Growing up, I wasn’t an athletic kid—or young adult, for that matter. I was a little rounder and heavier than my peers for most of my life. I was teased by family members, schoolmates and even some of my so-called friends. When I was about seven or eight years old, I remember being at my grandmother’s house for the holidays; when I approached the dessert table, one of my uncles walked up and whispered, “You shouldn’t eat that [red velvet cake], you are already fat.” I remember feeling extremely hurt as I fought the tears welling up in my eyes. I wanted to disappear. It didn’t stop me from eating the cake, but it did make me feel bad with every bite.
"As I got older, the fat kid became the chubby smart girl. And as a young adult I started one diet after another."
For years I carried that experience and others like it around with me, and eventually I began to see myself as fat.
Nonetheless, I felt loved at home and I excelled in school. I loved to read, and used books to escape real life. I was a good student and teachers loved me. I found confidence in those things, but nonetheless still felt insecure about my weight. As I got older, the fat kid became the chubby smart girl. And as a young adult I started one diet after another.
Yes, I was one of those women who tried the “lemonade diet” after Beyoncé lost weight for the movie Dreamgirls. I tried fat burners and diet pills off and on throughout college to lose a few pounds. I also did hours of cardio every day and temporarily lost weight, which temporarily boosted my confidence.
After graduation, I gained weight again with the stress of living on my own for the first time and trying to find a job. I ate lots of fast food and went out with my friends all the time. I totally neglected my health and added inches to my waistline. During this time, I found a full-time job that I liked, moved back home and also met my future husband Daniel. After a run in with my doctor, I began to make small changes and slowly started making progress.
After Daniel proposed, I kicked things up a notch for our upcoming wedding. I still have a food journal showing how I ate less than 1,000 calories a day before and after my wedding. A year after our wedding, I regained all of the weight I had lost—plus a little more. But by this time I had come to accept my “thickness,” and since my husband loved my curves, I began to love them too.
Almost two years into marriage, I found out I was pregnant. We were so excited. Although I tried to stay active during my pregnancy and eat “healthy,” I gained over 45 pounds during my first pregnancy. At just five feet tall, I felt like a whale.
After an unexpected C-section, it took a few weeks to adjust to my new life as a mom. Physically, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. Emotionally, I was overwhelmed, excited and terrified all at the same time. I expected to be tired, but I didn’t understand the level of emotions that I would feel in addition to the sleep deprivation. Let’s just say post-partum hormones are a crazy thing. A few weeks after our daughter was born, my husband took me shopping since I was feeling a little run down and emotional because I couldn’t fit into anything. I felt like the little fat girl all over again. I remember taking 3 or 4 pairs of jeans into the dressing room, because I had no idea what size to wear. I was completely distraught as I struggled to find jeans that would fit around my stomach. After a few reminders from my husband that I had just had a baby, I bought the biggest size and went to check out, but at that point I decided it was time to start focusing on losing weight again.
"I expected to be tired, but I didn’t understand the level of emotions that I would feel in addition to the sleep deprivation. Let’s just say post-partum hormones are a crazy thing."
Shortly after I began working out, I found out I was pregnant again. With my daughter only three months old, I felt completely overwhelmed and unprepared. But with the support of my husband and family, I made it through my second pregnancy while staying home with a growing infant. As my due date and our daughter’s first birthday arrived, I was exhausted and completely over the whole pregnancy thing. I was huge. I refused to take any pictures (something I totally regret now).
However, after the birth of our son, twelve days after our daughter’s first birthday, I felt surprisingly better than I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, the birth of my son was anything but easy; I went into labor just hours before my scheduled C-section, had a reaction to the anesthesia and was puffy and swollen from all of the fluids. Still, I drew strength from the two beautiful babies who depended on me; for them, I would do anything.
After having two kids in two years, I found myself once again overweight and uncomfortable with my post-baby body. I love being a mom and feel extremely blessed to have birthed two healthy babies. But after having my second child and as my thirtieth birthday approached, I was more motivated than ever to lose weight and get in the best shape of my life. I didn’t really know what that meant exactly, but I was tired of letting my weight hold me back. I didn’t want to pass those issues on to my kids, especially my daughter. I can honestly say motherhood gave me the courage I needed to make a lifestyle change.
So three months after having my son, I started what I call my fit mom journey. When I started, I just wanted to lose the weight I had gained with both of my kids in the healthiest and most sustainable way possible. So I began doing research on post-natal fitness, getting your body back after having a baby and sustainable weight loss. I was tired of fad diets and get fit quick pills and shakes. I knew from personal experience they weren’t long term solutions for me. I decided I wanted to make a complete lifestyle change; I wanted to be strong, not just a smaller version of myself. I wanted arms like Angela Bassett and abs like my girl Janet (honestly, a part of me doubted it was even possible, being that I’ve always been chubby and never had abs to speak of. After two pregnancies and two C-sections, I was flabbier than I had ever been. I figured I should shoot for the stars, because I would never want my kids to give up on something before they even tried.
As a woman of faith, I started my journey with a prayer and vision board. The word of the Lord says to write the vision and make it plain (Habakkuk 2:2), and that’s exactly what I did. I wrote out every scripture and motivational quote I could think of and put it on my vision board. I bought fitness magazines and cut out photos and words to help visualize where I wanted to go. I set a goal to work out four to five days a week. I began by walking around our neighborhood and making healthier food choices.
"I adopted the motto, “Thirties are for thriving!”
Every day I felt stronger and walked a little further than the day before. Eventually I signed up for a gym membership near my house, and every evening after my kids went to bed, I went to the gym. I was very insecure and felt completely out of place in the beginning, but I refused to give in to those feelings and pushed through. A few weeks after I started going to the gym, I saw a flyer for a 90 day Fitness Transformation and grabbed a flyer. As soon as I got home, I took the flyer to my husband and told him I wanted to sign up.
Seeing my enthusiasm, my husband signed me up a few days later. I had to wait a few weeks until the start of the challenge, but the morning of the contest I went in for my first weigh-in, measurements and “before” pictures. It was intimidating and liberating all at the same time. I told myself that there was no going back now and committed myself 100 percent to the process. Although the competitive side of me wanted to win the $1000 grand prize, my primary focus was giving my all each and every day, sticking to my nutrition plan and losing the last fifteen pounds I needed to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.
Over the course of the challenge, I lost over six percent body fat and sixteen pounds and I weighed less than I did before getting pregnant with my daughter. Although I didn’t win the $1000 grand prize (I was a top finalist), I still felt like a total champion. I had crushed all of my goals. I was visibly stronger and more confident than I had been in years. The challenge had given me the tools I needed to make a physical and mental transformation; it lit a fire in me that I never felt before. But as a former yo-yo dieter, I knew losing weight was the easy part; keeping it off and improving would take a complete lifestyle change. My husband and I talked about it in depth and decided that we would make the change together as a family.
With my thirtieth birthday a few months away, I was even more motivated to maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle. Refusing to lose any momentum, I scoured the Internet and found free fitness programs to help me stay focused in the gym. I had fallen in love with lifting weights and being active. As my thirtieth birthday approached, I felt better than I had in my twenties. I adopted the motto, “Thirties are for thriving!”
As further proof of our lifestyle change, my husband and I signed up for a Spartan obstacle course race. Training for the race challenged us to stay focused in the gym and in the kitchen. The race turned out to be one of the highlights of my year and the perfect challenge to end my months of transformation. Each physical obstacle I conquered served as a reminder of all of the mental and emotional hurdles I had overcome during my journey.
"I thought it was just about losing weight. I now know that it’s about so much more. .it’s about accepting and loving me, flaws and all."
Fast forward to the present, and I’m still on my fit mom journey. I love setting new goals and conquering new challenges. I’m now sharing my journey with other women, especially moms, to hopefully inspire them in their journey! The second year has presented its own set of challenges since I now have less weight to lose, but I’ve fallen in love with this lifestyle and have absolutely no plans of quitting anytime soon. Balancing life as a wife and mom with a fit lifestyle isn’t always easy, but I find time for the things that are most important to me, and now my health and wellbeing is also on that list.
When I began my journey, I thought it was just about losing weight. I now know that it’s about so much more than the physical transformation. It’s about accepting and loving me, flaws and all. It’s about creating healthy habits, letting go of the past and appreciating my body for what it can do and not just how it looks. I have loose skin, “mommy marks” and cellulite but I’m more confident, fulfilled and driven than I’ve ever been.
— NIKKI FERGUSON X UDD
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“She believed she could, so she did.”
- Nikki Ferguson
Guess what? I actually know Nikki. I was scrolling through Facebook one day and came across one of her posts. It read, “3 months after giving birth to my second child…at the time I couldn't run for 10 minutes without stopping…I couldn't hold a plank for 20 seconds and pull-ups were a mere dream.” Her words bared her post-pregnancy body. They bared her soul. But it was her facial expression I remembered. I couldn't get it out of my head. And then it occurred to me: What if you went through the ugly duckling years twice?
I will tell you, the ugly duckling years are not fun. They are physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting as you internalize thoughts, thoughts of yourself and others’ thoughts of you, perceived or real. So how do you silence the voices? I say, replace them. Train your thoughts — something I’m personally working on myself. But if I can naturally focus on the negative outcome, then why can't I choose to focus on a positive one? Not easy, but doable.
This brings me to my next question: Are you your biggest fan or biggest critic? Do you surround yourself with people and images that affirm your desires? You are, after all, exactly who you choose to be.
As for Nikki, she has chosen to be strong; not just physically strong, but mom strong. And it may not get any stronger than that. Don’t believe me? Take on labor! Nikki has also taken on herself, her thoughts, her doubts and fears, her beliefs of herself. She’s also there for her husband and two little ones while taking on planks, marathons and obstacle courses. And from it all, she’s found her passion.
Now I’ve had conversations with Nikki in the past, and fitness was never one of them—so witnessing this authentic birth and transition has been a true delight and inspiration. This is not a trend for her; this is a lifestyle. She’s strong indeed. And she has a beautiful daughter who will grow with the mindset that she can do anything, just because mommy did. How selfless. How MOM STRONG!
So to my Moms out there: Did Nikki's story strike a bell with you as well? Did post-pregnancy feel like you revisited your ugly duckling years all over again? Leave a comment below.