• Joshua* now trains four times a week to keep the excess kilos off. (E+/Getty Images)
It wasn't until Joshua was in his late 20s that the kilos really started to pile on. Having already been through depression and drug addiction, he was determined to ensure that obesity wouldn't be his downfall. Here's how Joshua eventually turned his life and weight around.
By
Rosalind Reines

12 Sep 2017 - 1:18 PM  UPDATED 25 Sep 2017 - 2:53 PM

At his heaviest, *Joshua tipped the scales at 144 kilograms. That weight, he says, was a tangible sign of everything that had gone wrong in his life.

“I had a difficult time when I was growing up and it didn’t help matters that I was surrounded by comfort food with our typical Jewish diet where we ate challah (bread), bagels and dumplings with everything."

Joshua recalls always being large but it wasn’t until he hit his late 20s, about a decade ago, that the kilos started to really pile on.

“I could eat a whole challah by myself and I loved bagels smothered in cream cheese and smoked salmon, latkes (potato pancakes), donuts and chicken soup with matzoh balls,” he tells SBS. “It all contributed to my weight gain.”

“I had a difficult time when I was growing up and it didn’t help matters that I was surrounded by comfort food with our typical Jewish diet where we ate challah (bread), bagels and dumplings with everything."

How Joshua’s obesity started

According to doctors from Melbourne’s Austin Health’s Weight Control Clinic who feature in SBS’ new series The Obesity Myth, obesity should be treated as a genetic disease rather than the result of poor lifestyle choices.

Although the exact cause of Joshua's obesity is unknown, he says genetics could be a contributor. 

“My parents and my sister were not overweight but my grandparents were pretty solid,” he says. “They came from Austria and Hungary and were Holocaust survivors. Even when they settled in Australia, they kept eating the same heavy Eastern European foods of their childhoods.”

Joshua also believes his family's suffering was a mitigating factor in his depression. According to some psychologists, survivor guilt can affect several generations of one family and this may be true in Joshua’s case, as he spent much of his early life believing he was not good enough.

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“My family had been through so much in the Shoah,” he explains, “while I had by comparison a dream life here in Australia but instead of doing well at school, I was failing miserably.”

It didn’t help that he’d been given an expensive education. “I increasingly felt like an outsider there because I couldn’t get on with my school work and I didn’t really get on with my teachers.”

“I had a real problem with authority and I wanted to rebel by taking drugs. I didn’t listen to anyone, which is how I ended up spending six months in jail for repeatedly driving after being suspended.”

Joshua says a pressure to meet family expectations saw his underlying depression escalate. His weight started to be a real issue after he left school and as a form of release, he started experimenting with hard drugs, specifically heroin and cocaine.

“I had a real problem with authority,” he explains, “and I wanted to rebel by taking drugs."

"I didn’t listen to anyone, which is how I ended up spending six months in jail for repeatedly driving after being suspended.”

It was at this lowest point in his life that he was finally able to get off drugs in jail. However, his doctors temporarily replaced them with anti-depressants and other prescription drugs. The side-effects meant that he was always hungry and his weight ballooned to 144 kilos.

Joshua says he briefly lost weight after he met than married “the woman of my dreams” but he soon put it all back again after the wedding.

“I was a yo-yo dieter and I would put a little extra on each time I stopped dieting,” he says. “But it got to such a point that I was diagnosed with a heart murmur and was told I was a candidate for stroke. Still I kept eating all that chullah.”

"I basically re-educated my brain to move away from all the heavy Jewish food that I loved."

The turning point was trying to find a new suit for my work in the livestock industry and being unable to fit into any in the shops,” he tells SBS. Reluctant to visit a store specialising in big men’s clothes "because that would mean that I really was fat”, he consulted a tailor who informed him that the suit was going to cost him a fortune because he needed five metres of fabric just to cover his stomach.

“It was a wake-up call, so I talked to a friend of mine who’s a personal trainer and I started walking. I also cut out all carbs and I lost 10 kilos in two weeks. Then I cut milk out. I basically re-educated my brain to move away from all the heavy Jewish food that I loved,” he says.

Professor Joseph Proietto of The Weight Control Clinic of Austin Health, who features in The Obesity Myth, says fast weight loss like Joshua’s is often beneficial.

“In 2014, we disproved the myth that the quicker you will lose weight the quicker you will regain it,” says Professor Proietto. “We found that rapid weight loss is more successful than other approaches when you send the body into ketosis following a low-carbohydrate diet.” 

Prof Proietto explains that ketosis is a normal metabolic process, which occurs when the body does not have enough glucose for energy and burns stored fats instead.

Cutting out most carbohydrates worked for Joshua, who took around nine months to lose the entire 44 kilos. Now aged in his late 30s, he’s managed to keep the weight off.

“I now train four times a week at the gym, walk the dog for half an hour each night plus my wife and I eat much smaller meals,” he explains. “We eat a lot of protein with vegetables and limit ourselves to our favourite Jewish foods or pastas once a fortnight.”

The couple still  celebrate the Sabbath with a special meal on Friday night but instead of consuming two large ceremonial challahs, they have two small gluten-free rolls (Joshua was diagnosed with celiac disease - he’s gluten intolerant) and if they do have chicken soup, which is traditional, it’s simple clear without any  noodles or matzoh balls.

Joshua now has more energy to put into his regular work and he also helps out at a Jewish charity because he believes in giving back. There’s much to celebrate in his life now including a much healthier lifestyle and those days of drug taking are far behind him.

It’s been a very long, hard journey but now that he’s completed it, he feels that he can take on any more challenges in his life.

*Not his real name.

If you or someone you know needs support contact Lifeline 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust. 

Watch 'The Obesity Myth' on SBS On Demand now.

 

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