Exclusive - Jules Coll on her remarkable journey to become a size 10
The co-writer of the RTE’s comedy hit show Damo and Ivor has enjoyed a wonderfully successful career that should have helped to bring her enduring happiness, and yet her smiles on screen masked a desperate personal agony.
Now the straight-talking Jules Coll has opened up to Magazine+ about her battle with obesity, the mental trauma as she faced her food demons and her incredibly brave decision to broadcast her transformation from a size 22 to size ten in the brilliant RTE documentary Nine Stone Lighter last year.
This is a story that so many women in Ireland can identify with and as Coll recounted her feelings that are told in her hugely successful and brilliantly funny book Flabyrinth, her emotion was evident in each and every word.
“I might have smiled when I was around my family and the people I worked with when I was 19 stone, but the reality was I was consumed by my appearance every minute of every day,” she begins.
“The first thing I would think about when I woke up in the morning was how terrible I looked and it was the last thing on my mind when I tried to sleep at night.
“I was in despair. I couldn’t come to terms with what had happened to me and there seemed to be no way out of the prison of fat I was trapped in.
“I dressed in black to cover myself up and even though I tried my best to show that I hadn’t given up in myself by making an effort with my makeup and my hair, I knew what people saw when they looked at me.
“Boyfriends were out of the question because I didn’t want any man seeing my body, and, try as I might, I just couldn’t get a handle on my weight.
“The idea that I was pushing myself towards becoming a diabetic, increasing the risk of so many health problems and, let’s be honest here, the reality that I was on the way to cutting my life short.
“It was my fault as I was eating too much and yet stopping what I was doing to myself seemed to be impossible for me.
“In the end, I had my eureka moment and I got the motivation to make the changes I needed to my life.
“That is essentially how the story of the Nine Stone Lighter documentary came about and the response to it has been amazing.”
Coll’s charming presence on screen as she looked to transform her life enchanted so many Irish women to try and follow in her footsteps, with the decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery the turning point in a compelling narrative.
“It’s easy to say the solution to this is to eat less and move more, but following through on it is a very different story,” continues Jules, who was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome at the age of 19, which contributed to her weight gain.
“You have to understand why you are eating too much chocolate or crisps and get to grips with the emotions around that before you can start to tackle the problem.
“It may be down to an emotional problem in your past; maybe you were bullied at school, or had a nasty breakup that affected you more than you thought.
“I needed to come to terms with the reality that I had a mental and a physical problem as I was rewarding myself for a good day at work with treats.
“Food was a negative temptation for me and that is why I was piling on the pounds.
“After speaking to several experts I decided to go for the gastric bypass surgery and it was a big operation that was daunting and scary in so many ways.
“In the end, it was the start of a process that has changed my life and now my mindset towards food is so different.
“Food is a fuel that we need to make our bodies function and instead of buying
chocolates and crisps to give myself a reward, now I buy size ten clothes instead. It is a wonderful place to be.”
Coll suspects many obese people hide behind the mirage that they are happy with their appearance, as she suggests that notion is merely for show.
“There may be some women out there who are happy to be big and beautiful, but a lot of people making those boasts may well be in denial,” argues Coll.
“I used to claim I was happy and played the bright and bubbly card, but that was not how I felt in reality.
“How can you feel good when you are dramatically overweight and don’t want to look at yourself in the mirror?
“When I was big, everything was a struggle for me and even tying my shoelaces was hard work.
“I would make awful grunting noises every time I tried to get up out of a seat, as it was such an effort, and walking a short distance made me sweat.
“I was on my way to getting diabetes and probably killing myself early - whatever anyone might claim, it is not a nice place to be.”
Coll hopes her wonderful success story will inspire women across Ireland to
follow the healthy eating plan on her website (www.julescoll.com) and buy her new book, which she has hailed as “the greatest achievement of her career”.
“The reaction to Flabyrinth has been amazing and if I can help to inspire a few women to follow my lead and lose weight, then it will be a wonderful accomplishment,” she says.
“Putting these 95,000 words down in a book was wonderfully cathartic for me and it has turned out to be an amazingly rewarding experience.
“Seeing the books come through and shooting the photos for the front cover, stripped naked with 1000 donuts around me, was an experience I will never forget, and hopefully this is a story that can show other women that is it possible to lose that weight and feel good about yourself again.”
At the age of 36, stunning Jules is now ready to start the dating game in earnest for the first time in her life and after so many years of hiding her body away, she is hoping the man of her dreams may now make her story complete.
“I have only been on a couple of dates in my life and that was when I was around 17 or 18,” she adds.
“I wouldn’t have a clue what to say or do on a date, but it would be good fun finding out.
“Now I feel great about my body and I thought the fellas might be lining up for me, but that hasn’t happened yet.
“Fate might just intervene at some point and a man may come into my life, but for now, I am happy being me again and that is just a wonderful feeling.”
Jules Coll’s compelling book Flabyrinth: My Escape From Maximum Insecurity Prison is available online and in all good book shops now.