Dr. Ian Smith, 40, is best known for his diet books and his appearance as a judge on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club,” which just concluded its seventh season featuring Kevin Federline and Bobby Brown.
The Chicago resident was in town today to promote his new book “Happy,” which provides simple strategies to help people improve their happiness level. After doing WAGA-TV’s “Good Day Atlanta” and Rolling Out magazine, he came over to my Decatur-DeKalb YMCA to talk to me. I figured given his fitness angle, the Y would be as good a place as any to do it instead of a coffee shop or a hotel room.
Anyway, the member coordinator Safiyah Pinkey gave him a ten-minute tour of the place before I got there at the scheduled time of 10 a.m. (Dr. Ian got there early.) He said the visit brought back warm memories of his time growing up in Danbury, Ct. at the YMCA there, where he learned how to swim. “No diving board?” he said when he saw the pool. “I learned the swan dive at my Y!”
His book, he said, was inspired by a show that said the happiest country is Denmark, not the United States. “They believe they’d like to have it all but accept that they can’t have it all. So they’re grateful for what they have and don’t think about what they don’t have. In the U.S., people always want more. They’re never satisfied.”
While much of medical science focuses on disease, he looked at studies that focused on happiness.
Dr. Ian (that’s what he likes to be called), who is married with two small children and does weekly appearances on the Rachael Ray show, said 50 percent of happiness is genetic while 40 percent is within your control. That 40 percent is what his book focuses on.
He noted that money can buy happiness “up to a point.” Once you’re comfortable with a certain level of income, the additional happiness you get from the extra cash you earn is incrementally small.
“I felt as I became more comfortable, there was less stress on me. I had more freedom to do things and focus on things that matter to me than paying the rent and having extra money,” he said. “But having goo-gads of money doesn’t make you happy.” He said happiness often comes from the simplest things: reading, writing, going to museums, spending time with family.
He said it’s not difficult to be happier, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.
Speaking of happy, Dr. Ian was satisfied with this past season’s “Celebrity Fit Club.” He thought the winner, “Project Runway” alum Jay McCarroll earned the crown.
“He’d call me and create recipes based on my diet plan,” he said. “It was a really good cast. They lost a lot of weight.” Then there were people who were on the show to stretch their 15 minutes of fame such as “Baywatch” alum Nicole Eggert, who had a lot of attitude and didn’t lose as much weight as she wanted.
She and Bobby Brown drank a lot and didn’t always follow what the judges wanted them to do in terms of diet and exercise. He was annoyed the producers gave them alcohol on site, but that was obviously done to create more interesting TV.
“I love Bobby Brown,” Dr. Ian said. “I think he wanted to do well but he wasn’t ready for ‘Celebrity Fit Club.’ He has a lot of personal issues that are a distraction.” [Brown is on V-103 today to call in to say that rumors of his death on Twitter are wrong. "I don't want to be dead. I have way too much to live for," he told Ryan Cameron. "Twitter is the devil."]
He also enlightened me on why there was such a long gap between season six and seven. Apparently, VH1 created a cast he was not happy with. He said one contestant was actually UNDER weight. He felt it would be a mockery of the show to force someone who needed to gain weight to lose it. So they taped one episode with that cast, then killed it. “It cost them a lot of money,” he said, to start over again.
Fortunately, in this case, they managed to get ex’s Shar Jackson and Kevin Federline on screen together, which created plenty of tension.
“It was amazing casting,” he said. He was shocked the two of them agreed to it. “The first couple of weeks were very tense. Each had rules and regulations. Three or four weeks in, the show took over. Kevin apologized for the first time to Shar since the Britney debacle. There were tears and they became friends. Both also lost a tremendous amount of weight.”
Federline, he said, was a regular guy who got depressed after the Britney divorce. He did lose a ton of weight after ballooning. “I couldn’t believe how big he was” before “Fit Club,” he said. (He almost won.) “He was a nice guy who worked hard. A real quiet guy.”
Dr. Ian isn’t sure if there will be a season eight. (Ratings were just so so even with the Federline-Shar combo.). “We’re really old,” he said. “We’re like a dinosaur. We have to get the right cast.” He’d love to tweak the formula, perhaps pairing regular folks with celebrities.
He also isn’t a fan of “The Biggest Loser” on NBC: “The show may be fun to watch but it sends the wrong message.” He feels it doesn’t necessarily help a lot of the contestants, who end up regaining a lot of the weight once they leave the controlled environment that NBC creates. And it creates unrealistic expectations for people who aren’t morbidly obese.
“They can lose 10 pounds a week on the show but the average person may only lose a pound or two a week and feel like a failure,” Dr. Ian said. “The diet is overly controlled and anybody who exercises four or five hours a day will lose weight.”
Here’s the video of my interview with Dr. Ian: