As his mother lay dying, Noah Colbert made a promise.
He weighed 324 pounds, and was sick of it. After his mother suffered a massive stroke, brought on by unhealthy diet and a lifetime of being overweight, he vowed to her that he would live a healthier life.
“I told her I’d lose the weight. I lose at least 100 pounds, get healthy for the both of us and change my life,” he said.
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Two years ago, Colbert started his weight-loss journey. He changed his diet completely, focusing on lower-calorie dishes heavy in fruits, vegetables and lean meats instead of processed or fast food. More importantly, he started exercising on the trails around his Franklin home — first a few miles, then more, now as many as 8 miles in a single day.
Colbert didn’t use extravagant diets or buy fancy equipment or join an expensive gym. He hopes that his story can inspire others struggling with fitness that even small, simple changes can improve your health.
“Just start. Switch one habit, and after that, switch one more. It doesn’t have to be that drastic,” he said.
Colbert, clad in black and gray workout gear, emerged from his neighborhood onto the trail along Commerce Drive. The afternoon was steamy, with temperatures reaching into the high 80s. But Colbert kept going methodically, keeping a steady pace.
In some places, he even broke into a run, quickening his speed before settling back down into a walk.
The trails have been the lifeblood of Colbert’s weight loss success. He has mapped out a 2 1/2-mile loop through the cornfields and subdivisions of northern Franklin, putting in two or three laps around before calling it quits.
“That’s part of the reason I love living in Franklin — the trails out here. Because that’s all I did was walk,” he said. “The more weight I’ve lost, the more fit I’ve become, the more I look forward to it.”
Colbert had been overweight for as long as he can remember. When he was in middle school, he already weighed more than 200 pounds.
The struggle with his weight was something that he and his mother had shared. They had tried different diets over the years, none of which resulted in a healthier lifestyle or the weight staying off.
In 2015, Colbert’s mother suffered the stroke that would kill her.
“It was an eye-opening moment for me. It was a wake-up call,” he said.
Even after making his promise, Colbert didn’t immediately change his life. Three years passed before he decided to make the alterations to his lifestyle. He had no idea how or where to start such a momentous shift.
He was catching up with some of his friends, who had made diet and exercise changes themselves. They had each lost about 40 pounds, and their conversation revolved around how they achieved that.
They had joined Weight Watchers, a program for weight loss and wellness.
“I wanted to learn more about it. I ended up staying there for a couple hours, and they showed me how their app worked, what the program was like, and invited me to some of the workshops to hear what it was all about,” Colbert said.
The next day, Colbert signed up. He followed the recommendations for changes to his diet, starting slowly with one habit instead of making sweeping changes to his whole life.
Eating healthy had been one of Colbert’s biggest struggles. He worked at a restaurant, and in the year before he started Weight Watchers, he would often eat lunch at his restaurant then grab food from another restaurant on the way home.
“I literally ate out for an entire year. I never ate at home,” he said.
Small changes had a big impact. Friends at Weight Watchers encouraged him to find fitness pages on Instagram and follow them for tips on low-carb, low-calorie food. He added grilled chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables to his diet, but also found recipes for foods that were his favorites that he could make healthier replacements.
Colbert calls himself a “pizza snob,” so that was a food he didn’t want to completely give up. He found a recipe for a two-ingredient pizza dough that used self-rising flour and Greek yogurt. Then he could add sauce and toppings such as turkey pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms and low-fat cheese.
Taking approaches such as this, he quickly lost 25 pounds in about a month doing nothing more than altering what he ate.
“I knew for me, this was never going to just be a diet. This was going to be a lifelong thing,” he said. “I wanted to find foods that were healthy for me, but that I could enjoy.”
But despite the success that came from changing his eating habits, Colbert saw his quick progress slow. He upgraded his Weight Watchers membership to include a personal coach who he could talk to and set up a more complete plan.
His coach suggested that he start exercising — starting small, then working to more and more.
“That was a big struggle for me. Even when I’d lost smaller amounts of weight before, I always hated working out. I hate lifting weights, but I liked doing smaller amounts of cardio,” Colbert said. “So he said I should just start with walking.”
Colbert was unsure what kind of impact that would make, but he tried. The first week, he did five miles. His shoes were old, which left his feet blistered and sore. But he stayed with it.
Eventually, it became something he built into his day. Though he has incorporated some running into his routine, walking is primarily what helped him lose all the weight. He works the night shift as a juvenile correctional official, and when he has down time, he can get in a few miles in the gymnasium. Otherwise, he’s out on the trails around Franklin.
Averaging 8 miles of walking per day, usually about five or six times a week, has helped him reach his weight loss goal of reaching 194 pounds.
“It takes a good amount of time, and there were times when I wasn’t doing it every day. So I had to sit myself down and have a conversation, that this was important, just like sleeping and eating are important, and I have to take time out of my day to dedicated to this,” he said.
Reaching his goal has been invigorating. Colbert calculated 194 pounds off of body mass index charts, as well as an old photograph he found, remembering that he felt really comfortable and good at that number.
He said daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and so on up until the overarching weight goal. One success compounded another, eventually, even if it didn’t happen every day.
That’s the message that he wants people to take from his experience. Taking that first step, even a small one, is a victory, and build upon it, he said.
“You see these people doing these crazy workouts and exercises. That was never for me. I’ve literally lost all of this weight walking, so if I can do this, anyone can do this,” he said.