Jessica Lewis Watson, secretary III at the Children’s Research Center, has lots of stories to tell, and one that she is eager to share is how she lost 95 pounds after being overweight most of her life. A free-lance author and photographer, Watson has written numerous magazine articles about dogs, log-home living, and the environment, in addition to two books. Watson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Honors English at Illinois, worked a short time at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts before relocating to Texas, where she earned a master’s degree in English at Baylor University. Upon returning to Illinois, Watson worked in several departments around campus as an extra-help employee before her current position in July 2001.
Tell me about your job.
I work for a grant-funded program, Great Lakes Quality Improvement Center for Disabilities (Great Lakes QIC-D) in Special Education, which provides workshops to Head Start teachers throughout Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. We also produce various publications, and I do the layout and editing on a newsletter called Research Update, which is about people with disabilities and the people who work with them.
There are 11 people working for the grant, so I have 10 bosses. I do tons of photocopying and travel vouchers. ‘Walking the vouchers’ is my favorite part of my job because I’m a real people person. I enjoy going on errands all over campus and talking to people I know in the different offices.
The grant for the program is going to end Aug. 31, and then I’ll go to another position (as a secretary III) where I will work for several people in special education and the College of Education.
Congratulations on losing 95 pounds. How long had you been heavy and what inspired you to lose the weight?
I hit puberty at age 10 and got plump. I won’t really go into specifics but at age 36 I had a lot of losses in my life all at once, and all I felt I had left was my body. I wasn’t writing a book or any articles, and I decided that I needed a new goal in my life.
I’ve always tried to lose weight on my own and never succeeded. I didn’t know correct portion sizes, and counting calories made me feel lonely and deprived – as if everyone else could get away with eating and I couldn’t. The weight-loss program and aerobics classes I attend give me camaraderie and support. My mom and all my colleagues also have been very supportive during the 16 months it took me to lose the weight. Debbie Holderer and Amanda Quesenberry (co-workers) both gave me clothes as I was changing sizes so I didn’t have to keep buying new clothes.
Did you have some special reward in mind to celebrate reaching your goal weight?
I never was able to just go out and buy clothes:
I either couldn’t afford them or I didn’t feel good enough about myself to buy them. In high school, I had just one pair of jeans that I wore every day. Now I’m a clothes-aholic. I’m taking ballroom dancing classes, and I’m buying all these sparkly, mini dresses, and I’ve never worn a mini dress before.
What would you say to someone who’s tried to lose weight and failed?
That they can do it. People think, ‘Oh, I’m too old’ but you’re never too old to get fit. I started losing weight at age 36. In my aerobics class, there are people in their 60s and there was an 80-year-old woman in another class I attended. I want to be 80 and still doing aerobics.
Editor’s Note: After shedding more than 95 pounds, Jessica Lewis Watson now weighs the same as her Great Pyrenées, Mr. Bultitude, aka Bulty, shown in the background of the photo.