Years ago I met a man who was/is a big deal in the online fitness business world.
At the time, he was nothing but outwardly kind to me, but I immediately had a very bad feeling in my gut about him.
He struck me as manipulative, toxic, narcissistic, and emotionally abusive… all while never actually doing anything I could point to to explain why I felt that way.
I was in my early twenties, only a handful of years after getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship myself, and easily triggered into feeling unsafe, so when I told my partner (a friend of this man) that I had a bad gut feeling, we both assumed it was just my own trigger-y stuff coming up, and I ignored it and moved on.
Over the years the feeling persisted.
I watched as this man broke up with a girlfriend, who had told me he made her sign a contract to never to mention on the internet that they were together, so he could maintain his single “playboy” image online for his brand.
I watched him blatantly lie about his workouts (which were done at my gym) too. I was there during his training sessions at my gym, and I watched in wonder as he bragged about PRs that he never hit, and lied about circuits that he never did.
I was in the beginning stages of launching my online business back then, so despite the fact that my bad feeling about him never went away, I considered him somewhat of a business and branding mentor. He is amazing at branding, a brilliant writer and extremely successful creator, and of the most charming men you’ll ever meet.
I went to his wedding and really, really wanted to believe he was the great guy the rest of the world saw.
But over the next few years as I moved away from the fitness industry and became a nomad, we lost touch and as I watched from afar and heard whispered stories, I became less impressed and more worried about his wife.
I talked out “my trigger” with friends, trying to label what my gut was telling me. I talked about the patterns I saw between my own abuser, other abusers I’ve known, and this man, but I always came up somewhat empty, with a statement like “I just feel like he’s… dangerous.”
I almost reached out to his wife many times, as she was a friend through the fitness industry who I admired but wasn’t close to, but I always got stuck on what I would say.
“Hi, I have a bad feeling about your husband and I’m worried about your safety. Are you ok?”
That’s extremely rude at best, plus I still felt silly, convinced that it was just my overly sensitive trigger-system, because I had been emotionally abused, and was projecting things.
Eventually his wife came out online, and started talking about her separation from her ex-husband, his many complex and congruent affairs, and his manipulative, abusive, narcissistic behavior.
I was horrified of course, but not surprised.
I unfollowed his work immediately, and spent some time thinking about the gut feeling I’d had all this time. How did I know? WTF was my gut basing it on? Why didn’t I say anything? What would there have been to say?
Last week I talked to this man’s ex-wife about some of the details of abuse, and I told her about the bad feeling I’d had for years, and that I wished I’d reached out sooner. She told me that many other women told her after everything came out that they had bad feelings about him too.
I was struck by the image of dozens or even hundreds of women over the years, all individually and silently feeling that something was off, but unable to say why or prove it, and afraid of unfairly accusing someone of something, looking stupid, or upsetting someone.
One thing worth noting here is that abusive men tend to be extremely charming, well-liked, and successful. If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship you might imagine that they are monsters from the get-go, but actually it’s the complete opposite.
Abusers are often the most romantic, the most sensitive, the most sweet and wonderful… otherwise how would they ever hook women into staying??
They are masters of tactical empathy and manipulation, so they make people fall in love with them, and then leverage that power to get what they want. They are often extremely popular in their community, beloved by their friends, and the exact last person you would ever suspect of abuse. Their entire lives are alibis, set up to gaslight their abused partners, and this man was no different.
Good looking, charming, successful, and with a flair for romance and sensitivity, most people who knew him were SHOCKED when his wife started telling the truth about him and their relationship. He has an undeniable talent for manipulation and abuse (which often goes hand in hand with having a gift for “branding and marketing,” for the record). He uses those gifts to curate the truth, gaslight his partner, make himself look like a victim, and come away untouched.
Now, it’s obviously not his wife’s responsibility to speak up and spend her energy on calling out his behavior. She’s getting on with her life, for fuck’s sake.
But this man is still successful in the fitness world, his career untouched by his despicable behavior, and still exercising his influence and abuse over other young women, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write this today– as a warning to anyone on my list who might happen to know him, follow him, or work with him.
When I first wrote this, in fact, I was going to out him by name in the subject line, because fuck that guy, everyone needs to know the truth about him.
But then I talked to a few people who were concerned about libel, and him coming at me legally if I damaged his reputation on the internet. He is, after all, an abuser with a huge ego and huge financial resources and influence. If he wanted to destroy me (even though everything I’m saying is true) he absolutely could.
For the record, this makes me burn in RAGE, because this is exactly how abusers get away with it.
They create lives and personas that function to protect themselves from ever being called out or held accountable for their behavior, they silence anyone who might come at them, and they use their privileges to live above the law and avoid consequences.
As a member of this man’s community, I desperately want to warn you about him, to protect the other women in my industry, and to out this guy publicly. His name is burning on my lips as I write this, but I am afraid of what he would do. Even publishing this without his name is a huge risk.
So despite feeling like an absolute coward, I will not name him. I suspect if you are reading this and have any chance of coming across him IRL and need the warning, you’ll know who I mean. (I’m happy to have a conversation about it privately to confirm.)
As far as I’m concerned, this article is about 9 years too late. This man’s wife said to feel free to talk about everything she told me, to keep the women in my network safe and spread the message far and wide that this man, this leader in the online fitness industry, is a chronic liar, abuser, and all around horrible person.
That said, this article is more than just a warning about one man’s despicable behavior. (Because that’s old news by now, amiright?)
This is also an exposition of the power and accuracy of our gut feelings.
A few weeks ago, I made an instagram story about Lewis Howes, because I was reading his book on masculinity. I talked about how it felt yucky and disingenuous, although I consciously downplayed the feeling because I couldn’t prove why I felt that way, and have never met him personally.
A personal friend of his messaged me soon after, to confirm that while he is a brilliant marketer (read, again: manipulator), his whole message is not actually genuine at all. I thought, “yeah I know.” But I didn’t know. I just felt it.
My gut is always right. It’s wild. How about yours?
Soooo many women felt the truth about the fitness guy’s character in our guts years ago, but there was no useful place to come forward about those gut feelings until it was too late.
Personally I’m convinced that our guts are never wrong, but what do we do with that?
Is there any benefit to talking more openly about our bad gut feelings before we have proof? Would it help anyone if we spoke up to share them?
If you were falling in love with someone who seemed to be Mr. Right, and 30 women told you they had bad feelings about him, would you listen? Could it help?
And is there a better way for us to acknowledge these kinds of feelings as valid, useful, powerful, and accurate, without making them synonymous with “evidence”? I really hope so, but I don’t know what that could look like.
No answers today. Just questions and rage.
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