Charita Smith can dance again. She feels healthier, happier and sexier after losing half of herself. She dropped 150 pounds — from 310 down to 160 — after spending a year working off the weight with the help of celebrity trainer Chris Powell.
“I have this smile that just radiates from my heart,” the 2014 participant in ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss” says of her “lighter,” more vibrant life.
Smith, 33, who once experienced pain in her back and feet from standing for extended periods of time, is now teaching Zumba twice a week. She started taking Zumba classes when she dropped the first 70 pounds on the show. She was so amped that she became a certified instructor.
A Zumba fanatic, she loves sharing her excitement with others. For participants in her class who don’t think they can dance, she encourages them to just follow her lead and move.
Smith also walks or runs four miles on most days and does strength training to keep her body toned. Some evenings, she jogs with her mom to wind down. That’s an impressive workout for anyone, but especially for a wife and mother of three boys.
But she wasn’t always a fitness fanatic who can slither into a size 8. Her journey began after reaching the end of the rung in her closet — unable to find the right outfit to celebrate a wedding anniversary with her husband of nine years. She came to a realization: “I need help, and I don’t know where to go.”
Taking the First Step
Smith auditioned for “The Biggest Loser,” but NBC wanted a family package. As the only heavy person in her extended family standing at 5 foot 6 with 310 pounds in a size 26, she didn’t fit the criteria. Smith then tried out for “Extreme Weight Loss” and was pleasantly surprised to make the cut among thousands of candidates.
But what really makes her happy is “being a healthy mom,” who can now run and hike on the trails around Colorado Springs, Colo., with her sons, who range in age from 6 to 13 years old. At their games, she can also cheer them on by running up and down the sidelines, instead of showing support from her seat in the bleachers.
As the Smith family’s fitness role model, she involves her sons in weekly meal planning and preparation — compiling grocery lists, reading nutritional labels and cooking. In the past, it was harder to squeeze in home-cooked meals with both Smith and her husband, Marc, working two jobs. “We ate out a lot,” she admits.
But these days, nutrition is a priority. She also has more control of her schedule now that she’s supplementing her job as a stylist at her mother’s shop, Jean’s Hair Care Salon, with a side gig as a Zumba instructor.
Seeing Is Believing
Smith got a true sense of her progress when she stood next to a life-size cutout of her old self at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, where she spent a good chunk of the last year whittling off the pounds. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I’ve been able to experience a lot of firsts,” Smith says, reflecting on her participation on “Extreme Weight Loss.”
In the spring of 2013, she started a three-month boot camp at the wellness center to jump-start her weight loss and get at the root of her food addiction under the supervision of Powell and Holly Wyatt, M.D., the center’s medical director. She worked out at least four hours a day, doing circuit and interval training, running, hiking, swimming, dancing and searching her soul.
Losing weight in the glare of the spotlight is hard enough; telling all of your business to the world is even tougher — especially revealing deep, dark secrets to loved ones young and old.
Smith’s big reveal was telling her parents on national television that she had an abortion when she was 21. “I didn’t share it with my family,” Smith said. “I never really dealt with it.”
“I felt really guilty. I regretted the decision. I never forgave myself.” Harboring the secret had also contributed to her weight gain.
Her burden seemed heavier as a member of a religious family. But as with her weight-loss goal, she learned that it was a load she didn’t have to bear alone and that unconditional love is truly unconditional.
Leaning on Others
She encourages other women battling obesity or other issues to lean on others. “All you have to do is just reach out,” Smith suggests. “They will literally walk with you. You will be amazed by the amount of support.”
Smith’s husband, children and parents were more than willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to support Smith on her journey to wellness. And she had the backup of the women’s ministry at her church.
“I didn’t realize that I had all of that around me.”
Smith is content with her current weight and plans to focus on building more muscle. Next up is surgery to eliminate excess skin from all the weight.
She has no doubts about her ability to maintain her new size or achieve other goals.
“I’m a driven person,” Smith says. “I’m a go-getter. If I want something, I’ll go after it.”
Yanick Rice Lamb, who teaches journalism at Howard University, is co-founder and publisher of FierceforBlackWomen.com.