Four and half years ago, David Smith weighed more than 630 pounds. He had spent nearly a decade on the couch in his parents' house eating pizza, raiding the fridge, and drinking soda. For much of his life he said he "felt like the elephant man."
Today Smith is enjoying life and the inspiration he gives others. His remarkable transformation didn't happen overnight. It took more than two years of total dedication; tears of disappointment and grins of glory. Yet his new body is not his greatest gift. It's friendship … something Smith never dreamed he'd know. During the years that he was morbidly obese, he was also imprisoned by shame and social anxiety.
"It got so bad to a point that I didn't leave the house and I didn't even feel comfortable in my own backyard until it was dark out," Smith said.
Ashamed of his looks, Smith didn't want to go out so he wouldn't be mocked in public.
In June 2003, he finally had enough. Smith sent an e-mail to Chris Powell, fitness correspondent for Good Morning Arizona, a local news broadcast on KTVK in Phoenix. Powell paid Smith a visit.
"We were both probably thinking: what are we getting ourselves into right here? There would be no way I'd have anything in common with this guy," Smith said.
Powell, a former Cosmo magazine bachelor, was socially confident. But now he was trying to get through to this painfully shy man.
"I didn't know what 600 pounds looked like," Powell said. "He couldn't really look me in the eye. He was just so broken. He really didn't know what to say or what to do."
Despite their initial awkward meeting, they made a deal. Smith committed to losing the pounds and Powell agreed to stick with him as long as Smith didn't give up.
The first stop was a truck scale so they could get Smith's weight. After that, Powell created a food plan for Smith: six smaller meals to replace Smith's end-of-the-day megameal. The meals were carbo-balanced to increase his metabolism, with cheat days thrown in. In the first month Smith dropped 40 pounds; then, after just four months of doing simple exercises in the gym, Smith lost 100 pounds. Powell was pleased. But Smith wasn't too impressed with what he had accomplished.
"He kept telling me, when I look in the mirror, I still feel like the same person. In fact, I still see 630 pounds," Powell said.
Then one day after a session, Smith handed Powell a letter he'd written. As Powell read, it began with a revelation that Smith had never shared with anyone else. He had been sexually abused by the first friend he had ever made.
"It made me shy away from people, not trust people at all. And, of course I turned to food because it made me happy. It didn't hurt me," Smith said.
Gaining more weight all the time, and lacking social skills, Smith found school to be a nightmare.
"I've had like sticks and stones and dog feces and, you know, thrown at me and spit on. I've had a broken arm and black, black eyes," recalled Smith.
The emotional and physical abuse took a toll; he had dropped out of high school at 17 and headed for his parents' house. Over the next decade, he would emerge only rarely.
Trapped in a joyless, friendless existence, Smith felt he had no choice but to plan his suicide in a horrific manner.