Julie Hadden: FAT CHANCE

By Bryan Campbell

A stay-at-home mom got the opportunity of a lifetime. But now that she has her life back, she’s struggling to maintain balance between family, fame and her new healthy lifestyle.

The Biggest Loser

For Julie Hadden, going on national television and losing 97 pounds was the easy part.

Living a “normal” life, raising two kids, working as a stay-at-home mom, and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle – now, that’s hard.

Julie was a contestant on the hit NBC show The Biggest Loser. Her motto for the season was “To finish what I started, for once.” And Julie was determined to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After she struggled to lose weight in the beginning, she used her sense of humor to deflect her frustration. But she would not give up.

Like many overweight people, Julie developed her self-deprecating humor at a young age as a defense mechanism. Julie was a self-described “fat girl” growing up. As she grew older, she began to realize the problems with her weight went beyond name-calling on the school yard.

“You just don’t think about things like riding on a rollercoaster or an airplane,” Julie explains. “People don’t even realize that sitting in a booth at a restaurant can be terrifying. I had to wait for a table because the booth was uncomfortable. Things like that should not be a part of your thought process but they are.”

But, unfortunately, as millions of Americans know, it’s not just physical discomfort that affects overweight people. There is a mental weight to match the physical one. For Julie, she never felt comfortable in her body. She felt she was never able to enjoy certain activities with her friends, like shopping.

’s husband, Mike, knows all too well how the inability to do this simple thing impacted Julie’s mental and physical condition.

“She would not only be upset about the size she had to wear, but about the way she looked in her clothes,” Mike says. “And I’m not kidding you, it would send her into an eating binge and depression for a long time after that.”

“You know why fat women always have a lot of nice shoes,” Julie says. “It’s the only thing they can just walk into a store and buy.”

Before The Biggest Loser, Julie had tried every fad diet around with no success. Sure, she would occasionally reach her short-term goals, but she would always bounce back and gain even more weight. Once, she lost 20 pounds just to fit into a bridesmaid’s dress at a wedding. She was so proud of starving herself for weeks, she proceeded to “eat everything in sight” at the reception.

Julie’s physical health was at risk by the weight she was carrying. Before the show, Julie had 60% body fat, as well as two major health conditions; polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and prediabetes.

All of these reasons were what led Julie to commit to finishing what she started on The Biggest Loser. It took many weeks of careful nutrition and extreme physical activity before the weight actually started coming off. But once it did, Julie began to shed the pounds in a big way.

By the time of the show finale, Julie proudly broke through that old image of herself, and weighed in at 121 pounds. Although she came in second place, the changes in her life are so dramatic that Julie considers herself a winner to this day.

Coming Home

Working out for 6 hours a day and eating only healthy choices is easy when you are living on the set of a television show. But that’s not reality. That’s not the world that you live in and it’s not the world I live in. The odds are, you will never be cast on a television reality show to lose weight, so how can Julie’s story inspire you?

The truth is, for Julie and many of the contestants on The Biggest Loser, the hardest part about losing the weight is coming home. When Julie returned to her Jacksonville, Florida home, she immediately realized that things were going to be different. Old lifestyle choices and familiar behaviors are easy to slip into. Julie quickly realized that she needed to bring her entire family into a new lifestyle. So she started with her son, Noah.

“He was starting to learn how to read when I came back and I didn’t want to just take everything out of the pantry and throw it away,” Julie says. “So we played a game. We went through the pantry and I made him look at every label. I made him read it and if high fructose corn syrup was in the first three ingredients, we threw it away.”

It didn’t take long for young Noah to buy into Mom’s new lifestyle. Noah is obsessed with The Biggest Loser now, and even has a life-sized picture of Julie’s trainer from the show, Jillian Michaels, on the wall of his bedroom. And the great news is, Noah is doing some influencing of his own.

“Broccoli, I got him addicted to broccoli,” Noah exclaimed, referring to one of his close friends.

“His friend never had broccoli,” Julie says. “And another friend never had grapes. GRAPES! I mean really—grapes!”

Julie is proud that she can pass along what she has learned about nutrition to her sons. She tells a story of a time Noah passed all the sugary drinks at a birthday party and asked the hostess if there was any bottled water. The look of joy on Julie’s face as she tells the story demonstrates just how proud she is, and what a difference a little nutritional education has made in their lives.

Eat Less, Move More

But it’s not just about eating right. In the 2 years since she has been on the show, Julie has maintained her weight loss. That is a daily struggle for her. Almost every day, someone comes up to her at the store, at church, or on the street and asks, “How did you do it? What’s the secret?”

“I have tried to find a secret. And my answer is, there is no secret,” Julie says. “It’s eating less and moving more, plain and simple. Trust me, I’ve tried every way to cheat that I could, and you just can’t.”

Moving more doesn’t just mean exercising at the gym. Yes, Julie does spend time at the gym, and takes part in a boot camp course three times a week (see online exclusive).

“It becomes a part of your life,” Julie explains. “To get that outlet and to have my alone time and to have those endorphins and that endorphin rush, it really does change your mental state.”

But now, Julie also incorporates movement into everything she does, including family time.

“What we used to do as a family was sit around and watch TV all the time,” Mike says. “We didn’t go outside. Julie has talked about how she was embarrassed to go out in public. Her whole life was spent trying to avoid people who had known her when she was thinner, so we would never have gone to the beach or gone to the pool or anything as a family. We wouldn’t have gone to the park or anything that required physical exertion, so we’d sit at home and probably eat junk food on the couch while we were watching TV.”

State of Health

Losing nearly 100 pounds and half of her body weight has drastically improved Julie’s physical and mental health. She takes fewer medications for her medical conditions, feels better than she ever has, and has more energy throughout the day. And she’s not alone. Julie can go through a list of her friends and teammates on the show; each one with a serious medical condition before losing the weight. Now, most of them have seen dramatic improvements in their health. Many no longer require medications for cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. All of them feel better in their day-to-day lives.

“I have seen diet and exercise change major health problems in many people,” Julie says.

But Julie’s physical health has improved much faster than her self-image.

“I still have issues,” Julie admits. “I’m not a swimsuit model.”

While her body has changed, Julie confesses that she still struggles some with her self-image. “I’ve had these illusions of grandeur that once I was in the size I wanted that I would be hot stuff and I would never worry about issues like that again,” Julie says. “But I do. Your body image has to come from something other than a scale or a reflection in a mirror. Until it changes in your head, until you feel proud of yourself and sexy and confident, a lot of times you won’t see the result you are looking for. Because you aren’t going to be perfect, ever.”

Julie is in a rare position to empathize with people who have a long way to go to meet their goals, and people who are seemingly much closer. “[Before the show] when I saw someone who would say ‘I understand, I really need to lose 15 pounds’ I would roll my eyes and say ‘give me a break,’ but now that I have been struggling for the past 2 years to maintain this weight, I’ve realized that somebody’s 15 pounds can be just as important to them as someone’s 100 pounds.”

But according to Julie, the hardest part is truly motivating yourself to start the lifestyle change. She says that comes from being honest with yourself, and realizing what it is in your life that’s holding you back.

For me it had a lot to do with worthiness and making myself a priority,” Julie explains. “I really like people to sit down and be honest and say, ‘Look, you’re fat. You didn’t get this way by accident. Why are you fat? It’s not just about eating; it’s not just about not exercising. There are other issues.’”

Finishing What She Started

Julie laughs when you talk about her motto from the show.

“To finish what I started, for once.”

Since she returned home, she’s taken on a new motto.

“To continue what I started, forever.”

“It means I will never be done,” Julie asserts. “It can’t be about a diet, it has to be about a lifestyle. You can’t live on a diet forever. I will have to continue to work out and I will have to watch what I eat for the rest of my life. But at the same time, the benefits that come from that, I get to live a healthy lifestyle and actually participate in my children’s life and not just watch them from the sidelines. I may actually get to see my children get married. I may actually get to see my grandchildren grow old… that to me is worth whatever price I have to pay!”

Spending time with Julie Hadden is an inspiration for anyone who needs to lose weight, has problems with a positive self-image, or simply believes in the power of the human spirit. Julie has collected her thoughts, advice, and stories into a new book called Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining my Worth. You can find the book on amazon.com.

Final Thoughts

As the long interview with Julie came to a close, I asked one final question. If Julie could speak to you, right here, right now, what would she say to you? Here is her complete response:

“Before you ever get started, before you ever lose a pound, before anything else changes, you have to believe that you are worth the effort. You have to believe that it is possible to change and that you can definitely do it. I am living proof that you can. But until you make that change, until you believe in your mind that you are truly capable and worthy of living the life that you desire to live, nothing else will truly be right. And I think once you have that mindset, once that changes, everything else will fall into place because the truth is, The Biggest Loser diet is not the end-all be-all. There are lots of nutrition plans that will work if you do not quit. And I think until you understand that you are worth fighting for, and you deserve to be a priority in your own life, and you deserve to go the distance, then that’s the only thing that’s going to make you not quit. Because it’s not fun and it’s not easy and it’s a difficult process…but it’s so worth it in the end.”

As I thanked Julie, Mike and Noah, and prepared to free them for their afternoon in the pool, Julie decided it was time to ask me a question.

“Is there something you would like to say to the readers out there?”

As a matter of fact, there is… (continue)