Our Lady of Weight Loss

Devastation, Hopelessness, FEMA Food and Fat… Three years later. by Janice Taylor, Renegade Weight Loss Coach, Cert. Hypnotist, Author, Columnist, Blogger and 50-pound big-time-loser. (Write Janice for Free Consult)

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina pounded her way through the Gulf. The devastation left many with long-lasting feelings of hopelessness, as their homes and businesses were destroyed and their lives ripped out from underneath them. Some of the Gulf residents were moved to other states, some into trailers; some remain, three years later, in those same trailers. Many fell into states of deep depression and despair, and the suicide rate has nearly tripled.
And another side of the story has come to light: weight gain – also known as “Katrina Pounds” – is at epidemic proportions.

Janice Taylor talks with Sister Julia, manager of Pauline Books & Media, Daughters of St. Paul, in Metairie, Louisiana.

Janice: Hi Sister Julia. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and paint a picture of what life was like in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I understand that you were one of the first to return to the area affected by Katrina.
Sister Julia: Yes, I was one of the first to return. We were relatively lucky, as our carport blew away, an air conditioner toppled and while the area was completely flooded and homes and businesses destroyed, the water only came up to the last step of the entrance to our bookstore. Some think it was a miracle.
Janice: I would imagine that the entire experience was surreal.
Sister Julia: It truly was. We did what we had to do. A certain kind of numbness set in.
Janice: Were you depressed?
Sister Julia: I am a musician, so you can well understand that music is very important to me; part of my every day life. I didn’t think of myself as depressed, yet for an entire year I had no desire to sing or play my instruments. I was too tired to even listen to music. And I wasn’t taking good care of myself. The feeling was ‘what’s the use?’
Janice: How did you begin to create a new ‘normal?’
Sister Julia. The new normal centered around eating. The grocery stores didn’t have a whole lot to choose from. There were special meals from FEMA that I tried once or twice, but they tasted like field rations, making life that much more depressing. Some companies generously sent foods, but for the most part, they were crispy type snacks (mostly unhealthy). And to make matters worse, 75% of the people lived in trailers, which were equipped with tiny little stoves. And there were some safety issues around the stoves. People were afraid to turn them on. Imagine, losing everything being reduced to field rations, a trailer equipped with a non-working stove and a few crispy treats.
Janice: How did you cope?
Sister Julia: We all and I mean all, headed to what few restaurants were open. Eating out was a sign of getting back to ‘normal.’ The lines were out the door and sometimes around the block. But we were desperate for life, and going out to dinner presented an opportunity to talk to each other, share our stories. Albeit a tiny piece of normal, eating out was the only ‘normal’ thing to do. It was an every night occurrence.
All restaurant meals here start with roux (a mixture of flour and fat). It’s comforting, of course and delicious. So, it was roux every night, all nights.

Janice: Is that when “Katrina Pounds” started to take hold?
Sister Julia: Absolutely, although we weren’t aware of it at the time. We were numb and not paying attention to the scale. We were just getting through, one day at a time – one roux dish at a time.
Janice: When did you realize that you were gaining weight and that it was a bit of a phenomenon in the area?
Sister Julia: Recovery is slow. People are still in trailers, so we are still recovering.
It took me close three years to get back on the scale. I was shocked to learn that I’d gone from 160 pounds to 179.5. It was a slow and steady gain. Insidious and easy not to notice, until it’s there! And that seems to be what’s happening now, with others.

One by one residents are starting to wake up to the fact that they have gained large amounts of weight. They are coming into the bookstore and talking to me about their weight gain. Showing me how they have added safety pins to their pants’ and skirts’ waistlines. There are quite a few broken zippers! It seems a phenomenon of epidemic proportions. We refer to it as “Katrina Pounds.” “How many Katrina Pounds have you gained?”
It’s a vicious cycle. A community of people who are depressed and feeling hopeless, finding comfort in food; and now they are feeling depressed about their weight, their health and energy. It adds to the depression.

Our Women’s Bible Study group meets on Thursday nights, and we sometimes discuss the phenomenon of Katrina Pounds. Our clothes don’t fit.
When I read your book, “All Is Forgiven, Move On,” I realized that we are on the same page in many ways. Making conscious choices, being nice to ourselves, the importance of laughter … all important to me personally and there are parallels in the Bible.
Janice: What can we do to help ‘lighten?’ Support those who want to permanently let go of those Katrina Pounds and those who just want to lighten up their spirits?
I know of many who would be happy to lend a helping hand.
Sister Julia: I will let those who ask know that support is available. Just knowing that there are people out there who are ready and willing to help us ‘lighten’ up, as you say, is comforting. You are welcome to come and visit, as well.
Janice: Thank you, Sister Julia. And, I will take you up on that offer! See you soon, in Metairie.
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