By Thomas Johnson, January 25 2018 —
Folk-singer Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”
In 1990, someone had that quote printed in the now defunct Three Lines Free section of the Gauntlet. James Fell, then an unfit and underachieving history undergrad reeling from a recent academic probation notice from the University of Calgary, read it while eating lunch in MacHall.
“I got the message in the mail that said, ‘You’re being kicked out because of your grades,’ ” Fell says. “My credit card companies were calling, I was drinking too much, I was overweight. I was in a state of despair. Twenty-two years old and I felt like my life was circling the drain.”
Today, after stints with the Gauntlet, LA Times, TIME and a handful of other notable publications, Fell holds the ideal position of—any aspirational writers — that is, a successful author. In 2014, he released Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, an inspirational weight-loss book that adopted a sardonic authorial voice that set him apart from the, as he put it, “Group-hug, Oprah, ‘You-can-do-it-girl’ voice or the chest-bumping, alpha-male crap” style that dominated the market at the time.
“When I have something to say, I’m just gonna barf out and say it. In the world of health and fitness, other people weren’t doing that,” Fell says. “I got into it to be the writer I wanted to read.”
His second book, The Holy Sh!t Moment, released this January, occupies the same field as Lose It Right — science-based motivational writing — but focuses more intently on the readers split-second desire to catalyze the change in their life.
“When someone has a sudden insight into their life, that takes them on a new path in their life in a furious and seriously motivated way. I had been preaching the slow and steady path to weight loss, including the way people become motivated — slowly drag yourself over a motivational tipping point,” Fell says.
“I talked to a lot of people where that wasn’t the way it happens for them. They had a ‘holy shit moment,’ ” he continues. “They jump in with both feet, incredibly motivated. They didn’t have to struggle — they had to work, to lose the weight, but there was no looking back. It was going to happen.”
On his personal ‘holy shit moment,’ Fell is as forthcoming as his book.
“I was sitting in the food court, reading the Gauntlet. I read [the] quote by Joan Baez,” he says. “It was kind of a two-stage process. The first stage was the insight that the whole situation was my fault. All of these problems I’m facing could be solved with concerted effort. I can fix this if I’m willing to work. The second stage was this really big, life-changing epiphany that I had been lazy my entire life to that point. ”
What followed was a physical transformation, two master’s degrees and one of the most successful health-and-fitness writing careers in Canada. Holy shit.
“That’s the way these life-changing epiphanies work. They’re big picture, very fuzzy. They’re not concrete action plans,” says Fell. “Those come later.”
The Holy Sh!t Moment will be on sale Jan. 22 via St. Martin’s Press. Copies of it and Lose It Right are available in stores or via Fell’s (hilariously named) website, bodyforwife.com.