Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and reality star of R&B Divas, Syleena Johnson is continuing to make her mark in the music industry as one of the best vocalists of our generation. But now, she is also looking to make her mark in a different industry – fitness. Black Fitness Today had the pleasure of chatting with Syleena about her career and fitness journey, which has included dealing with past issues with body image, bouncing back after gaining 75 pounds from her last pregnancy to now training for a 200-mile marathon relay, and why she wants to inspire other women to take control of their health!
BFT: It looks like everything is coming full circle for you, in terms of mind, body and soul. You’re an advocate for health and are making an impact on others, and you recently appeared on Iyanla: Fix My Life to bring your family together and improve your emotional well-being. Would you agree with that?
SJ: Absolutely. I’m working on a book that chronicles my life and my journey and just more about who I am. I’m always a singer first and songwriter, but that wasn’t my first love. My first love was basketball. I wanted to be a basketball player but they didn’t have the WNBA when I was playing. I was a three-sport athlete. I also taught step and floor aerobics in college, so fitness has always been a major part of my life.
BFT: We read that you’re pursuing a degree in nutrition science? How’s that going?
SJ: Yes, I’m only five classes away from a college degree in nutrition science. I took a break to start R&B Divas because I didn’t want to jeopardize my grade point average; I was getting straight A’s I don’t get B’s! And, the classes were challenging because I’m a senior in college.
BFT: What sparked your interest in learning more about nutrition?
SJ: I got into nutrition when I met my husband, who at the time was a professional basketball player and was experiencing a yo-yo effect with my diet. So I met this dietitian who I fell in love with named Julie Burns with SportFuel out of Chicago, and she’s nutritionist for the Chicago Bears, White Sox and the Blackhawks. She introduced me to organics and the importance of proper nutrition and I just learned so much and lost a whole lot of weight.
BFT: Tell us about your workout DVD Mommy’s Got Soul
SJ: So Mommy’s Got Soul is a DVD that’s geared towards women of all walks of life, in all sizes and includes both modified and advanced moves for each workout. There’s no equipment required and I wanted to do it that way because I want moms at home to give it a try and eliminate excuses. There is strength training, cardio, and a yoga segment at the end. So yeah, I’m excited about it! It’s infused with soul music that I created. It’s often very expensive to get clearance to use songs to work out to, but since I’m a recording artist, I can use my own music!
BFT: You started a health and fitness company called She-LEAN. Can you tell us about it and how it got started?
SJ: She-LEAN is a health and fitness and nutrition company geared towards women who have children. I started it with one of my best friends, Sheena Minard. Sheena’s husband played basketball overseas with my husband and that’s how we met and became close. Another thing that got me interested in nutrition was that my son kept getting sick, so I learned about food allergens and how so many children are not eating properly. So we plan to put out a cookbook for kids and babies.
BFT: What’s your opinion on supplements?
SJ: I like to try different supplements as long as they’re natural and FDA approved. I actually damaged my vocal chords taking fat burners in the past because I had acid reflux. Some of these products have very high amounts caffeine. Over time, the fat burners aggravated the reflux and affected my vocal chords.
BFT : Did you experience pressure to be thin? If so, did you listen to the criticism?
SJ: I definitely listened to it at the time. When I was coming up in the game it was not popular to be thick and curvy. But today, women, especially in Atlanta, are out here buying booties! So, at a size 10-12 I’m the bomb out here [laughs]. But when I was coming up, if you were a size 10-12 you were considered a fat pig. So in my mind, I wasn’t ideal and I was always trying to be a thin girl. I got all the way down to a size six and I was so thin, but I was still considered fat at a six. Now as a mom, I’m sharp!
I’m still working on me, to get myself out of that mindset because the industry will trick you because it’s cruel about body image. Understanding nutrition, being a nutrition science major and understanding my BMI, body weight and body composition, and what’s healthy for me and what’s not has helped my self-esteem.
This has definitely become a lifestyle and it has helped me stop yo-yo dieting. I love to work out, I’m very active. I just ran 5 miles in the Atlanta heat!
BFT: What is your typical fitness regimen?
SJ: If I’m not training for a photo shoot, video, show, etc. on a normal day I get up at 6:30 in the morning take my kids to school, then go to a Bikram yoga class and get in my recovery drink. I eat every 2 to 3 hours after that, but if I can’t, I get in at least four meals a day and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. I like to do Bikram Yoga six days a week, and strength train two days a week.
I’m currently training for the 200-mile Hood2Coast marathon relay with Donna Richardson and a host of 10 other amazing athletes. We’re the first all-female, African-American team to enter this race in Portland, Oregon, on August 23-24. Each of us will run three legs over a 48-hour period. My first leg is 7.1 miles; my second is 3.87; my last leg is 4.2.
We’ll run every 12 hours and be in sleeping bags sleeping in a van. I’m nervous but excited at the same time, but I think I will feel very powerful at the end of it. I’ve been training since April.
BFT: What advice would you give people on getting started in developing a health lifestyle?
SJ: What I would suggest is to go to a doctor or family physician and get your panels done to find out your vitamin D levels, triglycerides, hemoglobin, cholesterol, blood pressure levels, etc. so you know where you are first. Sometimes, we “over-supplement” ourselves and you might not need it. You may be getting enough vitamins and minerals from your food, which is what you want. Next I would say, get active! Figure out what you like to do and stick to it. I like yoga.
Then I would say go see a nutritionist or a dietitian. Increase your water intake to half your body weight to start out, cut back on sugar and carbs, and don’t eat three hours before going to sleep. Another thing to do is look into getting a personal trainer; I think personal trainers are underrated. DVDs like Mommy’s Got Soul or other ones that you like will work too.
BFT: What would you say to young women about body image?
SJ: You have to understand that what you see on TV and magazines are smoke and mirrors. If I took a photo shoot today, any imperfection that I didn’t want to show can be erased.
Every person’s body is totally different from the next person’s. A thin girl might be able to eat cheeseburgers everyday but it doesn’t mean she’s healthy. So you cannot pay attention to TV or print media because it’s all a lie and I’m in that world so I know it.
BFT: Advice for moms?
SJ: One of the things I worried about was trying to lose my baby weight too fast. You can’t get rid of that weight in five minutes if it took nine months to put it on. Give yourself at least that amount of time to get it off; take your time. Breastfeeding is something that will help; it may not take away the fat in your thighs, but it will help your stomach go down faster. And it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Most moms don’t have a lot of free time to work out, so 15 minutes of going hard is still a good thing. 15 minutes of going hard and a proper diet will help you will lose your weight, and of course, Mommy’s Got Soul is a great tool.
BFT: When can we expect the release of Mommy’s Got Soul?
SJ: Our goal is by the end of the year. It’s a two part series where the second DVD will show me in better shape than the first one. I want women using the DVD to lose weight with us. The second DVD will probably be more intense and utilize some equipment to help women get the bodies they really want.
BFT: What are your thoughts on the difficulties for women in our culture dealing with hair and health?
SJ: I would never choose my hair over my health. You just have to find a happy medium. You can time your workouts so maybe you do them later in the day so your hair is not an issue, that way you can leave the gym, shower, style your hair and go to bed. Nicole Ari Parker’s Save Your Do Wrap is a great product. For me, I wear a sew-in and I use my own hair line True Diva. It’s a curlier hair so it is ideal for it to be wet.
BFT: You have a lot of things going on right now!
SJ: Yes! My birthday is September 2nd. I have an upcoming album with Musiq Soulchild called 9INE, bringing the world nine songs recorded in nine days. As I mentioned before, I’m working on a number of fitness initiatives including the DVD, She-LEAN and the Hood2Coast marathon relay. And, we’ll see if there’s another season of R&B Divas!
BFT: How can people keep up with all the great things you have going on?
Website | SyleenaMusic.com
Facebook | Syleena.Johnson.OFFICIAL
Twitter | @Syleena_Johnson
Instagram | @SyleenaJohnson