Trainer JJ Peterson before gaining and losing weight for the new A&E show “Fit to Fat to Fit.” (Photo courtesy of A&E/Fit to Fat to Fit)
In the new A&E show Fit to Fat to Fit, trainers truly step into their clients’ shoes: They gain weight over the course of four months, then work alongside their clients to shed pounds together over another four-month period.
Recently, we asked experts what the health risks are from gaining weight (only to lose it again) in such a fashion. While the process can put you at an increased susceptibility for diseases like diabetes and obesity, junk food and a lack of exercise can also wreak havoc on your mind.
That’s what JJ Peterson — one of the trainers featured on the upcoming series, premiering today (Jan. 19) — tells Yahoo Health. While gaining 60 pounds for the show, not only did he replace his six-pack with love handles, he also suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety attacks, and pain like he never knew it before. But he also came out of the experience with an improved view of life — and of people who struggle with weight loss. And that has a lot to do with his assigned client for the show, Ray.
Curious what else the process was like? Learn more in our Q&A with Peterson, below:
Yahoo Health: How many calories did you consume in a day before you started Fit to Fat to Fit?
JJ Peterson: I was maintaining about 3,200 to 3,400 calories — and that was with working out.
What was your diet like while you were gaining weight?
I ate roughly 6,300 calories a day — the food was anything from one of everything on the Dollar Menu at a fast food restaurant, to Doritos, to pizzas where each slice was 1,000 calories, to gallons of soda, to anything fried and full of sugar. Anything that’ll eventually kill you, I ate it. The show had us on a food plan. The target was to gain 60 pounds in four months — so for me, 6,300 calories multiplied by 120 days will get you to about 60 pounds.
So did you completely cut out exercise while you gained weight?
I had to completely cut it out. I snuck one workout in at the beginning. I caved. I was going through withdrawal from exercise. Working out was always my relief, my outlet, my antidepressant. Without it, it was hard. I was having anxiety attacks and depression. I only cheated that once, though. The rest of the time, I cut it out. I wanted to dive into the process — to give the process my all. I didn’t want to cheat on myself or on Ray [my client on the show], because at end of day, I was in this for him.
What were the physical side effects you noticed?
Well, obviously the physique went away quickly. Two weeks into the weight gain, the six-pack was gone, the love handles were there, and clothes were fitting tightly. I also had tons of nausea. Any time I had soda — especially Mountain Dew or Coke — I was extremely nauseous. Around week four, I started to get headaches, and those didn’t quit until about four weeks into the weight-loss journey. They were on and off and pretty harsh for about 16 weeks. Acid reflux was another huge side effect. I had never experienced that in my life. The first time I felt heartburn, I gripped the edge of the table and told my wife I thought I was having a heart attack. She said, “It’s just heartburn.”
JJ Peterson before gaining and losing weight for the show. (Photo courtesy of A&E/Fit to Fat to Fit)
What about the emotional side effects?
I’m not a depressed person by nature. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky, positive guy — but the experience of gaining weight for the show derailed me. It wrecked my life and put a strain on my relationship with my wife and kids. I had never felt depressed until this journey. I had anxiety attacks where I had to leave the house. I would be lying in the fetal position on the bed of my truck trying to calm down. Exercise was the way I coped with the stresses of day-to-day life. But with all of the poisons going into my system and no outlet or release, it was a one-way ticket to “Depressed Town.” There was no relief.
I was prepared for the changes physically and had told myself that my body was going to go away for a little. But I had not prepared myself at all for what was going to happen mentally and emotionally. I was anything but stable during this process. My wife says I cried every single day. I probably did. Every time it was time to eat, I would cry. Emotionally, it wrecked me. Mentally, it wrecked me.
How did other people perceive you while you gained weight — did you notice a change?
I never got ridiculed or made fun of for the way I looked, but my family roused me quite a bit because they had always seen me fit. They gave me a hard time. I would laugh it off while I was there, but I would go home sad and depressed because that’s not who I am. I would look in the mirror and wouldn’t recognize who I was — it was almost like an out-of-body experience. It was the strangest process.
How did your views toward your own body change — or did they?
Before this journey, it was more about aesthetics for me — just looking good on the outside. This process taught me that the spiritual, emotional, and physical are all intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. I’m a much more balanced individual now. I pay as much attention to my mental and spiritual health as I do to physical, so that was a huge gift.
JJ Peterson (right) and his client, Ray (left), during the show. (Photo courtesy of A&E/Fit to Fat to Fit)
When you started to exercise again, how hard was it?
The first workout was very, very liberating. It felt like life was being breathed back into me again. But the second workout — the first with Ray — was eye-opening. It wasn’t a difficult workout, but it killed me. I didn’t believe that in four months you could go from really, really fit to what I had to go through. It was a huge mental bomb when I realized I wasn’t even close to where I used to be. We did a 400-meter lap — one tiny lap around a high school track — and I could barely make it around. My heart was pounding out of my chest. When we moved onto bear crawls and tire flips, I collapsed and almost passed out.
What about when you started eating healthy again — did you notice any challenges?
I still am dealing with food addictions in the form of burgers and pizza — it’s got to be that cheese. That cheese is like crack. When I started eating healthy, I could feel my body start to get better from the inside, but I didn’t feel as good as I hoped I would. I was more nauseous during the first two weeks during clean eating — cleansing all the crap that I was feeding my body. It took a good two or three weeks to start feeling good again from the good food. That was eye-opening, too. You always wonder why people quit during the first two weeks of dieting and why the gyms are full for the first two weeks after New Year’s then they’re back to normal again. I got a glimpse of why people quit and give up during those first two weeks. They were so brutal in every way.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you “used to be judgmental” before the journey, but now you’ve changed. Can you explain that?
Before the journey — and I am kind of ashamed at saying this now — but I used to look at an overweight person and judge them. It’s easy to stereotype them into the “lazy” category or the “unmotivated” category. You kind of place them there without thought as to what they’re dealing with emotionally, or what their past was like. When I worked with Ray, I learned a bit about what he has been dealing with for 30-plus years — like addiction and emotional struggles. I know it’s not the same — I only did this for four months — but I got a glimpse of what he experienced. I went from judgmental to being able to say “I get it,” to a certain extent. And now I just want to help.
What do you know now that you didn’t know before all of this started?
I would have never thought that Ray would have been my hero after all of this, but he really is. He’s one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. I really, really look up to him. He’s one of my best friends and I never would have thought I’d gain a best friend from doing this.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Read This Next: