LONG BEACH, Calif. — Ten years ago, when Bakeisha McCall weighed 400 pounds, she thought she’d take a job as a political canvasser in the hills of North Hollywood.

It was a small step towards a lifestyle change that would reshape the way she thought about fitness and food, pushing her towards a new passion that would become her life. She had just moved from Albany, New York.

But initial feedback on his new weekend job has been mixed.

“I was worried about her,” said Jimmy Camp, a partner at political campaign firm Silver Streak Communications, which hired her for this campaign and many others in the years that followed.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to have to walk five or six miles and climb some hills,'” he said. “And she was like ‘No, I got it. “”

The days were hard, the following mornings a test of endurance. Sore muscles twitched in his feet, legs and back. And the work itself was exhausting, knocking on doors all day, selling people a political message they might not want, or even be openly hostile to. She didn’t care about politics. She just wanted to be in her new home state and meet people.

“Most of us don’t talk to that many people a day — 50 people a day. And I think it gives you some conversational skills and you learn what’s pushing their buttons,” Camp said. “It takes a certain skill set to do that. It’s hard, it gets old. Nobody likes to be rejected, and there are a lot of rejections.

When McCall speaks, a laugh often follows after a few beats, projecting an ease with conversation and people. In many ways, the work was about his health and reducing the weight that had become a dangerous health risk. But it was also an education in listening and communicating with people who perhaps didn’t want to listen.

The first weekend of work was not easy.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘What have I [gotten] myself? “, did she say. “I was hot, I was sweating and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?'”

But McCall, who lives in Long Beach, has settled into a routine and found the weekdays between canvassing jobs to be enough recovery time.

The weight came down slowly, unlike many quick-fit programs that promise life-changing results within months. For McCall, it took years – four years to lose most of the weight. In the first year, about 100 pounds were lost from walking and small changes like bringing lunch to work to avoid buying fast food or other convenient, less nutritious options.

It was about establishing habits.

“People don’t understand that if you don’t follow this program or have a meal plan that your body can adapt to, you’re going to gain that weight back,” she said.

Once those habits were in place, she started hitting the gym, and once she saw trainers in action, she was like, “I can do this.

Her education started with questions and conversations like the ones she had on the doorsteps of strangers’ homes, then certifications and, in 2018, her own small business. Better Body By Bk became her letterhead, and customers who looked like she had been at the start of her journey took notice.

McCall, 37, now has around 10 clients, a number that usually increases in the summer. Many of them are overweight or obese women, like she was, who are drawn to her story and the physical evidence of someone who successfully lost weight and kept it off.

“They see themselves in me and they say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ I come from where they come from: eating emotionally or eating under stress and looking for a plan that will work,” she said.

They can start by moving – anything that will create new habits and block old ones.

“We don’t just tell them what to do. We study them,” she said. “We know where their stopping point is and how far we can push them. We also remind them of their goals: “Hey, remember, you wanted this.” And we push them.

The journey still isn’t over for McCall, and sometimes there are setbacks, like during the pandemic when she gained 15 pounds back. But the habits are there, and so are her goals, like hitting 170 pounds and building a busy schedule of year-round clients. She is on her way. The pandemic slowed her plans but forced her to invest in her own equipment and seek out new training areas like parks or client garages. If she could make it work, so could they.

McCall tells his clients — 23-year-olds, 76-year-olds, anyone who needs to hear him — his story, and they begin to see a new one for themselves. They see the beginning of a journey that can save their lives and bring them new freedom.

“You can be a bright light in a dark place,” she said.