In 2013, Scott Santarlas visited Walt Disney World with his wife, Kristy, and their three kids. The then 34-year-old weighed 477 pounds and recalls having to rent a mobility scooter inside the theme parks because keeping up with his family on foot was too exhausting.
The humbling experience changed his life.
"I thought, 'I've got to change this for my family,'" Santarlas, who recalls "always being the fat kid" growing up, told TODAY. "I felt so embarrassed. I had always been up and down where my weight was concerned, but I knew then that what I was doing was not what was best for my family."
Santarlas began a lengthy journey, starting with gastric sleeve surgery, a bariatric procedure that removes 75-80% of the stomach, in 2014. The Prospect Park, Pennsylvania dad lost approximately 130 pounds as a result of the surgery, but found himself at a plateau, unable to lose additional weight and still at nearly 350 pounds.
When his wife discovered Herbalife protein shakes and smoothies in 2015, Santarlas decided to give the products a try as well.
"When you don’t feel good, you don’t know you aren’t feeling good until you start feeling better," said Santarlas, who credits incorporating Herbalife shakes and snack bars into his diet with helping him improve his nutrition and enabling him to lose an additional 100 pounds.
When Santarlas realized that focusing on his body's nutritional needs improved his energy levels, he began experimenting with foods that helped him feel energetic and satisfied, landing on a lunch time salad as his preferred way to get vegetables, nutrients and protein into his body.
Having lunch at a Saladworks restaurant near his office, where he works as a network engineer, became a daily routine for the now 42-year-old.
"My focus was really knowing that what I was putting into my body was 100% what my body needed to sustain itself," Santarlas explained. "I looked at different restaurants where I could grab a salad easily on my lunch break and felt that Saladworks had a good reputation from the stand point of what they offered as ingredients."
For the last six months, Santarlas has eaten a salad almost daily, while maintaining his routine of having shakes, smoothies and protein bars throughout the day.
"I try to stay under 200 calories for snacks, but with at least 15 grams of protein," said Santarlas.
After adding a daily salad break into his routine, Santarlas lost nearly 40 additional pounds, bringing his weight-loss total to 266 pounds.
Santarlas' favorite salad order is one that's simple to make at home and starts with finding a good balance between nutrient-dense vegetables and heathy proteins.
"For me, I like the spring mix because it has a mixture of everything and has high vitamins in it, whereas if you do a romaine lettuce, it really doesn’t have as many nutrients in it," said Santarlas. "Then mix in proteins like chicken and turkey because they’re low-calorie but high-protein."
"I always add a raspberry vinaigrette because it gives it a lot of flavor and it’s low-calorie," he continued. "You could also throw in broccoli or carrots, but that’s up to you. And, I like a little bit of pecans and raspberries and goat cheese: That’s my go-to salad."
The busy dad, whose children now range in age from 18 to 23 years old, also works as a personal trainer and commits to 45-minute workouts, which include activities like weight training, high-intensity cardio and running, each day.
"If you’d have asked me when I was 18 years old if I’d ever be a personal trainer, I’d have laughed at you because the gym was not a place you would ever see me," said Santarlas. "The whole 360-degree part of this has been going from being totally unhealthy to understanding complete nutrition and being able to help people. It's been life-changing."
So what does Santarlas, who recalls not being able to walk on the treadmill for more than five minutes at at time at the start of his journey, tell his own clients hoping to lose weight?
"We find out their why: Why they want to change their current situations," said Santarlas. "And, I tell all of my clients that there will be days they don’t feel like doing the workouts, but those are the days they need to do those workouts the most. I tell them to stick to their goals and never give up."