Saturday, October 8, 2011

Body For Life Champion: Mary Queen Johnson

If you are a close friend of mine, you probably know that I've been trying to do a "Body For Life" challenge for oh, let's say twelve years. Body for Life was a program/book written by Bill Phillips and it used to have a contest where you could take a before picture holding a newspaper so you could vouch for when you started and twelve weeks later, you would take an "after" picture. Supposedly, if you follow the program, you can completely transform your figure.

I however, don't know if that's true or not. I will say that for many years of my life, this contest caused marital strife for me. Ya see, when you are broke, and there aren't such things as digital cameras, and you feel the need to "start fresh" and take new "before" pictures every.single.week and you buy $7.99 disposable cameras weekly, only to never get pass week two in your challenge, you'd get to the point where every time you asked your other half to take a before picture you'd need to promise a sexual favor... or at least swear, "I promise, this will be the last time, honey. I'm going to do it."

I can guarantee you that I have attempted this challenge at least fifty times... and that's probably on the low side. My mom even made a file of "body for life" pictures... I would wash off my make-up, make my hair look awful, make a sick face, slouch over, and poke my tummy out to try to get the worst possible "before" picture ever. And the sad thing is, I would "kill" to look like this now! Ha! Check out some of these oldies, but goodies:

Hilarious. Well, truth be told, I was super skinny back then, but I had gained a little weight. I was convinced that I could win this competition. And I dreamed of being Mary.

“When I began the Challenge, I was like a lot of new mothers: out of shape, tired and uninspired,” Mary says. Having never lifted weights before or followed a nutrition plan, Mary approached the Challenge by “taking baby steps and keeping everything simple.” When Mary started the Program she weighed 148 pounds with 29.5 percent body fat. Now she weighs 135 pounds with 15.5 percent body fat. “I have never had more energy in my life! I could not be more enthusiastic about my physical results. I can’t get through a workout without someone coming up to me and asking what I am doing to achieve such fantastic results,” Mary says.

Ya know what they say, there's just something about Mary. Who is she, ya might ask? Mary Queen Johnson won the Body for Life challenge in 1999. She went from a new mom to a cover girl- literally, gracing the cover of Muscle Media Magazine. And... let me not leave out- She won $100,000. I used to have her pictures on my fridge and want to look like her. And she made such an impression on me that this week while I was wallowing in my frumpiness and growing boot-tay, I thought to myself... I wonder where Mary is... And most importantly, if I put my heart and soul into a twelve week program, Does she even believe in it? Was this whole "Body for Life" thing real? Or a sham?

So, what's a girl to do? You know me, the world is at my fingertips... I turned psycho stalker chick and googled her, and within thirty seconds was e-mailing "the" Mary that I admired so much. Yep, just a little scary what ya can do with the internet... but Luckily for me, I didn't freak her out too much. In fact, she was such a sweetheart, she even offered up her cell phone number, and was an open book of advice.

When she first e-mailed me back, what stood out most was this: "The success of this plan is really done in the kitchen." Bleh. Not what I wanted to hear... but maybe what I needed to hear.

Some things don't need to be changed... so I'm just cutting and pasting some of Mary's answers. She says "like" just like me and I think there's even an OMG in here. If you are in my situation, so much of this is what you need to hear and take to heart. And when it comes from someone that has been in our situation and seems so honest, sincere, and willing to help, it's suddenly so much clearer...

Did you gain confidence/experience life changes through the process?
Totally! I truly believe I am where I am because of BFL and fitness. Everything good that has happened to me seems to be within 8 degrees of the gym and fitness…kinda like the Kevin Bacon thing.

Were you always athletic or did this set you on that fitness path?
I had never been athletic! (and I mean NEVER!) I was a member of a gym in my 20’s but never went. If I did go…I would take like a step class and go home. Maybe like once a month. I had NEVER darkened the door of the weight room!!! I had never eaten healthy or on any kind of plan. I was a true novice. I was telling my husband that prior to BFL I had only held those little 5lb rubber coated hand weights they had in the aerobics room. Now there is barely an exercise or piece of equipment in the weight room that I am not familiar with. This is definitely what set me on my fitness path and fitness has changed and permeated everything in my life since BFL.

Have you had any relapses or gained weight since you won the challenge?
Yes of course. I have had 2 children since BFL and aged 10 years. Things change. During both of my pregnancies I worked out until I could no longer do it comfortably. I still gained weight and my body changed like all Mommy’s with thighs rubbing together (a very weird feeling) and fat rolls in places I never knew possible. I had cravings that I indulged and had times when I was lazy and tired after the baby was born and did not want to go to the gym (and didn’t go!!). I had to work hard after each one to get back to where I wanted to be and I still have work to do! It was not always natural to me to work that hard but I found once I would get started I would feel so good and if I broke it down to 12 weeks I sort of felt like I could do anything necessary for 12 weeks. If it took me 10 months to wreck it and 3 months to fix it then it was possible and doable. That is why I am doing another 12 weeks right now.

What did you do to persevere?
I never really like how I feel when I am out of shape. It was so awesome after completing and winning BFL because I was 30 and in the best shape of my life!!! I could rock the tiniest bikini or the cutest clothes and had no limitations. I was confident that I looked great whether naked J or clothed. That was one of the best feelings in the world and I have never forgotten it. I do not like feeling the other way... Unable to wear what I want, having to work hard to find things that are flattering on me, struggling to be in a bathing suit or buy jeans…no fun! I use that “feeling” as motivation to persevere. I HATE FEELING LIMITED…that keeps me going!

What time of day do you fit in working out with being a mom, realtor, etc?
I work out in the morning. I have a flexible schedule with work but I find if I don’t go ahead and do it in the am…other things try to take over my day- Sick kids, clients, housework or work-work. I have to come next after everyone gets to where they need to be. I always say to myself, “Do this first so you have something to give to everyone else that depends on you!!!” Words to live by I think.

Did you use any supplements during the challenge?
Myoplex Lite Shakes or Bars, Betagen, Fat Burners, Multi-vitamin. Now? Still use Myoplex Lite Shakes. Supreme Protein Bars (taste like candy…AMAZING)

How do you feel about fat burners, etc?
I think they worked back in the day but now…not so much. They were dangerous back then but we did not know it. I don’t take them now at all.

I've heard that sometimes you don't see changes until week 8, etc... Was that the case for you?
I saw a little (and I mean little)change at 4 weeks but nothing prior to that. I remember feeling so frustrated about that. The biggest change did happen suddenly at 8 weeks and like gangbusters between then and week 12!

Any words of advice?
Take small steps. Just take it one day at a time. Ask/tell yourself:
What will I eat right now and making the right choice in that one moment rather than thinking OMG I have to make great choices for 12 weeks. It makes the choice in that moment so much easier.
Set a time to exercise…WRITE IT IN YOUR SCHEDULE IN INK! Do everything you can to keep and protect that time no matter what. Make sure your husband is supportive of that time being yours because ultimately he will benefit too. Happy wife equals VERY happy husband. If that means he has to put the kids to bed so you can go at night or whatever. Support is imperative if you have kids. They are wonderful but they will totally take that time from you and think nothing of it…meanwhile it robs you of achieving your goal. Planning and preparation are key! This pertains to food and exercise. Nutrition is not something you can do successfully on the fly. You must prepare your meals and have them ready otherwise I am certain you will fail.

How much of your transformation was emotional?
Soooooo much of it was emotional. Earlier I talked about feeling a certain way. Everything changed. Can ya tell I'm in a huge rut right now? Yes but that is ok…it happens. What is important is whether you do something to get out of it. You cannot live in a rut. Think of it literally and it will help you see that you must do everything possible to get out of it and begin some forward momentum. Ruts are not meant to be permanent dwelling places!!! And so, for the first time in my life, I WILL complete my own twelve week challenge. It's not about the money,money,money... It's about that feeling of being confident and loving who I am. I'm finally ready for all of the right reasons.

Mary Queen Johnson currently lives in North Carolina with her family and works as a realtor. She continues to inspire many and also has her own amazing "Blind Side" story that can be seen here:


  1. hokie30sgirl, you can do it! Keep us posted on your progress! ~Jon @EAS

  2. This turned out so nice...thanks for posting! Hope you are doing well on your challenge. I am here if you need me!!! Mary Queen Johnson

  3. What a great post!! Knowing Mary for 20+ years I can honestly say she is an inspiration to many people and not just from a fitness prospective but also for maintaining a successful real estate career all the while being a wonderful wife and a amazing mother to 4 kids!
    Reading that Mary was so willing to help you when you contacted her does not surprise me at all...she has always been a very sweet and giving person in every aspect of her life! Honored to call her my friend!!
    Looking forward to following your blog...wishing you much success in your BFL ventures!

  4. Ohhh...I love you Rhonda. What a sweet thing to say. Mary Q. Johnson