Assume nothing with fitness enthusiast and Instagram influencer Pita Grace. There is more to her story than what meets the eye. That’s what I learned after speaking with the beauty earlier this week about her fitness journey. And while her body is absolutely sick now, she started from scratch just like the rest of us to get to this point.
Born Pita Grace Bumba in Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 26-year-old moved to Raleigh, North Carolina with her family around the age of four or five. “It’s a handful of us,” she said of her Congolese heritage and how it’s been all these years adjusting to life in the South. Growing up, Bumba wanted to take part in sports, but you know how African parents can be. “Sometimes in an African household it’s like, sports? No, homework [laughs].” So it wasn’t until Bumba reached adulthood, that she really had the chance to live out her dreams of getting physical, and there was no better motivator to that than a breakup. Four years since making the leap into changing her diet, doing weight training and even partaking in fitness competitions, Bumba has pushed her body in ways she never could have imagined, and she’s still doing so with a burgeoning interest in biking, yoga, running and even swimming (she recently learned how to at the YMCA). We talked to Bumba, who is also a natural hair stylist, about her fitness transformation, her advice on staying motivated after dropping the pounds, and why when it comes to hair, you can’t let your hairstyle determine your lifestyle.
MadameNoire: How did your fitness journey start? I did see a before-and-after picture of you, so I take it that you it took something big for you to go through this major lifestyle change.
Pita Grace: I always wanted to do something physical when it came to switching up my lifestyle. But how it started was, I went through a bad breakup that put in me a place to see my life from a different perspective and say, “Ok, do I want to go this far with my life, or do I want to go this far with my life?” At the time I knew that I was unhappy with how I looked and I stopped taking pictures. So I knew first and foremost that I had to love myself before loving anybody else. That’s when I was really like, it’s time to make a change. I wanted to be comfortable with myself and I realized I wasn’t.
What did it take for you to get where you are now physically? Because there’s a difference between simply wanting to slim down and making a commitment to put on muscle and transform and partaking in fitness competitions.
I think I fell in love with the stuff I learned while you’re getting in shape. For me, I was very challenged when it came to discipline and that’s why I took on the challenge of doing a bikini competition because I wanted to do that for myself. I felt the more I grow, the more I’m going to be happy with myself. So I was like, alright, if I do a fitness competition, that will prove that I have discipline and it will also prove that I can complete something. And also, it was an outlet, to be a part of something. Because at the time, I wasn’t a part of anything. So I think that was the thing that made me want to do it the most. I knew that the ending of the process was going to be like — it’s like when people fast. “If you do this for this amount of time, you will receive this.” That’s how I saw the whole bodybuilding competition thing. Let me see what I get out of really pushing myself. I wanted the end process of the gift of being that disciplined for a long time. And I wanted to see how far I could really push my body, because I thought it was all crazy: “There’s no way if I eat this, this is going to start happening.” And it started happening.
So four years into this journey, what is your exercise schedule like now?
My exercise schedule is not as strict as it was when I was competing, because that was like seven days a week. But now I’m at five days a week, and then one day I dedicate to like a swim class or a yoga class. Anything that’s different. Because now I’m obsessed with like, alright, I know I can grow muscle, now how flexible can I be? How much endurance can I have? So that’s been one of my things. I recently just learned how to swim, so I’ve been giving more of that energy instead of just gym, gym, gym. Because there’s more to life than just the gym.
What is your diet like?
Right now I am a vegetarian. I try to eat about four meals a day. I still take my vitamins. I don’t take as much protein as I used to. I do take protein on the days I want to grow muscle, so that day I will drink a protein shake. But my diet is pretty much plant-based, four times a day, still small meals. I cheat maybe two times a week. It’s hard not to. But you have to try and keep yourself in line. I was eating meat before, but I had to give that up a little bit.
Would you say that because you had a plan in terms of seeing through competitions, that’s why you haven’t found yourself bored and backsliding? What keeps you motivated even after the weight loss, the competitions and reaching your goals?
I’m glad you asked that because that’s what I struggled with. The competition definitely helped me learn the discipline to not give myself excuses ever again in my life. So that’s what I gained from that. I tell myself, “You did this, so I don’t want to hear complaints about anything else.” When I did take a break from competitions, I definitely got bored. But you have to tell your mind that you’re doing something for something. Like, give and take. So I did pick up swimming. I did pick up running more. Because I think what makes me excited about working out is that it lets me know I’m not as strong as I think, and I do want to be as strong as possible. And when you can see yourself grow and get stronger in certain ways, that’s the best part for me. The human body can do anything. So it’s like, alright, if I get one body and I push it in different ways, what can I do? So I was like, ok, I want to be able to swim a mile. I can’t even swim a lap right now [laughs]. There are so many different realms that you can grow in. It doesn’t have to be one. There are different ways you can grow with your mind. I think that’s what keeps me going, knowing there are levels.
As someone who does hair and is quite active — you bike, you swim, do yoga, hit the gym — how do you deal with your hair? Because I know that even with swimming alone, you have to wash your hair every time.
When swimming season is here, I have different wigs. I definitely like to switch my crowns up. I definitely have latched on to different wigs. When I’m working out in the gym a lot, I do braids, because at least I can touch my scalp and be able to put apple cider vinegar on it, treat it. I’ll do two straight-backs and pop a hat on. That’s another go-to for me. If you don’t want to mess with your hair too much, keep it twisted under and throw a hat on, or get pieces to add on, or wear a natural wig. That works best for me, because it’s time-consuming to have a super sew-in and then go swimming. You have to go home and wash it and that’s a lot.
Right, and you know hair is often a deterrent to people when it comes to trying to exercise.
Don’t let your hairstyle run your lifestyle.
What advice would you give to those who don’t know how to continue or even start their fitness journey? Because the slip-ups, the stumbles and not seeing results you want ASAP are what cause people to give up. So as someone who has had so much success on their own journey, how would you encourage others to keep at it for the long haul?
I think my best advice for someone would be to hold yourself accountable. You have to give yourself a consequence for your actions. The reason a lot of people give up is because there’s no one there to really punish you or call you out for something you set for yourself. I think a way to hold yourself accountable would be to find someone who is in the same boat as you. I know something I tell my clients is to find someone who is close to you. Give them an envelope with a certain amount of money that’s for your savings and tell them, “If I don’t do this by this, you get to keep this envelope no matter what I say.” That way you hold yourself accountable because you want your envelope back. They don’t know what’s in it, they just know they need to hold it.
For me, how I did was I signed up for a competition. The reason I did was because I didn’t want to play myself. It was like, if you do this, you’re going to have to spend money and you can’t end up wasting your money — or I was going to be so upset [laughs]. So hold yourself accountable to something and give yourself a consequence is the best way to start up. Even if it’s joining a running group or just telling social media, because when you tell the world what you want to do, they’re going to be like, “Didn’t you say you were going to do this?” It’s about having consequences and making sure you do have an end goal. If you don’t do what you said you were going to do, you’re going to lose something, and that is the best way to go about it when it comes to staying with it. Because if not, we’re just going to be cheating and eating mac and cheese every other day [laughs]. It’s only when you decide that you have to lose something if you don’t gain something that you will see things working. Bump that whole, “I’ll start Monday” mentality. Start as soon as you have the idea to start.