Abercrombie & Fitch thinks you have to be skinny to be cool? Think again.

The headline “Abercrombie & Fitch targets skinny shoppers, won’t sell larger sizes for plus-sized women” caught my eye this week. In fact, the subject has been all over the Internet, so I decided to finally weigh in on the topic (pun intended).

I have been a size 2 and I have been a size 22, and to be honest A& F has never been on my list of frequently visited stores. They are just not my style, regardless of my size. But I have a 12 year-old son (going on 21 in his own mind) who does like their clothing.

Basically, if you are bigger than a size large, don’t bother shopping at A& F. They don’t want you to and you won’t find anything there to fit. They have XS on the racks, but not XL (for women). And that’s ok. In America we are free to conduct business in whatever way we chose. And likewise, we are free – as consumers – to shop anywhere we choose.

Although I haven’t heard a direct quote from CEO Michael Jeffries this week, I did read an article in which he was quoted back from 2006. Here’s what he had to say:

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny.”

I don’t take issue with A&F’s right to engage any marketing strategy they choose; nor do I critique Jeffries’ right to take any stance he wants. What I do find unfortunate, is that in this image-conscious, media-driven society we live in, that all the buzz about A&F not selling clothes to “normal sized” healthy people (over a size 10), means they are alienating a group of very impressionable kids who are developing body image issues every day. And these issues go far beyond just being frustrated because they can’t fit into a cool pair of trendy jeans. These issues penetrate into the deepest core of their beings and affect the way they see themselves and value themselves. And as superficial as something like this may sound, it affects (in some people) the course they choose for their future.

The most important thing I learned from my “Biggest Loser” experience is that I am WORTH the effort to live the life I’ve always dreamed of. We all are! And that worth is NOT linked to a number on a scale, or the brand name on my shirt or jeans. And although controversy with the A&F brand is nothing new [I mean seriously, some of their ads feature so many naked bodies, you’d wonder if they are selling clothes or something else] I do hope that we as parents and adults-of-influence in the lives of kids will use all our influence to positively affect their lives and their developing self images.

And as a mom of three kids…cool or not (the verdict is still out), I’ll probably spend my money at Target.


My Thoughts on Bob Harper’s New Book: “Jumpstart to Skinny”

Several of you have asked if I have an opinion about Bob Harper’s new book, “Jumpstart to Skinny.” Yes, in fact I do. Here are my thoughts:

• I know Bob Harper personally. I believe these two things to be true about him: 1) He knows what he’s talking about. 2) He genuinely cares about people.
• I don’t believe the whole 800-calories-a-day concept is something you can live with permanently. But I don’t believe that’s what he’s suggesting. This is a jump start. And sometimes we all need a swift kick in the pants to help get us back on track.
• Consuming only 800 calories a day for three weeks won’t kill you. After all, these calories are coming from REAL FOOD. And don’t forget, you can eat all the fresh vegetables you want. (All of them! You don’t have to be hungry.)
• When I was on The Biggest Loser, I ate 1,200 calories a day normally. But as time got closer to the Finale, I went to 800 calories. It did jump start my metabolism and that’s when I started to see really significant results. (I was also running 14 miles a day too however. That part of the equation was impossible to keep up after leaving the show. Bob doesn’t mention exercise to this magnitude in his plan.  Obviously, if you are consuming 800 calories a day your exercise must be modified somewhat.)
• I think as long as you follow the formula: 20% of your calories coming from fat, 40% from carbohydrates and 40% from protein – you will be safe and not doing anything detrimental to your body.
• As far as gaining the weight back quickly, I was able to maintain a healthy body weight for five years (until getting pregnant) after using this technique initially (not permanently) to get to where I wanted to be. So as long as you keep proper perspective I don’t think re-gaining everything is unavoidable.
• Now when it comes to the word “Skinny”…let me go on the record as saying I would NOT be offended if anyone wanted to use that term to refer to me. 🙂 But I do agree “healthy” is a better choice.

So those are my thoughts. I welcome yours’.
~ J


A Great “Real Food” Option: Pita Pizzas

The topic of what is a “never eat” food and what is permissible recently came up on my Facebook page, which led to some good discussion. I shared that Jillian Michaels always instructed me to not waste my calories…to always spend them on “real food.” No Cheetos or processed food snacks; but if you’d like a piece of chocolate cake, then that’s ok. Just keep things in moderation.

I have gone on the record many times to say that pizza is my weakness. It was my one indulgence on The Biggest Loser and it continues to be a favorite of my family. PizzaHowever, there are healthier ways to get the same “fix”. My friend Chef Jessica Bright (visit her online at http://www.chefjessicabright.com) came up with a great recipe that I use all the time and we even put it in my book, Fat Chance. I thought I’d share it again today.

Pita Pizzas (serves 2)

Ingredients:
1 whole-wheat pita
Nonstick baking spray
3 Tbsp tomato sauce
½ tsp sriracha Asian chili sauce (optional)
¼ tsp honey
½ cup low-fat grated Italian cheese blend
Turkey pepperoni, if desired
2 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil
Crushed chili pepper (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400º. Separate the top from the bottom of the pita to
create two equal circles. Place both circles on a baking sheet sprayed with
nonstick baking spray (smooth side down). Combine the tomato sauce,
sriracha and sugar for a spicy sweet sauce. Spread the tomato mixture
on the pitas and top with the Italian cheese blend and pepperoni. Place
in oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is
toasted. Top with fresh basil and chili pepper if desired.

Per-Serving Nutritional Information
(with sriracha, ½ cup turkey
pepperoni and chili pepper)
132 calories
3.9g total fat (1.8g saturated fat)
25mg cholesterol
633.5mg sodium
15g total carbohydrates (1.7g fi ber; 2.3g sugar)
8.7g protein

If you try them and love them, let me know!


Don’t get “dogged” by your past…

I’ve shared this story before, but it’s one I need to remind myself of sometimes so I want to share it again here. It’s the story of two dogs: Marty and Sam. Marty, is a Miniature Schnauzer and Sam, is a yellow Labrador Retriever. They both belong to my pastor and he shared this in a sermon a while back and it really made an impression on me.

When Sam was a puppy, Marty would exercise his dominance as the “alpha male” and eat his dog food and then go over and eat Sam’s too.

Now, many, many months have passed, and Sam outweighs Marty by almost four times his body weight. But guess what happens when Marty finishes his own food? He goes over to Sam’s bowl and Sam cowers down in fear as Marty proceeds to gobble up both bowls.

Sam reverts back to the mentality of a six-week-old puppy. Even though his size and strength far exceeds Marty’s now; he has a defeated mindset that he can’t overcome.

This illustrates to me the danger of living too much in the past. It can keep us focused on the wrong things. If we remember our past failures it can freeze us in the present and hurt our prospects for the future. It causes us to say things like: “I’ll never…” or “I can’t…” or “I messed up too many times to…”

But there’s got to be a delicate balance in our thinking. The fact is the past isn’t all bad. I believe we should use the past; both the positive and negative – to build us up and prepare us for the future.

I hear from people a lot who share stories about feeling defeated in their attempts to lose weight or make changes in their lives. They are scared of change, and they are defeated by their past. I try to encourage them to just take that first step to move beyond the past and into the future.

Whenever you begin to make changes in life, it may be scary but more than that it’s going to be exciting. Sometimes when you begin to make those changes things feel beyond your control. But when that happens, just remember that God is in control – His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Rest in that reality and make a change today that will impact all your tomorrows!


Q&A with Julie: How Do You Combat the Negative Self Talk?

I know I say this a lot, but I really mean it – one of the very best parts of being on “The Biggest Loser” and the “journey” that has followed is getting to meet people from all over that I would have otherwise never known.  These people share their stories, their struggles, their victories.  I love it!

So I decided recently to start answering some frequently asked questions via my Blog.

The other day I got a message from a precious lady in Chatham, Ontario.  She shared her heart and at the conclusion of her email, she said:

“Could you reassure me that it is possible to lose weight and keep it off.  Also, how do you (did you) battle the negative self-talk?”

I have gotten variations of those questions many times.  So I thought it would be a great topic for today.

First of all, yes it is possible to lose weight and keep it off.  I maintained a healthy body weight for five years after being on “The Biggest Loser.”  Notice I said “healthy body weight.”  Not necessarily “my finale weight.”  I was running fourteen miles a day (yes, I said a day) prior to the Finale.  I couldn’t keep up that schedule.  But I found a healthy weight and a size I was comfortable with.  And through good nutrition and exercise it is possible to keep your weight under control.  Is it easy?  HECK NO!  It is a struggle every single day.  There are constant highs and lows in the battle…days of both victory and of defeat.

If you are like me, I am a food addict.  It is possible for an alcoholic to eliminate their addiction completely from their lives (not easy, but possible).  But who can stay completely away from food?  You have to have it to live.

So I in no way want to imply that there is anything easy about maintaining weight loss.  I think you must be determined and be realistic.  But as we’ve all heard many times before, anything worth having is worth working hard for.

During my pregnancy I gained weight and I am in the process of getting it back off.  I look at these women on magazine covers that pop a baby out and the next week are back in their skinny jeans.  Well, that has not been my experience (and I don’t own a pair of skinny jeans anyway).   I have discouraging days when the progress is slower than I’d like it to be…which leads me to the second question:  How do you battle the negative self-talk?

Negative self-talk got me up to 218 pounds and landed me on a reality TV show for the morbidly obese.  So I know quite a bit about it.  I was guilty of it my whole life.  And even now, I sometimes catch myself having a defeated or discouraged attitude.

What helped me initially, and still does to this day, is to acknowledge the source of my strength.  For me, it’s my faith that plays that integral role in my life.  I read in the scriptures all the magnificent things God has to say about me.  “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”  I am “the apple of His eye…”  He calls me His “Beloved…”  And “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  This part of my life truly does help me combat the negative self-talk.  I mean, if the creator of the universe holds me in such high esteem…then I must be something special.  It’s all about feeling WORTHY…worthy of the effort it takes to live the life of your dreams.

I realize that some of you reading this don’t share the same faith.  But you can still drill down to whatever the source of your strength is.  Maybe it’s yourself.  Or your family.  Or your kids.  Whatever it is that motivates you to keep on trying and never give up…lock your mind around that thing.  BELIEVE you really are worth all the effort to make a change in your life.

I read this recently and I have said it to myself many times since then:   “Losing weight is hard.  Maintaining weight loss is hard.  Being fat is hard.  Choose your hard.”


Q & A with Julie: What do you do with all the loose skin?

“What do you do with all the loose skin after you lose a significant amount of weight?”

That may be THE question that I get the most. And my husband hates what he calls my “self-depricating” answer…but it’s true: for me, I didn’t do anything with it. It’s still there. And truthfully, my behind looks a little bit like a Shar Pei puppy. But that’s ok…because I never aspired to be a swimsuit model. SharPei

For me, my “Biggest Loser” experience was about getting healthy. (Which I did.) It was never about achieving physical perfection. (Which I didn’t.)

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not in any way opposed to skin removal surgery. Some people opt for that and it’s a great choice for them. Some people have so much hanging skin after a huge weight loss that it is a physical impairment to their quality of life. I have had friends who opted for skin removal surgery or a tummy tuck or an arm or leg lift because they worked so hard to lose the weight and even after the weight was gone, when they looked in the mirror all they saw was “the skin.”

For them, surgery was the perfect choice.

Skin does have a certain amount of elasticity too. And so for me, some of my skin firmed up due to exercise. The doctors on the Show advised us to wait about a year to let our bodies settle into a normal body weight and let our skin get adjusted before electing to do surgery of any kind. I didn’t undergo any surgery because, even though I see the imperfections in my body, I view my loose skin as a “battle scar.” It’s a reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.


Q & A with Julie: Do I keep up with Season 4 Biggest Loser Castmates?

Run

“The Biggest Loser” was a life-changing – once-in-a-lifetime experience to say the least. I am beyond blessed to have been a part of it.

I am very often asked if I continue to keep in touch with those I was on the show with in Season 4. And the answer is “Yes!” Many of them I am still in contact with.

There’s no way you can go through the kind of experience we all endured together and not forge a forever bond. The experience of “Reality TV” in and of itself is very unique. And the dynamics of “The Biggest Loser” are very unique. On my season, we lived in a dormitory type setting. The quarters were very close. And we lived life together. We cooked meals together. Ate together. Did dishes together. Did laundry together. Worked out together for hours on end. We faced challenges together and my “Black Team” members and I actually survived Jillian Michaels together. Any socializing we did was … together. It was as much like a family as any you could imagine.

I have such positive feelings for everyone on Season 4. And not just the cast, but the producers and all the crew. Facebook is a wonderful way to keep up with everyone. I keep in touch with Bill, Jim and Isabeau a good bit. But Nicole and I text back and forth all the time. And Hollie is one of my closest friends. Me and Hollie...love her.And every once in a while I’ll get an irreverant post on Facebook from Jez and I know that he still loves me.

And yes – for those of you who want to know – I do still keep in touch with Jillian. I think I will forever. She’s an amazing trainer and friend. Me and Jillian

The Biggest Loser “fraternity” also transcends well beyond the season we were on. For years after my season, I went back to every Finale. And made great connections with so many of the contestants that were on years after me. I also got the chance to meet those that were on the previous seasons. The ones I was “in awe” of…those like Suzy Preston Hoover and Poppi Kramer. Scheduling hasn’t permitted me to go back for the past couple of seasons, but each year Chef Devin Alexander hosts a wonderful dinner party for all the former losers. It’s a great time to get together and reminisce and socialize.

Some of you may remember that Kelly Fields (Season 5) lived with me for a while as she was preparing for her Finale. She is like a member of my own family. And Michelle Aguilar, winner of Season 6, is a dear friend of mine. I could go on an on about the fabulous friends I’ve made through the Biggest Loser experience. And I watch each season with equal parts enthusiasm and sympathy as I watch a “new class” of losers endure the beatings that will change their lives.

With Suzy Preston Hoover Nicole Mahalik, Bill Germanakos and Me Me and Michelle Aguilar The precious Kelly Fields


Words of Encouragement from an Unexpected Source

Today I was searching for a specific email from someone and I was scrolling through tons of old correspondence. Suddenly, one jumped out at me and hit me like a brick in the face. It was the last email from my mother-in-law, Betty. She passed away in October 2012, after a very brief battle with acute Leukemia. And yet seeing her email was like she had just walked through the door or called on the phone. It made her presence seem real once again.

Those who knew Betty, can attest that she always cared about others more than herself. And, when it came to her children or family, there was no question of her unending love and concern. It was very common to get a note in the mail, or a news clipping of an interesting or helpful story from her. Although she was seldom one to send email “forwards” – the message I found today included a quick message from her and a forward of some wonderful advice.

It was such a simple and yet profound list – and it came from such a precious source – that I wanted to share it here:

1) Pray.
2) Go to bed on time.
3) Get up on time so you can start the day unrushed.
4) Say “No” to projects that won’t fit into your time schedule, or that will compromise your mental health.
5) Simplify and unclutter your life.
6) Separate worries from concerns.
7) K.M.S. (Keep Mouth Shut).
7) Get enough rest.
8) Eat right.
9) Exercise several times a week for optimal health of your body and mind.
10) Write down thoughts and inspirations.
11) Remember that the shortest bridge between despair and hope is often a simple ‘Thank you GOD…’
12) Laugh.
13) Develop a forgiving attitude.
14) Be kind to unkind people (they probably need it the most).
15) Talk less; listen more.

These “words to live by” have inspired me today, like they did when I originally read them. And they caused me to think of the wonderful woman who first shared them with me. I hope you will receive some encouragement from them today as well.


When the Answer is…Wait

There’s really nothing easy in life. Whether it be losing 100 pounds or changing careers or choosing a new school for a child.

My family has been undergoing a lot of transitions recently. We’re faced with many important decisions. And we’ve really been seeking God for answers. And still, we wait. Do you ever find yourself in that position?

I’ve heard a lot of sayings over the years that should serve as some comfort. Things like, “waiting times are not wasted times” and “delayed blessings are not necessarily denied blessings.”

I guess it’s then when you really have to dig in deep to find your faith. Live your faith. And you have to trust that the God who created you is big enough, strong enough and capable enough to guide you in the right direction. Actually, it’s never God I doubt; it’s myself. It’s wonderful when He makes things so obviously clear that there’s no denying it’s His will.

When I was cast on The Biggest Loser up against hundreds of thousands of other applicants, it was obviously God’s will for my life. When I was able to work hard and lose the weight that had held me back for so much of my life—God’s will. When we were able to jump through so many hoops and cut effortlessly through red tape to execute the adoption of our precious little boy quickly and smoothly, it was obviously God’s hand at work.

So what about when things don’t fall so precisely into place? What then?

What if you have a weight-loss goal and the scale isn’t budging? You know it’s in God’s will to lose weight and get healthy and be a good steward of the body He gave you.

What if you have a goal to break a bad habit or make a positive personal change? But you can’t seem to conquer it and instead you are filled with anxiety and defeat.

It’s then that what we are truly made of comes through. I find scripture to be very enlightening and helpful during these times. God’s Word is more than just a little pat on the back and the utterance of a cliché from a well-meaning friend. If we can wrap our minds around the power and truth of scripture I think we can all draw great strength during these waiting, anxious times.

Here are two in particular that are blessing me at this crazy time in life. I share them with you in the hope that whatever struggle you may be facing will be made better by resting on these same promises from God.

  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

As you read this, my wish is that you’ll be encouraged if you, too, happen to be going through some “waiting times.” Be sure that God has a wonderful plan for your life! Stay strong in your faith and it will come to pass.


Casting Advice: “The Biggest Loser”

One of the questions I get the most from Biggest Loser fans and those who aspire to be on the show, is “Do you have any advice on HOW to get cast?”

I can only tell you what I did and what worked for me; but I decided to put that information into a blog in the hopes of answering the question.

First of all, let me state that “The Biggest Loser” was life-changing for me! And I believe it was part of God’s plan for my life. BUT…(and this is really important to know and believe) it is NOT the only way to lose weight, get healthy and take your life back. Far from it. In fact, (and I mean no offense my BL family when I say this) it’s the people on the street who I meet who have done it on their own that are my biggest inspirations.

Having said that, I believe the first step in the BL casting process must be a soul-searching exercise.

It’s tough to comprehend how difficult the process is. You must be prepared to be away from your family, friends, home, job, all the comforts and securities in your life for as much as four months. It’s not just a physically excruciating journey – it’s a mental, emotional and spiritual one too. And it’s harder than anything I’ve ever done in my life.

If after you do some serious introspection, you believe in your heart that it’s the right thing to pursue, then I think by all means you should do it with gusto!

Although I’ve always said there’s no “key formula” to getting cast on The Biggest Loser, I do believe that there are some things that casting executives are probably looking for. I mean, aside from all the serious health benefits to the show; it is at its core a television show

Like I said, I’m no expert; but this is what I would recommend based on my own experience:

  • Everyone has a story. Know yours’ and be prepared to share it, and share it well.
    For me, I was just a stay-at-home mom who dug a hole of obesity five pounds at a time. I didn’t believe there was anything significant about me. But it turns out that was not just my story; but the same story millions of women share. In an effort to put everyone and everything else ahead of myself; I neglected myself. I saw The Biggest Loser as an opportunity to reclaim MORE than just the life I had lost. I wanted to have the life I had never really known, but always dreamed of. I knew my story, as unglamourous as it may have been.
  •  Be ready to passionately share WHY you need the Biggest Loser experience.
    I shared everyting “fat” had stolen from my life: the missed opportunities, the low self esteem, the negative effect it had on every relationship in my life.  I was at a point of desperation and I made no apologies for how I thought The Biggest Loser opportunity was critical for my future. It’s also important to note that if selected, you will be an advocate for the BL brand. You must be on board with their mission and be ready to be an enthusiastic advocate for it. 
  • Be ready to passionately share WHY THEY NEED YOU!
    Let’s face it, there are millions of people who want to be a part of this process. So be prepared to convince them that selecting you would be a win-win deal.
  • Be friendly, funny and sincere.
    Let your personality shine through.  You can probably remember contestants over the years that won America’s collective heart for one reason or another.  Be engaging and check your attitude at the door.
  • Have an audition video.
    Although the casting process doesn’t  require a video submission, I think a visual supplement to your application can only help. There are people who watch all of those videos. And so you will need a HOOK within the first ten seconds of your video; something to make them want to keep watching.
  • Have some good photos of yourself that will catch a casting exec’s eye.
    You will need the good, the bad and the ugly. Have some great photos of you at your thinnest and at your heaviest. I think it’s a great thing to show them a photo of yourself at a weight similar to how you’ll look at the Finale. I think that’s a terrific indication of how great (healthy) you can look at the end of this process.

Don’t get discouraged whatever the results are. The casting process for me took about a year. That’s a long time to be in limbo. But you can’t get off track from your goal of getting healthy and losing the weight that’s holding you back (and I mean both the literal and the metaphorical weight). I know of several Biggest Loser contestants that auditioned for a particular season, but ended up being called back for a subsequent season. So a “no” right now, doesn’t mean the door is closed forever.

If you believe The Biggest Loser may be a part of your journey, then I whole-heartedly encourage you to pursue it with all you’ve got. It can be a part of your story that will change you forever. But regardless of whether your casting experience results in a spot on the show or not, always believe that you are WORTH the effort to do anything you want to do – and you are WORTH living the life of your dreams whether The Biggest Loser is a part of it or not.