Written by Marianly Hernandez Primmer, Whole Foods Market team member
Students are laughing, learning and eating in their cooking class at Fort Lauderdale’s Whole Foods Market store. Mark Mattson is teaching a class in the store’s Lifestyle Center. He strains watermelon juice and mixes it with sparkling water to kick off the lesson. Everyone gets a glassful. His first recipe delights the students.
What the students may not know is, at one point, their healthy-eating instructor, Mark, was so unhealthy he was considered obese.
Mark was a fun-loving, beer-drinking, chicken-wing-eating guy.
“My go-to meal on a typical day was two or three pieces of pizza and a can of soda,” he said.
Mark said he would simply make poor choices in diet. The consequences of the poor diet emerged in other areas. “I was in pain a lot. I could barely walk. My whole body hurt.”
The struggle started when he was 8 years old. Ever since then, he spent most of the rest of his life going up and down in weight.
“I got to the point where I had one pair of pants that fit me,” Mark said, adding he hit his lowest point five years ago.
At his heaviest, he weighed 238 pounds at 5 feet, 9 inches tall. Mark was 40 years old and wore a size 40 pair of pants.
He told himself it was OK for his pant size to match his age, as long as his pant size did not go over. Today Mark laughs and calls it a “crazy rationalization.”
Mark had no idea his justifications were about to come to an abrupt end. He was living in Michigan at the time during a freezing winter; he slipped, fell on the ice and ripped his only pair of pants.
It wasn’t until the next day that Mark bought new pants and realized he was now a size 42. His “crazy rationalization” could no longer work for him.
This was not only what Mark called an all-time low, but it would also serve as a new beginning. He made a resolution to do something about his weight and health.
After a medical checkup, he learned his cholesterol was an astounding 326. Ideal cholesterol levels range from anywhere up to 200, meaning his cholesterol level was off the charts.
At the time he was a department store team leader, also known as a manager, for Whole Foods Market. He applied for a Whole Foods Market employee health incentive program.
As part of the program, Mark went away to a one-week special immersion program led by a medical doctor. During that time Mark had the opportunity to eat healthy, exercise and, most importantly, learn about healthy foods.
Mark started incorporating healthy foods and exercise into his lifestyle. He lost more than 40 pounds. His cholesterol dropped to a healthy range.
“Now I pig out on fruits and vegetables,” Mark said, explaining he is still the same person inside. “I don’t deny myself foods, but I don’t indulge in them on a regular basis.”
He believes part of the reason he is able to successfully keep the weight off after five years is because he continues to practice moderation.
“In order to make lifelong success you have to make permanent changes,” Mark said.
When looking back at everything he has accomplished, Mark hesitates to celebrate. He admits he does feel proud, but is quick to point out his weight is something he will always have to battle.
When asked if he fears gaining the weight back, Mark said that used to be a fear but not anymore. “I’ve learned to recognize triggers and not fall back into the same habits.” He said he focuses his energy practicing all the knowledge he has gained.
Now Mark is inspiring others to make their own healthy choices. He became the healthy eating specialist at Fort Lauderdale’s Whole Foods Market store in 2010. “I teach people to try new things by showcasing recipes that are easy, tasty and in season.”
Mark also reaches out to the community. He visits schools to share his story.
His favorite foods are still beer and chicken wings, but now he eats less of them. He has also added a new favorite food— kale.
Mark Mattson is Whole Foods Market’s biggest