For actors, changing their look is just part of the job. But some of Hollywood’s greatest go beyond the typical haircut and method acting to get into character. And we all know who takes the crown in this category: Christian Bale. From his cut physique in “American Psycho” to his emaciated look in “The Machinist” to his bloated bod for his upcoming role in “Backseat,” we’ve seen Bale, 43, take his dedication to an extreme level numerous times. But how are these transformations affecting his health? We asked a few nutritionists to give us some insight into how drastic weight fluctuations can affect a person’s short- and long-term health.
The Machinist (2004)
Following his iconic performance as the shredded corporate killer from “American Psycho” in 2000, Bale embarked on his first major physical transformation for 2004’s “The Machinist.” He dropped a staggering 63 pounds, ignoring the advice of a nutritionist, weighing in at just 121 pounds. “When I had got down to what she had told me was a healthy weight, I just went, ‘You know what? I can go more than this. I can keep going,’” he told the BBC in a 2008 interview. “So I lost another 20 pounds below what she said I should stop at.”
To reach his goal, Bale ate just an apple and a can of tuna a day, according to GQ. Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN, and author of “The MIND Diet,” says that such a diet would meet less than a fifth of his body’s needs. Safely losing weight for an adult male requires at least 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day, and can of tuna and a large apple won’t break 300 calories. "The body uses calories to maintain basic metabolism, nerve function, circulation and body heat," she says. "At such a low calorie count, those functions and nutrient needs across the board will suffer.” Even Bale admitted to GQ that he went too far.
Read more: 7 Celebrity Diet Secrets
Batman Begins (2005)
Bale had just six months after “The Machinist” wrapped to go from emaciated to totally ripped for his next role in “Batman Begins” (2005). Although he was advised to start slow, Bale gorged himself on pizza and ice cream, quickly going from 121 to 180 pounds.
Although Bale met his goal weight, he “just had no muscle whatsoever,” he confessed in a 2004 interview. That’s because starving yourself can cause rapid lean muscle loss, according to Julie Upton, M.S., RD, CSSD, so Bale had a steep hill to climb to get back into movie-star shape. “It took me a while to even be able to work out properly after ‘The Machinist,’” he told TRAIN magazine. “I didn’t start running until a few weeks after I got my weight back up.” After that, he did split training, focusing on a different muscle group every day, to build speed, strength, stamina and agility — characteristics embodied by the athletic Batman.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
To play Dieter Dengler in “Rescue Dawn” (2006), which is based on the true story of a U.S. fighter pilot stranded in Laos during the Vietnam War, Bale dropped weight again — 55 pounds this time. With his future appearance confirmed in the Batman franchise’s second installment, “The Dark Knight” (2008), film producers shot “Rescue Dawn” in reverse: They started with the end of the film, when his character was emaciated in the jungle, and ended with the beginning of the film when he first crashed his plane.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Because he was able to slowly gain weight during the filming of “Rescue Dawn,” it’s possible that Bale actually bulked up the right way, this time for “The Dark Knight.” Why does it matter? Well, drastic weight fluctuations can impact your metabolism and leave you at a higher risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, according to Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN.
Read more: 16 Celebrity Weight-Loss Successes
The Fighter (2010)
While Bale was doing press for “The Fighter” (2010), for which he transformed into former professional boxer Dicky Eklund, MTV finally asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: Did he only seek roles that demand a transformation? Bale insisted that that wasn’t the case: ““I just liked the character and then realized, ‘Oh, crap, he is a welterweight,'” he said. In the boxing world, a welterweight comes in between 140 and 147 pounds. That meant he’d need to lose around 40 pounds (down from his natural weight of about 180 pounds), and Bale knew from his previous experience that dropping that much weight would affect his ability to be as athletic as the role demanded.
“I can’t lose that much weight because I wouldn’t be able to box and train and everything,” he explained. “I didn’t look at the scale, I just went down to what looked like might be the right body type for Dicky and the way that he fights as well.” So how did he do it? According to an interview he gave to the Latino Review, he went the old-fashioned route with some steady-state cardio. “I could just run for hours on end, and I felt really healthy.” He ultimately lost about 30 pounds.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Seven years after “Batman Begins” wrapped and four years after “The Dark Knight” was released, Bale reprised his role for the third and final time as the tortured superhero in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012). Bale focused on developing his strength, stamina and agility to achieve the physique needed for a convincing Bruce Wayne. But outside of basic strength training, Bale also had to learn how to fight convincingly. His fight scenes were inspired by KFM, or the Keysi Fighting Method, a street-combat style developed by two stuntmen who worked on the film — Justo Dieguez and Andy Norman.
In their interview with Bodybuilding.com, Diequez and Norman say that their training program is “similar to that of a bodybuilder who is starting to prep for a competition,” with an emphasis on cardio. But there’s more to combat-style workouts than sculpting a kickass physique. Celebrity trainer Joe Dowdell, CSCS, tells Shape that training in martial arts can help to improve your balance and coordination, boost flexibility to help prevent injury and build explosive strength.
Read more: 8 Celebrities Share Their Fitness Secrets
American Hustle (2013)
Once he wrapped his iconic role as Batman, Bale vowed to take a break from blockbusters. But he soon found himself as the lead in the Oscar-nominated crime drama “American Hustle” (2013). Unlike his previous movie appearances, Bale’s role as potbellied con man Irving Rosenfeld required him to put on pure fat. To fatten up, “I ate lots of doughnuts, a whole lot of cheeseburgers and whatever I could get my hands on. I literally ate anything that came my way,” Bale tells People. He ultimately gained 43 pounds to play the paunchy scam artist.
According to director David O. Russell, Bale lost three inches of height and suffered a herniated disc because of the weight gain. And while the director may be exaggerating a bit, it is possible to lose height as you gain weight. “A study found that when morbidly obese adults lost weight, they gained a few millimeters of height,” Moon says. “This happens because the spinal discs (shock absorbers) between a couple of vertebrae get restored to their original height."
While it appears Bale lost at least some of the weight he gained from “American Hustle” for his following role, he’s now back to bulking up again, this time as Dick Cheney in “Backseat.” To pack on the pounds, he confessed that he’s been indulging in a holiday favorite: “I’ve just eaten a lot of pies, so far.”
Not surprisingly, Bale’s binging will likely have consequences. “When we eat excessive calories from low-quality foods, they are metabolically really damaging and lead to high blood sugars, high blood fats and increase the risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes,” says Julie Upton, M.S., RD, CSSD.
Read more: 10 Insanely Fit Celebrities Over 50
How Extreme Weight Fluctuations Affect Your Health
While you may not know it by looking at Christian Bale’s statuesque figure, rapid weight gains and losses can have lasting effects on your body. Bale himself admits that the transformations become harder to shake with age. Six months after “American Hustle” finished, he told USA Today: “I think I’m certainly getting older. I thought I was going to lose the weight I gained for ‘American Hustle.’ I said, two months, flat, that’ll do it,” he says. “And I’m still working that off!” Moon explains why: “After 30, people tend to lose lean muscle and gain fat,” she says, “likely due to a drop/) in resting metabolic rate.”
And, as discussed earlier, drastic fluctuations in your weight can cause metabolic changes, insulin resistance, electrolyte imbalances and other health issues that leave you at a higher risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Plus, losing and gaining weight can have negative effects on your mental health. While doing press for “Batman Begins,” Bale told IGN that he developed a nervous energy and suffered from mood swings due to his weight gain. What’s more, Upton points out that losing and gaining weight “can make you have an unhealthy relationship with food, as you are always either starving yourself or gorging yourself.”
What Do YOU Think?
So, regardless of whether you’re being paid millions of dollars, avoid attempting extreme weight loss or weight gain in a short period of time. And if you’re looking to lose or gain a large amount of weight, do it with the help of a nutritionist — and actually listen to his or her advice.
What do you think? What’s your favorite Christian Bale movie? Do you think Bale has ever gone too far? Let us know in the comments!