Transformations

Drinking Would Have Killed Me, So I Quit on the Spot

Now I'm sober, happy, and 100 pounds lighter.

Mike Zimmerman

Mark Smith

After Mark Smith dropped more than 100 pounds, he posted before/after photos on Reddit. He couldn't believe the response: "It blew up," he says. "97,000 up-votes. It was a monster." Funny he should use that word, because that's exactly how Smith referred to his old self—the 6-foot-3, 300-pound contractor with the shaved head and goatee. He also enjoyed his drinks on the weekend—a lot. Some folks find contentment living that lifestyle, and that's what Smith did well into his fifties. But it was obvious even to him: He, and his habits, were getting old. Here's how he made the changes that transformed him into a new—and healthy—man at age 55.

So everyone who makes the kind of life-wide, wholesale changes you made usually starts with an "a-ha" moment. What was yours?
One morning, my wife said to me, "I think I'd like it better if you didn't drink anymore."

That's a big one, but not exactly groundbreaking territory as far as morning-requests-that-wives-make go.
[Laughs] True. But I've had a difficult relationship with alcohol my whole life. I had on-again, off-again periods of abstinence. So I told her I'd quit. That's how it started. It was nothing more than that. I felt like I was ready to quit. Drinking had caused me problems and I wasn't feeling very healthy. As a side effect I lost 30 pounds in a couple of months without doing anything.

Just from cutting out the booze?
I don't know how it happened so quickly. I don't know if the drinking made me make bad decisions about diet. I was only drinking a couple days a week. I find it hard to believe it was making me so fat but something changed. And that motivated me to try to lose even more weight.

Going sober isn't easy for a lot of people. How did that go?
I had to do it. At the time I was 53 and my hangovers were just becoming debilitating. I had no interest in being some kind of social drinker having just a glass of wine or beer. I wanted to get drunk. As shitty as it made me feel, I really think the drinking would've killed me. So I went cold turkey. From that day on.

What's the hardest part?
It's tough to socialize without drinking. I still find it uncomfortable in social situations. I always found it easier to be around crowds when I was drinking. Not easier for them, but easier for me [laughs].

How did you approach your weight after dropping the first 30?
I started eating three meals a day instead of constant snacking through the day. It seemed easier to pick just one thing to do, so I cut sugar out. I'd heard Kevin Smith on his podcast saying he cut sugar from his diet and lost a bunch of weight. So that was in my head. Then it was portion control. I was always the guy who had the giant plate of spaghetti and then go back for another plate. I actually had a bowl, the size of a salad or cereal bowl, and I would make my meals no bigger than that bowl. I could put whatever I wanted in the bowl, but never more than that. And I still do that out of habit. Even if my eyes feel bigger than that, I know that if I eat that bowl I'll be fine by the time I'm done.


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Next thing you know you dropped 100 pounds.
[Laughs] Well, the progress was slow, or felt slow. It's not like one day I woke up and felt great. That said, I feel great now. I just turned 55 and I feel better than I did when I was 40. I work out an hour and a half lifting weights now. Sometimes I'll hop on the spin bike or ride outside. It's tough for me to build muscle because I'm 55, but I'm amazed how my body has bounced back from how big I was. The weights are a major component of that. I feel ripped, I like to take my shirt off.

Your wife must like that.
Yes! This is a partnership with her, absolutely. She wanted to lose weight, too. Once I started, she was really motivated to start. She goes to the gym three to four days a week and has lost 61 pounds. She looks great. She always says that she wouldn't have done it if I was still in my old ways.

Aside from the weight, what else has changed physically?
I really felt like a monster before. 300 pounds, 6-foot-3. I groomed myself to look scary. I shaved my head and had a goatee, and basically wore a permascowl.

So you played that up? That was conscious?
Well, that's an interesting question. I kind of felt like that's who I was. Big scary man. Maybe I was comfortable playing that part. It's fun to be a giant, I guess. If you can't be handsome, be scary.

That's kind of brutal.
Maybe it was, but not now. I don't feel like a monster anymore. I can shop wherever I want. I couldn't even go to Old Navy before. I don't feel like people are looking at me because I'm some kind of monster. People just see me.

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Lede image: Mark Smith

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