Busting a gut to help people with depression and obesity

Josh Thomson is no longer a self-proclaimed “fat bastard” who locks himself away in his room for days at a time.

Far from it, the enthusiastic 27-year-old is now trimmed down and bursting with determination to keep his weight off and his life on track. What’s more, he plans to help other young people find what they need to turn their lives around.

Josh is literally on track this Sunday, 13 November, when he embarks on a five-month, 3000km plus trek along Te Araroa  New Zealand’s trail. As he hikes, tramps and fords his way from the cape to the bluff, he’s raising money for charities close to his heart, which includes Health Navigator.

Josh will be the very first individual to donate funds to Health Navigator – and he will be doing it through Give A Little page. 

Dark days of depression and over-eating

When Josh was just a little fella of six, things were fine, but he remembers he took a lot of steroids for bad asthma, which made him look bloated and he started eating fatty foods and not moving much.

I ballooned out and become pudgy and very sensitive and was teased,” he recalls.

This drove him to avoid people and hide away in his room on a computer.

“I got bigger and bigger and more and more depressed and anxious, and that’s when I gained the “Fat Bastard” syndrome – the downward spiral of shame, eating, depression, eating." Fat Bastard is a fictional character who appears in two of the three Austin Powers movies. “I began to feel I had lower rights than other people and that others thought they had more rights than me.”

Obesity corner beckoned everyday

Things got worse at university where every day he walked through what he coined “obesity corner” (where there were eight fast food outlets) to get to class.  At age 21 he was 165kg.

After one awful cold Dunedin night seeing his friends walk away one by one when he wouldn’t listen to their advice, he was devastated and experienced five months of the worst depression.

“I went home to Whitianga and when I wasn’t at work I was in my house ordering everything I needed online. After a year of this I realised it was only me that could help me. No one else could. It sunk in.”

Another good reason for him to do something was the shock he got after a doctor told him his body wasn’t coping and there was a high likelihood of developing diabetes and heart problems and he could die by the time he was 30.

How Josh lost weight and began to feel better about himself

Josh didn’t lose weight in a gym. One experience of being driven too hard too fast and insulted by a trainer made him turn to his younger brother, who is a fitness instructor, for assistance.

They worked out exercises to do at home and to look for other little things he could do to get started.

“I sold my car and biked or walked to work,” he says. He also walked from Ferry landing to the Hahei Beach Café for breakfast and back again – a 12km round trip.

He stopped consuming litres of sugary drinks, bingeing on chocolate, and drinking alcohol (except for social occasions) and avoided eating processed foods and takeaways.

Underpinning all of this, Josh also saw a psychologist who taught him about self-love and believing in himself. Also important is learning to be open and talking truthfully about his experience, he believes.

Why he’s walking the trail

When Josh talks about his experience he is aware that he is telling the story of many thousands of young New Zealanders. He understands the snowballing effect of depression, binge eating (drugs, drinking, whatever…) and shame. He knows how it feels to be stuck. But what he also knows is there is a way through it. He’s living proof.

Josh has quit his successful job as a graphic designer and sometime marketer, he’s saved more money in the last six months than he has in his entire life and he has committed to walking Te Araroa so other people like him can see what they can do, too.

Getting through obesity and depression is possible, he says.

Supporters are going to join Josh on parts of his epic adventure and help spread the word and raise funds. One person he will meet up with is Atawhai Charteris, a filmmaker also walking the track and at 17, the youngest ever to do so.

Josh was inspired to walk New Zealand’s “Thru-hike” by Bill Bryson’s book A walk in the woods about the Appalachian Trial. He wanted to do the trail in his home country where he was more confident of support. His biggest fear is the notion of not being able to finish the huge walk, but he says he’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway!

“If my legs feel tired, I will stop. This is like a stake in the sand for my life. I gave my power to obesity and depression. Now I want something huge in my life to springboard from accepting my potential and learning from it.”

How you can help Josh

Keep an eye out for Health Navigator’s Get Involved page, Facebook and Instagram accounts for updates about and from Josh – we will keep you posted on what he needs, where he will be and how he is doing.

We will also publish more about Te Araroa, Josh’s schedule, supporters and training.

If you would like to donate to Josh so he can support Health Navigator please visit his Facebook page.