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The 'Shaytards:' YouTube's 'First Family' wants America to go from fat to fit

YouTube star Shay Butler weighed almost 300 pounds when he realized it was time to change his life. His son joined him on the journey.
/ Source: TODAY

YouTube star Shay Butler weighed almost 300 pounds when he realized it was time to change his life.

It was 2009 and "The Shaytards," the video diary Butler started with his wife, Colette, two years before, was already a viral sensation, earning them the nickname, YouTube’s First Family.

The Butlers are a video phenomenon. They've gone from relying on food stamps to earning millions of dollars by recording their daily life for more than four million subscribers. They've vlogged their happiest moments — including the birth of their 2-year old son, Daxton, which received more than 17 million views — and a “Let It Go” cover by their youngest daughter, Emmi, which received almost 12 million views.

But even as they laughed their way into America's hearts, Butler, now 35, wanted a healthier lifestyle. That led to a spinoff fitness channel called “ShayLoss," which Butler hoped would inspire others to get fit, too.

He had no idea his son, Gavin, now 12, would join him. Together, they embarked on a 30-day fitness kick they dubbed the "Fat Dad, Fat Kid Challenge."

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After completing the 30 days, Gavin could finally climb the stairs at school without running out of breath.

“It’s not really about [having] the six-pack and stuff. I think it’s about being healthy and living longer so I can have fun with my dad and my siblings,” Gavin told

Shay, too, saw changes. “You see and feel that strength and it definitely gives you more confidence. It teaches you how to do hard things, and I think that is really the secret to success and the secret to life," said Shay.

The duo documented it all in their first book, “Fat Dad, Fat Kid,” published in late 2015. (The title has the words “Fit Dad, Fit Kid” superimposed over it.)

Their hope? To inspire people to change their habits. “In the book, we talk about not caring about the number on the scale. If you think about ‘Fit Dad, Fit Kid,’ scribbling out the 'fat,' to me, the meaning behind that cover is that we can become anything we want," Shay said.

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Their fitness regimen consists of exercising five to six times a week, a daily diet that helps cut down on sugar —both father and son realized they ate far too much of it — as well as tips to keep motivated. They focus on physical activity and sports like basketball and skiing, and also carve out time for “cool-down days” each week to relax with less strenuous activities like yoga and Pilates.

TODAY asked Shay and Gavin’s fans to pose questions on Twitter, which Shay answered.

What's the biggest obstacle that you overcame?

Shay: Sugar. There’s this addiction to sugar that not only Americans, but the world in general [struggles with], where sugar is so readily available at every gas station and pit stop you go to.

There were nights, like day six, where I would be rooting around through the fridge and see leftover birthday cake, and just want to attack it! The only thing that kept me from doing that was my sweet little boy. How could I eat this cake when he was doing so well?

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If you just stop sugar cold turkey, you’re gonna see and feel physiologically a huge difference, and I definitely did.

What was the hardest part of the process that pushed you along?

Shay: Drinking a gallon of water every day, but that has also become the most valuable part. After writing this book, the most important piece of knowledge that I have gained and will continue to use is the importance of water.

What has been the hardest thing to keep on track since you finished the book? The easiest?

Shay: Doing these 30-day videos alongside the book has really kept us going and now we’re doing live workouts.