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.
Reaching Out for Help
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.
"I felt like I deserved as much pain as possible if I was to kill myself, to burn myself literally in the desert. I just decided maybe dousing myself with gasoline and, you know, maybe people could hear my screams and hear all the despair that consumed me for all these years," Smith said.
Powell was moved when he learned what Smith had been through.
"He'd never had a chance in life. And I realized how valuable I was to him not just as a trainer but as the first person in his life who actually believed in him."
'The Best Night of My Life'
As the exercises got more strenuous and the pounds kept coming off, Powell began to unlock Smith's personality. Powell decided to reintroduce Smith to the social world that had treated Smith so cruelly. He made preparations at a nearby bar, and when they arrived, Smith was treated like a rock star.
"When we got in the car and I'm driving him home he goes, that was the best night of my life," Powell said.
As the pounds continued to fall away, Powell knew Smith needed him now more than ever. All his loose skin gave him the appearance of a deflated balloon. So he embarked on a series of surgeries to eliminate the excess skin, leaving him with 18 feet of scars.
Powell was there for all the surgeries.
After 26 months, Smith had locked in on his target weight of 229 pounds making his total weight loss a whopping 401 pounds. He also enhanced his appearance with Lasik surgery on his eyes and some dental work to fix his teeth, destroyed by too much soda. All of the cosmetic work was donated by Phoenix area doctors.
"I even got some cheek implants. I needed help!" laughed Smith.
But there's one more thing that's on Smith's mind right now.
"I have no experience. I've never had a girlfriend and I'm a virgin. Somebody's out there. Somebody has to be out there. I believed in losing my weight, I believe in so many things and I believe there's somebody for me, I hope," Smith said.
Now 31, Smith has started bodybuilding, working at a gym and studying to become a trainer. Powell never charged Smith a dime for his services or his emotional support. What he got in exchange, Powell said, was far more important.
"I was with him through his transformation, but he's been with me through my own journey over the last couple of years, and that's the real reason like why we're so close. He's hands down the most genuine person that you'll ever meet. He's got a heart of gold," Powell said of his newfound best friend.
This holiday season, these two pals will have a lot to be thankful for, and friendship tops the list.