triggers signals in your brain to crave those foods over and over and over again and then it creates like an emotional response. And there is an emotional attachment to food, you know like a sentimental feeling when you eat cookie crisps or cinnamon toast crunch like oh man I remember this as a kid, this was so life changing and so.

Lisa: Yeah, it does. Sometimes you will bite into something and I will be like, oh my God it totally reminds me of my grandmother such and such or something and then you are like I want more and it is it is not even about being satiated, it’s about memories and emotions and so that’s why when we are training ourselves, if you are a trainer training other people; you have to look at the big picture not just what exercises are best for the biceps and the triceps. I mean you can look at that too, but you have got to take a more holistic view which why I’m such a fan of yours, Drew.

Drew: Well, thank you so much Lisa. I appreciate that.

Lisa: Well Drew, tell us all the ways that we can find you and I definitely want to have you back.

Drew: Yeah for sure. So, my website is , fit number 2, fat number 2 fit and then that’s the name of my book. It’s the name of all my social media handles as well, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you want to follow me and I will try and keep you entertained on social media as much as possible.

Lisa: You’re great. I just, like I said, I’m such a fan. Drew, I want to thank you so much. This has been really, really great. I just am such a big fan of talking about our mental and emotional sides of our lives and really delving into that. So, this has been such a joy for me. I hope you have enjoyed it too. You can check us out on Talk Fitness Today on iTunes and Stitcher and iHeart. And please on iTunes, leave a review, rate and review, it really helps the show and check us out on social media, on Twitter and Snap Chat at Talk Fitness 2day. Thanks for listening and stay well.

This episode of Talk Fitness was produced by The Vitamin Shoppe where trusted health enthusiasts help you thrive every day. Visit one of 800 stores across the country or head to for all your wellness needs.
More from this show . . .

Benefits of the Keto DietBack to School, Back to ME

Audio / Radio Segments