Four years ago, tipping the scale at 250 pounds, Calvin Smith didn’t like what he saw in the mirror. His sedentary lifestyle, stressful job, and emotional eating had taken a toll on his health. Find out how this counselor learned to let go of what was weighing him down and develop healthy habits that he can sustain for life.
A serious athlete in his youth, Calvin Smith, pictured, played soccer throughout high school and college, a routine that helped him stay fit and lean. Unfortunately, once he graduated college and entered the demanding world of full-time work, Smith’s health began to decline. During his time in the service, lots of exercise kept his weight low, but constant stress and very little sleep took its toll on his overall health, happiness, and well being. After leaving the service, he became a social worker who provides support for homeless veterans. With this stressful, sedentary job, his weight crept up to 250 pounds, and he found it challenging to establish a routine of regular physical exercise.
In 2012, tired of being overweight, Smith set a goal weight and began seriously working out, doing both cardio and strength training. While exercise benefitted his overall health, Smith was frustrated that the scale and mirror didn’t reflect the progress he’d been dreaming of.
Reluctantly, he accepted that he would need to focus on his diet to drop the weight. He began tracking his food intake with the Lose It! app, which he linked with a Withings scale to keep himself honest because, as he says, “The scale doesn’t lie.”
Today, he is as fit as he’s ever been, weighing in at 190 pounds. In fact, he recently ran The Manchester City Marathon, a feat he wouldn’t have dreamed of four years ago. Read on to learn more about how Smith re-discovered his healthier, fitter self.
“I think nearly everyone can personally connect with the challenge of weight loss, fitness, and being healthy.” — Calvin Smith
Withings: What made you dissatisfied enough to decide to make a change?
Calvin Smith: That’s a tough question. I think I was just tired of looking in the mirror and feeling like this is not the body I should have. I knew there was a better me in there.
To what do you attribute your weight gain after college and again when you entered the workforce?
A couple things. I think it becomes more difficult to prioritize taking care of yourself as you get older in many ways, including physical fitness, because you suddenly have the demands of a full-time job or career that becomes your priority and eats up so much time in the day, and no one else does much to afford you the time or resources to prioritize yourself. Also, I think it’s really hard to establish a routine that includes physical fitness. For me, having a regular routine is key to a healthy lifestyle, so now my eating schedule is routine, entering food in Lose It! right after I eat is routine, stepping on the Withings scale each morning is part of my routine, and some type of physical activity is part of my afternoon routine. That activity is on my daily calendar, and I schedule other things around physical activity instead of the other way around.
Was there any element of vanity or dissatisfaction with your looks, or was health the only motivating factor to propel you on this journey?
Oh, for sure vanity played a big part. I wanted to look good and I felt a lot of disappointment with myself when I looked in the mirror. Others may judge me about wanting external validation, but I don’t care — it matters to me. I like being told I look good!
When you were in the service, what was your relationship with food and exercise like?
Well, my weight was way down because I exercised a lot, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was healthy. I did not enjoy my time in the military, and I was pretty unhappy. I was constantly exposed to highly stressful situations and only averaged a couple of hours of sleep a day. It was really tough. I may have looked good, but I sure didn’t feel good.
Were there any emotional components to packing on the pounds?
For sure! I have always enjoyed food. No doubt that food became a coping mechanism for me: Feel bad, eat something sweet to feel better. Then it becomes a bad cycle: Feel bad, eat, feel bad about eating and the resulting weight gain, eat some more. The good news is that I have found making progress with being active works the same way but in reverse: Exercise, feel good, drop weight — motivation to exercise more! Emotions are so powerful, right? It’s so hard to do something when you don’t feel good about yourself, and yet the way to feel good about yourself is oftentimes to do the thing you don’t want to do.
Do you share your mindfulness about health with the vets with whom you work?
I do. I think nearly everyone can personally connect with the challenge of weight loss, fitness, and being healthy. It serves as a great way to relate with the vets I work with, many of whom live unhealthy lifestyles and want to change. When you can say, “Look, I’ve walked in your shoes, and changing your lifestyle is possible. I’m proof,” it becomes a great way to encourage others. I’ve also found that my example inspires a lot of my friends and colleagues. It’s one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever given me. “You inspire me!” What could be more flattering?
You say “The scale doesn’t lie,” and you journal your food. Does that kind of honesty and accountability inform other facets of your life?
Yeah, or maybe it’s just my OCD nature that’s made it easier to adopt a disciplined approach to entering food and stepping on the scale first thing each morning. Like I said, when something is part of my routine, I’m much more likely to invest the time and energy that it takes to be successful. Also, having concrete feedback is a big reinforcer and motivator for me.
How did you discover the Lose It! app as a tool? Had you tried other tools or programs?
Yeah, I started with My Fitness Pal, but switched to Lose It! because of the integration between the Withings Scale and Lose It! — My Fitness Pal was fine, but I really like the Lose It! interface.
What would you tell others who can’t seem to stick to a health plan?
I can only speak from my own experience, of course, but my advice is start with a vision of what you want to look like. I always had this mental picture of the body that was waiting to come out, so during low times and moments when I have been discouraged, I close my eyes and picture that me that I want to look like. The other thing that I learned is that the tools —Withings and Lose It! —are really helpful. They don’t do it for you, of course, but they sure are valuable assets to help.
What part of the weight loss and fitness gains makes you the happiest?
If I’m honest in responding to this question, I have to say it’s probably most gratifying to hear someone tell me I look good, which I know is external validation. I do get self-satisfaction from looking in the mirror, feeling good about what I see looking back at me, and knowing I accomplished a big goal. That’s my internal validation. But it’s at least 70% external.
Interested in how technology can support spiritual, physical, and emotional health? Watch Calvin’s #Connection2015 presentation about how technology is changing social services when it comes to engaging and maintaining communication with homeless youth.