By the time St. Louis native Charles D’Angelo was in high school, he weighed 360 pounds and turned to food for comfort. After realizing his need for change, he joined a gym. Fifteen years later, the life consultant has built an empire that focuses on health stemming from the proper mindset and discipline, and he has worked his way to a successful life of fitness, health and happiness.

D’Angelo explains that as a child, he was much more sensitive than many of his peers. “When you’re different, sensitive and fearful, you tend to withdraw. As I withdrew, I was bullied. This perpetuated a whirlpool idea that I wasn’t good enough,” he says. As an obese kid, he taught himself how to play piano by ear listening endlessly to Billy Joel cassettes. D’Angelo recently met up with Joel at Madison Square Garden in New York and shared his story and gratitude with the legend himself. “I was in this environment that most wouldn’t have predicted the type of success that I’ve enjoyed,” he says.

Part of what makes D’Angelo’s success so powerful is his own personal journey. “I recognized that I was trying to change everything around me. Something clicked, and I realized I needed to make a change within myself. I started to take charge,” D’Angelo says. Through hard work and struggle, he started to make the internal change that he claims is more important than anything else. “When [people] look at themselves and recognize there is something they want to make better, it is possible for anybody to change.”

D’Angelo’s philosophy is simple: He uses what he coined the “three-legged stool” approach when consulting his clients. “One [aspect] is exercise, [another] is dieting and the third — and most important — is the mindset or philosophy inside,” he explains. When it comes to fitness and health, going to the gym and dieting are only one-third of the equation; the other two-thirds is mentality.

“Don’t make your focus what you don’t have; put your energy toward what you want to achieve. Where your energy goes determines the result, and you’ll find yourself making tremendous strides forward,” D’Angelo says. This focus is evident in his transition, but also in the results consistently shown by his clients. The life consultant doesn’t focus solely on exercise or diet; instead, D’Angelo focuses on the internal driving force that guides his clients’ choices.

“It’s not what happens, it’s how you use what happens and turn it into an investment or allow it to be a withdrawal. Many people use their past as an excuse. I’m not suggesting it isn’t painful. Instead, I’m suggesting it doesn’t have to be your future,” he adds. D’Angelo considers his work his calling; the ability to change people drives him. “I’m giving people the opportunity to realize it’s OK to be themselves.”

D’Angelo says many people struggle with relationships, which should be approached like physical health. “Most people talk about relationships as some type of trade or transaction. The point of a relationship is growth. If you don’t continuously work toward something, it will diminish — such as health.” He adds that self-approval will bleed into someone’s work, health, love life, and all other aspects of their lives, which leads to greater success in all areas.

As for loving his surroundings, the St. Louis native boasts about his city just as much as he praises his fiance. “I love the people; I love the community. I love how small it seems; yet it is very large. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. I love the idea of it being a slower paced, warmer community than other cities.” If he’s not having a date night on the Hill, you can likely find him at a live music event in the city. He’s passionate about the city that raised him.

At the end of the day, D’Angelo promotes happiness from within as the driving force of his life and his work. “Where you are isn’t nearly as concerning as where you’re headed,” he says. “You have to recognize you will always have love if you love yourself.” M