The constant journey to a healthier and more active lifestyle.
After struggling with his weight since sixth grade, a friend asking Nathan Todd to join a gym was the defining moment in his journey toward a healthier lifestyle.
“When I was 25, a friend asked if I wanted to join a gym with him, and I said sure,” Todd says. “He went three times, and I kept going.”
That gym membership would turn out to be the first of many over the past fifteen years. Now 41, Todd says he recalls being heavy or overweight from the time he was in sixth grade.
“Starting when I was 18, I did several yoyo diets that probably weren’t the healthiest thing to do, but it was what was available and what I knew,” he says. “When I was 19, I lost fifty pounds and gained it all back, plus some.”
The last time Todd remembers weighing himself before embarking on his journey toward a healthier and more active lifestyle, he was 24 — and 232 pounds. Today, through a combination of increased exercise, a change in diet, and a focus on mental health, Todd is down eighty pounds from his highest weight in his mid-20s. It hasn’t been a quick or easy journey, but Todd says he’s learned a lot along the way.
A trainer once told him that the heaviest weight he would lift in the gym would be the front door, and that sentiment is one that Todd says he understands well. Though he admits he was initially intimidated to walk into the gym, Todd says he slowly gained more comfort and confidence as he began trying new classes, spinning, and running on the treadmill.
“When I first started working out as I was trying to lose weight and get in shape, the fitness piece looked one way, and as I got into better shape I was able to take on more,” he says.
Around the same time, a co-worker who was also a marathoner asked Todd to run a 5K with her. On a whim, he said “Yes.”
“As a joke, I said I would run as long as she let me pick out her outfit, and she said okay,” Todd says. “That launched things for me. I decided I would run the same race the next year and see how much I could improve. I found a running partner who taught me how to run, joined a running group from the gym, and joined the Columbia Multisport Club.”
As his fitness improved, Todd says he realized that more opportunities opened up. A friend asked Todd to join him for a canoeing race, and although he had no previous experience with canoeing, Todd knew his body was fit for the challenge.
“It opened doors for me to do things I wouldn’t have tried to do before in my previous life,” he notes. “It took away a lot of saying ‘no.’”
Although he isn’t now training for anything specific, Todd says he is deliberate about making fitness a part of his everyday lifestyle.
“The key is figuring out what fitness looks like for a lifetime because not everyone will get up at 5 a.m. and go to the gym,” he says. “You have to look at what you enjoy and how you can incorporate that into your life.”
For Todd, his Lab-pit mix, Frank, is his best workout partner and motivator.
“I love being outside, so I made it my own personal rule that no matter rain, hail, sleet, or snow, I’m taking Frank out and we are going for a thirty to forty-five-minute walk every night,” he says. “I’ll do anything outdoors and as long as it has me outside, I’m happy. Working in the yard, working on projects at the family farm, hiking on trails, that’s where I get a majority of my activity.”
One of the first things that Todd says he learned about healthy eating habits is that maintaining habits long term requires a lifestyle mentality rather than a diet mentality.
“I had to learn to eat all over again,” Todd says. “A diet mentality might help you lose weight but it won’t help you maintain it.”
Todd says he doesn’t deprive himself of foods he enjoys, but rather than eating fatty fried foods for three meals a day, or indulging in late-night fast food runs, as he did in his 20s, he will enjoy an occasional treat.
“I look at my day as a whole, so if I end up eating a bigger lunch, I’ll have a lighter dinner,” he says. “It’s about portion control and not overindulging in foods that I know are bad for me. My tastes have developed and changed a lot and I’m choosing foods that are a lot healthier than I was eating previously.”
While nobody likes to admit flaws, Todd says conversations with a running partner highlighted the role that mental health plays in a healthy lifestyle.
“I started looking at why I ran to food for comfort, what was happening that pushed me in that direction,” he says. “I started looking at the times I lost weight and gained it back.”
Todd clearly remembers the meal that made him revert to bad habits after losing fifty pounds at age 19.
“It was fried chicken with mashed potatoes, white gravy, and corn from Cracker Barrel,” he says. “I ate something I hadn’t had in so long and it triggered me. Looking back, I realized at the time there were a lot of other stressors that were pushing me back in that direction.”
While he focuses on choosing a healthier lifestyle every day, the period at the height of COVID was challenging. Todd says in the past year, he has taken off around thirty pounds that he gained during that stressful time, which also included a change in jobs and less physical activity.
Just as he found mentorship and encouragement through his own weight loss journey, Todd hopes he can provide support to those thinking about changing their lifestyle. For him, the only way to make progress is to jump in and get started.
“Everyone started somewhere, and most of them were just as insecure as you are,” Todd says. “Learning to get over intimidation was really big for me. What lots of people don’t realize is that starting your journey serves as an inspiration to many of the folks who have established their routines and have achieved some fitness success.”