We’re kicking off November with an interview with Amber Ferchaud. Amber is a New Orleans young professional and a body builder commitment to her health and mental/emotional wellness. Here’s our interview:
Tell us a little about you
I am 32 years old. I was born and raised in Gonzales, LA. I currently live in the New Orleans metro area.
B.A. Mass Media, Tusculum College c/o2006
M.P.S. Strategic Public Relations, (started at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication then transferred to GW’s School of Political Management) George Washington University c/o 2011
What’s your daytime gig?
Communications for Entergy Louisiana
How do you balance your professional life with body building?
It may be cliche, but we make time for the things that are important to us. Since my health and wellness is important to me I have tested many different schedules to allow for both.
The other thing I know is that we often create limiting thoughts that inhibit our ability to balance. It’s taken me months to retrain my mind to understand that there is more than enough time in the day for me to workout, go to work and enjoy my family and friends. You get to that place of understanding, by forcing yourself to accept the right belief until it takes hold and becomes habit.
In the beginning of my journey, I would workout late at night. This left me with no time to hang out with friends or attend social gatherings. I tinkered with the workouts and eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to do them before work so that my afternoons were free. This was a big, but necessary transition. I’ve never been a morning person and hated the idea of doing this. But I told my mind that it was necessary and most importantly I lied to myself and said it was easy and that I looked forward to waking up (fake it until you make it).
I started out by simply setting my alarm for 5:00 a.m. The first day I woke up, but didn’t work out. The next day I got up and got dressed, but still didn’t work out. After a couple of weeks I actually went outside, but didn’t do much of a workout. I kept forcing the right idea into existence until it finally happened. Most people trust the mirage that outward appearances give to the brain and deem it a fact. The idea that we don’t have time, can’t get up, can’t cook all the time are mirages that the brain deems fact. However, nothing is impossible to a person that learns to think the right thoughts. A very long way of saying, I create balance by first imagining that balance and giving my body the right instructions. Once it becomes habit, its easy.
How did you become interested in body building competition?
For me, bodybuilding is merely a small part of a larger spiritual transformation that I’ve been going through. A vehicle, if you will, to help me achieve my other desires.
When we let go and let God take care of issues, he will bring resolutions to our prayers through means we never imagined. I say that to give some clarity to my longer story, which I hope I can cut down because it was a long process of God dropping breadcrumbs. Things take a while when we are stubborn and don’t listen…lol.
I’ve always had major aspirations and large stretch goals for my career, personal, health and financial sector. You can say maybe my goals are too big, but despite that I decided to get real clear and specific by making a life plan in the fall of 2015. That plan had four major pillars that were all connected under the umbrella of symmetry. My ultimate goal was to have it all. To be able to be successful in every area of my life without having to sacrifice one for the other. Too often I worked long hours to reach my career and financial goals at the expense of my personal life and health. Or vice versa, I’d date someone, pouring all of my energy and time into a relationship at the expense of my other goals. I decided that day that through divine direction I would create a life for me that was balanced and happy. And the way my God works, when you make your desires known to him and GET OUT OF THE WAY, he will answer.
To make a very long story short, once I completed that plan I sat back and looked for intuitive leads. I kept getting this hunch to clean my home (the first breadcrumb). So I did. While cleaning I found a vision board that I created years ago and was incredibly surprised to see that I had achieved all but one thing on the board. That one lonely goal was getting in shape (breadcrumb #2). Eventually I put the board back in the closet (I still hadn’t noticed the breadcrumbs) and finished cleaning.
When I got to the last trash bag and lifted it into the dumpster I felt something pull in my shoulder. Progressively the pain got worse each day until I couldn’t lift my arm above my head, my arm had gone numb and it had become nearly impossible to type on my computer. After several doctors’ visits and being told nothing was wrong with me, the doctors finally sent me to physical therapy. Instantly, I was given a diagnosis of weak posture muscles (breadcrumb #3). It was the result of sitting at a desk all day long, everyday. Now if you remember earlier, I mentioned that I wanted a life of symmetry. This injury put me into a position where I didn’t have a choice, but to balance my life. That one injury forced me to cut back on my work hours, to get up and move and to start paying more attention to my health. Furthermore, I got a ginormous bill from the doctor just to tell me that nothing was wrong with me. And if you are like me, I don’t like anyone playing with my money. Here I was shelling out nearly $800 after insurance, for a condition that I could have solved from working out (breadcrumb #4 and this was the one that set everything else on fire).
So I made up my mind that day that I would never be too busy to work out. I purchased a bench press for my home because I hated working out at the gym around people. Within weeks I started seeing the evidence of change. Seeing my control and power return to my body made me excited. It also motivated me to do better. If I could workout, then maybe it was possible to start eating right.
I didn’t want to pay for a trainer or a meal plan so I googled free meal plans. The first website I found was bodybuilding.com (breadcrumb #5). I selected one of the free meal and workout plans on the site. I started it on December 14, 2015, right smack in the middle of holiday season. That month I lost 10 pounds.
I went back to that life plan and could no longer deny that something greater than me was happening. When I got real clear about my desires, everything started to move. My competitive nature was ignited. In a former life I was a collegiate soccer player and was involved in the sport for over 25 years, but two major knee surgeries deterred me from playing again. I then decided to explore physical activities that I could do and bodybuilding was the one answer that had already been given to me spiritually and two it was a perfect fit for what I was trying to do – restore my body. It is clearly defined as strengthening the body through proper exercise and diet. After losing 20 pounds on my own I hired a coach to help me the rest of the way and get me to a place where I would be good enough to compete. Since then, I’ve lost 35 pounds and dropped four pants sizes and competed in two competitions.
New Orleans is a culinary city, have you found it difficult to be a disciplined eater and train for competition?
Not really. Once you get into a routine and you get clear about your goals it becomes easy. I can’t say I always operated that way. But now I simply take my food with me. If friends invite me out I bring my own food. If we are at a restaurant, I’ve learned how to dissect the menu. I’ll even call in advance to see what they have. The point is – even New Orleans can be healthy. You just have to work a bit to get there.
Also, I allow myself to have cheats here and there (less when I’m near a competition). So yes, I do still have gumbo, ettoufee and other important New Orleans dishes. But, I don’t have them everyday and I plan them in my diet. As I tell everyone, eat everything in moderation and you should be fine.
Are you at your ideal body goals?
My ultimate goal is to be happy, healthy and successful. Right now I don’t have any preventable ailments and my posture muscles are strong. For me that is success. However, I’d continue by saying that whatever body type correlates with a good feeling is the appropriate body type for me. I can always sit down and find a million and one things to change about me, however, if I did that I’d never be happy. I’ve finished near the bottom at every competition thus far. So I know I need to get leaner to place higher and it’s a goal that I am working towards. However, that drive will never supersede my need to be in balance.
How do you balance your goals and competitions without becoming obsessive or critical about your body in ways that can be unhealthy?
That’s a great question. It goes directly back to my thoughts on symmetry. The act of obsession flies in direction opposition to symmetry. The really great thing about having a life plan is that it performs as a checks and balance system. If I see something going off path I can quickly course correct.
Furthermore, we manifest that with which we give energy to. If your energy is full of worry or doubt then you welcome more of that negativity in your life and in essence move yourself further from your goal. It’s not our job to figure out the why and that’s what obsession is – you trying to figure out how to make something happen or forcing something into reality that may not be in your best interest. Our only job is to create the desire, state and hold the vision and follow our spirit’s direction. It will give you everything that you need to be successful. My spirit brought me to bodybuilding, helped me find a coach, learn about food and so forth. It was all designed by something/someone not named Amber. There is no point about me obsessing. The body I need to win will come if I trust in the process that my coach has prescribed for me. Enjoy the journey, forget the logistics.
What challenges have you faced as a woman of color in body building?
Very few, if any. The women and even the men in the sport have been incredibly welcoming and helpful. I’ve played several sports throughout my life and none of them have provided the community that I’ve experienced here. So many have reached out to me, provided good advice or helped me.
I will, however, note that there is a big push to have long, shiny, big pageant-like hair, something that a person with coarse hair does not possess in its natural state. Although it isn’t a requirement, it certainly is something that most (not all) athletes will get either through, relaxers, extensions, wigs, weaves…etc. I’ve done the same by wearing wigs in my first two competitions. After much thought, I consider that to be somewhat of a paradox. Although I love my wigs, it’s taken the focus away from having a full healthy body (hair included). So I’ve already made it a goal that at my next competition I will be wearing my real hair and over these next few months I’m going to implement a routine that helps it grow in its natural state. Coincidentally, because I workout everyday it’s very hard to maintain relaxed hair. When I started my workout regiment a year ago, I stopped using relaxers because it was so much easier to leave the gym, put on a wig or wear a protective hairstyle and go to work. Seeing as though I’m half way there I plan to continue towards making my hair as healthy as possible and wearing my real crown at the next show. This isn’t to put down anyone that wears relaxed hair, wigs or extensions. I still wear my wigs from time to time when I want a different look. I believe strongly that people should work the plan that works for them. But this sport has made me fall in love with my own hair and I want to see my texture of hair represented on the stage.
Have you found a supportive network of women of color body builders?
I’ve met a few at the shows. I’m sure there is a network, but it’s possible I just haven’t found an organized group of individuals just yet. I’m still pretty new to the sport and I haven’t been out there connecting as much as I should.
If you could write a sticky note to black women’s bodies, what would it say?
The body is a physical manifestation of your inner self.
That means our bodies will always come in different shapes and sizes that are all beautiful. What matters most is that the inner self is happy AND HEALTHY. If you aren’t satisfied with your outer appearance take a deeper dive into why you aren’t happy. I guarantee that the answer is something internal. And if you fix that internal issue, the change will make an outward appearance.