This Nurse Quit Her High-Stress Job to Address Her Emotional Eating: 'I Needed to Do Something Drastic'

Julie Bowen lost over 150 lbs. after deciding to make major life changes and prioritize her health

Beyond the Scale rollout
Photo: Courtesy; Alanna Hale

In 2016, Julie Bowen was already exhausted from working as a pediatric nurse for 16 hours a day when her father died suddenly, leaving her to care for her elderly mother as well. The following year, her sister was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. Looking after her family as well as her patients took all of her time, and her own health suffered.

"I was on call 24/7," Bowen tells PEOPLE. "I slept with my phone."

After her mother died and her sister was settled in a nursing home, Bowen was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Not only was she feeling grief from the losses in her family, but also drained from a new role running a pediatric ICU.

"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 says.

Bowen had always struggled with her weight, but during this time period she reached 330 lbs. Her doctor was concerned about her developing diabetes and hypertension.

"It was a do-or-die situation and I needed to do something drastic," she says.

She asked for advice from a friend who had lost 100 lbs. with Optavia: "I said, it's time. Tell me everything I need to do. I'm all in."

"I also talked to her about hating my job," she says. "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."

Beyond the Scale rollout
(Photographer) Alanna Hale; (Hair/Makeup/Stylist on set) Carrie L’Esperance/ZENOBIA AGENCY; (Stylist) Don Sumada

Just four days after beginning the program, she quit her job and took a lower-stress nursing role, a change that began a "huge shift" in her state of mind.

Bowen, now 54, says changing her mindset to prioritize her health was integral to her success. When she had tried to lose weight previously, she always gained it back, and even a surgery in 1997 did not work.

"I was still morbidly obese after gastric bypass," she says. But with this program, she found the support of a community and learned to eat in moderation. "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.' "

Now, at 160 lbs., Bowen is able to do things she never thought she could, like take a long walk on her favorite beach two hours from where she lives in Fresno, California.

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Beyond the Scale rollout
(Photographer) Alanna Hale; (Hair/Makeup/Stylist on set) Carrie L’Esperance/ZENOBIA AGENCY; (Stylist) Don Sumada

When she used to make the trip, she would stay in the car, since parking could be a mile away, followed by a long set of stairs, "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."

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