Exercise entrepreneur Jennifer Turner understands how important it is for the black community to have empowering tools for health. The graduate of Stanford Business School and seasoned communications executive might be buff now, but like many of us, has struggled with her weight. Now an African-American marathon runner and triathlete, Turner is using her personal experiences combined with her business acumen to teach others what she has learned on her path to wellness. Just in time for the holidays, Turner recently launched her Mad Cool Cardio Dance Party DVD, an exercise extravaganza showcasing women of varying shapes and sizes using the joy of movement to get fit. This empowering DVD is just one part of her Mad Cool Fitness program, which aims to help all women seek a positive relationship with food while building wellbeing.
TheGrio.com chatted over email with Turner about the best ways to stay fit this holiday season, the recent controversy over black women and obesity, and tips for planning out your New Year’s goals for realistically building a healthier, happier you.
theGrio: What inspired you to create the Mad Cool Fitness DVD?
Jennifer Turner: I wanted to create a fun workout that was for real women, featuring real women. There are so many DVDs out there with workouts that are either, a) difficult and are only targeted to a narrow segment of the population, or b) feature women of just one ethnicity, who have perfect bodies with subtle messaging that, “if you do this DVD you will look just like me,” which actually isn’t true. Those women looked like that before they did the DVD. I would bet you dollars to doughnuts they’re doing a bunch of other stuff they’re not telling you about. Women not seeing themselves in fitness content is alienating and disheartening, especially when they don’t end up looking like the women on the TV screen. The Mad Cool Cardio Dance Party ain’t that kind of DVD. These are women from my fitness classes who are not professionals. The DVD is for and represents women of all shapes and sizes.
What fitness level would someone need to have to start this fitness program?
The Mad Cool Cardio Dance Party is designed for beginners, [ranging] to the more advanced. There’s something for everyone in this DVD and moves are modified to create a low impact workout for those who need to be more mindful of their joints. Join us! We’re having fun!
Do you think the holiday season is a good time to start a new exercise routine?
Honestly, no. It’s too hard. Too many distractions and temptations. Part of the Mad Cool Fitness philosophy is to focus on positive habit building, to get personal systems and processes in place to position people for success in sticking to a new wellness program. That is really hard to do during the holidays for two reasons. One, your schedule is a little wonky because there are so many functions and parties to go to, you’re out late, etc.; and, two temptation is everywhere. You wouldn’t drop an alcoholic in the middle of a liquor store and say, “Okay Jane, lots of good stuff in here, but you just figure out how you’re not going to drink. Gotta go. Ho, ho, ho!” No! So don’t do that to yourself. You’re just setting yourself up to fail. Wait until you can really focus on implementing a wellness plan and have a better chance of being successful sticking with it. My advice is just to try not to dig yourself too big of a fa-la-la-la-la fat hole during the holidays, and then focus on the new plan, and new you, right after New Year’s.
Many people are afraid of gaining weight over the holidays. What are some tips for maintaining your weight despite all the temptations?
1. Don’t Taste While You Cook. “Tasting” is eating. Seriously. It counts.
2. Watch the “Drinky Drink.” Holiday cheer in a wine or champagne glass can really do you in with not only the calories, but also the hangover that keeps you from getting your behind out of the bed the next morning to go workout.
3. Get up, Get Out, and Get Some Exercise! Don’t start the holiday days laying around in your jammy jams. Get up and get moving. You don’t have to run a marathon, but just do something. And do it with a friend. Everyone needs support!
4. Stop. Eat. Don’t Go Anywhere Hungry. If you are going to someone else’s house for dinner, eat before you go. Don’t go anywhere hungry because hungry quickly turns into what? HONGRY.
5. Eat, But Don’t Repeat! Get one plate, get everything you want (preferably one dessert), enjoy it, and get over it.
6. Control Your Portions. Don’t build an erector set-type pyramid out of that one plate of food, balancing jiffy corn bread on top of hot links.
7. Have a Food Plan and STICK TO THE PLAN! You need a food strategy. Why? Because this is a fat war. Don’t go into a knife fight with a little BB gun. Go into your social events with a plan. If you can, find out what the menu is in advance and decide what you’re going eat AND STICK WITH THE PLAN!
8. Eat early. Try not to eat late, get the “itis,” go into the lazy boy, and fall asleep. It’s so bad, and yet so good. That sleep is some good sleep. We’ve all done it. Let’s not do it again.
9. Leave the Leftovers Left. The holidays are like the gift that keeps on giving… to your behind. Stop the madness. Eat once and be done with it.
10. Give Food Away. I mean this not only for the leftovers that you are leaving left, but I also mean it at work. When your clients or business partners etc., send you food, take it immediately to your department kitchen. Run, don’t walk. It’s too tempting.
These tips should help people to STEP AWAY FROM THAT CHICKEN WING! — and enjoy the holidays without crazy weight gain.
Who are your fitness role models?
I would say anyone who has struggled with their weight, conquered unhealthy habits, and come out the other side with a better version of themselves. In terms of people I know, I recently saw the urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter at my DVD launch event. We’ve emailed, but I haven’t seen her in person for about 18 months. I’m going to totally put her on blast, but I’m just so proud of her! She always looked great and now she looks even more AMAZING! And most importantly, the glow that was coming off her was something to see. I was just so honored and humbled when she said meeting me inspired her to change. Seeing her just made my whole year and has gotten me even more jazzed about next year.
And then of course Jennifer Hudson’s story is incredible. She has become a different person. I admire her and would love to meet her.
A recent AP story has detailed the fact that four in five black women are considered overweight or obese according to current medical definitions. What are your thoughts on this observation?
I live in East Harlem and based on what I’m seeing I would say it’s real. It breaks my heart to see black women who are not living up to their full potential and contributing to their communities to their fullest because they are in poor health. That’s why I started Mad Cool Fitness to hopefully play a role in changing this horrible statistic. The factors are myriad — cultural, systemic in terms of lack of access to convenient, good food at reasonable prices, lack of wellness services (gyms, etc.), lack of safe, clean, inspiring open spaces where people can commune and engage in physical activity together. Lot’s of complex obstacles to overcome, but I truly believe they are not insurmountable.