Years ago in San Francisco, I met up with some vacationing British friends. The guests were surprised that the people of the City by the Bay seemed so fit, and one friend asked, less-than-half-jokingly, “Where are all the fatties? All we hear about is how fat the Americans are.” Before I could reply, another Brit fired back: “They’re at the buffet in Vegas, ain’t that right, Steve?”
I couldn’t protest. Men’s Fitness has, after all, dubbed Vegas America’s fattest city, and clearly our girth precedes us. We are huge, and not in a good way.
That’s why the accomplishment of math teacher Chris Smith ought to be trumpeted. Not only has he shed 117 pounds in about two years, down from 322 pounds, but this month he becomes the first man to grace the cover of Weight Watchers magazine. You’ll also see him holding one of his “before” photos on new TV commercials with, among others, newly svelte Jennifer Hudson.
The actual news in there is that Weight Watchers is finally highlighting the importance of weight loss for men. Guys don’t realize it until we try to drop a few pounds, as I recently have, but the diet industry focuses obsessively on those with the milk-producing variety of breasts. When a man who isn’t gigantic decides to diet, people actually ask why.
That’s what I’ve found since I began WW in June. I had no lifelong bulge battle; I just found after years of shrugging off boxes of Crunch ’n Munch, it was sticking to me. I hit 219, saw where I was heading and acted. So far, I’ve lost 14 pounds and one chin.
Also, I discovered the sexist bias discouraging guys from addressing obesity. I was the only man at my first WW meeting, which is why it reassured me as a customer and jerked my journalistic chain when the leader announced that a Las Vegan would soon be the first male WW cover model.
Unlike me, Smith has struggled his whole life. He graduated high school in Michigan at about 270 and became hostile when loved ones tried to confront him about his obesity. Smith said: “I accepted who I was and who I always would be. I resigned myself to being severely overweight for the rest of my life. The amount of weight I had to lose was never going to happen for me.”
In 2009, a neighbor received a WW membership for Mother’s Day; Smith asked if he could tag along. By the next summer, he’d lost nearly 100 pounds and could finally bike the Red Rock Canyon scenic loop. It wasn’t fast or dramatic the way you see on The Biggest Loser, but he steadily took control of his body.
Smith was shocked that WW selected him as part of a new campaign appealing to men, but he’s also thrilled by the opportunity to represent a more resilient, health-conscious version of Vegas. For a start, he and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation are working to replace fatty and sugary vending-machine and cafeteria choices at his school, Northwest Technical Academy. He once believed his job as a teacher was to foster self-esteem above all else, but now he worries. “There is definitely a place for self-confidence, but teaching kids that it’s okay to be overweight and unhealthy, as I look back, is doing them a massive disservice.”
Ditto for the broader Las Vegas community. “That’s what we’re geared towards, cheap food and as much as you can get, and then we park ourselves in front of a slot machine,” he said.
We brainstormed about changing that culture, imagining a day when casinos took initiatives to help. Perhaps they could install slot-equipped exercise bikes? “Earn extra comp points with how many miles you ride,” Smith chuckled.
It was a joke, but then again, why not? Just make sure they don’t only show The View on the monitors, okay?