Call it a coincidence. Call it accidental. Or call it the product of good parenting. Topping off at a size 28, Erika Nicole Kendall, who never paid much attention to her weight, suddenly became interested in working out when her mom pointed out a local gym and suggested Kendall give it a shot.
Doubtful that she would stay committed to exercise, Kendall, who was living in Indiana at the time, got the shortest gym membership offered, at $50 per month. But her doubts were unwarranted. She went daily, and in May of 2009 the transformation begun.
“I haven’t ever stopped learning about myself and what makes me happy and healthy, and I sincerely hope I never do,” says Kendall, the 28-year-old author of the award-winning blog “A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss,” which she has used to chronicle her weight-loss journey for more than three years.
Moving away from the gym that jumped-started her weight loss almost deterred her journey. She gained 10 pounds. Frustrated, she decided to change her approach and work on her eating habits.
But could there be a third option to weight loss? She asked herself what would happen if she changed her eating habits and worked out. She tried the new approach for healthy living and, to her surprise, the weight disappeared.
“It was self-affirming,” says Kendall, who now lives in New York. “I didn’t have any reason not to do it because, by doing it, everything just kind of moved so quickly.”
Kendall has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter, about 102,000 Facebook likes and has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, NPR and Black Enterprise. This past weekend, Kendall hosted a free boot camp class with Sgt. Raymond Bentley at the D.C. Armory.
We recently spoke with her about exercising without losing your curves and differentiating between being “thick” and carrying an unhealthy weight. Here’s an edited excerpt.
Some women of color worry about losing their curves from working out. What exercises do you recommend for maintaining shape?
Three exercises: squats, dead lifts and a really good lunge. Squats take care of your abs, your booty muscles and your thighs. A good lunge is going to take care of your calves, your inner thighs and your back, the muscles at the top of your booty (gluteus medious and gluteus maximus). Your dead lift is going to strengthen, take care of your core, your whole lower body and your shoulders. Everybody always talks about the hourglass, like the waist, but they never think about the top of the hourglass and that includes your shoulders as well. The dead lift is really a full-body exercise. And if you skip every other stair when going up the stairs, that’s a lunge.
Why do you think our community worries about losing curves?
Because we are all told that we won’t get a good man if we’re not what a man wants. Now I have to tell you, I met my fiancé after I had lost weight, in the process of losing weight even because now I’m completely on a different journey. My body now is very different from what it will be when I’m done. I feel like so many women are so concerned with being what men what, but end up in these relationships where they are unhappy. Be what you want. What do YOU want? I know that as women we are told that we are supposed to be caregivers for everyone else and put ourselves aside, but we can’t really do that when it comes to our health. Decide what you want, what you want to be and pursue that, then men will be attracted to that happiness in you regardless of all the other stuff. Then you’ll be healthy and happy to boot. You don’t really want a man that is going to tell you that his happiness is contingent upon your body looking a way that does not satisfy you.
Studies have shown that African American women can have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than other woman before being considered at a risky weight. Do you think this information makes black women more or less inclined to get in shape?
I think that us as black women, our bodies are built a certain way and that’s not to say that it accounts for more fat; I think that it accounts for more muscle. BMI does not account for muscle at all. To tell me that it’s okay for me to have a higher BMI, that’s not entirely fair. What you really need to say is that [it’s] okay for me to have more mass on my frame but it’s generally more muscle.
At what point is being “thick,” an African American colloquialism used to describe someone slightly overweight, unhealthy?
My personal gauge is my arms. If my arms look like chicken drum sticks, then I’m not happy. But for the general person, it’s an individual thing because clearly we’re talking about appearance; we’re not talking about our health. To me I think the individual needs to be honest with themselves.
Its not about what you look like, it’s about what your body can do for you because that’s what your body is for. It’s not to be cute, it’s to perform. Can that body perform? And if not, then you need to reconsider if being thick is really worth it.
What styles do you suggest for working out without ruining your hair?
Get a nice, thick, quality sweatband and pull it back in a ponytail and that’s if you’re natural or relaxed. I have natural hair that’s to the middle of my back and that’s what I do. There are some women that throw their hair up in Flexi-Rods, do what they gotta do and when they come off of the treadmill just pull those Flexi-Rods out.
I’m a juice addict. I’m weaning myself off by drinking low-calorie drinks like Crystal Light. Is that a “yay” or “nay”?
I would not drink Crystal Light or juice. I would find a really nice loose tea shop and find blends that have natural sweetness to them. It’s tea season now because it’s getting colder. There’s a pineapple hibiscus tea that one of the tea shops makes out here, and it’s nice, sweet, floral and flavorful. I don’t really miss sugar in it, but I understand that some people live off of that sugary bite that some drinks have. I would go with putting a little bit of fruit in your water. Take a watermelon, cut it into chunks and freeze it. Put it in your water and as you’re drinking, take a bite every now and again.
You've stressed clean eating , which you describe on your blog as “when the food you eat comes to you from as close to the source as you can get.” What books would you suggest for learning more about this topic?
“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan [and] I would also suggest “Brandwashed” by Martin Lindstrom. He talks about a lot of the marketing behind why we think the food that we get, in the form of processed food, is better than the stuff that should be making that stuff up, which is fruits and vegetables. ... Also, “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink.
On your blog, there are a list of recipes that have me drooling. What is your go-to recipe when you’re struggling with cravings?
Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions and turkey bacon. That’s my favorite. I love it, I love it! What I do is caramelize the onion, cut it into thin strips, cut up a couple of pieces of turkey bacon, throw them in the skillet and then blanche the brussel sprouts. And then I toss those in the skillet with the caramelized onions and turkey bacon.
What’s next for you? Any TV shows or books?
My goal is to try to get through to as many people as possible because I just think it’s so unfair and so unjust [that] this information is kind of hoarded. If I do a book, the book would have to be a lead-in to me doing something for free and in a way it goes against what I stand for because I do believe this stuff should be free.
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