Ten years ago, Drew Manning intentionally gained and lost 75 pounds in order to understand what people struggling to lose weight go through. The empathy he discovered during the first ordeal helped him bridge that gap. He wrote a book about the experience, Fit2Fat2Fit, and created a TV show on A&E, “Fit to Fat to Fit,” putting other personal trainers through the same transformation he had gone through so they could learn to empathize with their clients.
Nearing 40, Drew decided to try the experiment again. His goal was to see how different carrying extra weight, and trying to lose it, is for people as they age. This time, he tracked his body’s changes using WHOOP. In August 2020 he started gaining weight, and by the end of the year he had put on 64 pounds. Then he began the work of losing it. By April 2021, Drew was back down to 180 pounds.
With the experience behind him and new lessons learned, Drew recently took part in an AMA session with our members via the WHOOP app. Read some of the questions and Drew’s answers here.
Q: What were the major differences in weight loss at a younger age versus now?
DREW: I feel like, even at 40, my body responded pretty well to the weight loss portion of my journey just as well, if not better, than in my early 30s. The difference I noticed was in my ability to recover. I definitely didn’t recover as quickly as I used to.
Q: I just lost 50 pounds last year, and with the world reopening slowly, I gained back about 10 of those pounds, and it’s been tougher to lose it back than last year. I’ve been keeping the same workout routine of running and functional fitness and small dinners lately, albeit the more occasional large portioned meals, which don’t go well with my slow metabolism. What tips do you have?
DREW: What worked for you in the past doesn’t always work for you in the present. This is why it’s so important to look into new protocols that challenge your body to adapt to a new environment. So switching up your workouts, the intensity of your workouts, the volume of your workouts, your diet, your macros are all good things to explore. Think of yourself as your own self experiment and give yourself 30-60 days to allow time for your body to adapt. Maybe try upping your protein to around 30+% of your total calories, lift heavy weights 3-4 days per week, do HIIT cardio 2 days per week and go on long walks, meditate, gratitude journal, take cold showers and get LOTS of sleep are a few suggestions.
Q: I often hear that yo-yo dieting is not good for the body because the second time you try to lose weight it ends up with it being harder to lose. Is that similar to what you do? And is that statement true?
DREW: I do agree that yo-yo dieting is not good for the body. What I did with Fit2Fat2Fit was about 10 years apart though and it definitely is NOT healthy. It’s not harder to lose the weight necessarily, but it probably means that it’s easier to gain the weight back so I have to be extra careful to stay on top of being consistent in my approach to staying fit.
Q: Is weight loss as simply as eating less and working out more?
DREW: I wish it was that simple. Yes, it’s simple in theory, but HARD for most people in the application of it. The law of thermodynamics will always be applicable, but we are humans and there is a psychological component to physical transformation that is always overlooked. The emotional connection to food is more powerful than we think and a lot of food addiction is tied to trauma/stresses of life, which is why it’s not as simple as just “eating less/working out more.” This is why I’m trying to bring change to the fitness industry by leading with empathy first.
DREW: Yes they have! The body is pretty resilient and can bounce back pretty quickly if you treat it right consistently.
Q: How did your HRV change when losing the weight?
DREW: My HRV score was around 100 when I started and then dropped to the low 40s during my weight gain phase. Then when I was losing weight again it slowly creeped back up to the 70s+!
Q: What was your diet like when losing the weight?
DREW: I followed mostly a ketogenic diet, but with higher protein. And then I would cycle in some high carb days after being strict for 2 months or so.
Q: When losing weight, specifically trying to maintain muscle and lose fat, did you follow any specific macro ratios? If so, do you find a benefit in counting macros and not just calories?
DREW: Yes, for the most part I did a keto-ish approach most of the time. So 65% fat, 30% protein and 5% carbs. I did some carb cycling during my journey and also did some targeted keto protocols. I do think there are benefits to tracking macros instead of calories. Protein is the most important, in my opinion, for maintaining lean muscle mass and losing fat mass. I just don’t track macros forever though. I think it’s good to become familiar with it and know how it works, but to count calories and macros for the rest of your life seems exhausting to me.
Q: What is a healthy macro ratio while losing weight?
DREW: It’s different for each person so I can’t really answer this one specifically. The key is to get an adequate amount of protein (maybe 1 gram for every pound of lean mass), and then whether you use carbs or fats just make sure your calories are low enough that you’re in a caloric deficit.
Q: What are your thoughts on fasted versus fed cardio?
DREW: I like to consider this splitting hairs, but if I had to choose I would go with fasted cardio mostly because I feel better doing cardio on an empty stomach. Does it help you burn more fat? I’m not so sure, but I know a lot of people swear by it. I think it totally depends on the person and their lifestyle and their goals.
Q: How much emphasis did you put on cardio versus weight training along your journey?
DREW: I lifted 3 days per week and did HIIT cardio two days per week.
Q: How do you diet without slowing your metabolism?
DREW: Being in a calorie deficit for too long definitely can slow down your metabolism. Scheduling some refeeds can help out with that. Now that my Back2Fit is over though, I’ve been in a calorie surplus and am focusing on lifting heavy. Something I think is important for everyone who wants to lose weight and fat in the long term is to schedule some hypertrophy (muscle growth) phases.
Q: I love to snack before bedtime even though every diet book says not to. Is there a particular time that you stop eating before going to bed? If so, why that time and any tips for us late night snackers?
DREW: I usually use intermittent fasting, which allows you to have an eating window of 8 hours or so and you can eat in that eating window. So if you’re eating from noon to 8 pm you can essentially eat all the way up until 8 pm. Or you can switch it to 1 pm to 9 pm if that works too, but eating right before bed isn’t always optimal for sleep honestly. So I usually stop eating around 2 hours before bed.
Q: What supplements would you say are essential while dropping weight?
DREW: I wouldn’t say any supplements are essential, but the ones that I would recommend for anyone for just overall health would be Vitamin D3 and K2, turmeric, fish oil/krill oil, magnesium, etc.
Q: What do you do about loose skin left over from previous weight gain?
DREW: That’s a personal question that depends on the individual’s situation. If you don’t like it, luckily we live in a world where there are options to fix that if that’s what you want to do, or you can embrace and learn to love it no matter what society thinks. I always recommend getting down to an ideal body fat percentage first and then see what that loose skin looks like at that ideal body fat. Then from there make a choice of what you want to do, but that’s up to the individual.
Q: What was your diet/lifestyle to gain weight?
DREW: Lots of processed foods! Sugary cereals, pop tarts, breakfast bars, bagels, waffles, frozen burritos, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, chips, cookies, crackers, croissants, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, sodas, juices, beer, and other alcohol! I also did NOT exercise for the entire 4 months.
Q: What should you focus on to lose the last 3 pounds?
DREW: The biggest hurdle is the mental discipline needed to be consistent with exercise (maybe also increase the intensity/volume of your workouts too), and then making sure your calories/macros are where they should be.
Q: How much does proper/improper sleep affect the weight loss process?
DREW: Sleep plays an important role in hormone optimization. So if you’re not sleeping well through the night because of your diet/lack of exercise it most likely will affect your ability to lose weight efficiently. If you’re sleeping well through the night because of a healthy diet and exercise then it definitely can aid in helping you lose weight more efficiently.
Q: Have you noticed any ‘not so obvious’ benefits of being fat and then transitioning back to normal? I.e. massive calves? Can you do way more pullups after training with all of that extra gravity?
DREW: Good question. I wish my calves got massive during my journey, but they stay the same size pretty much regardless of what I do. I have a little bit of loose skin (not much that’s noticeable, but noticeable to me). I do crave junk food a lot more than I used to I think and I definitely miss the convenience of eating unhealthy all the time (DoorDash, fast food, candy at the checkout line of the grocery store, ice cream always in the freezer, etc).