The journey to better health is often paved with many different roads to travel by. Everyone has their own unique story to tell. Black Fitness Today had the pleasure of chatting with Los Angeles-based IFBB Pro and CEO of Soma Fitness – Summer White – about how she restored her health and her life; from working as a bottle server for a famed entertainment company to becoming a pro bikini competitor and changing the lives of so many through fitness and nutrition.
BFT: What was life like for you before you began your health and fitness journey?
After high school I focused less on athletics and more on school and traveling. After I graduated from UC Davis in 2005, I moved to Los Angeles with plans on taking my MCAT and going to UCLA medical school. However, I ended up getting seduced by LA’s infamous nightlife, and began working as a bottle server for the famed SBE Entertainment Group. Partying became my certified job and I was making tons of money doing it. However, the long hours and vodka shots took a toll on my body and complexion. We also had the pressure to stay thin because certain events called for us to work in swimwear, so to stay slim I just wouldn’t eat! The life was fun at the time, but it was far from where I came from and I knew I needed to make a change.
There’s a misconception that being thin equates to being healthy. Although you were 107 pounds, it was not necessarily a healthy weight for your height and you were confronted with health problems. What were you experiencing at that time?
Back then I didn’t eat regularly; I drank a lot of sugary juices like guava and orange juice and never water. I also loved cinnamon graham crackers and salads with lots of cheese. I thought my health issues were genetic, so I treated the symptoms and left it at that. In reality, all the sugars in my body caused me to have chronic yeast infections, skin issues, eczema on my elbows, and insomnia at night. I used creams, pills, patches, and whatever else I could to calm things down. I didn’t think there was any other way. I was eating far below what my body needed to perform at maximum capacity so I was suffering without even realizing that my eating habits were the cause of my problems.
BFT: What led you to want to change your life?
SW: My girlfriend Brooke Mora (who is now an IFBB Bikini Pro) entered a fitness competition through the National Physique Committee (NPC). I really didn’t pay attention to her training or progress until I saw her photos on competition day. At that point I was astounded! I had never really known any woman that actually had abs and muscles, and I thought it looked amazing! She was like a real live super hero! I immediately wanted to know everything. I started training and did a few shows in LA where I did pretty well. A few months later, I transitioned out of my job as a bottle server to a day job in sales. This freed my evenings up to start training, and I became hooked! Exercising made me feel truly alive! All my health issues cleared up and I loved seeing my body transform. I wanted to see how far I could take my body and competing in fitness shows gave me a goal to work towards.
BFT: Congratulations on earning your IFBB pro card! What has changed for you now as a bikini pro vs. a novice?
SW: Competing as an amateur was a lot of fun. I loved the stage. I competed in about 7 shows before I turned pro in 2011, but in a way I feel like everything happened overnight! That’s not saying that I didn’t work really hard and spend a lot of time educating myself and sculpting my physique, but the thing I love about fitness is you can get amazing results in a relatively short time if you focus on the right things.
When I turned pro, people started treating me as an expert. I started getting a lot of Facebook messages from friends, family and strangers that were asking for help on how to lose weight and I got to do other cool stuff like being featured on Good Morning America and in fitness magazines like Flex and Muscular Development. As an amateur, I wanted to turn pro so bad that there was a lot of stress and nerves involved. As a pro I focus more on competing as a way to celebrate myself and my hard work and don’t worry so much about the other competitors. A lot of my focus as a pro is in helping other people achieve their fitness goals.
BFT: We learned that there are only a handful of African-American IFBB Bikini pros. Why do you think this is the case?
SW: Good question. I think there are a few reasons. First, the NPC Bikini Division is relatively new. It was first introduced in 2009. Classes went from being a handful of girls who liked to work out, wearing regular swimsuits from the beach on stage to huge classes where everyone has a professional coach. As the industry grows, we are seeing more black women compete in the amateur division, which is where everything starts. So I think awareness of the sport is important.
I also think popular culture plays a role. Between celebrities, rap stars or urban magazines, big booties are big business and women with these shapes get attention. Many women think they will lose their curves if they train too hard, so they’ve turned to brazilian butt lifts and injections.
As I trainer, women come to me all the time saying “I don’t want to lose my booty, can you just help me have a smaller waist?” The answer to this is yes and no. If you train for a bikini show you’ll lose fat but you’ll gain muscle and naturally lift saggy areas by doing squats, lunges, and plyometrics. Take a look at the the pros in our league, and you’ll see that many have curves and tiny waists!
BFT: Have you experienced any difficulties on your journey and if so, how have you been able to overcome?
SW: In the beginning of my journey my social circle wasn’t exactly supportive of my goals. In a way you could say they were killing me with kindness! When I was working in bottle service, people would either criticize me for not wanting to partake in the drinking, or they’d want to celebrate my success with drinks! If I had a dollar for how many times I heard “you’re working out, you deserve this cake, drink, candy, fried food…”
I also self-sabotaged. After each show, or when I hit my weight goal, I’d have a big celebratory dinner and literally make myself sick with all the junk food, alcohol and sugary treats. My weight would rebound in a major way, and nearly all my skin infections and digestions issues would resurface. It was only when I changed my mentality and relationship with food that things started to change. I have realized that many auto-immune diseases stem from the food you consume, so when I targeted the foods that challenged my immune system, I cut them out of my diet. These days, I choose to eat foods that work with my system or eat cheat foods in moderation. Now I try to celebrate my results with foods that are of the highest quality rather than gorging on foods that give me issues!
What was the inspiration behind starting Soma Fitness? What services do you offer?
SW: A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to train clients in South Asia and the Middle East for 5 months. During this time I was traveling a lot and training for my pro debut at the same time. I was doing my best to maintain a competition diet but it’s not exactly like you can head down to Whole Foods when you’re in Turkey or India! I ended up encountering several food borne pathogens that landed me in the hospital.
It was pretty serious. I was in and out of emergency rooms for a total of two weeks, hooked to IVs and I lost so much weight I looked like a skeleton. After this experience, I decided to come back to the states to get healthy and back on track for my pro debut. The process of getting my broken body back to working order was a team effort. I had my competition trainer but also employed the help of a holistic nutritionist and a naturopath. Through these three experts, and countless months of my own research, I gained so much knowledge and was inspired to become credentialed in nutrition, a field I was interested in back in my undergraduate years as a genetics major.
I started to better understand the connection food has to performance, but also to health, and I wanted to share my information with the world! Through Soma Fitness, I create online training and nutrition programs that transform the health of my clients from the inside out. I offer programs for men, new mothers, ladies counting down to their wedding day, competitive clients, and people just looking to get fit. Through diet, training, and natural supplementation I help clients reach their fitness and wellness goals.
BFT: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a trainer and fitness entrepreneur?
SW: I don’t have children, but the feeling I get when clients begin feeling confident about their bodies or can finally perform more advanced exercises in the gym or win trophies on stage is the excitement of a mother seeing her children’s achievements! When people come to me with serious digestive issues, or thyroid and sleep anxiety and I’m able to change their quality of life from changing their die,t it makes me feel like the path I’ve chosen for my life is the right one. It is so rewarding to do what you love and bring happiness to people while doing it!
BFT: When you are not training, how do you keep your body in shape? And, what is your typical nutrition regimen?
SW: Staying healthy and fit is a lifestyle for me and whether I’m doing a show or not I stay active. When I’m on vacation, I make sure to book hotels with fitness facilities or do outdoor workouts like hiking or rent bikes. I enroll my friends and family to join me to keep it fun. I also never travel without Sun Warrior, my vegan protein powder!
At home I generally start my day with an egg white veggie omelette and a matcha almond milk latte. I hit the gym or exercise where I can, then have a yummy protein smoothie and one of my famed protein oat bran muffins. For lunch, I love to eat a huge salad with heart of palm, sauteed tempeh and avocado. Later I may have another shake with added unsweetened acai fruit or shredded coconut and almond butter. For dinner, roasted veggies, and a salad with added organic non-gmo vegan pesto sausage is my go to, and if I’ve been consistent in the gym, I might have a small bowl of stevia sweetened coconut milk ice cream!
BFT: What are your favorite indulgences?
SW: I just mentioned them! Haha. I actually have a pretty serious sweet tooth but I stay sugar free most of the year! Find a bakery with stevia or xylitol sweetened dessert and you’ll probably find me hanging out. Really though, I am a lover of great food without all the added butters and sugars. Sure, those foods taste good but they don’t coincide with my goals so I love eating at restaurants that don’t use those ingredients in their dishes. I live in LA so there’s an abundance of healthy food choices. Sage Restaurant in Culver City is a favorite, the Erewhon Juice and Tonic Bar is great. [And, I love] any restaurant serving a great guacamole with organic corn chips, or a cafe serving a scrumptious omelette.
BFT: Do you believe the state of health in the African-American community is improving or declining? While every ethnicity is in need of better health education, what are your thoughts on what needs to be done to end so many of the disparities that are plaguing our community?
SW: As a whole, black men are well represented in professional athletics. I think there are more African American male athletic role models than female. It seems the popular role models for females have very unnaturally shaped bodies that aren’t easy to attain without surgery. That’s not great and we’re only now starting to see some of the problems associated with some of these procedures.
In the black community, we’ve grown up on foods that are carb heavy and quite rich in saturated fats and sugars. Targeted commercial advertisements in the black community for fast foods, alcoholic beverages, and sugary sports drinks have contributed to poor nutritional choices. We’ve seen the epidemic proportions of diabetes and heart disease in our communities.
I think people need to be educated. So it is my goal to provide the information. I think well educated people make good decisions for themselves and their families. On a happier note, a huge portion of my client base are black women with serious goals of either losing weight to get healthier or competing in fitness shows. These women are health evangelists and they play a really important role. I think women really set the standards for any community because they are buying the food for their families and doing the cooking which shapes the next generation.
BFT: What advice would you give to the BFT audience as well as other women who are looking to improve their health or even become a competitor such as yourself?
SW: I really want to let people know that today is the day to get started! Don’t compare yourself with others and their progress. Make each decision for your health and wellness!
BFT: How can people learn more about you and what you are up to at Soma Fitness?
SW: I send out free monthly newsletters with nutritional tips, recipes, exercises, and client highlights that you can sign up for by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org I want to also provide each BFT reader with a free diet evaluation to get you started on your fit journey! Just send me an email to the address mentioned above to get started!