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4 min read

CEO Todd Vande Hei: From Dad Bod to Fit at Fifty

CEO Todd Vande Hei: From Dad Bod to Fit at Fifty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U87bJETXJWY&t=230s

Getting Rid of the Dad Bod 

I created Stark because I experienced my own health issues that could not be resolved by one single practitioner. I had encountered many health issues in my early 30’s. My health problems began with serious neck issues, which came from some of my early years as an athlete when I was younger. I also had chronic migraines about two times a month, and headaches between three and five times per week. This was such a common experience for me that I started taking Advil every night before bed, almost like a vitamin, and I developed and actual allergy to it.  My left eyeball began to swell, and it looked like there was a blister on my eyeball. I stopped taking Advil and moved to Tylenol, then to Excedrin, all in an effort to keep the pain of the headaches down.  

On top of it all, I developed shoulder issues over time.  The low back pain I experienced during college continued to plague me (although not now, because we fixed the pain at Stark). I also had a cluster of grand mal seizures when I was in my early 30s which was frightening. The seizures could have been fixed with very basic things, but instead, the doctors put me on pharmaceuticals that intentionally slowed my brain down!  For 2 years I was on that medication, which made me feel unlike myself: fuzzy, hazy, and exhausted for 2 long years.  My whole life I didn’t feel attractive, didn’t feel strong, and felt like I was constantly aging. The first time it actually hit me that I was aging, was when I went to pick up my son out of his crib and his legs straddled my belly!  I thought to myself this is just a part of getting older and convinced myself this was normal at the age of 32.   

The Transformation 

There is not one single factor (see Wheel of Health) that I can attribute to accomplishing the massive transformation I’ve gone through. It was more of a confluence of little tiny things. The early changes were related to getting out of pain. Fixing my nutrition was a large step. When people are younger, they can eat a piece of pizza and work it off the next morning in the gym. These were my eating habits at the age of 41, and my body was not able to recover as fast as it used to. Changing my nutrition and getting on an actual nutrition plan that focused on eating clean and getting enough protein made the biggest difference in healing my body. My systemic inflammation and joint pain were minimized along with the headaches completely going away because I eliminated food triggers that I had been consuming—the most significant being gluten and dairy. After eliminating these foods, I just felt better. I then started training more intelligently and taking certain supplements like probiotics, digestive enzymes, and fish oil. All of the sudden, I started feeling the contrast between who I was before and who I had transformed into. This initial change in my body happened over the course of a year.  My training continued to evolve over the next several years, and that was when the drastic change between my old dad bod to the mid-40’s Todd occurred. 

How to Get to the Next Level of Fitness 

Through my fitness journey, I made the transition from moderately healthy to the upper echelon of health and fitness, which is what I experience now. There is not one single solution that put me into the 99% of health for people my age.  When Stark added doctors to the team, it added an invaluable tool: labs.  Through this diagnostic tool I was able to look at my blood work, which gave the doctors tremendous insight into what I needed. Instead of taking a multi-vitamin, I was able to discover that I needed to be taking specific B vitamins, and that my Vitamin D levels needed to be brought up by 25%.  By focusing on these micronutrient changes, my health began accelerating into the next level.  When I was dieting to lose weight, my body was in a caloric restriction. This means my body was guaranteed to be missing certain micronutrients without which a person cannot perform at a high level.  This makes it hard to withstand the stress associated with losing weight and losing body fat.  By plugging those holes with the correct micronutrients, I was able to see a massive difference. I started to get regular IV therapy, which I now do once a week.  All the while, Stark got more sophisticated with my training from a mobility standpoint, which allowed me to train fairly hard and get results rather than give the typical “older guy excuse” of not being able to do certain exercises because your body can’t handle them. Thanks to the programs designed here at Stark, I do not have to modify my workouts.  

Lifestyle Tips 

There are several other lifestyle changes that I have to give credit to for my health and fitness transformation.  A major one is mindfulness meditation, which I started four years ago. I meditate six days per week on average. I also keep up with my sleep hygiene, making sure that I stop looking at a screen two hours before bed, and my room temperature is set to 65 degrees, so it is cool, dark, and quiet. I carve out nine hours to be in bed, reading for about an hour, and getting a total of eight hours of sleep. This has not always been the easiest for me, as I have struggled with insomnia in the past.  I manage the insomnia with supplements.  However, I only take the sleep supplements during the week, otherwise the liver adapts to them, and they become less effective. I take powerful, all-natural sleep supplements during the stressful period of the week (Monday-Thursday). They are very different from sleeping pills, such as Ambien, and there are no addictive qualities to them. I sleep deeply during the most stressful time of the week, and then on weekends, where it is less difficult to get into a deep sleep (because I am much more relaxed) I don’t need the supplements. This supplement cycle has been a major step in improving my overall health. This also allowed me to take my sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone) to the next level. With the poor lifestyle I was living in my early 30’s and constantly putting my body under stress, my sex hormones were very low. After making such significant lifestyle changes, I was able to raise my hormone levels the levels of an average man in his forties. This worked for my hormones until I was 49, where I then saw a marked decline in my hormone levels.  I started to really feel it. I began feeling joint pain, muscle soreness for days at a time, and fatigue. Eventually, I went on hormone replacement therapy after attempting to reverse it naturally over the course of about a year. At that point I was able to get my hormone levels back to an optimal level. This was another massive leap in my journey to a healthy body. 

To Wrap Up 

I hope that hearing this story about my journey does two things.  First, I hope it shows you that this is a process that takes time, and that it’s something you need to commit to as a lifestyle.  Second, and more importantly, I hope it encourages you that you can change your health and fitness for the better.  I have loved every second of the journey, and I hope that you’ll join me in becoming the “best version of YOU.” 

 

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