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Get Ripped: Fit to Fat—And Back Again

Here’s why one personal trainer purposefully packed on 90 pounds—and how he got his lean body back.

Take it Off, Keep it OffTrainer and personal chef Paul ‘PJ’ James was counseling overweight clients on how to slim down, but the former underwear model had never known what being overweight actually felt like at 176 pounds and only six percent body fat. With a whopping 68 percent of Americans being overweight or obese, he wanted to understand first hand the struggles of someone trying to lose weight. To do so, he purposefully packed on 90 pounds in order to take them back off.

James hit 264 pounds, packed on roughly 35 percent body fat, and developed ‘moobs’ (man boobs) before returning to his healthy weight over the course of six months. Two months later, he shot the cover of Men’s Fitness. “Before I gained the weight, I fell into the trap of thinking it would be easy to lose,” says James. “I underestimated how powerful an addiction fat and sugar are, and how tough it would be to get back on the exercise and healthy-eating path once you’ve veered off.” 

Packing on the pounds not only changed his body, but also his personality. “I’m usually very outgoing, but I became kind of a recluse and my sex life suffered,” says James. Moreover, his doctor diagnosed him with depression, warned he was at risk for diabetes, and advised him to break his obesity challenge after four months. “I was determined to stay at 264 pounds for another two months because I really wanted to understand the psychological, emotional, and physical effects obesity can have on a person,” says James.

James shares his journey of going from fit to fat—and back again—in his new book Take It Off, Keep It Off. To transform your body into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine, try PJ’s real-world tips for achieving (and maintaining) rock-hard abs.

  1. Get moving in the a.m. “Start every day with 15 minutes of cardio intervals, such as brisk walking, before you even think about eating breakfast,” says James. “Doing cardio on an empty stomach is scientifically proven to burn fat.”
  2. Eat clean. “You can spend hours at the gym and remain overweight if you don’t get control of your eating,” says James.  “I hate the word ‘diet’ and instead tell clients to eat clean. Clean eating is more about a lifestyle change and forming new habits.” This means choosing unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains like rice, and lean proteins like fish instead of fast food or anything with a label. “Fueling yourself with the right food is key for transforming your body, sustaining energy, gaining muscle, and dropping fat,” says James. 
  3. Have the most important meal of the day. “Most of understand how important breakfast is because studies show people who maintain weight loss are regular breakfast eaters, but few of us make the time to eat in the morning,” says James. Make brekkie your biggest meal of the day and be sure to eat a combination of protein, fat, and healthy carbs, such as oatmeal with protein powder, milk, and sliced bananas. 
  4. Refuel often. Aim to eat three meals and two protein-rich snacks (such as Greek yogurt drizzled with honey or hard boiled eggs) a day to keep satiated so you’re less likely to give in to your burger and fries cravings. You should be eating less calories and minimizing carbs as the day progresses.
  5. Work out smarter, not harder. Focus on fat loss and not weight loss. “Rather than focusing on losing pounds, I’m all about changing your body shape by lifting weights, eating well, and doing a minimal amount of cardio,” says James. It sounds counter-intuitive, but spending hours on the StairMaster won’t transform your body. “Working out too hard doesn’t help much with fat loss because you burn fat more efficiently at a lower heart rate, and doing more than 30 minutes of cardio may actually burn muscle,” say James. To melt fat faster, aim to lift weights for about 50 minutes, four days a week. You’ll build muscle while burning fat, and muscle boosts your metabolism because it torches calories all day long.

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