PHYSICALLY FIT: A much healthier Joshua Irwin enjoys a good workout
Photo: Sibusisiwe Nyanda
Joshua Irwin remembers having been overweight all his life. During his first year at Wits his weight pushed him into using the disabled parking area. “I think the thinnest I had been was when I was 3… I was always a fat kid”.
As he grew older he tried to lose weight but would usually gain it back after a short while.
He saw nutritionists for help but felt their “cut and paste” eating plans were impersonal and out of date. After years of being on diets that left him feeling exhausted and hungry all the time, he decided to develop his own formula for getting lean. “I was just tired of it and it hurt. You get overlooked often. You’re not even in the friendzone – you’re just not an option because you’re not desirable.”
In November 2011, the 3rd year Psychology major decided he would become healthy for life. On his own plan, Irwin lost 55kg in 8 months. The self-confessed former sugar and carbohydrate addict 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 and would ask him for advice on nutrition and fitness. “The guys were really big but their muscles were overworked and disproportionate. They ate a lot and drank protein shakes and I was like ‘Why? Eat your food!’”
He has since landed 13 clients, 8 of whom are fellow Witsies. A former Anthropology major, Kirby Randall, lost 12kg on his plan. He claims another client lost 9kg in 2 months and that his mother has lost 12kg since taking some of his nutrition advice.
Irwin’s approach to nutrition refutes some well-placed “myths” about how to get healthy. He argues people don’t need 6 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. “Never reward yourself with what you’re trying to recover from,” he quotes a friend as having once told him. When asked about how he rewards himself, he says he enjoys sushi. “Chocolate brownie ice cream from Woolies with those real chocolate bits is lovely. I know my stuff, but you don’t want those cravings to come back.”
The Witsie believes other students can benefit from his nutrition plan especially during exam time. He argues that they could use intermittent fasting as a healthy approach to the busy schedules that usually have them reaching for sweets and potato chips under pressure. “A carton of ice cream, for exams? Easy!”
His nutritional package includes an eating and training plan which costs R700 as a once-off fee. “It’s for people who are trying to lose weight and want to know what to do. I tell you how many calories are in the foods you eat and give you a shopping list.” Irwin also counsels his clients who he says have some “horror stories”.
He says being thin is linked to how well people deal with their past life experiences. He argues that nutritionists miss this point and this leads to their clients not being able to successfully conquer weight problems. Irwin trains clients at R2 400 a month for an hour, three times a week. He says he had to charge more for his services to “make sure people are committed” to the plan and getting his help.
Irwin plans to do his Honours and Masters in Psychology, focusing on behavioural and eating abnormalities. He feels the person-centred approach from 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.