Todd Whitthorne of Naturally Slim: 5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote the Mental Wellness Of Their Employees

Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readApr 5, 2021

Understand that emotional health and physical health are absolutely intertwined. Don’t focus on just one while ignoring the other. In my role at Naturally Slim, I see on an almost a daily basis how helping individuals move in a positive direction with their weight, sleep, physical activity and resilience leads directly to more joy, confidence, energy and gratitude!

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Whitthorne.

Todd Whitthorne is recognized as one of the country’s leading public speakers regarding health, wellbeing, and productivity. He’s also the author of Fit Happens!…Simple Steps for a Healthier, More Productive Life!

In addition, Todd serves as the Chief Inspiration Officer for Naturally Slim, a Dallas-based company dedicated to improving the health and productivity of organizations nationwide. The company currently serves more than 650 clients and positively impacts over 200,000 lives annually.

Prior to joining Naturally Slim in 2013, Todd spent 14 years as a senior executive at The Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. The Emmy award-winning broadcaster is an honors graduate of UCLA with a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and exercise physiology. He and his wife Kathy live in Coppell, Texas. They have two grown children and five awesome grandkids.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My path is a bit non-traditional. I grew up in Southern California, attended UCLA where I majored in kinesiology/exercise physiology. Following graduation, I had intended to blend fitness and business but was diverted into television where I spent almost 20 years as an anchor/reporter/host working in Reno, Tulsa, Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Dallas. In my early 40s I started to seriously consider the difference between success and significance… That led me to pivot out of TV and into my passion which had always been health, fitness, and preserving quality of life. I spent several years working closely with Dr. Ken Cooper, one of the pioneers of preventive medicine before moving into my current position which is Chief Inspiration Officer for Naturally Slim.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I believe that much of life is determined by C.D.C… Not the Centers for Disease Control but Choices, Decisions, and Consequences. My choice to leave television and listen to my gut to pursue my passion has resulted in an incredibly fulfilling consequence which is helping to positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. The key has been to align with talented people, leverage science and technology, and then “personalize electrons” to give folks the ability to take charge of their physical and emotional health.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Simple… Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Then, control the things you can (i.e. sleep, nutrition, physical activity, social media, etc.), and work to manage the things you can’t. I honestly believe we are here to impact others but in order to do that effectively, you must proactively work on taking care of you. If your tank is empty, it’s impossible to have energy for others.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Recognize that a positive work culture does not happen without intentionality. Culture is always determined by leadership, so it’s critical that the individual leading the organization prioritizes the value of culture and then works proactively to help craft it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

The late, great John Wooden often said, “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” The older I get, the more I recognize how true that is.

The collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employee’s mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Recognize the significance of the problem. Kevin Love has said, “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.” The statistics seem to support this, especially since the pandemic began. Rates of stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse are all up, especially for younger folks. We need to recognize mental health is a significant issue and then prioritize a game plan to address it.
  2. Quantify the problem. The best way to identify the scope of the issue within your organization is to ask via a confidential employee survey. Even though everyone has been impacted, at least to some degree, by the pandemic, not everyone has had the same experience or reaction. For instance, we know that some people now really enjoy working from home while others are extremely eager to return to the office. Feelings, whether positive or negative, are real, and we need to understand that not everyone has the same feelings that you do and it’s okay not to feel okay. We all have been in the same storm, but it’s very important to recognize each and every one of us are in different boats.
  3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Long before anyone had even heard of COVID or Corona, loneliness was a significant issue. In 2017, over 40% of Americans reported feeling lonely, although research indicates that number may be much higher. According to The Harvard Business Review, “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” Well, guess what? Quarantine has obviously increased loneliness because of forced isolation. While for many, working from home has been a plus, for others, it has been unbearable. As Dr. Brene Brown points out, humans are hardwired to connect, and the past 12 months have certainly limited our ability to do that. Employers need to recognize that Zoom meetings are not a replacement for traditional office interaction which includes short conversations in the break room or “micro-meetings” that take place in the hallway. Managers should dedicate time to reach out to employees individually and ask, “How are you doing?”, and then really listen to the answer. Most of your employees will appreciate the effort, and I promise you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
  4. Be intentional about “signaling.” Ignoring the impact of the past 12–18 months is not a good idea. Organizations need to let their employees know “they get it” and then signal their desire to help by making available a variety of solutions for those who might need it…i.e. employee assistance programs (EAPs), wellbeing offerings, recognition programs, etc. Studies indicate that even those employees who don’t need or take advantage of the programs feel better about their organization when those types of solutions are offered. We’re all human and appreciate when we know that our employer cares.
  5. Understand that emotional health and physical health are absolutely intertwined. Don’t focus on just one while ignoring the other. In my role at Naturally Slim, I see on an almost a daily basis how helping individuals move in a positive direction with their weight, sleep, physical activity and resilience leads directly to more joy, confidence, energy and gratitude!

What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Employees can’t pour from an empty cup and they need to realize that no one has more influence on their own health than themselves. But, it’s important for employers to play a role in supporting them by regularly keeping up with industry data and understanding how employees’ evolving concerns and feelings could impact their wellbeing as well as the business’ bottom line. By looking at the latest data, knowing how the current environment may be impacting employees and distilling that data down for the average employee/American to help improve their quality of life, employers can raise awareness internally about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees. Better yet, employers can distribute their own internal surveys on a regular basis to get personalized data and insight from their own employees about how they’re feeling, and from there, gauge whether they need more mental wellness support. Checking in with employees 1:1, seeing how they are doing and making sure they feel supported is also critical.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

We now have published data which supports what we’ve long suspected… The COVID pandemic has significantly impacted both physical and emotional health. A recent study by the American Psychological Association shows in the past year, 42% of Americans have gained weight (average 29 lbs), 23% are drinking more alcohol to cope, 48% of parents are feeling more stressed, and overall mental health has worsened (9% for older adults (75 years+) up to 46% for Gen Z (18–24 years old)).

Ignoring these facts, simply put, is bad for business. Employers need to signal to their employees that they recognize it’s a tremendously challenging time, but it’s not over yet, and that they are intently working to identify solutions that will help both the individual and their families. It’s probably impossible to over-communicate this message right now!

Increasing health literacy, encouraging and incenting preventive medical exams (i.e. annual wellness checks, biometric screening, telemedicine access, etc.), and providing/promoting proven behavioral interventions for both physical and emotional health should all be part of the strategy. Communicating that “It’s OK not to be OK” is critical, but providing easy access to solutions, including EAPs, for those that need it is also tremendously important. Every effort should be made to simplify participation, and the message should be part of a consistent drumbeat, not a “one and done” campaign.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

Every aspect of our health, both physical and mental, is driven by our habits. A habit is something you do without thinking…i.e., brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, putting on your seatbelt. Learning to “habitulize” our lives will have an enormous impact on our future…both today as well as years from now. I tend to lean into things that are evidence-based…things that are supported by research. We know that one of the best things we can do to support mental health is to get enough quality sleep. Developing proper “sleep hygiene” is critical.

We also know that physical activity, especially outdoor activity, offers huge dividends…both above and below the neck. No need to climb a mountain or run a marathon…just intentionally move at least a couple times a day…or, as I like to say, be sure to walk the dog, even if you don’t have one. Meaning, you don’t need an excuse to get out and go for a walk. Breathing fresh air, getting a bit of vitamin D and activating your legs and core muscles will absolutely impact your psyche. Learn to view physical activity as a “want, or get, to” as opposed to a “have to.”

Choose to put quality fuel in your gas tank. Highly processed foods that are laden with fat, sugar, and salt may help in the short term, but they have quite the opposite effect over time. Learn to be mindful as to what is driving your food choices. At NS, we have plenty of data supporting the fact that many folks who are weight challenged are eating for a multitude of reasons other than hunger, i.e., stress, boredom, fear, loneliness, etc. Most of us are familiar with the term “emotional eating.” It’s especially been an issue since early in 2020 for obvious reasons. We’ve seen however, with tens of thousands of our participants, that by learning the proper skills, which then turn into healthy habits, they can manage both their weight and their emotions more effectively, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

The practice that has been most impactful on my own mental wellbeing since COVID started has been what I call ALF…which stands for At Least Five.

I believe that technology and social media have a far greater impact on our mood and overall mindset than most people care to acknowledge. I’ve learned that the way I choose to start my day seems to have a direct impact on how my day goes. When I begin my day happy, upbeat and positive, the rest of the day tends to go pretty well. As a result, I refuse to allow an external individual, bot, or algorithm dictate “how I come out of the gate.” The folks running large media companies know that fear, anger, and controversy translate into attention which has become a very valuable currency. Me getting wrapped around the axle emotionally is good for them but not for me.

Every morning, I pour a cup of coffee, sit down, and think. I very intentionally do not look at my phone or turn on the T.V. I just think…for at least five minutes. Now I realize that five minutes is a rather low bar, but that’s intentional. Most of the time, five minutes turns into 10, 15 or sometimes 30 minutes, but if I set the bar too high, i.e. 30 minutes, then it’s more likely I blow it off (which is supported by research).

During my ALF time, I make sure to take three or four deep breaths (slowly, in through the nose, out through the mouth) and think about someone and something that I’m grateful for. Other than that, I simply let my mind wander. It’s amazing what happens when you just take some time to think! With the proliferation of distracting technology, it seems that intentional thought is almost a forgotten practice.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Atomic Habits by James Clear. He does a terrific job helping to identify what we know about how to best build beneficial habits. Ultimately, life is not about what we say or what we know, it’s about what we do…on a regular, consistent basis.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

At Naturally Slim, we have already started a critical movement and, in fact, our mission statement is to do the most good for the most people. As part of the movement, we are flipping “diet culture” on its head by teaching people the science behind eating the foods they love so they can lose weight for good, prevent chronic disease, and improve their overall physical and mental wellbeing. We will continue to work hard to achieve our mission, expand our reach and impact more and more people’s lives for the better.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

toddwhitthorne.com and naturallyslim.com

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Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
Authority Magazine

Entrepreneur, angel investor and syndicated columnist, as well as a yoga, holistic health, breathwork and meditation enthusiast. Unlock the deepest powers