I was always a fairly active person growing up throughout school and early adulthood. I did not think about weight, size of my pants, calories or fitness. I was more focused on hating other aspects of myself. My dark skin color being number one, and not feeling pretty enough being number two. Thinking about weight, inches, calories, etc., was not on my agenda.
My family enjoys living life. I wasn't raised to focus on eating healthy and I was naturally a picky eater who preferred junk food, sugar, and everything greasy. I didn't see a bad effect on my body. I maintained at roughly 125 pounds and was never called fat or skinny.
It wasn't until I was about 23; married young, moving to a new city that I realized my once 24-inch waist, size 2/4 were not in my life. Size 6 was gone and size 8 was waving goodbye and in most cases screaming bloody murder! It wasn't until about the size 8 and the ever looming size 10 that I personally didn't like what I saw in the mirror. I purchased my first weight scale and realized I weighed 145-150 pounds, which doesn't seem like a lot, but when I had historically seen 125 pounds I freaked out! Being new to the DC area, I didn't know anyone and took the opportunity to begin losing weight ... the WRONG way. I drastically cut my calories to roughly 500-750 a day, became a cardio bunny, and dropped to roughly 100-105 pounds!
My ribs were showing and psychologically I became obsessed with being skinny. My skin drooped and jiggled. I could play the xylophone on my ribs and still felt fat and unhappy! Post-divorce, I began thinking that I had been too fat and now I'm too skinny. I just was NOT good enough. So I started doing what many with eating disorders do, though at the time I didn't realize I had an issue. I started binge eating and drinking too much, not working out, and basically not caring at all.
A couple of years later in 2009, I was tagged on Facebook in pictures from a friend's birthday party. Complete mortification set in. I had, for the first time in my life, a belly! Not a little fluff, I looked pregnant! I decided to change my lifestyle the RIGHT way. I started researching famous fitness athletes' diets and training and tweaked my own lifestyle accordingly. I played around and saw how my body responded, from both the positive and negative, and changed the speed, weight, and cardio training as well as diet until I lost about 45 pounds.
After several discussions with friends and personal research, I decided competing is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to see how far I could really take fitness. Could I really look like the ladies gracing the stage? I was small in size, but I wanted the body of IFBB Bikini Pro Jennifer Andrews! I wanted people to look at me and KNOW without a doubt I worked out.
I sought out Jennifer's coach Shannon Dey who took my body that extra mile! I was introduced to a whole new level of training and I was addicted to how my body responded. While I seriously lacked enthusiasm for fish and beef, the changes helped me break my plateau! My waist shrunk from 26 inches, to 20 inches and finally to 19 inches, and yet I didn't look scary skinny and nothing jiggled!
I was overly enthused with my shoulders, back, and thanks to tons of plyos, squats, and lunges, I finally liked my legs and still had my glutes with a beautiful tie-in to my hamstrings. I knew from that moment that fitness was not just a hobby or something I enjoyed; it was truly what I read about. It is my lifestyle.
I am a Type A personality, borderline control freak, and fitness allows me to have total control! I get to mentally and physically change and manipulate my body and mind to get to a new level; to do something I didn't think possible. I feel like I can take on the world when I'm in the gym!
My 4F's: friends, family, followers, and fans. I hold myself to a very high standard and knowing that I have people from my childhood to strangers across the world who look up to me motivates me to get up and do cardio at 3:45 a.m. when it's cold and raining, or I didn't get enough sleep. I can't let down the very people who believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.
Once I fell in love with fitness, one of my dearest friends, Donald, told me I should look at competing; I should take my fitness to another level and compete now that I wasn't a fat girl! He's such a tough critic, and knowing that he believed in me gave me ammunition to start believing in myself. My coach, Shannon Dey, always makes me want to push that extra mile. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see the 'proud momma' smile she gives when my body shows I've given everything I've got.
Number one is to stop being hard on myself and becoming overly insecure as stage time approaches! After I combat my mental insecurities, I want my IFBB Bikini pro card and to continue inspiring others to make a lifestyle change and reach for their own personal goals. Of course, if I were to be offered a magazine cover or spread that'd be nice too!
Do not compare yourself to others and do not worry about your fellow competitors. Every time you step on stage your goal should be to bring a better overall package than you did the last time!
We all have different body types and stage presentation and who knows what the judges are looking for on that particular day! At the end of the day you can look back on those few seconds on stage and say to yourself "I gave a 100 percent, not just in diet/training, but in my heart and I have no regrets." Then you are a winner. Don't let judges' perspective ruin your spirit!
Photographer Credit: Dwanye Woodard, Steve Michael, Jeff Binns, Jules Clifford, Dan Levine Photography