She knew that women weren't only filling up on junk food. They were serving up plates of soul food dinners dripping with fat and calories where even vegetables had been simmered in lard.
Smith set out to educate women on how to replace the grease with healthier options, and still retain the soul food flavor. She also taught participants how to plan their meals for the week and how to stretch their government assistance dollars to make better eating choices.
Smith also found herself teaching the other Weight Watchers educators about barriers to healthy eating that many participants faced. She took the group leaders on a tour of Lexington Market and deconstructed a Baltimore fast-food favorite: the chicken box. She estimated that the fried chicken and fries alone are equivalent to more than 50 Weight Watchers points — the program encourages people to eat no more than 74 points a day.
"They were amazed that the thing has so many calories and no level of satisfaction — you're hungry an hour later," she said. Smith taught women how to make their own healthier chicken box using baked chicken and baked potato wedges.
Ross, who is the director of a child-care center, said the program helped her change her attitude about food. She found much-needed support in weekly group meetings hearing women with similar stories of trying to lose weight amid so many challenges.
While the other two locations of the program are no longer running, Smith still has a group of 15 women who are sticking with it. She hopes a few will continue to shed pounds and keep them off, a prerequisite for becoming employed as a Weight Watchers group leader.
"We want to train them to become leaders so they can go back into the community and do some good," she said. "I want to infect the inner city with this notion that you can live a healthy lifestyle."