New Reality Show Is 'Most Extreme Weight Loss Experiment Ever' — And That's Bad

A&E’s new reality show Fit to Fat to Fit takes the idea of yo-yo dieting to a whole new level. In what the network is calling “the most extreme weight loss experiment ever,” fitness trainers agree to pack on pounds so they can slim down alongside their overweight clients.

The series, which premiered last night, is hosted by Drew Manning, the personal trainer who famously gained and then lost 75 pounds on purpose. (In the fall of 2014 he dramatically revealed his back-to-ripped body on Good Morning America to promote his book about the experience.) “Getting fit again was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it made me a better man,” he says in the opening credits of Fit to Fat to Fit.

Inspired by Manning’s journey (or gimmick, depending on how you look at it), the show follows 10 trainers as they abandon their rigorous diets and exercise routines to intentionally gain as much weight as possible, under medical supervision, for four months. Then they work with their clients to get in shape together.

When we heard about the show our first thought was, How can this possibly be safe? After all, we’ve read time and again that both extreme weight gain and crash diets pose serious risks.

It turns out we weren’t the only ones to have that reaction. On Twitter, many people expressed concern that Fit to Fat to Fit was portraying something troubling at best and straight-up dangerous at worst.

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After watching the premiere, it’s hard not to be moved by the enormous personal sacrifice that the trainers make to better understand the challenges their clients face. And it’s interesting to watch their perspectives evolve. JJ Peterson, for example, starts out completely unsympathetic: “Who on earth wouldn’t want to be thinner, to be healthier, to have more energy?” he says. “Being healthy is a choice. If you’re not healthy, change.”

Meanwhile his client, Ray Stewart, articulates why changing is far easier said than done. “Oh, ‘Eat less and work out,”’ he says, mimicking the standard advice. “Wow, why didn’t I think about that? It is a little insulting. I doubt a trainer would really understand that emotional pull that food has.”

But after JJ doubles his caloric intake and puts on 61 pounds (prepare to feel a little sick as he stuffs himself with burgers, pizzas, and milkshakes) his outlook changes: “The more time passes in this experiment, the more empathy I’m gaining,” he says.

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But is this too extreme?

While it’s heartwarming to witness the success of JJ and Ray (spoiler alert: they both lose a ton of weight), Fit to Fat to Fit is still an incredibly irresponsible “experiment.”

Putting on a few pounds isn’t necessarily harmful if you’re eating healthy fats, lean proteins, plenty of fruits and veggies, and staying physically active. But trouble starts when you pack on weight from a high-calorie diet that also includes a lot of saturated fat, as JJ appears to do on the show.

“Weight gain like this can increase your risk of diabetes, hypertension, and mortality in general,” says Bartolome Burguera, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic and Director of Obesity Programs.

When you eat large amounts of fatty foods, deposits of fat get stored in your muscles and organs, especially your liver, explains Eneida O. Roldan, MD, an associate professor of pathology at Florida International University. “And a diet that’s heavy in saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol levels, causing plaque to build up in your arteries,” she says.

Then there’s JJ’s lack of physical activity while he’s trying to gain weight. The sedentary habits he adopts would make the damage he’s doing with his diet even worse. “What many people don’t realize is that a sedentary lifestyle in and of itself can cause cardiovascular problems, even if you’re thin,” Dr. Roldan says. “So eating a high-calorie diet and not exercising? That’s like a double-whammy for your health.”

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After yo-yo dieting, can your health fully bounce back?

Fortunately for the trainers on the show, the answer is yes. “Acute, short-term physical changes are usually reversible,” says Dr. Roldan. “In this case, with someone who was previously physically fit and had healthy habits, it will be very quickly reversible.”

Dr. Burguera agrees: “Recent literature does not suggest that weight ‘cycling’ like this necessarily increases morbidity or mortality.”

But another big question remains: Does this whole experiment even make sense? Can two people really share the same weight loss journey?

Not exactly, as you might have guessed. A trainer who is most likely a thinner, healthier person would have a distinct advantage, says Dr. Burguera. “If a lean person gains weight, it will be relatively easy for them to lose it again, because their brain will be programmed to crave fewer calories,” he explains.

“In order to really understand what it ‘feels’ like to be an overweight person struggling to lose weight, a 160-pound person would have to actually lose 20 pounds for example.” Only then would they experience the intense hunger usually felt by an overweight person (whose brain is programmed to want more calories) on a diet.

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The bottom line?

The real problem with weight loss reality shows like this one, says Dr. Roldan, is that they don’t always address the long-term behavioral changes that are necessary to establish healthy habits. Weight loss can take years of effort, she points out. “As a doctor, I disagree with what they’re doing. Any change of structure takes a lifetime to establish. And it’s important to consult with a physician who understands weight loss and has seasoned skills in how to treat these conditions.”

People forget that obesity is a chronic disease, adds Dr. Burguera. “It’s not always as easy as simply eating less and exercising more,” he says. “The key to maintaining weight loss over a long period of time is making small changes you can stick to. Specifically, improving your diet, getting involved in an exercise program, getting enough quality sleep, and managing stress.”


4 Annoying Comments to Expect When You're Losing Weight

Losing weight is challenging enough without other people adding their two cents. But the reality is, you’re likely to catch flak from at least one friend or family member who doesn’t understand (or can’t accept) your new choices. The trick to dealing with those Negative Nancies? Ignore them, says Marisa Moore, RDN, a nutritionist in Atlanta, “because it’s not about what other people think about you.” It’s about putting your own health first. Here are four annoying comments you might hear on your way to a healthier lifestyle—and a bulletproof response for each one.

“Ugh, you used to be so fun.”

Last week you were indulging in mozzarella sticks and boneless wings; now you’re rocking an “I love kale” shirt and holding a mason jar salad. It’s possible your pals are a little confused by the sudden change. Don’t let their discomfort derail you, says Moore. Remind yourself why you decided to lose weight in the first place, and stay focused on your long-term goal.  Megan Roosevelt, RD, the founder of, recommends this simple but powerful reply: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m happy with how I feel.”

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“Isn’t eating that _______ counterproductive?”

You just torched 1,000 calories at the gym, you haven’t had a burrito in forever, and there’s a Chipotle around the corner. Time for a well-earned treat! The last thing you need right now is a passive aggressive remark about how you’re ruining all your hard work. But try not to take it personally. Maybe your new lifestyle is tapping into your friend’s insecurity about her own weight or diet. Or perhaps she is genuinely trying to help you make a healthier choice. After all, is a burrito that’s busting out of its tortilla the best way to nourish your body post-workout? Technically no, but that’s for you to decide. So don’t sweat it (you’ve already done plenty of that!) and borrow Moore’s reply: “It’s perfectly fine for me to eat this as long as I balance everything else I eat today.”

“Aren’t you done losing weight yet?”

You’ve reached your target weight—but you’re still eating clean? And exercising? What gives?! This may be confusing to anyone who doesn’t understand that maintaining a healthy weight means permanent changes. “You’re going to make those healthy choices every day, not just when you’re dieting,” says Roosevelt. After all, you’re trying to be healthy for life, not just a few months. Whenever you face that judgy question, respond with “This is my new normal,” Moore suggests. That’s all you need to say.

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“I went on a health kick once.”

You’re gushing over your favorite spin instructor when your brother starts reminiscing about his brief stint as a gym rat—implying, of course, that your new lifestyle is just a passing phase. “That’s negativity you really don’t have to buy into,” says Moore, because his experience is not your experience. But take a second to consider his perspective. “I think initially people just want to connect with you and share something in common,” says Roosevelt. So rather than brushing off his comment, keep the conversation going—you might even inspire him to revisit his good ol’ healthy days.


How Putting a Mirror in Your Dining Room Might Help You Lose Weight

Magic mirror on the wall, should I stop eating junk food once and for all? Yes. And using a mirror might actually help you do so, per a new study.

How? Researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that eating unhealthy food in front of a mirror can make it seem significantly less delicious.

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To get these results, researchers conducted a taste test with 185 undergraduate students. The students were asked to choose either chocolate cake or fruit salad. After selecting their food, half the participants ate in a room facing a mirror while the other half ate in a reflection-free setting. Afterward, they were asked to rate the taste of the food for the researchers.

Among the cake-eaters, those who ate in the presence of a mirror enjoyed their cake less than the participants who didn’t have to watch themselves eat.  However, the people who ate fruit didn’t record any difference in tastiness due to setting.

“A glance in the mirror tells people more than just about their physical appearance. It enables them to view themselves objectively and helps them to judge themselves and their behaviors in a same way that they judge others,” lead researcher Ata Jami, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Central Florida, said in a news release.

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In other words, having to actually watch yourself eat something unhealthy triggers discomfort brought on by deeply ingrained social standards (in this case, that sugar is bad for your health). However, after conducting a related experiment, Jami found this phenomenon only applies if you opted to eat the unhealthy food—because then you’re actually responsible for the choice.

In that case, could mirrors be a secret to making healthier food choices? Researchers believe the answer is yes.

So if you’re seeking an easy way to boost your weight-loss goals, you may want to consider picking up a new decorative mirror for your dining room or kitchen. It could help you (quite literally) watch what you eat.