I had the privilege and honor to interview the person who is the focus of this week’s Extreme Weight Loss (ABC) program on July 9, 2013, Jami Witherell. I had never seen the series until this year, when I began watching and writing reviews of each episode; but, now I feel like I’m addicted to the program, and seeing how each person that’s focused on handles his/her individual personal conflicts, problems, and weight loss goals.
I hope to be able to interview as many people who appear on the show as possible. My first one was with Ryan Sawlsville, a truly remarkable young man who lost his arm in an accident. Now, I am very pleased to have interviewed a very remarkable young woman, Jami Witherell. The interview follows; I hope you like it!
Douglas Cobb: How old were you when you realized that you might be heavier than some of the people around you your age? Why do you believe you got into the habit of over-eating and eating junk food?
Jami Witherell: The core of the problem of my weight is deeply rooted in my own skewed perception of my body. I have always believed myself to look bigger, be bigger than most children my age and that feeling continued into adulthood. As I look back at photos of myself I realize now more than ever that I was of normal weight for most of my elementary years. My family separated when I was 10 and I firmly believe that that was the catalyst for poor eating. I was down to a single parent that worked a lot and a grandmother who provided after school care and cooked deliciously. Nutrition and healthy eating were neither encouraged nor discussed in my household. Once I arrived to college and was finally in control of food, I had no background in how to make good choices and continued with late night snacking and lots of ginger ale.
Douglas Cobb: Where were you and under what circumstances was it that the host of Extreme Weight Loss (ABC) contacted you to tell you that you were selected by him to appear on the show?
Jami Witherell: At the time, I was working for the Rock School for Dance Education, a prestigious Ballet focused High School in Philadelphia, PA. Chris arrived during a performance I was previewing…in a green leotard! He even learned a few ballet moves! It was amazing because all of my students and residents were able to be a part of that monumental day.
Douglas Cobb: What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Jami Witherell: Truth? I tried to give my spot away! I did! I struggle so much with my self worth that I believed I was not worthy of being chosen. After production and Chris assured me it was me they wanted, my next reaction was an inward thought process of IF I was worthy, COULD I do it? I knew I had a goal of meeting my biological mother in Chile – and if I couldn’t do it for myself right away, than I could do it for her.
Douglas Cobb: What was you initial weigh-in weight? Also, what was the first milestone challenge that Chris wanted you to accomplish, and the goal weight he wanted you to reach by the 3-month mark, and your ultimate desired weight?
Jami Witherell: My initial weigh in was 292 pounds. The ironic thing is I hadn’t weighed myself in over 3 years and in my mind, I “knew” I was 388. It’s the number I had in my head. Imagine my surprise when the scale weighed me in 100 pounds lighter. Chris set a lofty goal of 80 pounds in the first 90 days. If I was able to meet that milestone we’d be headed to Broadway. I’m a musical theater nerd and love NYC. I said out loud that I wanted to be 128 pounds. I picked that number out of thin air and over the course of my year realized how unrealistic that is. Chalk it up to another piece of my body dysmorphia.
Douglas Cobb: Chris generally has a team of people come in to renovate the house of the person featured on each episode, or the person’s parents, if he/she is living at home. What sorts of additions were made to your house to help you achieve your weight loss goal?
Jami Witherell: Tricky question to answer, I make a big decision about where I should be living in the first 90 days to focus on me. Due to this decision, a home gym and other additions weren’t made right away. However, one thing Chris created in all homes was the Victory Wall, where we could hang our small victories and our big ones. I hung race bibs from first 5k and ½ marathon, I hung up my first pair of single digit jeans and also small quotes that really made an impact on me over the year. My favorite thing hanging on the wall is a photograph of me with my CrossFit family roller-skating. It was my first time on skates in TWO DECADES and I felt amazing!
Douglas Cobb: I have heard that you work for the Boston Ballet Company, right? What is your job there, and have you always loved the ballet? Were your employers cooperative and did they work around your show schedule with no problems?
Jami Witherell: I am currently working for the Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program as their Assistant Residence Director. This is my 9th summer with the program and there is absolutely nowhere on earth I feel more at home. I’m lucky that this is only a summer position and I was able to return this summer. I never really pursued dance, but I fell in love with my students. Their passion is contagious. Some of the sweetest Facebook messages I receive these days are from students I had 10 years ago, who say I inspire them. It makes me beam, because in truth, they inspire me.
Douglas Cobb: Chris Powell usually wants to see the people he works with undergo a complete change, which includes a change in how they think about their life and certain relationships in their lives with others. You were adopted, right? Was a part of the change Chris wanted to see that you contact your birth mother back in Chile?
Jami Witherell: I was adopted from Santiago, Chile when I was two years old. I’ve always known I was adopted and embraced it. My dream for the year was to have the opportunity to return to Chile and thank my biological mother in person for the greatest gift in the world – my life. My birth mother FOUND ME on Facebook a few years ago. It was surreal, as I had been looking for her my whole life. Financially I wasn’t able to make a trip at the time. So I was hoping one day to travel home to Chile. I do believe the bigger change I had to make this year was done in therapy. I’m a supreme dream People Pleaser, have been my whole life – and at cost to my own happiness. You’ll see a ton of growth in that area on my episode.
Douglas Cobb: Were you excited, flying on the plane to Chile? How did the meeting with your birth mother go for both of you?
Jami Witherell: My production team will kill me for bringing this up, but the night before I departed for Chile – I LOST MY PASSPORT. Through the grace of God and my incredible team, we made it to Chile! So traveling on the plane I was a ball of nerves. Meeting my birth mother was better than my wildest imaginations. She is amazing and I can’t wait for the Extreme Weight Loss viewers to have to opportunity to meet her.
Douglas Cobb: Was the milestone challenge more difficult or easier than you though it would be? Were you able to accomplish it?
Jami Witherell: Milestone accomplished! My milestone involved a swim in the longest pool in the world. I trained by swimming two miles in my home pool or 166 laps…EVERY DAY. I also suffered from bursitis in my hips the entire year and that made part of the Milestone really difficult, but mission accomplished. On a whole, it was definitely easier than I anticipated.
Douglas Cobb: What was it like to try to meet the 6-month goal? It’s usually more difficult for people to meet than the 3-month one. How much did Chris want you to lose to meet this goal? Were you successful?
Jami Witherell: I have the proud distinction of being Chris’ first client to not have a numerical goal set for the 6-month weigh in. We created a fitness goal. My goal for the 6-month was to be able to do a REAL army style push up; chest to floor, plank position. Let’s just say: NAILED IT!
Douglas Cobb: Did your adopted parents support you very much in your weight loss goals? What do you attribute to your sticking with the program the entire year, in good times and bad ones?
Jami Witherell: I asked my adopted family to step back for the year. I needed to do this on my own, write my own story. They were always there to love me, but I needed to fuel my own success. Someone who I did rely on ton is my biological sister, Jen. We were adopted by different families and grew up six hours apart never meeting until our biological mom connected us about 3 years ago. We met and truly became best friends. I talk with her daily and she has been my cheerleader since day one on this journey. Sticking to the program came with a compendium of things supporting me.
Douglas Cobb: What weight were you supposed to hit for your 9-month goal? Were you able to make it to that weight? What helped or hurt you in your attempts?
Jami Witherell: So, again, Chris and I built fitness goals for the nine month weigh in and obviously to be eligible for skin removal surgery we’re all trying to hit 50% of our body weight. For my nine-month goal, I wanted to build more muscle and Chris and I wanted to create and complete a Crossfit work out. The “Jami” is a lot like my year, hard and long, but you slog through it and in the end, you feel amazing. Knowing that a number didn’t drive me was the MOST important thing to me. I never looked at the scale after the 90-day weigh in. Chris would get a photo of the number and that’d be it. I set attainable Crossfit goals and kept working on them. Because a scale can’t measure my worth, I started to create esteem and self worth inside of me through keeping commitments around workouts. I ran 3 miles to my gym, Cross fitted for an hour, ran 3 miles home, and repeated that twice a day. By the 9-month weigh in – I was a machine!
Douglas Cobb: I don’t want to give away too much, by asking you if you made it to your final goal, and were able to get the skin surgery–but, I’d like to ask you what advice would you give to anyone who was attempting to lose a lot of weight, as you did? Do you think you will try to lose even more weight, or are you satisfied for the time being with how much you weigh?
Jami Witherell: I can safely say, I didn’t weigh in at 128, as I had told Chris I wanted to! However, by the end of the year, I realized, as I had fallen in love with Cross Fit, I needed to set a different goal. I gained a substantial amount of muscle that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice for a lower number. I can also say – I wore a size 4 short to my meeting with Dr. Stoker, the plastic surgeon. My advice to others on their own weight loss journey is that it is YOUR journey. You can look at my journey and find aspects that will work for you too, but you have to create the best plan for YOU. My year included intensive therapy with a phenomenal therapist that specialized in people pleasers. I recommend therapy to EVERYONE. I’m absolutely done losing weight J. I’m looking forward to building more muscle in my arms and toning my upper things, but numbers and I are done. I try on my finale dress once a month; if it still fits (a small from the Juniors department) then I’m doing well! I also blog over at jamiwitherell.com (where we all MATTER) and that helps me stay grounded in what realistic goals are for me and my future.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks, Jami, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! I really enjoyed interviewing you, and I wish you the very best!