For as long as she can remember, Joanna Ferguson has always been conscious of her weight. It impacted the way she saw herself, and in turn, created a lot of distress during her formative years.
“I became aware that I was heavier than my classmates in late elementary to early middle school and my self esteem plummeted from there,” the now 30-year-old tells ESSENCE. “During high school, I began dieting as early as sophomore year.”
She spent her adolescence trying to lose weight, consuming flavorless meals and going lengths that simply weren’t something a teenager could maintain for the long term. Once she became an adult, efforts to prioritize her health eventually started to take a backseat to her schooling and work. She had a hefty workload as she pursued a career in dentistry. As her focus shifted away from diet fads and weight-loss efforts, she found herself eating all sorts of foods for comfort and convenience while up late studying. She was acing her exams, but she physically didn’t feel good.
Ferguson would finally find the motivation to clean up her diet and shed the pounds at one of the hardest times for everyone — during the pandemic. With motivation from her fiancé as the two went on a weight-loss journey together and a desire to leave behind eating that left her feeling lousy, she joined WW (formerly Weight Watchers). She set a goal to get under 200 pounds by her 30th birthday and has gone on to surpass her goal. She lost more than 30 pounds so far (32) and now disappears in clothes that once hugged her frame. If that wasn’t inspiring enough, she did that while finishing up her Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry degree. Boss moves.
We asked Ferguson, who is featured in WW’s new “Goodbye/Hello” campaign to share her journey. Below, she explains how she found discipline during what was a time of free-for-all eating for many, how life has changed, and why, for the first time, she’s excited to wear shorts this summer. Get inspired.
ESSENCE: How long would you say that you struggled with your weight? And as someone still in school, studying work in pediatric dentistry, were your eating habits impacted by your busy schedule?
Joanna Ferguson: I have struggled with my weight since elementary school it seems. During high school I began dieting as early as sophomore year. I remember the first diet I tried I had fun trying new recipes, but they were often bland and definitely not sustainable as a young teen.
Prior to joining WW, my weight loss always came to the forefront if I had nothing else to focus on. As soon as I began a new job or entered a new educational path it took a backburner to my priorities and my eating habits tunneled into convenience foods and indulgent nights when studying. These times are basically a blur for me when I think about my wellness journey. Not only did I make decisions that didn’t make my body feel good but oftentimes I would convince myself it was okay to overeat because I promised to start a new diet the following day or week.
What was the catalyst that prompted you to seek out assistance from WW and be more active, and during the pandemic? You started your transformation during a time when a lot of people were at home eating whatever, whenever, to cope with everything going on.
I will say that I found WW at a great time. My school schedule was a little lighter and more importantly, my fiancé and I were living together for the first time. He has been through his own weight-loss journey, which is part of the reason we bonded when we first met. I knew that I wanted to set the right precedent when we lived together that would help us both achieve our goals in the long term. Now for the first two to three weeks during the pandemic it was a free-for-all: wine, spaghetti, cookies you name it. But there came a point when my body felt so lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable and I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t the way I was eating anymore. After fiddling around with various diets like OMAD, keto and intermittent fasting, my gut health was so horrible I wanted to try something new. My brother had been praising WW for months so I gave it a go during the beginning of July with a goal to be under 200 pouds by July 24 (my 30th birthday).
How easy was it to adjust to their program and was eating still fun?
After doing keto where you have to avoid all carbs known to man, WW was a breath of fresh air! I love dessert and pasta and before WW, just always thought that for me to be “skinny” I would have to eliminate those foods and many others from my diet for the rest of my life. How sad right!? One of my favorite things about WW is the recipe builder because I can experiment with my most loved recipes to make them fit into my day. In fact, we recently moved to Naples and I made a lighter Cajun chicken pasta for my family and my dad commented that after they leave we’ll have to “get back on our eating regimen.” I made sure to note that I incorporate foods like this all the time and I’m still able to reach my goals! Such a different mindset from when I was growing up and thought the only way to lose weight was to severely restrict yourself and deny your body what you love.
How has life changed with the progress you’ve made?
The most memorable change for me has been the balance I’ve achieved. I enjoy date nights with wine and dessert but also can’t wait for homemade meals that make my body feel strong. Apart from nutrition, I have incorporated movement into my life in a way I never have before. I actually enjoy working out and exploring my body’s limits through strength training or trying challenging cardio routines.
I read that you’re excited to put on shorts for the first time since you were a kid. Why weren’t you comfortable before and why are you looking forward to embracing them now?
Interestingly enough, I was 20 pounds smaller than I am now during undergrad and for about one year afterwards. Those days were consumed with restrictive eating, unhealthy habits and poor nutrition. I was self-conscious about my weight and body because I did not feel good in it and was not fueling it properly. Now that I give my body the nutrition it needs and movement it craves, I have newfound confidence to wear shorts. The difference between then and now is that I used to think I needed to struggle in order to be thin and that would lead to happiness but now my confidence stems from how I feel and what nourishment I can give my body to achieve that and WW has helped me figure out how to best make that happen.