There’s nothing The Great Kiwi Bake Off contestant Joshua Duncan enjoys more than whipping up one of his lavish fail-proof chocolate cakes, adorned with decorative dried flowers and thick buttercream icing. But you won’t catch the Nelson reality star eating more than a tablespoon of the sweet treat himself!
The civil engineering project manager, 32, once tipped the scales at 143kg and underwent life-changing weight-loss surgery in October 2020, which helped curb his longtime food addiction and led to him losing 80 kilos – so he can no longer stomach the baking he hopes will help him win the TVNZ 1 series.
“I started putting on weight at about age 13,” Josh tells Woman’s Day. “I’d go on crazy fad diets, be really strict and lose loads of weight. Then as soon as I’d stop, I’d gain it back. There was no in-between for me.
“I was so fixated on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food that if I had one bit of unhealthy food, it was like a switch. I thought I could fill a void by eating a tonne of burgers.”
At 29, the bubbly baker suffered from health problems that affected his joints and breathing. He realised his body could no longer cope with his heaviness when he started waking at night, needing to catch his breath. Seeing no light at the end of the tunnel and feeling defeated, he looked into weight-loss surgery.
“I felt like I was going to die,” recalls Josh. “Food addiction is real and unlike drug or alcohol addiction, you need to eat food to live, so you can’t just go cold turkey.
“I remember looking in the mirror at the time and thinking, ‘You look so sad.'”
He went through the necessary steps to see if he was a fit for irreversible stomach bypass surgery, which involves recreating a smaller stomach underneath the ribcage. After appointments with a dietician, psychologist and surgeon, Josh was accepted for the operation, which he says finally helped him understand what it meant to feel full.
“Before, I loved food, but it wasn’t the quality for me – it was the quantity and having as many calories as possible in an attempt to feel full. I was able to eat and eat and eat, then I’d feel uncomfortable, lie on my bed and think about having something sweet. Now food can go in, but I’ll feel it if I eat too much or too quickly and my stomach will cramp up really painfully. Then I’ll get sweaty and be sick.”
The operation has taught Josh about mindful eating, portion control and savouring flavour. While he would once order burgers and pizzas when dining out, he now opts for
a couple of entrees.
“If I feel like something sweet, salty or savoury, it’s the taste and quality I want, rather than the bang-for-my-buck value! I’m around 70kg now and the healthiest I’ve ever felt. The first time I jogged after losing loads of weight, I couldn’t believe that my knees didn’t hurt! There was no impact on my body when I ran.”
Amid the excitement of his “fun, intense and crazy” experience on Bake Off, Josh also recently started a new job managing the terminal upgrade at Wellington Airport. It means he flies from Nelson to the capital every Monday, returning to his media-shy artist husband of 10 years for the weekend.
“Usually, I bake at home on a Sunday because it’s therapeutic for me,” tells Josh. “But since I can’t eat the baking, I’ll often donate it all. I’ll put it on a social media page we have in Nelson for families who need food or give it to local businesses for a morning tea so it doesn’t go to waste.”
Looking to the future, Josh is keen to jump into more opportunities like Bake Off that he wouldn’t have taken if it hadn’t been for his surgery.
“A few years ago, I knew I was in a prison, but I had no idea what kind of prison it was until I lost all the weight and my body could walk without discomfort,” he reflects. “I’ve never felt so free and confident.”
The Great Kiwi Bake Off screens 7.30pm Thursdays on TVNZ 1.