Jules, I loved this book. One of the first things I loved was the cover, can you talk us through that?
I read somewhere that 90% of a woman’s decision to purchase something is based on the packaging so I knew I needed to create an eye catching cover that was going to sum up the entire book in one photo! We got 1,000 donuts and my thinking behind the concept was that it would be like the iconic American Beauty rose petal scene, except with sugary donuts. We used 700 donuts for the shoot and our lovely photographer Evan Doherty took the remaining 300 to the Capuchin Day Centre who feed the homeless.
You underwent an amazing weight loss, can you remind us of that journey? Where you started and where you’re at now.
I was a slim child and a slim teen and from my early twenties a started to pile on the pounds until, at the age of 35, I weighed 19 stone and was wearing size 22 clothes.
After 15 years of struggling with my weight and trying every diet going and perpetually failing I realised that I needed a medical intervention as I was now morbidly obese.
I underwent gastric bypass surgery to re-arrange my digestive system and this gave me the tool to control my overeating. I radically changed the way I ate and most importantly what I ate and switched to a super healthy diet and started exercising. Over 10 months I lost 9 stone and reached my target weight of 10 stone and fitting into size 10 clothes. I have maintained my weight for a year now and I feel healthier than ever.
How did you find the writing process? Had you written anything before?
I had written Damo & Ivor with my cousin Andy who plays both leads roles, so when it came to Flabyrinth this was my first time writing something by myself. It was daunting initially as I had nobody to bounce off but as soon as I started to write it just flowed and I think that’s because I was telling my own story so all I had to do was tell the truth and just make it funny!
What was the hardest, part of writing the book?
The hardest part of the book to write was about the ominous voice in my head or as I refer to it my ‘inner bad bitch.’ I decided to give her a name as she felt like a separate entity to me, so I called her Siobhán, which is my name as Gaelige. Siobhan was the one who constantly berated me and told me I wasn’t good enough and that I was an ugly, disgusting, vile vat of cellulite who should be ashamed of her body. I wrote about it at the risk that I was the only one who had a Siobhán with such terrible thoughts but it turns out from the feedback of those who’ve read Flabyrinth that loads of people do too. So in the book, I shared how I conquered that voice and learned to love myself.
You first searched for an emotional reason behind your weight gain, before realising your Polycystic Ovary Syndrome was the cause. Can you explain how it felt to find that out, and explain a bit about the syndrome?
When I was diagnosed with PCOS, which is a hormonal disorder that effects 20% of Irish women and comes with a myriad of symptoms including making us prone to weight gain.
I was ecstatic as I finally had an excuse as to why I was overweight until later when I realised that wasn’t the case. I was fat because I had made myself fat. Nobody put that food in my mouth but me and every choice I had made had brought me to where I was, hormonal influence or not, I had eaten too much and not done any exercise.
As a producer and co-writer of the hilarious Damo and Ivor (we love it here in the office), no doubt workload was huge. Did that affect your health in any way?
While we were working, my diet was horrendous. We were writing intensely, sometimes up to 14 hours a day, so I was just fuelling myself with crap food to keep myself buzzing. I was drinking three cans of Red Bull per day. That’s nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar and probably enough caffeine to reverse an anesthetic. And according to serving sizes, I was a family of four. I lived on baguette rolls filled with sausages, mayonnaise and ketchup, with a side of crisps, plus we had a ritual at 4 pm every day of driving down to the shop to get a Dairy Milk bar to have with a lovely cup of tea. Andy has the metabolism of a cheetah. He could pack away the food and stay slim. He didn’t even work out and he was like Hercules. Whereas I was a human fat factory, expanding by the week.
The surgery obviously helped a huge amount with the weight loss, and when researching the surgery, you worried how much your diet would change. How have your eating habits changed since the surgery, and do you find it is easy to maintain?
My eating habits have changed radically and that transition, which I had struggled with for so long, was possible because I healed my emotional relationship with food.
Once I realised I was rewarding myself with food it was a light-bulb moment. I was constantly treating myself, but why was I doing that when I’m not a dog?
So I set about creating all new habits when it came to food and now I just see food as fuel and nourishment and not a reward system or source of pleasure.
Do you think there is enough coverage in the media about issues such as obesity and eating disorders?
Obesity is a disease and an eating disorder that often needs medical intervention. I don’t think there’s enough in the media to remind people of this so that’s why I’m telling my story to inform people and inspire those who are suffering from obesity to show that change is possible.
How has the weight loss changed your life?
When I was overweight I felt like I was trapped in a prison of fat. Now that I am slim I feel free. I feel like I’m the Jules I was always meant to be. I am so much more confident and happy with my body and physically I feel so much healthier and lighter in every sense.
I can fit into clothes with ease and I can tell you for a fact that there is no pizza or chocolate that tastes better than the feeling of buying size 10 jeans!
During the process, did you have any motivational pictures or moments that you went back to to keep the determination alive?
I didn’t have any dips in motivation as I lost the weight because it all happened so fast. It took me a full year for it to register in my head that I was slim. I got a fright every time I saw a photo of myself because I only had one chin! I couldn’t believe it! When I look back on old photos now I don’t recognise myself.
Has Siobhán left your side, or does she ever come back now and again?
As I explain in Flabyrinth by the end of the book I have managed to dissolve Siobhán so thankfully I don’t have to deal with her anymore. The only voice in my head now is just me, happy Jules.
What advice would you give those who are struggling with weight and/or food?
People ask me this all the time and my suggestion is always to address the emotional issue as to why you’re overweight. We all have our issues and we should all be going to a therapist to deal with them.
The old saying is ‘eat less, move more’ but if only it was that simple! That can work, but it’s like trying to drive a car with the handbrake on. So that’s why I suggest uncovering the emotional reasons behind why you eat the way you do.
It may be to do with an unhappy event in the past like being bullied as a child, a bad breakup, grief, a miscarriage or it may be for positive reasons like rewarding yourself. In my experience finding that emotional reason and healing it and releasing it is the key to losing weight and keeping it off because once the crux of the problem is healed then your body doesn’t need to reflect it back anymore in the form of excess poundage.
Now that you’ve lost the weight, what is the process if you gain a few pounds? Do you have any definite fitness or food tips that will help you get back to where you want to be?
I don’t weigh myself anymore because I know I’m maintaining my weight by what I see in the mirror and how I fit in my clothes. The only time I might feel a few pounds extra is around my time of the month but I just take some dandelion root tablets to counteract the water retention.
I meal prep all my food and I’ve shared my meal planners and recipes on my website www.julescoll.com for people to follow.
Consistency is key for me and constantly making healthy choices every hour of every day means I get to stay in a happy and healthy state of mind and body all day every day.
What do you think of the connection between people’s happiness and their weight; are they connected? And if so, should they be?
When I was overweight I was a happy person in all aspects of my life except for how I felt about my body. Now that I’m slim I am definitely a lot happier so yes I believe happiness is connected to our body image.
Some people can be big and accept their curves and love their bodies and more power to them, unless it’s affecting their health.
I tried to embrace my big body and love it for what it was but I just couldn’t get my head around it because physically I felt awful, I was sweating just tying my shoe laces and my thighs rubbed together and would give me a friction rash, I couldn't get up off the sofa without making grunting noises. I was miserable about my expanding body so that’s why I’m so much happier in myself now that I’m slim.
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Flabyrinth (Gill Books) is out now in bookshops and available to buy online here.