We all make New Year’s resolutions and look forward to ringing in the new year with positivity. This is what I normally do as well, but on Dec. 31, 2008, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, a journey that would prove to be the most rewarding experience of my life and one that would change me forever. My New Year’s resolution was to get fat!
Growing up I was a very active kid. Although I had a hearty appetite for food, my passion for sports fueled my desire to compete in tennis, basketball and football, and I loved exerting energy. I never had a weight problem, so I never thought about what it would feel like to be fat, because it seemed so remote from my reality.
I always had an interest in fashion, and it resulted in an international career in the cutthroat industry of modeling. During this phase of my life, I developed a keen interest in physical fitness. I quickly realized that a ripped body enabled me to shine and excel in my chosen field, so I worked hard to perfect my physique to “stand out” among my competitors. (Learn how to get six-pack abs.) I immersed myself in fitness; and my desire to learn and improve led me to a position where I was also able to impart my knowledge and expertise to others in a positive and inspiring way.
By the age of 25, I was becoming tired of all the travel, and living out of a suitcase was becoming less exciting, so I decided to move back to Melbourne, Australia and make a career out of helping others get fit. I soon realized that this was my calling. I loved—and still love—the feeling I got when a client reaches his or her goal. The feeling I get from a client’s success is what I live for.
However, I wasn’t connecting with people who were overweight, and I often felt like they didn’t really believe that I could help them get fit. Nearly every time I met with a prospective client who was overweight, the conversation ended up with their letting me know that I couldn’t help someone like them. Our lives were polar opposites.
I finally decided that enough was enough. There was only one way I would be able to appreciate what an overweight person felt, and that was to become overweight myself. I needed to experience, first hand, the emotional, psychological and physical implications of being overweight. I wanted to connect on as many levels as possible with overweight people, so that I could give advice based on my own experience. I knew that it wouldn’t be the same as being overweight my entire life, but it would definitely be a step in the right direction. I decided that 2009 would be the year of personal development for Paul “PJ” James. I would challenge myself to break out of my comfort zone and strive to truly empathize with the growing number of overweight and obese people around the world. I would aim to put on 50 percent of my body weight, going from 176 pounds to 264 pounds, maintain it for awhile and then bring it back again.
I put on nearly 90 pounds in four months, then I maintained it for another two months. I spent the next 6 months losing all the weight and returning to my starting weight of 176 pounds. Along the way, I went from six percent body fat to beyond 32 percent body fat. My doctor monitored me, but it was amazing how quickly 15 years of dedication to health and fitness went out the window. I quit all forms of exercise, which didn’t help my mental health at all. I became depressed and was on the road to developing Type 2 diabetes. My blood sugar levels skyrocketed, my cholesterol rose considerably, I developed stretch marks, and I had no desire to do anything physical. Sugar and fat became the answers to all my problems. Needless to say, it was a vicious cycle.
The road back to physical and mental well being was incredibly difficult. On many occasions, I felt defeated and incapable of reclaiming the body I once took for granted. However, I persisted and eventually pulled through. The journey was frightening at times, but I am thankful for the experience, because it truly helped me bridge the gap between my overweight clients and me.
When I work with an overweight client, I am now able to draw on my experience and have a clearer understanding of what they are going through. I am thankful for my experience and I continue to learn from my clients. As a health and fitness expert, I am in a privileged position to affect positive change; and it is my mission to tackle childhood and adolescent obesity head on. Now residing in the United States, I am dedicated to educating people on how to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
My documentary, Fat and Back, is currently airing on television networks around the world. My book, Take it Off, Keep it Off , is a detailed guide on how to get rid of fat permanently and to develop positive habits that will help sustain a healthy lifestyle. I include menu plans (I’m also a trained chef), training routines and information to help transform the body and the mind. I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and have my own personal website.
Photo: Blush Photography