Cover Story

The Skinny on Amy Jones

by Heather Miller

How a Lafayette public relations dynamo lost 140 pounds and seven dress sizes, and why she is more than willing to talk about it
By Heather Miller Photos by Robin May

A former athlete who towers at 6 feet tall, public relations powerhouse Amy Jones has never been "petite."

"You just can't be when you're this tall," the 37-year-old former sportscaster and Lafayette native explains.

How a Lafayette public relations dynamo lost 140 pounds and seven dress sizes, and why she is more than willing to talk about it
By Heather Miller
Photos by Robin May

A former athlete who towers at 6 feet tall, public relations powerhouse Amy Jones has never been "petite."

"You just can't be when you're this tall," the 37-year-old former sportscaster and Lafayette native explains.

Jones, a senior partner at Jones Co. who manages a client list ranging from the town of Broussard to the NFL's Green Bay Packers, has admittedly battled weight problems since childhood - and the former KATC-TV3 sports anchor knew she had gained a few pounds by the time she left her stint in the California sports-casting circuit and returned to Lafayette in 2001.

It would be another decade, however, before Jones realized things "got out of control," she says.

"I knew I had to do something, and I knew that it wasn't going to happen on my own," Jones says. "It was frustrating. Asking for help is a hard thing to do when you're battling a weight issue. An alcoholic can stop drinking. A drug addict can stop doing drugs. Someone dealing with food issues can't stop eating. So it was about how to do this. I talked to doctors, and I was still really scared."

Amy Jones, pre-surgery, with her niece, Mary Catherine Jenkins

Ironically, the decision to take a chance on the "biggest investment" she's ever made in herself came on the same day as one of Jones' biggest PR events of 2011, the Trynd of Giving grand opening and benefit that featured New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton.

"I was looking in the mirror that morning and I said, You've got to do something,'" she recalls. "I had a great business, great business partners, great family, yet I wasn't happy."

Hours later, amid a downtown bash that drew more than 500 people and raised a combined $50,000 for two charities, Jones came face-to-face with the issue that had been heavy on her mind for the past few months.

"I ran into a friend of mine that night, and the first thing I said to her was, Wow. You look great,"' Jones recalls. "I asked her what she had done [to lose so much weight], and she told me she had surgery, at which point I asked if I could call her.

"Here I am in the middle of this huge event, and that's what I'm asking about," Jones continues. "I was living constantly in fear. So I went to talk to the doctor and that was it. I never looked back. All the years I had lived in fear about doing it, it was immediately erased."

About two months after that fateful night, Jones had 65 percent of her stomach surgically removed through a procedure known as the gastric sleeve. Once the portion of the stomach is taken out and the remainder sewn back together, "your stomach really almost looks like a sleeve," Jones explains.

A little more than one year after the surgery, Jones shares her journey with The Independent 140 pounds lighter - and seven pant sizes smaller than she was when she stood alongside Payton at the March 19, 2011, charity event.

"Probably the only reason I'm talking to you about it is somebody else didn't shy away from talking to me about it, and it changed my life," she says. "So many people don't want to talk about having the surgery. Remember Starr Jones? I had another friend who didn't want anybody to know either. It's incredibly personal. Whatever path they take - good for them. In my opinion, you have to talk about it because it's got to be about more than just yourself. I want people to know there is help, and it's effective. It's not the easy path, but there is a path. If one person reads this and decides, I can do it, too,' then it's a great thing."

The surgery, Jones explains, is just one component of the life-altering procedure. Like most weight loss methods, this, too, requires permanent diet and lifestyle changes for the surgery to be successful.

Jones' post-surgery path to weight loss started with a roughly 10-day recovery period following the surgery and weeks on a soft-food diet before gradually increasing her intake of regular foods. To this day, she still relies on chicken salads from Zeus five to six days a week to get her fill.

"It's not a solve-all. It's just a tool," Jones says. "You have to change everything about your lifestyle. I know a lot of people who have tried to get around [the diet and other lifestyle changes]. Why not do everything that it takes to be successful on it? That was the focus I kept. It was the biggest investment I was ever going to make in myself, so if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right."

The 140 pounds Jones shed in just one year is above average for gastric sleeve patients, according to Dr. Uyen Chu, a physician with The Surgical Specialists who works for Our Lady of Lourdes Bariatric Center, where approximately 350 weight-loss procedures are done each year. Most patients come out about 70 pounds lighter after their first year, but Jones' active lifestyle and her age were big factors in her rapid weight loss, Chu says.

Lourdes' Bariatric Center offers three different types of weight-loss surgeries: lap band, gastric bypass, and the gastric sleeve - which accounts for approximately 60 percent of the weight-loss center's caseload.

"The sleeve is the safest with good results," Chu says. "The band is probably safer, but the results aren't as great. The bypass is relatively safe, but there are some additional complications long-term. We've been able to provide the sleeve as a much more efficacious procedure than in the past. Because we have a better understanding of obesity as a medical illness, we're able to target the procedure to meet the patient's needs."

It's been an extraordinary experience for Jones, to say the least, a journey that's been measured as much by milestones as it has pounds and pant sizes.
"A few months ago I went to Las Vegas for a long weekend, and it wasn't anything that I saw or anything spectacular. The biggest thing about that trip was that I walked Las Vegas for three days," she says. "I didn't want to get in a cab. I wanted to walk it - because I could. Before, my knees would hurt, my back would hurt, the typical things that go with being that heavy. It limited what I could do physically."

For Jones, what's been equally as hard as shedding the weight has been letting go of her own insecurities.

"The [bariatrics] coordinator warned that this will be as much of an emotional journey as it is a physical one. And I don't think anybody can prepare you for that. It took a long time for me to not see the face in the mirror - the person I was when I was at my heaviest. It's hard. Anybody who has battled weight issues knows it never comes off as fast as you put it on, and I don't think anybody can prepare you for weight coming off so fast that your body is going faster than your mind. Eventually it catches up, but it's tough."

Looking back, Jones doesn't hesitate when asked whether she's seen a difference in the way people treat her since her remarkable weight loss.

"Absolutely. If there's anything that's been re-instilled again is that sense of confidence - confidence in who I am," Jones says. "You do things to overcompensate for being heavy, like being really nice, or trying to assert that you're really smart. You're doing things that take away from the fact that you're not who you want to be. You're trying to overcompensate for that perception. I don't have to overcompensate anymore. I can just be me and that's enough.

"The way people treated me before versus now, I don't want to put it on other people," Jones continues. "I think the difference is that I feel good about who I am. In general, when people meet people who are truly appreciative of where they are in life, it's hard not to be OK with that. Because I'm more open now, the response from others is to be open back."

Healthwise, Jones was experiencing a "ton of headaches" and was beginning to battle hypertension before she opted for weight-loss surgery, but "other than that I was very lucky."

"Since the surgery it's cut the number of migraines down to a fourth," she says. "The health aspects of it have been tremendous. People tell me I look great, and my response to that is, Thank you. I feel great.' Between my family, my business partners and my speech coach who's now one of my dearest friends, that circle refused to let me fail. I can't say enough about how that impacts everything. Being at home, being at work, anywhere that I went I felt there was somebody there saying you're going to do this. I was constantly getting that reinforcement. It made a difference."

The most unexpected outpouring of support for Jones came a year after her surgery, when she used social networking to send a shout out to everyone who had helped to guide her down her current path to healthy living.

"On the one-year anniversary I put something up on Facebook, a thank you for all the incredible support I had. I didn't know it was going to go as crazy as it did. I spent two days answering emails from people I didn't even know. They reached out saying you have no idea who I am, but I saw your post on a friend's wall and can I talk to you about it?"

And as willing as Jones is to share her story thanks to the special friend whose brief conversation that night at Trynd brought Jones back to the weight she was when she began her television career, she has one piece of advice for anyone considering the procedure: "Go talk to your doctor."

"Don't be scared of it," Jones says. "I think there's still a lot of fear for people in making this decision. But if you've battled it for years, this is a tool. I think people should not be afraid to use the tool if they're willing to make the other changes necessary to get where you want to go. This is a tool, a solution, a center of excellence that's right here in Lafayette. You don't have to go to some big city to have this done. We have unbelievable doctors in Lafayette providing this."
At this point Jones has met her weight-loss goal and isn't trying to shed any more pounds. The next several months, she says, will be spent incorporating more exercise into her daily routine until she and her business partners can make it through sports season (they rep both NFL teams and the NBA Retired Players Association). Sometime next year, she plans to undergo a follow-up surgery to remove the excess skin from her body, a process that requires substantially more recovery time than the original weight loss procedure.

"I'll never forget where I came from. I've always been a kid that battled weight, but I think this time it was the change in lifestyle that I've never before done. As far as keeping me humble, there's nothing about this process that doesn't force you to be completely humble about where you were and where you want to go. I will never forget. It's been a transformative year, the only word I can associate with it is grateful."