I found my Jewish faith… and lost nearly 100lbs

Dave Danna once weighed over 420lbs but then declared: 'I’m not going to normalise obesity, I’m going to defeat it”


America makes you fat. By the time Dave Danna was 30 years old, he was so obese that he no longer knew how much he weighed.

His digital scales topped out at 399.5 lbs, and Danna estimates that he topped out somewhere beyond 420 lbs (190 kg).

He struggled to climb the stairs, tie his own shoelaces or sit in a normal-sized chair. He was, he says, miserable, a prisoner of a “dopamine-hitting, consumer culture”. His struggle to lose weight, get healthy and regain control over his life has made him an unlikely social media star.

“I was slightly overweight as a child, and I wasn’t really involved in sports,” Danna tells me after his pre-dawn daily workout in Gaffney, South Carolina. “But it really ballooned after I graduated college.”

He moved to a small studio apartment in Baltimore and started working long hours for a major public accounting firm. “It was just terrible. I probably put on about 100 lbs in two years.”

Approaching his 30th birthday, Danna realised what his weight was costing him: “I started thinking about the bigger picture, about the long term: having kids, being a father, wanting to be a good role model, wanting to be around for a long time.”

He also realised that his appetite for food was part of a general dysfunction. His credit card debt was “out of control”, and he was addicted to an “endless diet of infotainment” on social media.

Danna rejected fashionable and dangerous excuses about “body positivity”. He cut the carbs from his diet, stopped eating takeout, and joined his local Planet Fitness. “I’m not going to normalise obesity,” he tweeted, “I’m going to defeat it.”

“I really had no idea what I was doing when I started last year,” he says. “There was a lot of fear and stigma, just walking in.” He goes early every morning, Monday to Friday. “I usually do 35 to 50 minutes, evenly split between working out and cardio. I don’t go crazy.”

To hold himself to his programme, Danna started tweeting photos of himself in the gym, or outside on dark mornings when, the lights on Planet Fitness’s frontage being partially broken, he prepares for a session in “Plet Fitness”.

Thousands of followers now follow his progress and cheer him along. Many of them share stories of their own shame and struggle.

“Right now, I’m down to 341 lbs (154 kg),” Danna says. That’s at least 80 lbs less than he weighed when he started, but he knows he has a long way to go. “My target is 200 lbs (90 kg).”

Social media, which used to be a key part of his addiction, now supports his battle to control his own life.

Danna, who has an MBA and laid the foundations of a burgeoning property empire with his student loans, now narrates his progress on a YouTube channel and sells “Plet” T-shirts on Etsy. Danna recognises that spiritual hunger was one cause of the inner vacuum that he tried to fill with food and dopamine hits.

Raised in the college town of Hanover, New Hampshire, Danna was barmitzvah at the Upper Valley Jewish Community, which caters to the Ivy League students and faculty of Dartmouth College, and the diffuse Jewish population of the Upper Connecticut River Valley. After that, he says, he “fell out” from regular practice, and his regular moves for college and work made it hard to form communal ties.

“One of my 2023 goals is to get more involved with my local Chabad.” Beyond Charleston, with its famous Reform synagogue, there is, he says “not a whole lot” of Jewish life in South Carolina. Chabad, he says, “do great outreach” in places that have Jews but not much Jewish infrastructure. His social media posts begin “Shalom, y’all!”

Unplugging for Shabbat has already become integral to Danna’s new life. “Not doing any work or anything for grad school, and just focusing on friends, family, faith and community, was very hard at first, but it’s easily the best day of the week.”

On Monday, Danna’s alarm went off at 4 am as usual. Before he hit the gym, he tweeted: “Today is a great day to wake up sober and plet.”

Follow Dave Danna’s weightloss odyssey on Twitter @DaveEDanna and Instagram @david.e.danna.

Dominic Green is a Wall Street Journal contributor, a Washington Examiner columnist and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute

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