Fitness Fridays: Marissa McDonald On Going From Overweight To Opening Her Own Gym
Personal trainer and entrepreneur Marissa McDonald is proof that when you get the feeling that it’s time to chase a dream, you should just go ahead and make it happen. “Why not now?”
After having a disagreement with the owner of the gym she was building a clientele at, McDonald decided to step out and open her own gym. Since then, Body Concept Chicago has become a highly-rated fitness center in the city offering total body boot camps, yoga classes, personal training and more. The drive to open up the gym was the same drive that helped McDonald drop nearly 40 pounds after teetering dangerously close to 200, replacing fat with a lot of muscle. So how did she get here and at only 23? Learn more about her inspiring career and fitness journey.
MadameNoire: I saw a before and after picture from your Instagram and you were a cheerleader. So is it safe to you have a pretty athletic background?
Marissa McDonald: Yes, before I went to college. In high school, my freshman year, I did three sports: volleyball, cheerleading and track. And then I graduated high school early so I was only there for three years. The other two years I just did cheerleading all year round. Then I went on to cheer for the first year and a half that I was in college, but I wasn’t as active and I was actually gaining weight from eating bad and just partying too much. So I actually gained weight because my high school cheerleading was more intense because my team was a competitive squad. But for the most part, in college, when I got to Northern Illinois University, they didn’t compete the years I was there. It wasn’t as intense and so I wasn’t as active. I gained 35 to 40 pounds. That was a huge change for someone who was super active in high school. Not only did my activity levels fall, but my eating habits increased.
What pushed you to start taking your health seriously and transforming your body? And when did you start?
It was the end of 2012, more so 2013 when I really started taking it super, super seriously. I literally stepped on a scale one day and I was almost at 200 pounds. I think I was at 187. I used to work at a recreation center too, so once I started working at the recreation center and started being around people working out all of the time, all day, I started feeling like, “I work at the recreation center so I just feel like I should be more in shape.” And then I stepped on the scale one day and saw 187 and in high school I was 145. So I saw that and I was like, “Oh my God!” I was freaking out like, “I’m only a couple of pounds away from 200 pounds! No! I can’t do it!” That really pushed me. After that I was like, I have to get serious.
How did you go about making a total lifestyle change?
For one, I knew from talking to people at the recreation center and hearing things that if you just go cold turkey it’s not going to work. So as I tell my clients, you just have to start making small changes because that’s what I did. I just cut out junk food. I started drinking nothing but water, so no pops, no juices or anything like that. I significantly decreased my alcohol intake because again, I was in college, so we drank a lot [laughs]. I would only drink on weekends. I just started making small changes like that. No fried foods, I’m only going to eat baked foods. Pretty much just easing my way into it. And being active, I started how most people do. When our clients come in and say, “Oh I really just do cardio,” that was me. I had no idea what to do with weights. Even though I was an athlete, they don’t really teach you how to lift weights, so I just started off doing cardio. I would even do the Stairmaster or the treadmill, and that’s pretty much how I started.
Let's not forget my toughest #transformation of all – myself. Yes, I am my toughest client. You guys, trust me I UNDERSTAND the struggle. The girl on the left was depressed, hated her body, and dealt with her problems in ALL of the wrong ways (smoking/drinking/eating in excess) . I didn't just wake up one day with abs looking fit. This took YEARS of hard work and dedication to the process – no shortcuts. Let me tell you, it starts with your MIND. Your transformation isn't only going to be physical. It all begins with a #decision to do better. "How you gone win if you ain't right within?" Answer – you WONT. You will blame everyone else for your problems. I've been there, I know. Let me also say this; you don't have to have it together 100%. All you have to do is START. Make small changes, and eventually they will turn into a #Lifestyle. Take this ish at your own pace but at the end of the day, YOU have to get it done. If I can, trust me you can too. To this day I am still not perfect – I enjoy food and drinks as well but in moderation. It all begins with YOU ❤️ left pic I think was 2012, right pic 2017. (If I had to guess my weight on the left I would say 180/185lb – I am 5'4"; 165lb now) #TransformationTuesday #TrainWithMarissa #ThickFit #Results
What type of regimen does it take in terms of diet and exercise to get where you are and to maintain?
So for me, as far as nutrition, I eat pretty much the same thing every day because I’m literally a last-minute person. I’m always rushing to get out of the door, so I eat the same thing every morning: either egg whites and oatmeal or egg whites and cream of rice. And sometimes if I have fruit, I’ll have blueberries or raspberries or I’ll have grapefruit with that. Most the time I’m rushing so I’m just eating that in my car on the way to the city [laughs]. I’m just terrible about waking up on time. But other than that, I make sure I don’t let four hours pass before I eat. I eat every three or four hours. So in the daytime I’ll have either brown rice or sweet potato and that will be my carb source, and you want to stick to complex starch. Then I’ll have my protein source, and lately I’ve just been sticking to fish and ground turkey because I got really tired of chicken. I think I chickened myself out [laughs]. For fish I do cod or flounder. And then I have my vegetables. The greener the better, so I’m sticking to Brussels sprouts, and broccoli is good too. But other than that, I’m eating about five meals per day, four at the least. I really don’t snack too much. I got out of the habit of snacking because most snacks, even when they’re portrayed as being healthier, they’re not. I stick to small meals per day, and once it gets close to the end of the day I won’t have any carbs, so I’ll just do proteins and veggies. I might go to Harold’s [Chicken] or Shark’s [Fish & Chicken]. And that’s life in Chicago, we have all the food [laughs]. But it’s just about those things being in the minority of what you’re eating and those healthier choices being the majority.
And how often are you working out each week and for how long?
It really depends on the week and my workload. I try not to do any less than four days a week. I’m anywhere from in between four to six days a week. It just depends on how busy I am. Time depends too, because sometimes I do two-a-days. When I do two-a-days, it’s all split up. I’ll do cardio anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes and then I’ll split up and do my weightlifting. When I do my weightlifting I still have about a five to 10-minute cardio workout just to get my body warm and ready to work out. You might be looking at an hour and a half in the gym for me.
Shoutout to my class tonight – strong start to the week and they all did a GREAT job (despite me confusing the heck out of them with today's class 😭) 💢RSVP for Wednesday ASAP 💢 Marissa's Total Body Boot Camp Class is every Monday and Wednesday night at 7:30PM @bodyconceptchicago Parking is FREE in the back (anywhere underneath the viaduct). All ages and fitness levels are welcome! Regular Pricing: $10 per person for RSVPs, $15 walk-ins. $10 RSVPs are NOT accepted the day of (will be considered a walk-in) so be sure to reserve your spot ahead of time 🙂 EMAIL me at email@example.com to reserve your spot. Photo by @humbleproductionschi
How did the opportunity to co-own a gym come about? That’s a really big deal. A lot of fitness enthusiasts just stick to boot camps and diet plans but don’t go as far as setting down roots with a gym.
I actually used to train at a studio out in the South Suburbs and my clientele was building. I was also in a really great space. One day, I just fell out with one of the owners. We didn’t agree on a couple of things so I decided not to come back. That was the month of June last year, so afterward, I was actually training outdoors and out of my house all last summer. I was kind of pushed into a place where I had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to go train at somebody else’s gym or just go do my own thing. I had already been thinking about opening my own studio because when I went to NIU, I graduated with a degree in business administration. So I wanted to open my own business, but I definitely didn’t think it would be this soon. But once that happened I figured why not now? I have my experience training out of somebody else’s studio. I got to see how they ran it and went about things, so last summer I just started looking at spaces. We’re in a loft building and one of my friends actually rents a space in here, so he actually told me about it. At first I was just going to open it on my own but then I was like, “No, I really want to bring a partner in.” Me and [co-owner] Jene’a had been working out. She was my workout partner. I brought her along and she was ready to make another move as far as training somewhere else, too. So we came together and made it happen.
I wanted to ask you about a post you shared about how wearing shorts in the gym is a big deal for you. A lot of women can relate because there are often eyes on you in the gym. So how did you get over that and just focus?
It’s funny because I actually went to do a workout, me and my cousin, and I was wearing shorts. It was 90 degrees so there was no way I was wearing anything other than shorts so I was kind of forced. I still kind of felt uncomfortable and I think it’s just because when you’re coming from a place where you have gained weight and then you’re bottom-heavy, you have cellulite — my legs are not perfect. I have scars, cellulite and stretch marks just from being a bottom-heavy, curvy girl. So I think it’s just a lot of pressure. And being a trainer has made it kind of worse. I feel like, at some capacity, you know people are looking at your body and really analyzing it. It’s just a little bit uncomfortable. But I’m at the point now where I’m just like, I can’t be worried about what other people are thinking about how my body looks because I know that I’ve worked hard and I know that I’ve lost 35 pounds. I know that I’m doing a great job. So at some point you just have to say, “Forget what anybody else has to say.” It’s so much easier said than done, I know. You do think about guys looking at you in the gym, but they’re already doing it whether you’re wearing shorts or pants or sweatpants or whatever. I really just try to zone out. But that was a huge thing for me, even still.
Unedited and no filter…I could care less about an unrealistic body image, this is me. We are all unique. Self love is the 🔑❤️ 📸 by @shaunandru makeup @kimoramulan hair @zariaorr. . . . . . #TrainWithMarissa#ThickFit#CurvyFit#FitLife#NikeWomen#ChicagoFitness#WomenWhoLift#FitChicks#NaturalHair#TeamNatural#FitNaturalsFitThick#Results#Goals#Abs#ThickThighs#Fitness#FitWomen#NikeWomen#WSHHFitness#LegDay#FitAndThick#HealthyLiving#ChicagoTrainer#Natural
So, your abs are sick. What are your top three core moves?
Anytime my clients ask me what ab workouts to do, I always say “eat right.” [laughs] However, I like to stick to the basics. Planks are probably one of the best things you can do to build your core strength. That’s probably the top of my list. Second would be butt kicks. They’re really good to hit that lower abdomen level as well. Lastly, I call them bench kneeups. You sit on a bench and you bring your knees towards you. Those are my top three, but eating right is always first! Everybody has abs. No matter how much body fat you carry, they’re there. They’re just waiting for you to shed that fat so they can show. The best way for you to shed that body fat is to keep that nutrition on point. You don’t have to be 1,000 percent perfect because I’m definitely not, but again, it’s just about making those better decisions your majority.
Follow Marissa McDonald on Facebook and Instagram and Body Concept Chicago on Facebook and Instagram. And check out the other awesome Fitness Fridays profiles featuring inspirational Black women just like her.