Have you ever seen a fitness model and wondered, “how the heck did they get that body?” Well, Chivon John, a fitness competitor, model, and writer, sat down with Frugivore to give you advice on clean eating, fitness competitions, and building self-esteem. Inside this long (but interesting) talk, she reflects on her personal journey through getting in shape, changing her diet, and learning to love her body. Undoubtedly, Chivon is an inspiration, as her words will resonate with optimum fitness aspirers.
Frugivore: On your Facebook page, you describe battling internally with self-esteem and body image. Can you talk a little about that struggle and what lead you to feel confident enough to pursue a career as a fitness model?
Chivon John: Although I was very active in various sports growing up, I silently struggled with low self esteem in high school and university. Competing in a fitness competition or even modeling were the furthest things from my mind nor did I even fathom it could be within reach for me. Back then, I was beating myself up with negative self talk of never feeling pretty enough, good enough and also thin enough to measure up to a standard that I didn’t realize was completely unrealistic at the time. In short, I was caught up in a quest for perfection in all areas of my life and food and my body were [some] of the ways that I used to try and gain control. I didn’t make healthy choices with respect to my nutrition and for years I experimented with unrealistic diets include having bouts of binging and even depriving myself of food. Through my journey with health and fitness, it has been more about learning to accept my flaws and learning to love myself unconditionally than trying to have a perfect body.
After meeting with my mentor, Lyzabeth Lopez in 2008 and joining her bootcamp program I was fortunate enough to meet many inspiring individuals and was also introduced to Holistic nutrition and learning how to approach fitness and training as a lifestyle versus a means of avoiding other aspects of my life. I think it is common to only associate fitness with diets and exercise but I try to approach fitness as being healthy in the mind, body and spirit. Training with a supportive mentor and group of people was a great outlet to make new friends and push my body to new levels but it also started to raise my awareness that I should also put the same energy in making myself mentally fit in the other areas of my life. Deciding that it was time to take a leap and stop the cycle I was on, I made the decision to pick something completely out of my comfort zone to face my issues with confidence and diet head on. The journey to do so was not easy and there were even many people in my life that didn’t even think I could do it but I was determined to do it in a healthy and holistic way and prove to myself that I could overcome my perceived limitations.
Since my first show 3 years ago, I have undertaken a complete lifestyle overhaul both with my health and how I approach my body image and personal development. In terms of how I view myself now, I’ve definitely come a long way and learned how to silence the voices that creep up from time to time. Self-acceptance is definitely a journey and one that definitely hasn’t stopped since I’ve become a competitor and model. If anything it has heightened my awareness that I should continue to invest in myself and celebrate my strengths and who am I now and not long to try to be anyone else.
Frugivore: What’s it like participating in fitness competitions? In particular, do you see many women of color competing?
Chivon John: Competing has definitely been one of the most challenging things that I’ve undertaken. It definitely takes a lot of physical preparation to train and meticulous attention to your nutrition in the final weeks before a show. However, I find managing the mental preparation to be just as important.
Competing will test your mental toughness as much as it will push you physically. I have done 6 shows thus far and I have managed this aspect by surrounding myself with a supportive network of peers that I can turn to for advice and support. Having this mentorship team has helped immensely to keep me grounded in the process and to make sure I find balance, have fun and to prevent me from doubting myself.
I notice that there is diversity in the shows that I have competed in or have attended as a spectator. I can’t speak for anyone else on why they might not compete but I think there may be some stereotypes about women of color not wanting to be athletic in favor of being ‘thick’ or curvy. I think that you can have both and I’ve made a lot of strides in my physique in finding the balance of feminine curves and a strong muscular body.
Frugivore: How did you begin your love affair with nutrition? Describe your diet and any particular foods that you swear by.
Chivon John: I think the key to maintaining a clean eating lifestyle is to enjoy what you are eating. I think that a common misconception and a trap that people fall into is that meal plans become boring and monotonous. Since beginning to train competitively, my interest in nutrition was set in motion because I wanted to learn more about the types of food I was consuming. I definitely recommend that people take an active part in learning about the type of food that you eat and the effects that it can have on your diet as well as your overall health. Since I overhauled my training and nutrition 3 years ago, I started learning more about naturopathic medicine and also taking more interest in learning how to cook meals using healthier ingredients. I learned that I was sensitive to certain foods through changing my nutrition and the importance of eating every few hours instead of skipping meals altogether.
Clean eating definitely takes a bit of planning but it doesn’t need to be very expensive or bland. I only follow a rigid nutrition plan unless I’m in the final weeks of preparing for a competition. But overall I keeping my meals clean by limiting processed foods, high sodium and refined sugar and ensure that I eat lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs and dark leafy vegetables. To keep things interesting, every week I aim to try something new in my diet whether it be cooking a favorite recipe using different ingredients or making a new healthy snack.
If you were to look inside my kitchen you would likely see cream of brown rice, steel cut oats or eggs, which typically I would have for breakfast. For my protein, I enjoy tilapia, salmon, turkey, steak or chicken and quinoa, dark leafy vegetables and brown rice as my carbs. Lately, I have been reading a lot about plant based diets and one of my goals is to try that out for a few months. Overall, nutrition should be enjoyable and for me learning new recipes is my way of keeping it interesting.
Frugivore: What steps would you recommend for women looking to be fitness models?
Chivon John: My advice for anyone that is thinking about breaking into fitness modeling or competing is to go for it and think big! I think that the one of the most important things that I’ve learned in my journey thus far is that in order to make a name for yourself in the fitness industry and fulfill your goals you need to put in the work and think of yourself as a fitness brand and entrepreneur rather than limiting the definition of yourself to just a ‘model’ or ‘competitor’.
You will never succeed if you don’t believe in yourself nor will opportunities magically appear unless you work hard, hustle and believe that you can do it. There are literally hundreds of people with similar goals but what sets you apart is discovering what is unique about you and what you can share with your audience. Although it could be beneficial in some instances, personally I don’t think you need an agent to be successful with this career. I know several people who have developed a great personal brand without one because it really comes down to how you market yourself and being assertive about creating opportunities. With that said, social media should be your best friend because it is your gateway for developing your brand and communicating with your audience. If you don’t have a twitter account, blog, facebook or personal website, you would be definitely doing yourself a huge disservice. A great resource for people that are looking to break into the fitness industry that I highly recommend is FMI Events. They provide great academic training about the industry and emphasize the importance of branding.
Lastly in terms of working out, there is no one size fits all workout plan to be successful. You definitely have to find a routine that works for you and stick with it. There should be no off-season when you are a fitness model as you should approach it as a lifestyle and not being on a constant diet. There are days when I can indulge in a sweet treat every now and then but I know because of my nutrition and training routine that it won’t throw me off track. Try and think of yourself as a fitness role model and above all strive to be healthy.
Frugivore: Lastly, what advice would you give to women struggling with weight loss and exercise?
Chivon John: My advice for anyone starting out or even if you are trying to make fitness a sustainable part of your lifestyle is to not give up and to try and find a support system. For me, my support system are the group of woman I met at my boot camp the Hourglass Workout (www.hourglassworkout.com) the amazing people that I met through my competitions and my long term friends. Everyone has different challenges in their journey through fitness whether or be losing weight, overcoming low self-esteem or even trying to gain weight or put on muscle. Just remember that it is and will be a journey. Start by creating small short goals for yourself and celebrate and acknowledge when you achieve them. Share your goals with your support network to help keep you accountable and don’t be afraid to confide in them when you doubt yourself or fall off track. Fitness can definitely feel lonely when you don’t feel comfortable or if you feel embarrassed sharing your struggles. It is in these moments when you often will lose motivation. Find a person or outlet for you that you feel safe to share what you are feeling as I think it makes a huge difference in the experience.
My journey in the industry has enabled me to learn a lot about myself, discovered a new calling, confront past insecurities and meet amazing and inspiring people. My message to anyone who has ever doubted themselves is to never let anything, including your own negative thoughts get between you and your goals.
The most common reason for not working out is a lack of time. But sometimes “I don’t have time” is really the same as saying ‘I don’t want to make the time’. Making the decision to incorporate fitness and clean eating into your life comes down to your Commitment.
Some of the ways to make it a less arduous process is finding activities that you enjoy to make it more enjoyable. Exercising doesn’t always have to take place in a gym and you don’t have to train be on a stage to be considered fit. Just by making changing in your diet and making a priority to be active for at least a few hours each week is a great start to taking better care of your health. Just remember that you are investing in you and try and have fun in the process.