Saturday 22 October 2016

The girl who lost it all - how Jules shed nine stone

Jules Coll gives our reporter the skinny on how she silenced her inner bitch Siobhan, lost nine stone, fell in love (platonically) with Rik Mayall and is looking for Mr Right

Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30

Jules Coll says she fed her despair by shovelling 'food into my mouth all day every day' before she tackled her obesity by having surgery.
Photo: David Conachy
Jules Coll says she fed her despair by shovelling 'food into my mouth all day every day' before she tackled her obesity by having surgery. Photo: David Conachy
Jules Coll before the surgery that helped her to lose nine stone

The darkest day in Jules Coll's life wasn't the day in 2014 when she looked at the weighing scales and realised she was 19 stone. She could deal with that. (She had a plan, at last.)

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The darkest day in Jules Coll's life was the day in 2006 when she found out that her love life - admittedly pitiful - was the subject of much talk behind her back.

Her mother Jan sat Jules, then 25-years-of-age, down one day in the kitchen in Carrickmines and told her that rumours had been circulating that "I may be gay and afraid to come out of the closet." Jules nearly fell off the chair she was so gobsmacked. Her mother, doing her best to be nice about it, said: "Now it's absolutely fine if you are gay and if you're afraid to come out, don't be."

Jules immediately cut her mother off and told her: "I'm not gay! I just haven't met the right guy yet!'"

"It's the most upset I've ever been in my whole life," Jules says now, adding that she cried for days over it, "but not about the fact that people were assuming I was gay, I'd never had a boyfriend so that's a logical conclusion people could come to. It was the fact that people were talking about me behind my back. That my-non existent love life was a hot topic of conversation and I was really upset by this." She wondered anxiously if the gossip mongers called her: 'Poor auld spinster Jules'.

To attempt to thwart the dreaded goss about her, Jules went into "a panic to try and find a boyfriend to prove that I liked willies." So she was out every weekend desperately searching for a boyfriend. And was she getting chatted up on nights out? "Nope. Not a sausage,"Jules says, (stopping herself perhaps mercifully before she can say, "Not a willy.")

"But I don't blame men for it though. I don't think they looked at me on a night out and thought, 'Ugh. Look at chubby there, no thanks, love I'll pass.' I know that at that time because I thought so little of myself and I believed that I was so unattractive because of my weight that I wasn't worth chatting up. I felt that mingin' and worthless and so because of this belief I had, men had no other option but to reflect that back to me."

"Because," she adds, "if I had believed that I was attractive and lovable, then men would have mirrored that back to me and I'd be getting chatted up all the time. But my self-worth was non-existent, and as a result so was my sex life."

Born on August 9, 1979, in Holles Street Hospital - "weighing a conventionally healthy eight pounds and one ounce" - Jules Coll is the rather uproarious author of the brilliant Flabyrinth: My Escape From Maximum Insecurity Prison. The penal institution she is referring to is, in fact, as she writes in the book, "A prison of fat."

"At the tender age of 19, fresh out of school and living the life of Reilly, unbeknownst to me I had subconsciously sentenced myself to life in the slammer. It would take ten years for me to wake up and realise I was trapped in prison. It would take a further five years to realise that I was, in fact, on death row as I had become morbidly obese.' (Jules - who has a touch of the Caitlin Moran in her writing style - also describes herself in the book as 'feeling like a human version of the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.')

Jules says she "shovelled food into my mouth all day every day" for two main reasons. One, because when she was eating was the only time that she could "mute" the voice of her inner bad bitch, Siobhan - Jules's name as gaeilge.

Jules gave her a name because she feels "like a separate entity to me. She's the voice of the 'perfect' me who tells me when I look at myself how fat, ugly, flabby, disgusting, unattractive, cellulite-y and vile I am and she rattles off in my ear all day every day reminding me of these facts lest I forgot!"

Jules explains that when she was eating she was "distracted from that horrible voice. It was like a piece of pizza brought peace of mind and for those golden moments Siobhan was silent and so I would eat and eat to shut her up."

I ask Jules was she literally feeding her low self-esteem or was there something else going on. As her weight went up, she answers, her self-esteem went down.

"So I was feeding my despair," Jules tells me over coffee in House on Leeson Street. "I was at a loss as to what I could do to get things under control."

And the more Jules got worked up about it, the more Jules ate. "I'd be in denial one minute and in a state of shock looking at myself in the mirror the next," she says. "I was in a tizzy about it and my thoughts about my appearance consumed me."

Jules says that in every other aspect of her life she was happy. "I was a high achiever, goal orientated with big dreams for myself with my life and career," says Jules, who currently works as a screenwriter and producer for RTE's Damo & Ivor, "but the only thing I couldn't get my head around was losing weight. I perpetually failed.

"I've always been strong-willed, the kind of person who'd be like: 'There's a job to be done, stand back everyone, nobody is going to do this as well as I can so I'll take on the mission'."

Then, for the first time in her life, at the age of 35 - and weighing 19 stone and only fitting into size 22 clothes - Julie-Ann Coll had to say to herself: 'I need help. I can't do this by myself'.

Jules reflects that things were so serious at that point that she was "morbidly obese with a BMI of 42 and my health was at risk. I needed an intervention and that came in the form of a gastric bypass, which is keyhole surgery to rearrange my digestive system and essentially shrink the size of my stomach - reducing my capacity to eat and give me the tool to control my overeating."

Or as she puts it in Flabyrinth, "The gastric bypass was to my digestive system what the M50 is to Dublin's traffic."

Jules had the surgery in the Blackrock Clinic on November 1, 2014. "The surgery was my turning point," she says looking back, "it helped me finally help myself, it was the crutch I needed to carry myself over the line."

Six weeks after the operation, she started training. Initially, Jules was just walking "and after five minutes I was sweating like a cat trying to bury a shite on a marble floor.

"But I stuck with it and built up my fitness over a few months and after losing three stone I found the courage to start going to the gym," she says of Ben Dunne's gym in Cherrywood. "I found it very intimidating because I thought people would be staring at me and watching my arse jiggle as I tried to pretend I knew what I was doing in there. After a while I decided not to give a shite about what other people thought of me when I saw a girl in there who was way bigger than me, and my first thought was 'fair play to her'."

"I worked out every single day. However, I was trudging along on the treadmill bored out of my mind and knowing that I was going to give up exercise if I didn't find a way to start enjoying it."

"Then," adds Jules, "along came personal trainer Matt Keatley"

He approached Jules in the gym after seeing her on the The Late Late Show in September. (Jules had gone on to promote her RTE documentary, Nine Stone Lighter. Jules had had her surgery filmed for the doc about her weight-loss journey.)

"Matt and I chatted. I knew straight away that the encouragement of a trainer was exactly what I needed to keep me motivated and, most importantly, accountable."

Jules also describes Matt as "a human encyclopaedia for all things nutrition."

"When he told me that sugar was the main reason everyone was ballooning, I was shocked. I thought fatty foods made you fat, but the big culprit these days is the devil that is sugar due to the simple fact that excess sugar consumed is converted to fat and stored in the body," Jules says, adding that training and learning about nutrition with Matt "has had as much of an impact on my journey as the surgery itself. Now we're running Bootycamp classes together every week, where we do a one-hour seminar about all things health and nutrition, followed by a fitness class."

Jules lives by herself in an apartment in Carrickmines. "No cats yet, thankfully," she jokes, "but my friends are under strict instructions to shoot me if I start adopting them."

Part of the joke with the cats is because Jules is single, has been single all her life and has never - ever - had a romantic relationship of any type worth mentioning. She described a date not so long ago but she never heard from him again.

When I asked her to describe her ideal man, Jules said that she'd already met her ideal man, but she couldn't have him because he was married and now she can never have him because he's passed away.

"You know who that dream man was? The pan-global phenomenon and human tripod that was comedy god Rik Mayall," she says of the happy married Mr Mayal and her platonic relationship with him.

"He was my hero, and people say you should never meet your heroes as you'll only be disappointed but that's only true if you've got a shit hero. Rik was f***ing amazing.

"I'd idolised him since I was a teen and found him massively attractive because he was so funny, outlandish and bold and unpredictable, and when I met him in real life when he played a part in our series Damo & Ivor he was even more insanely attractive than I had even dreamed of because it turns out that in addition to this bonkers personality that I loved so much, he was an absolute gent with a heart of gold and a depth that would make my heart and knickers melt during many of the magical chats we had on set while filming."

Jules believes that "God broke the mould when he made Rik and I really have set myself up for a fall trying to look for someone like him. But that doesn't mean I'll lower my standards dramatically; I'll just have to lower the bar ever so slightly.

"It's not an easy task finding your lobster. I'm looking for a best friend, a best friend to share my life and bed with. You can't just march out into the dating world and expect to become besties with your life-long counterpart straight away."

Jules continues that she's presently going through "an auditioning process and that's great and shite in equal measure but that's what it's going to take for us to find each other. I have to put myself out there until Cupid shoots us both in the arse at that serendipitous moment. So with that best friend I want us to make each other laugh and be fully ourselves around each other, farts and all.

"I want us to mind each other," she continues, "be there for each other through the good times and the shitty times and I want all the typical romance that I've missed out on while I've been a sad singleton sending myself Valentine cards over the years, I'd love him to buy me flowers and lie to me and tell me I'm beautiful when I'm violently hungover and look like Sloth from The Goonies.

"And I want to cook for him, I'm definitely a feeder, but it'll be all healthy food so he won't get fat! I love a man with a bit of a belly though, six packs don't do it for me."

She adds, most poignantly of all: "And I want a man, because if I'm truly honest, I'm lonely.

"I'd love to have someone to love and who loves me in return. Don't we all? Admitting that might make me sound desperate like Stacey from Wayne's World, but I'm not going around buying guys gun racks and stalking them! I'm not desperate - I'm just like every other single person in the world who'd love to find love and just like all those lucky people who've already found it."

Does she think society puts too much pressure on people - in particular, young women - to be an idealised and often unattainable weight?

"There's been so much campaigning for awareness about what we're subjected to in the media these days as 'ideal beauty'," Jules says, "that I hope that most women know that they'll never look like the girls in magazines and that's because the girls in the magazines don't look like the girls in the magazines. We've all woken up and smelled the Photoshop and that's fantastic."

Jules says that she grew up before the Internet. "That makes me sound ancient, but in my day in the 1980s and 1990s we still had magazines with supermodels and Pamela Anderson and her giant tits on Baywatch and all sorts of ideals to aspire to were coming at us left right and centre and it was overwhelming - especially as a teen trying to work out who you were and where you fit in on the scale of what was considered ideal to be attractive," Jules says adding that we still have it in 2016 and we'll probably always have it.

"It's just great to see, especially through social media, an increase in the message being spread that it's all madness, and media advertising is trying to smother us to get our attention. I often wonder how they can possibly improve mascaras and shampoos to do more than they actually do to keep selling them to us? And what is beautiful this season? One minute skinny androgynous is in, the next minute your arse couldn't be big enough and you should have more curves than a Volkswagen Beetle. How are we supposed to keep up? I hope the message of 'Just be yourself, accept yourself, be a healthy weight, be fit and love yourself as you are' continues to spread."

Is Jules' self esteem - and indeed her happiness - linked to her weight?

"Yes, absolutely," she says. "I'm an extremist so I'm either going to be morbidly obese with zero self-esteem or slim, healthy, incredibly happy and out there spreading the word about how I did it through making a TV documentary, writing a book about it and teaming up with my personal trainer to run seminars on nutrition and bootcamp fitness classes to help people make a change like I did. There is no in-between for someone like me, but that's me and I think it takes someone like me who's prepared to go public and bare her obese body and slim soul so that others who are having problems with their weight or just feeling crap about themselves can know that change is possible."

"The proof is in the pudding and I ate all the puddings so you don't have to, just read my book and I'll tell you what it tasted like."

A week or so after our meeting in House, I rang Jules to ask her has she had any romantic proposals in the last seven days.

"Nope, I haven't and there's no dates lined up. Cue the violin player!"

Is she expecting a flood of romantic offers when Flabyrinth comes out?

"I'm not expecting a flood of romantic proposals when the book comes out as I think it'll be mostly women that read it - and I think they'll be rooting for me to find my Mr Right."

As will the rest of Ireland. Cue orchestra!

Flabyrinth: My Escape From Maximum Insecurity Prison by Jules Coll, published by Gill Books, priced £16.99. To read an extract from Flabyrinth visit

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