Joshua Irwin had been overweight all his life. During his first year at Wits, his weight reached the point that he was forced to use the disabled parking area.
He remembers the shame of being “effectively disabled” by his weight. At his heaviest, Irwin weighed 130kg.
But two years ago, the third year Psychology major took matters into his own hands and, on his own healthy eating plan, Irwin lost 55kg in eight months. And this year, the self-confessed former sugar and carbohydrate addict took his quest for health a step further.
He is now a nutritional coach and personal trainer. The business idea came to him after he joined the Wits gym and saw “most people doing stupid things”. He became the “go-to guy” after people heard about his success.
He has since landed 13 clients, eight of whom are fellow Witsies. A former anthropology major, Kirby Randall, lost 12kg on his plan. Irwin claims another client lost 9kg in two months and that his own mother lost 12kg after taking some of his nutrition advice.
Irwin’s approach to nutrition goes against some well-known theories about how to get healthy. He argues people don’t need six meals a day to function, especially because most people underestimate the portions they have.
He fasts 16 hours in a day and stays away from carbohydrates and sugar. “By accident I didn’t have carbs once and I decided to go a few days without.”
He says the cravings for unhealthy foods “disappeared” when he stayed away from bread, grains and sugar.
He also doesn’t believe in using food as a reward.
A friend once told him: “Never reward yourself with what you’re trying to recover from.”
At 77kg, Irwin has come a long way from the first year who couldn’t walk from student parking areas.
“Walking uphill and downhill from East to West Campus can be incredibly painful when you’re overweight.”
For a long while, he tried to lose weight but would gain it back. He saw nutritionists for help but felt their “cut and paste” eating plans were impersonal and out of date. Irwin said his confidence had taken a beating.
“I was just tired of it and it hurt. You get overlooked often. You’re not even in the friend zone – you’re just not an option because you’re not desirable.”
He enjoys being able to be more sociable now. “I remember feeling I was extremely visible for my weight, not because I was a nice person or because I was smart … It was just, you know, that fat white guy with long hair. People would have preconceived ideas about you.”
He believes being thin is linked to how well people deal with their past life experiences.
Nutritionists miss this point, he argues, and this leads to their clients not being able to conquer weight problems successfully.
Irwin plans to do his Honours and Masters in psychology, focusing on behavioural and eating abnormalities. He feels the person-centred approach of therapy will help develop more meaningful relationships with his clients.
He wants to be the “go-to guy” for fitness and health in Johannesburg and has his sights on famous South Africans.
“I want celebrities who have had weight problems to be able to tell their friends: ‘You should go see Josh’, because of my work.”