A mom who was “living under a black cloud" after having her third son overcame postnatal depression by power-walking her boys in a triple buggy – before going on to become a European champion bodybuilder.
Struggling even to get out of bed after giving birth to her youngest child, Theo, Jo Barrett, 39, was prescribed antidepressants, but insists fitness is what really saved her.
Now a personal trainer, Jo, from Taunton, Somerset, said: “I'd had the standard baby blues before, but this was like a black cloud getting progressively worse."
Jo with Finlay (L) and Jack (R) (PA Real Life/Collect)
She continued: “My alarm would go off and I'd just think, 'I don't want to do this. I don't want to get out of bed.'"
“I owed it to my children to get better and fitness has really helped with that. It's always been in the back of my mind that I could slip back into that place of feeling lost and drifting, but bodybuilding has given me a focus."
Regularly riding horses before being struck down with postnatal depression (PND), Jo, a single mum to Finlay, 11, Jack, nine, and Theo, seven, had piled on the pounds during her last pregnancy – making her feel even lower.
Jo on stage (PA Real Life/Showshoots)
She recalled: “For around five days after Theo was born, I was in this happy little bubble. Then, one day, it burst."
“I'd had baby blues before, as my body reacted to pregnancy hormones. But these were new depths."
But, determined to get better for the sake of her children, Jo, who split from her boys' dad last year but remains on good terms with him, saw her GP, who gave her antidepressants which gradually improved her mood.
(L-R) Theo, Finlay, Jo and Jack (PA Real Life/Collect)
A slim 154 pounds before her pregnancy with Theo, after his birth, 5ft 8in Jo weighed 224 pounds, making her clinically obese.
She continued: “Despite the antidepressants, I was still very anti how I looked."
“I'd always been fit and healthy, but now my doctor was telling me that I had a body mass index (BMI) of 35.5. Anything over 24.9 is too high for a woman, according to the NHS, so I was classed as clinically obese."
Jo with Jack shortly after she had Theo (PA Real Life/Collect)
She added: “My diet didn't help. I've never been one for cooking and would rely on quick fixes where I could, so I'd eat a lot of ready meals and takeaways."
Fed up with feeling dumpy and depressed, as she moved into 2012, Jo vowed to get fit – buying a triple buggy online, so she could pound the pavements, power-walking, while pushing her three then-small boys around the block.
Within months, her excess fat began to melt away – spurring her on to invest in a pile of fitness magazines, so she could read up about healthy living.
Spotting the chance to apply for a 12-week transformation challenge, being offered by Bio-Synergy – who produce award-winning sports nutritional products and supplements – she put herself forward.
“They were offering a whole program, with supplements, diet advice, training advice – the works," she explained.
“I never thought I'd get picked, but I'd reached a sticking point with my weight and couldn't seem to shift any more, so I thought it was worth a try. Amazingly, not only did I get picked, but I actually won the challenge."
Jo on stage (PA Real Life/Showshoots)
Bitten by the fitness bug, Jo then spent the next few years trying out all sorts of classes, from pole dancing to Zumba.
She even ditched her admin job with the local council to become a personal trainer, going on to launch her own business, MamaFitness.
But it wasn't until January 2017 that she became interested in bodybuilding, after being encouraged to give it a try by fellow gym-goers.
Jo with Finlay before she got into fitness (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I'd had a bit of a hard time before that. My marriage had ended, and my mum had passed away, so I began to feel like I was drifting again," she said.
“There's always that fear that the depression will come back, so I was keen to get myself a new fitness focus."
“I already had good muscle mass, so I thought I may as well give it a go."
Jo training (PA Real Life/Collect)
In just 18 months, Jo has worked tirelessly to sculpt her body, taking home both British and European titles.
Now, ahead of her next spate of competitions, she is training seven days a week, twice a day.
To ensure her body gets enough fuel, she also eats around seven meals per day.
Jo showing off her European Championship medal (PA Real Life/Collect)
But, a far cry from the fatty takeaways and junk food she used to survive on, she eats healthy protein-packed dishes like eggs and spinach, lean meats and white rice.
Having also become a Bio-Synergy ambassador, she continues to use their sports supplements.
Speaking of her daily routine, she explained: “I hit the gym first thing, before I've eaten, to do half an hour of cardio. Then I do another half hour in the evenings, seven days a week. I also do strength training six days a week, focusing on a different muscle group each time."
(L-R) Theo, Jo, Jack and Finlay (PA Real Life/Collect)
She continued: “I've found taking weekly pictures of myself in gym gear or underwear helps, as I can see how much my body is changing while I prepare for competition season."
“When I'm not training, my routine isn't quite as intense but right now, I'm hoping I can win some of these next competitions to, hopefully, then progress to the world championships."
“That'd be a dream come true."
For information, visit www.bio-synergy.uk