Personal Trainer Eats 20,000 Calorie-Per-Day Diet to "Better Understand" His Fat Clients

I'll be right back, I just need to finish my breakfast, which is apparently a donut the size of an SUV. I FEEL SO UNDERSTOOD.

May 30, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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The many faces of Paul "PJ" James, taken from his website.

I’m not altogether convinced this story is real, BUT here we go:

Yesterday the unspeakable New York Post brought us the tale of Australian (but now residing on New York’s Upper West Side) personal trainer Paul “PJ” James  -- see, the “PJ” already stretches the bounds of credulity -- who resolved at the new year in 2009 to gain 50% of his body weight, and then lose it again. 

What the fuck for, you ask? Allegedly, to “better understand” his overweight clients. Because he cares a lot, James spent four months eating like a wet/dry vac with a turbocharged thyroid and no gag reflex. Ostensibly because that’s what he thinks fat people do.

He started his 20,000-calorie day with a breakfast of 3 liters of chocolate milk, about a dozen scrambled eggs and a lot of cured pig.

“It would be nothing for me to eat 2 pounds of bacon in the morning,” says James, who also filled a mini-fridge with candy, Oreos and other sweets and planted it next to his bed to sustain his marathon eating sessions at night.

Before he sat down for a lunch of a whole roasted chicken or a few pounds of pasta in cream sauce, he’d scarf down six doughnuts.

“Sometimes I felt like I wanted salad, but I wanted mayonnaise in it.”

He’d polish off a few milkshakes before a dinner of steak and 2 pounds of cheesy mashed potatoes, which he would wash down with a pint of ice cream. “Once, for dinner, I had 14,000 calories — four large pizzas and eight cans of Coke,” says James.

Those are some impressive numbers. What else comprises 20,000 calories in a day? I did some research.

  • 66 McDonald’s cheeseburgers
  • 357 cups of Brussels sprouts
  • 58 venti Frappuccinos from Starbucks
  • 571 IKEA swedish meatballs
  • 185 fresh kiwi fruits
  • 2857 rice cakes
  • 25 minutes of breathing the air outside a KFC
  • 1563 glasses of Pinot Grigio (Edit: PSYCH, it's 128, sorry guys, math is hard.)
  • or 15 pounds of delicious Kobe beef.

Yeah, I call no way.

But let’s give PJ the benefit of the doubt and trust that he really did eat that much every day without dying or developing some kind of eating disorder. The story continues as PJ, on doctor’s orders, then goes about trying to lose the weight. YOU GUYS IT WAS REALLY HARD. PJ was totally surprised! But he did it. So now PJ understands his clients better. Also he has a book for you to buy. The end.

Hmm, not quite. See, this whole project is suspect. Intentionally or not, what PJ is suggesting is not only that he had to be fat in order to learn to be more understanding of his fat clients -- and wow dude, I hope nobody I know ever dates you if you’re so lacking in imagination and sensitivity of those who are different from you, right out of the gate -- but he is also putting the idea out there that fat people must eat a truly absurd number of calories a day in order to be fat. 

To put this in perspective, the 2004 statistical yearbook of the UN Food and Agriculture Association show that between 2000-2002, the average American ate 3,790 calories per day. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends between 1,800 and 2,500 calories per day for optimum health, depending on body size, activity level and muscle mass. Even if an individual ate twice the average amount, that’s still “only” 7,580 calories per day.

My point being: 20,000 calories is a LOT.

Furthermore, PJ’s experience of putting a huge amount of weight on very quickly and then taking it off in a matter of months is not exactly universal. Many people gain weight slowly, over time. Some have long histories of weight cycling that can make losing pounds more challenging. 

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By a rough estimate (using the horrors of the internet), I consist of roughly 190,000 calories’ worth of edible meat. Ostensibly more if you baked me in a pie. Either way I would last less than ten days’ in PJ’s freezer.

And lastly: WHO TAKES HEALTH ADVICE FROM A DUDE WHO WILLFULLY ATE 20,000 CALORIES EVERY DAY FOR FOUR MONTHS? You don’t even need WebMD to know that this is an incredibly stupid idea with potential long-term consequences. What kind of person takes their well-being so much for granted? Is this a guy you want as a fitness role model?

Obesity-themed publicity stunts like James’ (and the original, in Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”) always fail to impress me simply because they do not faithfully reproduce the nuances of dietary reality in the United States -- while it’s true that millions of Americans eat diets needlessly high in processed fats and refined sugars, I daresay a very small segment of the population eats 20K calories a day for any appreciable length of time, just like very few people subsist on McDonald’s to the exclusion of all else. 

And yet, for all their handwringing about our obese lifestyles -- PJ specifically wants to help The Children learn about the perils of enfatment -- these attention-grabbing performances of an experience of fatness that NOBODY ELSE HAS only serve to reinforce the destructive stereotypes and negative caricatures of fat people that make it so damn miserable for them to go out for a nice invigorating walk in public in the first place. (Explaining, I suppose, the need for an Understanding Personal Trainer by their side.)

These dudes are just obesity daredevils; where once it was enough for a guy to jump a motorcycle over a ravine filled with flaming spikes, today our daredevils push the edges of how a body can be metabolically abused before bringing it back to “normal” health. And we applaud as though they’ve done something amazing -- nope, they’re just jackasses riding in shopping carts made of bacon down a steep lard hill. 

PJ, at least, has learned from his experience. Wisdom, y’all.

Even though he’s back to his fighting weight, he shows his passion isn’t just skin deep.

“Empathy is my favorite word. I even have it tattooed on the inside of my wrist,” he says flipping his arm over to reveal the ink.

HAHAHA, APRIL FOOL. Oh wait, it’s May. I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.