So it’s no longer May, which was National Physical Fitness and Sports Month as well as Women’s Health Month. However, we had so much doing Fitness Fridays. It’s been a treat to profile Black women who have transformed their bodies and health and are showing thousands of other women how to do the same through their social media platforms. Therefore, we’re going to keep it going.
With that being said, meet Anowa Adjah. She’s known as being the “first full-figured fitness phenomenon” because of the fact that while she’s over 200 pounds (and 5’10”), she’s all muscle. Oh, and a lot of curve. Through hard work and a very protein-centered diet, Adjah has been able to “lose the gut and keep the butt.” She’s showing other women how to do that with her workout videos, nearly 250,000 followers on Instagram and fitness challenges. On June 5 she’s starting a new 21-day challenge that thousands of women have already signed up for (more on that below). She manages to do all of this, and train extensively, while balancing being the mother of 4-year-old twin boys. We talked to her about her fitness journey, working to get her body back after her C-section and the advice she has for fellow mothers trying to work out while focusing on parenthood and career.
MadameNoire: How long has fitness been important to you? Have you been an athlete most of your life or is it something you made a priority after having children?
Anowa Adjah: Well, I was blessed. I was surrounded by fitness. My mother was a former athlete. She was a gym rat, so I learned how to be active and be healthy from my mother. Unfortunately, she got pregnant when she was going to try out for the Nigerian Olympic track team. So fitness runs in my family. Every single one of my siblings — I have one brother and two sisters who are all athletes. We were all athletes. I played basketball, I did track and field, I did field hockey, and I also was a dancer. My parents were very forthright with having us involved in those type of activities and I’m very grateful.
I was reading that you were worried about how your body would bounce back after having your twins via C-section. So what was the process for you during and after pregnancy to get back to where you wanted to be?
I’m going to be honest with you. I admire all these people who have a quick snapback [laughs]. But for me, I was carrying twins. So after my fourth month pregnant, I decided to — and at that moment I had just finished shooting my first DVD workout series. I remember right after that I wasn’t feeling too great. So I made the decision not to train or do anything too strenuous for the rest of my pregnancy. I did regular cardio, but I didn’t do too much during the pregnancy. After I had my sons, I got clearance to work out at eight weeks. I waited it out to about nine weeks to start training and I started really slow. I engaged in a lot of cardio activity. I did treadmill, Stairmaster — I just tried to shed the fat off first. It wasn’t really about weightlifting at first. Because after you have a pregnancy, and especially with me having the C-section, I had to be very careful with some of the exercises I would do because I didn’t want to reopen the incision or put myself in a bad situation. So I really eased my way back into the gym. That’s how I started. As far as what I was eating, I was breastfeeding also at the time with supplements and everything else. I had to eat. It was a process. I shed the weight but my abdominal region was a whole other monster. It’s easier for the uterus to go back to it’s normal size when you give birth vaginally. But with a C-section, it’s an abdominal surgery, so that process is a lot more grueling and it takes time. You’re basically trying to heal and recover while also shrinking that uterus back to size.
Although I was exercising and shedding weight, it took some time for my abdominal region to somewhat look normal. And even from that, I had a hernia, I had abdominal separation, so I knew at that moment, I couldn’t do basic exercises and do what I’d done before to get back in shape. This was a completely different monster. And so, through that, I just started to do my research about people with similar conditions and I just started to test out exercises to see if I could fix the issue myself. Because my doctors told me I would need surgery. And through that process I sort of got it down and I created “Lose the Butt, Keep the Gutt,” which was my third workout DVD series and it was very helpful. But there’s this hype now about a resurgence and explosion of women who have a snapback within weeks of having babies. That’s very unrealistic for many other women. If this is your first pregnancy, some women they snapback because they’re younger. But people need to take into account the very different circumstances they’re in. There’s age, which is a factor. There’s of course prior health history, the type of birth you had, multiples — there’s so many things that play a factor. I was in the best shape of my life at the moment, I was an athlete, and I struggled. It took some time for me to get back into shape. But through me having that experience, which was very humbling, I learned a lot about my body. I also learned a lot about how I can also help other women in their journey of having children.
What kind of meals do you consume? It has to be hard when you raise kids and you have them to keep in mind but you have your own diet you want to keep in check.
I do a high-protein, low-carb diet. I’m very big on toning and muscle development and sculpting the body, not just shedding unhealthy fat. With so many people now, there’s these crazes, these cleanses they can do within weeks to shed the fat. However, they’re shedding the fat while losing elasticity because they’re not training those muscles. So what I learned is that by having a high-protein diet, it also helps with muscle development and muscle growth. With my diet, I eat more fish than of course regular meat, and I eat a lot of leafy greens. Nuts. Sometimes I eat some vegan things but people also need to remind themselves, because I think people automatically think that because something is vegan it’s healthy, but not everything that’s vegan means it’s healthy in terms of what your goals might be. There are things that are vegan that are high in calories, so you have to just do your research. So that’s what I do, and I’m very adamant about consuming protein within a designated amount of time. I always tell my challengers or clients, eating every two to three hours is important in quickening your metabolism, which is going to help for a higher calorie burn and greater weight loss. So that’s the diet that I practice and it’s been effective for many people. I promote curves and embracing yourself, but I also embrace health. With that muscle growth, you’re still able to sustain your figure, but it’s a healthier version of you.
So how have you been able to “Lose the gut and keep the butt” as your merchandise says? Because a lot of people want to get in shape but don’t want to lose their curves.
It’s about being informed. I’m doing my research as a fitness professional. And the way I’ve designated these exercises, it really attacks the fat. But at the same time, I also address building the muscle. I’m very big on legs. A large amount of my exercises will be contingent upon lower body exercise. I’m also a huge fan of HIIT. I’m a huge fan of burning the highest amount of calories in the lowest amount of time. Also, I always try to tell women, “Look at a sprinter’s body and look at a long-distance runner.” And then they’re like, “Oooh.” They’re getting it. I’m not totally against the long-winded cardio because if you’re trying to lose a large amount of weight, you definitely want to incorporate that style. And HIIT is not the ideal exercise for someone who’s 300 pounds. But I’m definitely not against HIIT for people trying to shed 15 to 20 pounds. And for women trying to push themselves a little more, I’m a fan of that. You’ll see greater results.
Can you give me your top three strength moves?
People are going to hate me: Burpees. Burpees are a total body workout. They’re a cardiovascular monster! I’m a huge squat girl. And I can definitely say right now that I’m huge on core, so I’m really big on planks. If you just do those three moves repeatedly for a workout, I swear to God, it will feel like you worked your butt off [laughs]. But you did work your entire body.
Tell us more about your upcoming 21-day challenge!
“It’s going to challenge you, it’s going to push you. I always say to participants, “Think about the one thing you’ve always wanted. They think about. Then I say to them, “How hard was it to get it?” That’s life. This is not going to be a walk in the park. That’s why so many of these fad diets where people shed weight in a dramatic amount of time end up gaining it back. It’s not teaching you how to change your life, it’s just telling you that you can do this and get this in this amount of time. Quicker results! But think about it. There’s nothing in life that’s easy. There’s always a cost to everything that you do. So my program is very big on that, especially with these challenges.
When people gain a lot of weight or have a lot of weight on them, a lot of the time it’s traumatic. There’s something that has gone on that’s caused them to emotionally attach themselves to food. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve always believed that by getting to the root of those issues and addressing them, it helps prevent people from relapsing, teaches people to appreciate their life and their body and appreciate the process to obtain it. So, I challenge you, I push you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because if you really want this body, you’re going to push yourself more and you’re going to appreciate it more and not want to go back to that place.
How have you been able to juggle training others, working, working out, doing these challenges and videos and being a mom of two?
I’m going to give people this piece of advice that my therapist gave me [laughs]. I remember I was just overwhelmed. I had the babies, everything, I was telling myself, “I just gotta get it done.” And I sat down with a therapist and he said to me, “You’ve got a lot going on. Your life, whether you realize it or not, whether you accept it or not, is stress induced. It’s because you have such a demanding life.” And he encouraged me. He said, “With your life, you need to have an outlet almost every week. You need to treat yourself every week to balance that out.” So what I do now is pretty much this: Moms, we create the order of how we would like our day to go. But if something is thrown off because of something with the kids, there has to be a level of acceptance that children are very unpredictable, having kids is unpredictable. So you sort of have to just rock with it and go with the flow. With my business, I’m an entrepreneur, so I don’t normally have the 9 to 5 sometimes. But what I’ve learned to do now is draw out pockets of time where I can not work and not even address things. I have business partners overseas and sometimes they hit me on a Saturday. I know there are emergency situations and once in a while you address them, but I’ve said to them, “Listen, let me handle what I need to handle during the week because on the weekends I have to shut down.” Women have to allow themselves a minute to shut down. I think that so many times we’re like, “Oh I have to get this done!” No, not really. There are things we can always put off until a better time. I’ve learned to organize my life a lot better and really reassess my priority list. What can be done the next day? Does this have to be done today? Does this have to be done with my children? And taking young children out while you’re trying to handle business is a stressor. So I also encourage a lot of women to handle a lot of the responsibilities that they can without their kids so they can think with a clear mind and be able to fully address and focus on your children.
I believe that having that block of time where you’re pampering yourself or giving yourself a moment is necessary. I used to just sit in Starbucks with my green tea and look out into the sky. That was so peaceful for me. Those moments are extremely important for moms and I don’t want them to apologize for those moments because your children need you whole.
Images courtesy of Anowa Adjah