by Tom Robinson
Jim White started lifting weights for the usual reasons a 5-foot-11, 135-pound high-school junior does: sports and girls, girls and sports.
If he wasn’t working out, he was reading about it. And if he wasn’t reading about it, he was talking about it. But this single-minded approach helped him add 50 pounds of muscle to his frame, turning him from a skinny basketball point guard into a confident, sculpted young man.
Once an uninspired student, White found himself fascinated by how his body reacted to food. He poured himself into the science of exercise and nutrition. The more he learned, the more he hungered to learn, for himself and to share.
What started then as a young man’s obsession has turned into a grown man’s mission. For 15 years White has made it his job to whip Tidewater into shape as owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition. He has been so successful that in many ways he is the face, and voice, of fitness for the region, and a common interview for local news outlets and national magazines, such as Men’s Health, GQ and Shape.
In fact, he may be even better at marketing than fitness. And he’s OK with that. He has a message to share and wants everyone to hear it. Says White, 39, “I love that I can do a 10-minute interview, and a message I believe in that’s really going to help people healthwise can reach the masses.”
As a student at Youngstown State University in the late ’90s, White laid out an ambitious master plan. He would study nutrition and become a dietitian, a rarity for men. He then would go on to build a career by pairing exercise and nutrition programs, carving out a niche for himself as an advocate and mentor. He detailed all of it in a senior-year paper. He got a C on it.
“The teacher wrote, ‘Jim, you’re such a dreamer’ on it in red,” he says.
In 2002 White moved to Virginia Beach to live with a cousin and work as a trainer.
He had $400. Within three years, he’d turned his Type-A work ethic and networking instincts into a studio at The Shops at Hilltop.
He thought hard before putting his name on the business, concerned about the pressure of client expectations. But his marketing agency convinced him that he was his own brand, so White went all in. He added “nutrition” to it to set the business apart from other gyms and health clubs. And he made his shirtless silhouette – lats and trapezius muscles popping – the logo.
Since then he has waged a campaign for fitness and self-promotion. He even lobbied the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to become a national spokesman, and for a decade was quoted in national publications. Each step built his credentials. “There’s so much quackery out there,” he says.
White and his team of 30 licensed dietitians and trainers use the catchphrase “really, truly fit” to capture the essence of their mission. To him it means educating clients and introducing habits that promote lasting fitness and overall wellness.
And long-timers consider White something of a life coach. “I’m living in a body that I never knew my entire life would ever exist,” says Virginia Beach’s Jo Anne Crouse, 58, a holistic health coach who enlisted White a decade ago to manage a serious endocrine condition that’s now long gone. “He’s carved out a very petite, athletic body,” she says. “It was very tough in the beginning, but he pushes you, in a gentle way, to better yourself and give more.”
White trains fewer people himself now. He spends a lot of time on other parts of the business, including school fitness programs, working with shelters and corporate offices, nutrition counseling, and philanthropy in the form of his charitable foundation, LIFT – Lifting spirits, Improving bodies, Feeding souls, Transforming lives. LIFT brings nutrition advice and life and job skills to homeless people and others in need. An annual fundraising highlight is its “White House 2 White House” relay. Volunteers team to run 220 miles from White’s Great Neck studio to the actual White House in Washington during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Weekeach November.
He has even made his way into local restaurants, with dozens of them – from frozen-yogurt franchisees to unique sit-down places – featuring “Jim White approved” menu options.
White’s own diet? Frequent small meals. Common sense. Nothing faddish. Balance in all things, he says, is increasingly important to him now that he and his wife, Krista, have a year-old daughter. Still, Krista White says, “I don’t think Jim will ever slow down. He’s so passionate about what he does.”
White’s staff shares that enthusiasm with some 700 clients a week, from geeks to gold medalists.
“Before I got with Mr. Jim my eating habits were horrible,” says Hampton’s Francena McCorory, a member of the United States’ women’s 1,600-meter relay team at the 2012 London Olympics. “He totally gave me a better understanding of how what I was putting in my body was affecting me and possibly my performance.”
“Jim saved me,” says Mark Williams, 58, a Chesapeake computer scientist. Five-foot-five, Williams was 265 pounds and desperate when he enlisted White. He lost 90 pounds in 11 months, discontinued five prescriptions and became an adept cook despite zero experience in the kitchen.
“If Jim’s recipe said 17 grapes, I had 17 grapes,” says Williams, who says he’s thrilled to merely be overweight today instead of morbidly obese. “I committed to doing whatever he said.”
Those are words that nourish White’s soul.
“The notion of really transforming someone’s life is unbelievably motivating,” he says. “I found something that I love. And something in me unleashed.”