Years ago, while at her heaviest weight, Joy Stewart was confronted by a woman she didn’t even know at the grocery store about her eating habits. “You’ll never lose weight eating all that junk food,” the nosy shopper said. You’re going to end up having a heart attack and it’s not fair to us taxpayers.”
At that moment,. Joy was actually buying food for her daughter’s birthday party. Nevertheless, the judgment wasn’t a new experience for a woman 5’2 and almost 300 pounds. At that point, she was sick of it. She got in a fist fight with the woman, which looking back on it, she isn’t proud of. However, she was tired, weary of more than just that woman’s comments.
“That was one of many encounters that I had with rude and insensitive people who feel like if you’re a little bit thicker or big, you’re not a human being,” Stewart said. “Being overweight even kept me from getting job promotions.”
Sick of having to fight for respect both in the world and in her marriage, sick of trying to get up and down the stairs to play with her daughter and to just feel good in her body, Stewart wanted to change. But It wasn’t easy as Joy dealt with a lot of trauma in her past that caused her to turn to food.
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“Mental health is a really big deal,” she said. “If you have childhood trauma and you haven’t even dealt with that, it’s going to be very difficult to try to move forward and put yourself in a position where you’re putting yourself first, enough to say no to the only thing that has brought you comfort.”
But after a stern warning from her doctor of the diseases she could face in her future if she didn’t clean up her diet, she stumbled upon the keto diet in 2013 when many people hadn’t even heard of it yet. Though she was discouraged by many, including a doctor, she pressed onward and found great success. To date, Stewart has lost 150 pounds.
“This diet forced me to deal with my mental health issues and the root of why everything was happening,” she said.
We talked to the 40-year-old Atlanta resident (originally from Miami), celebrity hairstylist and keto coach about how childhood tragedy impacted her health, when her weight-loss journey began, and why she’s never going back to where she started.
How long has weight been an issue for you? Did you grow up struggling with your weight or was there something like childbirth or a health crisis that caused you to gain weight at a certain point?
Joy Stewart: It has always been a struggle with my weight. I stated having weight issues, I would say, when I was about 9. Food was a comfort for me because I didn’t have my parents. My father was murdered when I was three. My mother was addicted to crack cocaine, so my brothers and myself, at about 9, I became responsible for raising them. At around 11, we were in the system kind of getting shuffled around. That time of not having any parents, sometimes adults take advantage of that. I dealt with getting molested and I felt like it was because I was developing breasts earlier than all of the girls in my classes.
I’ve always been a shapely person so, even back then, I would get comments like, “Oh she’s going to be something else,” but then those same people that said that would turn around behind closed doors and try to molest me. Psychologically, the only thing I could depend on was food. Food could always be comforting to me. It could make me feel less pain and it was the only thing that would give me a glimpse of happiness. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that I was pretty much suppressing everything and trying to make myself unattractive with the weight and then it just got out of control. I didn’t even realize I was that big until I started having health issues.
What kind of health issues were you having?
When I got pregnant, I had gestational diabetes. I was having a hard, hard time carrying my daughter because one minute they felt like I was going to be diabetic because I was so heavy, and then it was almost impossible after I had her to get pregnant again because I had PCOS. That also made my journey to try to lose weight almost impossible. Then they told me that I could possibly require a full knee replacement if I didn’t do something about my weight.
What diets had you tried in the past?
I don’t think I left any stone unturned. First diet I ever tried was Jenny Craig. That didn’t work for me, economically. I was a parent and wife. I couldn’t keep up. Then I tried Weight Watchers and it didn’t work. The ladies I was doing it with weren’t consistent. We would get to a meeting, somebody would get discouraged. We would be trying to encourage her and then end up going out for pizza. Talk about counterproductive [laughs]. You then get in that mindset of, well, I messed up today, there’s always tomorrow. Five to 10 years later, you’re still fat.
I did SlimFast because it was cheap, drinking shakes in the morning, but I was starving and I’m lactose intolerant so that wasn’t working.Then I did Phentermine, diet pills you get from the doctor, but they would cause heart palpitations. Then I got a prescription from Quick Weight Loss Centers for Adipex. You could be sitting down minding your own business and your heart would start racing. They were like, you’re going to end up having a heart attack if you keep taking it, so I stopped.
Then I saved up all my coins and went over to Belgium to see this Asian doctor with this homeopathic doctor. I was waiting for something miraculous to happen once the needles got into my body. It didn’t work. I was hungry when I got off the table. I tried the cabbage soup diet, which I got from my family in the military. I could not do it. Then I tried the three-day diet that they give you if you’re trying to go into the military. You eat like eggs, meat and it sucked. Then I just gave up. I tried to start being happy where I was, even when I really wasn’t. I was really good at faking it.
After failing with all of those attempts, how did that bring you to keto?
I got early osteoarthritis, which is not reversible. I hated going up and down the stairs. My 3-year-old daughter was like, “Mommy, why don’t you want to run around and play with me?” I said, “That is never the case, I want to play with you but mommy’s knees are hurting.” She was like, “Your knees are always hurting.”
By the time her father got home, I had been down there so long my knee was so swollen. He literally had to pick me up, put me on his back and carry me upstairs. I was in so much pain. I went to the doctor and they gave me crutches and that’s when my doctor told me, “You’re going to end up having a knee replacement by 30 and you can not even imagine what the recovery is going to feel like. I have never done a knee replacement unless someone has had a degenerative disease at this age. You’ve got to do something.”
In 2010, I moved to Georgia. I found out my husband was having an affair, and when I saw the person he was having the affair with, she was smaller. She wasn’t cute but she was definitely smaller. I made a decision to put myself first, because I had been married to a narcissist. Nothing I could ever do would ever be good enough to make him stop doing what he was doing.
I was on a late-night YouTube crawl, and I saw this little white lady talking about keto. It sounded pretty simple, but she was in Australia because it wasn’t popular at the time. I thought, I’m going to try this. Eat bacon? Eat butter? People started coming up with little recipes and I was like, okay, I can probably do this. I realized after years of trying diets and failing, I was really consistent with this. It was easy because I wasn’t depriving myself of the things I liked. I couldn’t have pasta, but I could have spaghetti squash and I love vegetables. I couldn’t have bread, but now, I don’t even have the desire for bread like that anymore. It really just changes the way you see food and how you eat.
What makes you confident that you will never regress?
I had actually gotten down to 175 pounds, so by the end of 2014, 2015. I was slim. Then I got in a bad car accident. Car flipped, it got totaled and I broke my knee. I was immobile for four months. Then I had like a cancer scare. After that, my husband I got back together because with the accident, I couldn’t do anything by myself. Right after that, I found out he was having another affair.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and I ended up going through depression. I didn’t realize I had gained about 50 pounds. I thought, you’ve got keto. I was indulging in more processed foods, whatever was quick. So I set my mind to the fact that I wanted to do it again, so I did, and I was able to lose 46 pounds in three months. For the last three years, my weight hasn’t fluctuated. I stay within the same range and that’s awesome.
I don’t have the battle of the bulge now. Now I know how to beat it. If I go out with my friends and I indulge in some Cheesecake Factory or something like that, I’m good with that because I know for the most part, A, I can’t eat all of it, and B, I just don’t have the appetite. Food is not my comfort anymore, so I’m eating because I might enjoy it, or I want to live because I need food, but it’s not my primary concern, which is what it used to be.
What advice would you offer to other women who are trying to lose weight and maybe overcome past trauma?
One, find someone to talk to. Now it’s becoming a thing, but in our culture, it was once like, if you need to go talk to someone about your business, you’re a failure. You’re not strong and you’re not a believer in God. It’s not like that anymore. Everybody may not be able to afford a psychiatrist, but when you’re trying to work your way through these things by yourself, it’s a lot more difficult.
Also, I tell ladies, don’t go by everything you see on the scale. The scale is not your friend. Hormones are always going to go up and down and because of that, the scale could also go up or down on a daily basis. Don’t think that in five or 10 years where you gain 50 pounds, you’re going to lose it all in 30 days. Keto is not a gimmick, but it is a gateway into being able to have a sustainable lifestyle where you’re eating more healthy without having to do something extreme.
When you’re having a bad day and you’re dealing with weight issues you often think, “I’m just going to get something to eat. I’m just going to get a drink.” You say that more often than you probably realize. The question is, you want to get something to eat but are you hungry? Your mind is trying to tell you to get something to eat, but what exactly is going on? What is the real problem?
Is the real problem that somebody said something to hurt your feelings and you’re not standing up for yourself? Is the real problem that you’re projecting some issue that you have and so you’re not hearing the other person? Are you just offended and walk around living in a mindset of offense all the time? Do you feel like people are always coming down on you? Be honest with yourself because when you are, that false hunger passes and you can get back on track.
Overall, I just try to give people everyday tips that work for them. If you only have a $30 budget for groceries a week, you could still do it. If you have a $1,000 budget, you can still do it. If you have no budget and you’re getting food from the food bank but you want to feel better about yourself, it can be done. Wherever you are in life, there’s a way. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.