By second semester of his freshman year, enough was enough. After ending a three-year relationship with his high school girlfriend, Nate Gaetano was ready for another change: his weight.
The five-foot-eight-inch freshman from Mechanicville, N.Y. had reached 235 pounds–the heaviest he’d ever been.
“I didn’t like the way I looked. I was a little depressed and wanted to improve my self image,” said Gaetano. “Plus, being a Physical Education major, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I went into it blindly and just decided to give losing weight a shot.”
Gaetano was a three sport athlete for the majority of high school. But a bad injury suffered playing football caused a big weight gain.
“I broke my ankle sophomore year of high school and needed two surgeries. I was off that leg for six months, so I gained a lot of weight during that period,” Gaetano said.
“When I started walking again I didn’t even think about fixing the bad habits I acquired during recovery. I’d go to football practice, but didn’t do any outside cardio to get that extra weight off, and [I] was eating huge portions at dinner.”
Gaetano played center for the football team, first base all four years of baseball and even wrestled in the 189-pound weight class until quitting following his ankle injury.
Gaetano then got a new start in January of 2009. Sick of being overweight, he started going to the gym five times a week, every week.
He never looked back.
“At first I just started running [on the treadmill]. I started with one mile and ran a little more each day, even if it was only .1 more of a mile.”
He adjusted his eating habits too. He opted for salads in Cheney or ate smaller portions of his dinner. He quit his late night snacking habits and drank more water, but kept his lunch portion the same in order to have energy for his workouts.
“The gym on campus is really nice equipment-wise, and it’s convenient to go to,” said the senior. “Everyone that goes there has such a good attitude and no one is judgmental. I also started playing racquetball sophomore year. I didn’t rely solely on that to lose weight, but it did help.”
Gaetano didn’t focus too much on the number on the scale, but rather on maintaining a healthy routine. He was losing roughly five pounds every two weeks. He steadily decreased his weight, never having a set-back.
“I was constantly getting support by my family, they were really proud of how hard I was working,” Gaetano said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it all on my own. I needed the encouragement every now and then.”
But home wasn’t always as supportive as Gaetano hoped. He often had to control the temptations of his mother’s cooking. A traditional italian household, his mom always made as much food as possible to feed a house of four men.
“When at home, I had to fend for myself sometimes. I had to make decisions on my own not to eat as much. Over summer and breaks I would always make sure to go to the gym or go for a run through my town.”
By junior year, Gaetano had dropped a significant amount of weight and was peaking at 10-mile runs. Once he reached a comfortable weight, he decided to start lifting to add more muscle. He now averages six miles per workout, to keep from overworking his body.
“I started lifting this past summer when my older brother, who’s a physical therapist, suggested I start adding muscle because I was at a weight I was happy with.”
Gaetano had dropped 75 pounds, and was a healthy 160 by the beginning of the 2011 summer. Now lifting has become a regular workout, in addition to running, in hopes of adding more muscle.
“I still try to go to the gym five times a week but sometimes I only get there four. I’ve just turned being fit into a routine lifestyle. I keep my healthy eating habits, but I don’t deprive myself of sweets or anything like that. I allow myself to have dessert now and then.”
Gaetano now fluctuates between 165 and 168 pounds. The change in his weight has changed his life.
“I’ve become a lot more self-confident,” Gaetano said. “I don’t mind helping other people out who want to lose weight. I remember last summer was the first time I ever felt comfortable taking my shirt off at the beach. It was a big deal for me.”
Still a PE major, Gaetano is feeling healthier and happier than ever. Losing weight the right way for the right reasons is something he’ll proudly encourage others to do if necessary.
“Weight loss is a mindset. If you stay mentally tough, then it makes the physical part easier. You have to surround yourself with supportive people. Don’t try to do it all on your own,” he said. “But if you do decide to lose weight, don’t do it for other people. Always do it for yourself.”
Photos courtesy of Nate Gaetano