Being a pediatric nurse had a detrimental effect on Julie Bowen’s health. She found herself exhausted from working 16 hours a day after her father passed away. Bowen became the sole caregiver for her aging mother and her sister was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s the following year. She became emotionally and physically drained having to take care of her family and patients. Slowly, her health began to suffer. She was on call 24/7, sleeping with her phone.
After her mother passed away and her sister was admitted to a local nursing home, Bowen felt depressed and an overwhelming sense of grief as she watched her small patients deal with all kinds of horrible conditions. So, she turned to food for comfort.
“It was a trauma center, so we took care of everybody and saw a lot of unspeakable things, such as child abuse. And I internalized that and focused on my job to advocate for these kids. But those emotions have to go somewhere. So, when I see kids dying, I would eat my emotions,” she explained.
Bowen said she has always struggled with her weight, but her emotions made it difficult for her to control how much she was eating. As she reached 330 lbs., her doctor told her she was at risk of developing diabetes and hypertension.
“It was a do-or-die situation and I needed to do something drastic,” she recalled. Bowen asked her friend, who had recently lost 100 lbs., for advice. “I also talked to her about hating my job,” Bowen said. “It was a job that I used to love, but I was feeling so miserably uncomfortable and stuck — like I was never going to get out of this hole.”
She decided to quit her high-stress job as a pediatric nurse and took a less intense nursing position instead. Bowen, now 54, said the change helped her learn how to prioritize her health. She was able to lose weight and keep it off for the first time in her life. She had tried to slim down previously but always gained it back, even after undergoing surgery back in 1997.
“I was still morbidly obese after gastric bypass,” she says. “I incorporate a system called Stop. Challenge. Choose. And anything that I want to put in my mouth, I think, ‘this either gets me closer to my goal or further away.’ “
Bowen is now down to 160 lbs. and feels healthy for the first time in years. She can do things she never thought she would be able to do again, like taking a long walk on the beach in Fresno, CA where she lives.
Before she lost weight, she would stay in the car in the parking lot because it was so far away from the beach. But now she is scaling the stairs like no one’s business. “I was worried I couldn’t get back up the stairs,” she says. “Now I don’t even get out of breath, and I don’t stop either, which is huge for me.”