In Living

Julia Kozerski at the start of her unintentional "Changing Room" project.

In Living

Progress...

In Living

More progress...

In Living

So many Goodwill donations for Kozerski.

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It was an emotional journey ...

In Living

... with great rewards.

Local photographer documents 160-pound weight loss on iPhone

Julia Kozerski was overweight her entire life, but last year, she finally decided to do something about it. Although her approach included a major change in eating habits and the addition of an exercise regime, the biggest change Kozerski made was committing mentally to a healthier lifestyle.

It took over a year, but Kozerski – a MIAD graduate with a photography degree who lives in Bay View – shed 160 pounds, going from a size 30 to a size 8. She documented her weight loss journey by photographing herself with her iPhone trying on clothes in various dressing rooms, and compiled a collection of photos called "Changing Room" that she posted on her website.

Kozerski, who was a full time student, newlywed and new home owner during the process, had some major set backs on top of an already sometimes stressful life. Her mother passed away and her father became ill which resulted in her to, at times, revert to old eating patterns.

But what Kozerski learned was you can always start over the next day and that there is never a "good time" to do something really difficult.

Kozerski has received national attention for "Changing Room," and she hopes to spread a message that goes beyond weight loss.

"I want everyone to know that change is possible. I would have never guessed that I would be able to alter my life as such. I didn't take a magic pill or resort to fad diets. I was guided by my heart, my body, and, I'd like to think, common sense. Anyone can do what I did, they just need to find their balance. They need to be in the right place at the right time in their life and everything will fall into place. Big results start with the smallest changes," she says.

OnMilwaukee.com recently caught up with Kozerski and asked her more about her art, her life and her weight loss.

OnMilwaukee.com: When did you decide to do this project? Was it a decision or did it just sorta happen?

Julia Kozerski: "Changing Room" was not preconceived as a "project." I had been taking these images throughout my weight-loss journey and, towards the end, when I saw them grouped together, I realized that their impact was significant, not just for me personally, but also from an outside audience.

OMC: How long did you want to lose weight before you finally did it? Did you have numerous "failed" attempts? What finally worked for you?

JK: My family and I were always considered "heavy" and "big boned." Growing up, I was always the biggest and tallest girl in my classes. There were many failed attempts at losing weight, in my teens and especially throughout high school. They were always half-hearted. Deep down I wanted results, I just wanted them instantly. I usually gave up a few days in and returned to old habits. In the end, what worked for me was simple. We are taught to burn more calories than we eat – more out than in. I ate correctly, measured portions and tracked my caloric intake.

I skipped out on fast food and soda and turned to healthier alternatives including fresh veggies, fruit and lean meats like chicken and fish. I also started exercising. Nothing crazy, biking when the weather was nice, taking my dogs for longer walks, dancing around my living room when I was in a fun mood. I'd like to say I found a magic pill, but I didn't. I just paid attention to what I was putting in my body and moved more.

OMC: How long did it take to lose 160 pounds? Do you plan to lose more?

JK: It took me just over one year to lose over just over 160 pounds. With the recent passing of my mother and severe health issues with my father, I will admit to slipping up with my eating and slacking on my exercise more than I should. I have gained a few pounds back that I would like to take off again. I don't have a specific goal weight anymore.

For me, I have come to realize that the changes I have made and continue to make are a lifestyle change. It's about taking everything in moderation and doing what is right for you, at the right time for you and doing what makes you feel the best about yourself inside and out.

OMC: Did you try to take a photo of yourself in a dressing room every week, every couple weeks or just whenever you happened to be shopping?

JK: There were no set credentials to my shopping expeditions. I say expeditions because going to these stores and trying on clothes was an adventure for me. I never knew what to expect of the outcome. Going through such a rapid change, I quickly lost site of myself physically. I'd go into a store needing pants and wound up, by habit, grabbing my old, largest size, 28.

Even at 160 pounds lost, I'd still see the "old" me in the mirror. Then I started shopping a different way. I'd pick out clothes in a variety of sizes and try them all on to gauge where I was in my progress. I was probably heading to the store on a bi-weekly basis just to "check in" with myself.

OMC: What size did you start at and what size are you now?

JK: My starting size was a 28/30. I could only shop in specialty stores. At my very lowest weight, I fit into a size 8 dress. I remember this vividly because I had never EVER fit into a single digit size in my life. Right now I wear a size between 12 and 16, some fits do not account for the loose skin I carry as a result of the loss.

OMC: Are you afraid of gaining it back?

JK: No. I have fluctuated some, as I search for my perfect balance of healthy living. Weather changes my weight, hormonal cycles also change the number on the scale. I keep watch on the number but focus more on how I am feeling. I do occasionally eat pizza or ice cream and, the next day, feel horrible and turn back around and eat a salad or fruit.

I feel like I have detoxified my body. The numbers may continue to range up and down but I don't believe – especially with the strong network of support that has been built around me after sharing these images – that I will ever go back to the "old" me.

OMC: Do you feel better physically? Emotionally? What are some of the best rewards for you about losing the weight?

JK: I get asked this a lot. I think I feel better physically. I mean, I lived in this body throughout the whole transition. It wasn't an on / off switch so I barely remember the way I physically felt at my heaviest. The emotional change was the most dramatic. I remember hiding behind people when being photographed and staying inside instead of attending social functions.

Now I am not afraid to go on national television and have the confidence to stand next to my nude self-portraits and speak to total strangers. Atop the greater sense of self, the very best reward is knowing that I have added years to my life.

OMC: How have people in your life responded to you weight loss?

JK: At first people, mainly my family, doubted my latest weight-loss attempt. Now that they've seen what is possible, everyone is so supportive. I have a fantastic network of friends and family who cheer me on at my strongest and cheer me up at my lowest. The public has also been incredible. I am contacted frequently about my journey and I am reaffirmed that what I am sharing is important. My life is real life and I am happy to have the opportunity to share it with so many.

OMC: What else do you plan to do with the photo collection? Are you still adding to it?

I do not know what the future holds for this work. "Changing Room" remains an open series because I would like to option to add to it if I feel I need to in the future. As an artist, I am inspired by life and am always inspired to keep making works. My website features "Changing Room" and "Half" which deal with my weight loss, "14 Million Minutes" is a series about the loss of my mother, and "Tag" deals with my response to body-image in media. I'm sure that whatever events occur moving forward, I will continue making art about it.

OMC: Obviously, "Changing Room" is about more than weight loss and dress size. Can you expand on that?

JK: These images aren't solely about a decrease in my size, they are about so much more. They are about life and death, about pain and sadness, they are about truth, reality and society. You don't need fancy cameras and lenses to make art, you need a voice. I hope that my voice is heard through my works.


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