In 2013, SUGA Josephine Nickel, 34 came face to face with death. All she remembers from the ordeal was that she was struggling to say goodbye to her children and her childrens’ father – and being surrounded by a whole lot of tubes and wires attached to heart monitors.
An obese Josephine, then 166kgs was being resuscitated in the ER due to severe stomach ulcer complications. She had also suffered from an overactive thyroid condition which increased her appetite causing severe fatigue, body weakness and eventually preventing her body from converting stored fat into energy.
“I really believed I was going to die that day,” says Josephine looking back.”But God gave me a second chance. Through some profound miracle and the intelligence of medical professionals who looked after me that day, I got to go home a week later.”
From that day, she knew that she had to do something.
Today, a healthy Josephine has lost a whopping 70 kilos and is very optimistic about life.
“I want to say to women who struggle with body image that when I was at my heaviest, I truly loved my body and thought I was the most beautiful woman walking the earth. I think this was because I was getting a lot of love and acceptance from my family.
“But at the same time. I knew I wasn’t healthy. I needed to be healthy so I could enjoy life and participate in activities with my children. I needed to be healthy so I could add more years to my life; so I could work on my dreams and goals.”
It was a long way to the top for Josephine but giving up wasn’t an option for her
She started by visiting her GP to get a full check up. Her GP referred her onto Green Prescription in South Auckland – a community programme that helps people with weight problems to achieve their goals through targeted nutrition plans and exercise and where gym memberships were subsidised.
From there she started attending aquarobics sessions and walking in the pools. The water, she says helped to carry her weight but still allow for good hard cardio workout.
“I started seeing so many other people like me. Not just Pacific Islanders. People of all ethnicities, all struggling with weight problems. But they were doing something about it.”
She changed her eating habits cutting out fizzy drinks, junk food and takeaways and replacing them with more healthy home cooked meals.
These days Josephine tries to work out at least three days a week doing a combination of workouts from marshall arts cardio, spin, boxing and fit life challenge Mangere’s cross training sessions.
“If I don’t hit three days in the week then I’ll do a three hour session of cardio and body weight training on Sundays. I try not to let that happen too often. I’m busy enough as it is. Sunday is my time with my family and time to reflect on the week gone and plan for the week ahead.”
But it’s simple exercises like walking that is her favourite activity and she makes an effort to walk for 30 minutes around the block daily.
Back in 2014 after having lost her first 25 kilos, Josephine was eligible for the government funded Gastric sleeve surgery which reduced her stomach to ‘pencil size’. The procedure also known as corrective surgery is primarily done to ‘correct’ eating habits making it harder for her to consume foods such as taro, carbs and other fatty foods.
Even though she is eating normally today, Josephine wants to dispel the misconceptions that Gastric surgery is a “quick fix” when in fact the surgery is used to assist in the weight loss process.
“A lot of ignorant people have tried to discredit my weight loss and fitness because of the surgery. I think this is purely due to not knowing what the procedure technically does. Some think that the surgeons cut off fat from my body.
“I have never withheld my surgery information when I tell my story. It is a huge part of my journey. But it is not the sole catalyst of my weight loss success. The procedure only reduces your eating. It does not affect your fitness levels. That’s on you.”
Her dramatic weight loss has also helped her in her full time job as a Probation officer. But more importantly, it has allowed her to pursue other passions and goals. She is currently studying for a Double Major in Psychology, Media & Communications and has since founded her own Public Relations company Nickel PR which she works on part-time and another venture called FitSaChikz where she is able to advise other SUGA’s on personal training and life coaching.
“Mindsets is a huge thing for me. Positive mind and attitude has been the driving force in my journey. I have truly experienced first hand that the only barrier in our physical abilities is the one we create in our minds. I can train next to skinny people and be at a higher level of fitness than they are – it’s not a competition. The only competition you have is yourself.”
She is overjoyed to visit the motherland Samoa more frequently now and always makes it a priority to catch an early flight over so that she has time to work out when she arrives. The former St Mary’s College student’s first stop is JP Fitness Vaimea and maybe a hike up Mt Vaea once or twice during her visits.
“I’m not yet at my desired weight. But I’m happy. I don’t have a destination. This is my life now. So I just have to trust the process, try and follow my eating plans and nutrition as best I can, and keep chipping away at my weight.”
On Fat Shaming, Depression and Body Image – Samoan Style
Josephine knows all too well about the experiences of Samoan ‘Fat Shaming’ which many Samoan women would agree, is on another level altogether!
“It was normal for relatives to say things to me like ‘so have you planned your funeral yet?’ Or ask if my children’s father had started looking for another partner. And they were dead serious.
“I find that there is a culture of Pacific women degrading other Pacific women over body image. We are mostly our own enemies. I feel a lot of it comes from insecurities and people feeling that they have to put someone else down just to make themselves feel better. This supports my passionate belief in strengthening the mind as well as the body. The two must co-exist.
“Every time I was able to get out of bed and hit the pavement – I conquered depression.The stronger I became the more happy and content I felt within myself and with my body.”
Josephine says that although being a SUGA means that there is more pressure to meet obligations and responsibilities, SUGA’s still manage to achieve this.
“The role of Pacific women in the Aiga is fundamental to the development and wellbeing of any Aiga. The Samoan saying, ‘O Tina MA tama’ita’i o le pae ma le auli’ sums it up beautifully. ‘Women and mothers iron and arrange things into place’. Whatever goes amiss, women are expected to ‘arrange things into place’. Child bearing, rearing, guiding, education secular and in faith and religion – it is the responsibility of us women. Our homes and their expected harmonious order relies on us.
“But I say to all those women: sisters, prioritise YOU first. Take care of number one; so that we can look after our children, families, church commitments and work a little longer.”
Photo: Anthony Wulf – Benwul Q-Images, Hair and Make Up: Hairspot – Great South Road, Papatoetoe Sumand Chand, Black Dress : Greer Arona – Le Tasi Designs
*For more of Josephine’s fitness schedules and routines, join her FitSaChicks page on Facebook