Our culture embraces women who are “thick and curvy.” But many times, that preference goes too far when potential health risks are ignored.
Chantell Johnson, who once weighed in at 327 pounds and knew she wanted to take control of her health and improve her life, initially experienced resistance from her family because they didn’t see a problem. But her hard work and dedication to not just losing weight, but building long-term healthy habits, has resulted in a mind, body and soul transformation. Today, Chantell is motivating her family and friends to start their own journeys toward healthier lifestyles.
BFT: What was it like having your journey documented on television? How did you handle it?
CJ: The cameras weren’t the issue, but scheduling was always a concern for me. I spent a lot of my time on a strict schedule. During my 9-month weigh in, my breaks were spent in the lobby, working on my research paper, while Skyping with my group members…I was always working! I spent my spring break in L.A. recovering from surgery. During that time, I was taking exams online and making up homework – there were no off days. It’s easier to handle things now, but at that time, I was really on the brink of doing too much. The producers knew and saw my hard work DESPITE all of this. They wanted to portray that any way they could in my episode.
BFT: Other than Chris Powell from Extreme Makeover Home Edition, have you been training with anyone else?
CJ: Of course! Chris and Heidi Powell were great as my initial trainers! I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with them. When I went back to school, we all acknowledged that this new environment needed structure and daily support. That is when Veeve Holtz of FKS became my partner-in-crime. After the cameras were long gone, Veeve was and is still there. I would not be in the physical condition I am in today if it were not for her. I am so glad I was placed in her rigorous care! She is my fitness/spiritual rock and I’m grateful for her presence in my life.
BFT: On the days when your mind told you to give up or that your goal was unattainable, where did you find inspiration to stay committed?
CJ: Those are the days when Veeve picked me up from my house! [laughs] I knew why I was doing this in the first place, and just in case my focus got cloudy I had Veeve give me the back-up version of my reminder speech. I wanted legs like Serena Williams and arms like Robin Roberts! Plus, each pound reduces the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease; all of which plague my family.
BFT: As you look back on your journey, what advice would you give the Chantell of yesterday?
CJ: I’ll say whether it’s weight, job, relationship, family, life in general – if you’re unhappy with something, list what you want to see and act like it already exists. Whatever that is, it WILL come with the change. I’ve been saying all year, “be the change you seek,” because they say, “don’t act like the girl you are, act like the girl you want to be.” The girl who is 168 pounds can run and will run at the drop of a dime. But that 327-pound girl wouldn’t …
BFT: How has your lifestyle change influenced your family and friends?
CJ: It was a point of view that kept us unhealthy. A mindset is a hard thing to change, so I did it the only way I knew how – with results. I accused them of sabotage, but it really was a mindset. They didn’t see a problem, so they didn’t think that they were hurting, enabling or inhibiting me. I am so grateful that my results have motivated others to do some reflection. It is a slow process, but every time a family member asks me for tips, advice or suggestions, I know it’s working.
BFT: Do you believe there is a still a stigma that African-American women should be “thick” and are more embraced when “curvy?”
CJ: Yes. That is a cultural norm right now and I don’t think it’s necessarily an unhealthy one. It is the definition of what “curvy and thick” consists of. Morbid obesity and obesity should never be placed in the category of “thick and curvy.” I don’t want to change the preference, I want to remove the blinders of those putting the label on people who need help. “Size Sexy” is still acceptable, only when said person is free of obesity-related health risks. I will always have curves, but I will also strive for balanced nutrition and an active lifestyle. I seek to help reduce the unhealthy habits so that we may celebrate the natural curves of a woman, not the unnatural ones created by neglect and ignorance.
BFT: What is going on in your life now?
CJ: I currently have a few challenges – mainly in knowing where I’m going to work and live, so I created a daily running challenge, where I do two miles a day, no matter what. It’s going moderately successful; the purpose is that I don’t give up. If something does come up, I’ll make up my running in some way. Nothing’s set in stone – it’s all about progress.
BFT: Where can people find out more about you?
CJ: I have a Facebook Fan Page: Chantell Johnson Extreme Weight Loss (I post daily)
Twitter | @ChantellJohnson
Instagram | @Chantellsjohnson
And I’m working on my YouTube channel – Chantell Johnson.