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How to save a life

Or crucially.. how to save your own life if you are addicted to food.

I’m not talking about a casual remark “oh I’m so addicted to the new”.. this or that brand. I am talking about living with the 24/7 death sentence type addiction.

Yes, we are going to talk about the F word.

I have attended the funeral of a dear loving man, taken from earth far too early due do his addiction to food. I tell you. It’s heart breaking to watch parents bury their children. I thought, how could something like overeating junk food lead to death for a man in his 20s? It was equally upsetting when we ate pizza and cakes at the wake, I felt so conflicted. Society needs to start seeing obesity for what it is. Just another addiction that plagues us humans. But this suicide is slow, cheap and easy. It is endorsed at industry level and reinforced in homes. It is such a complex and controversial issue.

I noticed a few people wrote “fat loss” on their gym sign up sheets as a personal goal. I felt I needed to know this issue better, in order to best serve our members. So I spoke with one of our Gym members Jo Bowden, who has been on a weight loss journey for over a year, losing a whopping 86kgs to date.

I wanted to know the inner workings of a woman who literally saved her own life through diet, exercise, and mindset. Jo gives a unique and real perspective on food, weight loss and being Fat. From the bottom of her new healthy heart, she wants to help other people that are in her prior situation. Our hope is that this article will touch the life of at least one person out there.

...He who saves one life saves the world entire...– Old Jewish saying

ASL? (You’ll know this one from the 00’s)

31, female and Mangawhai Northland

Heaviest weight? 174.3kgs

Weight today? 88kgs

Total weight loss? 86.3kgs

A: Obese. Rotund. Blubbery. Whale. Pig. Heffalump. Fatty boom boom. Chubby. Who ate all the pies? I can’t think of any other words. Do you know any from experience?

J: Chubby bub, fatty boom ba, fat Jo and Ashanti, thunder thighs, Lard (I had to ask an adult what this meant)

A: Do these words still sting?

J : No, because they don't hold anything over me anymore.

A: What did it feel like when someone called you those names?

J : Shameful feeling ‘cause I knew they were right. But deep down, those seemingly innocent childhood taunts hurt me so bad, worse than any insult I could send back to them. I would never let them see me affected though!

A: Is it a choice to be fat?

J : In most cases I think it is a choice. It was for me. The majority of our population is overweight now. They are setting the cultural norms, so it becomes acceptable. I don’t think being sick is something we have to accept or fear having a public conversation about. Losing weight is so hard. Minute by minute. You are fighting addiction on some level. You actually have to become obsessed with it. You have to choose to leave your comfort zone and no one can leave it for you!!

A: Let's talk openly. Let's pull down the walls of protection and expose what is really going on in the mind of a very unhealthy over weight person. Because I have heard a recent online conversation about being obese and still healthy. Is this a paradox?

J: Very complex question. You can be physically healthy and mentally unwell. There are things like, walking down the street, being scared of kids pointing you out. Them loudly commenting on your size and their parents embarrassed trying to shush them. Or trying to decide if that chair would hold your weight or come crashing down… That kind of thing shouldn’t have to worry you. But it did to me because of my size.

Physical health, my BP was still fine, no diabetes or pre diabetic symptoms. Ironically I was denied the stomach clamp because I wasn’t “sick” enough. I suffered fatigue and I didn’t realize how low energy I was. It was so hard to even get off the couch to change my son's nappies. I think that is plenty “sick” enough to qualify for help.

A: I have nothing but admiration for the HUGE positive change you have made to your body. Carrying around an extra ‘person’ of weight can't have been easy. So take me back to the beginning. What were your childhood experiences with food/weight?

J: I always had that addiction. My parents tried to stop it. Put me on heaps of diets, which never worked. I would sneak food any chance I found. I could eat 6 yogurt pots in one sitting. Many of us make that association with junk food as “treat food”, which is a reward for being good or something. Start that association in childhood and you get an adult struggling with how to regulate “treating” yourself.

A: Then to your teenage years… How did you relate to your body? How did mirrors make you feel? How did your family and friends make you feel?

J: I was a really angry teenager and I see now that it was weight related. When I turned 10 I started smoking pot, then heavily from 14 till 18. When I would get the munchies I would eat a whole loaf of bread or something. Easy to see that wasn’t a great cycle.

No, I wouldn't do full-length mirrors and I would avoid cameras. I became really mean to people, if they said anything about my weight, I would attack them back. I guess I thought better to hurt people before they hurt you.

All the time nasty talking to myself. “You're too fat, don't stand there, don't sit there, don't go to that party, they don't want to see you there”. All those childhood traumas stay with you beneath the surface.

A: Going into your 20s, what were your ambitions? Work, marriage, kids, travel? Did your weight have an impact on these desires?

J: I wanted everything, white picket fences and all. My work ambitions were always dampened by weight restrictions. I think it affected my ability to find a partner, and yeah, I feel like it got in the way of my life. I’m 31 and now it has stopped me from living a full life.

A: Now, what actually kick started you to act? Was it a profound moment or a series of moments?

J: It was a series of moments but mainly my son. I nearly watched him die a couple of times. I thought, No, I can’t actually put him through what he has put me through. I don’t want him to see me go down through my own self-sabotage. It is not fair. It was me thinking about him being sick, through absolutely no fault of his own. Then thinking I’m sick by choice. Watching your son nearly die…. That just shakes you.

A: What things have you done specifically to lose the weight?

J: Diet – strict, clean eating. I used a special shake in the beginning. That plus new mindset. It was too daunting for me to think about the nutrition side of things, so going for a meal replacing shake was the ideal start for me. Plus I did not like cooking, so that was a barrier to following meal plans. I don’t need it now though. I am happy to report that I am getting better in the kitchen!!

I also started the exercise. I would start the day with Zumba, then would go to the gym and do 100 stairs on a local walking path. I had to start somewhere. I am now fitting in 2-3 different workouts a day 6 days a week, so I get the best results before my skin reduction surgery.

A: What was it like withdrawing from your old food?

J: It was sooooooo hard. I would crave the weirdest things. Things I had not eaten in 10 years. The brain takes you to crazy places.

A: Was the change scary for you?

J: Nothing could have been scarier than the last thought I would have some nights,"I wonder if tonight's the night I have a heart attack and die?"

But I loved the losing weight and the little perks that come with it. I did/do struggle with the attention now. All of a sudden I was noticed by men who were now looking at me in a not repulsed way. Now I can’t deal with it. It's like, you have lost the weight but now it’s the mental healing that has to happen. I am still the fat girl in my head sometimes. It really caught me by surprise! I thought it would be, lose the weight and get the husband, but no. Never thought I was capable of being loved, so this is the raw unhealed part of me. A part that no one tells you will come after major weight loss.

A: Describe how you perceive food now. Does it still trigger your old addictive thought patterns?

J : I see “bad food” as obstacles to progress. I am in the process of finding a balance. Yes, I can eat a brownie, no I won't eat it again this week. But to start off, you can’t even have that food in your house. I used to just demolish a whole block of chocolate in one sitting. Now I can have chocolate Easter eggs in the house for my son and I won't touch it. Previously I had to keep food at my mum's house. Because there was no way to control myself.

A: Most of us have loved ones that are currently medically struggling as a direct or indirect cause from being heavily overweight. What kind of things do you think may be standing in their way to making a good change for themselves, what are the things that prevented you from losing weight?

J: Excuses.. Always. I’m too busy, I have a child under 5! No money, ill health, no workout shoes, nothing has worked before, it's too hard. There are a million and one excuses under the sun. But what I now know, it has to be your mind first to change, then your body will follow. So you have to have the right mindset from the start.

A: I’m sure one day you’ll write a book on it, but what would you say to people addicted to food and the ones surrounding them?

J: Your health is being put under pressure. You don't see many obese old people because they don't get to live to old age. You will die early. Don’t be offended when your doctor is talking to you about your weight related illnesses. You could be facing a life of high dependence and medical care. Just think, don’t put your loved ones through that. Call it for what it is. Slow suicide, enabled by your friendly local shop or well meaning loved ones. I know that It’s a ‘feel better thing’. When you are trying to turn to something. Food abuse is so easy.

Be mates with your mind. Initially, I saw my mind and body as separate. They have hated each other all my life. You need to heal both of them together.

If you know that someone is struggling with over eating. Don’t bring junk to their house. Just as the same as you wouldn’t bring alcohol to an alcoholic. Loved ones need to help you with addiction, not enable them by protecting them or their feelings. Don’t be mean to them for the sake of being mean. But constantly tell them “you’ve got this”. You never know how profound your words can be to someone on the verge of turning their life around.

A: Now? Your dreams.

J: Among other things, I am really motivated to become a Personal Trainer, to help people like me. I have the goal of having my first boxing fight in a ring. I would never have got here without the weight loss change.

A: Thank you so much Jo for sharing your story with me and the world. I know we’ll hear more from you!

From me:

I hope that anyone out there struggling with addiction to food can reach out for help. Talk to people like Jo who have saved their own lives. You can follow her on her facebook page "bo jowdens journey to success". If she can do it, you can too!! She'll be the first one to call you out on your BS then cheerfully lead you in the direction of success street. You are the only one that can save you!

See you in class!


Same Sign, new Girl

Jo Lifting her PB!

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