BY MARILYN REED, ACUMEN GUEST EDITOR
Three months into 2020, G. Wayne Conley, a resident of Memphis, Tenn., was still vibing off the success of his signature event, I Am the 90s. The party was a major hit, and Conley was looking forward to an even bigger and greater event in May. His vision and intention to reap the results of his grind were set. He was ready and then came the coronavirus. The novel” coronavirus (nCoV) made its way across the United States and shut down the southern portion of the United States in March. Conley stocked his fridge and began working from home for what he thought would be just a few weeks. “Honestly, it felt like a couple of snow days. I got some snacks and settled into work from home. I had no idea what was in front of me.”
Prior to the quarantine, Conley was known throughout social circles as ‘Biggie Smalls’ because he so closely resembled deceased rapper, Christopher Walker.
“I absolutely hated being called Biggie, but I knew why folks said it. I knew why,” he said.
Conley was a stylish, gregarious size 3XL. Popular and loved by nearly everyone, Conley was living his best life but knew that he would at some point have to take charge of his health. His pre-COVID-19 wellness routine or lack thereof had gifted Conley with low energy and lots of extra weight.
According to Very Well Health, Black men in the United States suffer worse health than any other racial group in America. As a group, Black men have the lowest life expectancy and the highest death rate from specific causes compared to both men and women of other racial and ethnic groups. With a family medical history of stroke, heart disease, and cancer, Conley’s DNA was not presenting him with good odds.
With the quarantine, Conley realized he had the time to improve his health.
“I was home alone and had time to think,” he said. “Seeing so many Black men, heavyset black men, that I knew dying of COVID-19, was a wakeup call for me. I decided the quarantine would be a good a time as any to slow down, reflect, and fix me.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection. As BMI increases, the risk of death from COVID-19 increases.
An annual visit to her doctor propelled Paquita McCray, of McComb, Miss., to re-evaluate her quarantine behavior.
“At the beginning of the shutdown, I was rocking and rolling. Zoom calls, virtual meetings, and socially distancing, I had it together,” said McCray. “The social justice, racial injustices, and other stressors began to take a toll, so I had to find a way to cope.”
Those coping skills included shopping more, sleeping more and sleeping less, as well as cooking and consuming more calories. This led to unwanted extra baggage on the body and mind of McCray.
Like Conley, McCray was at the top of her field professionally and socially. She is a staff supervisor, community volunteer, and is heavily involved in supporting her family. With so much of her life in order, McCray was shocked to realize during a doctor’s visit, that she had gained an additional fifteen pounds since the quarantine began.
“With tears in my eyes and shockwaves traveling through my body, I could not believe I had “inherited” fifteen extra pounds, anxiety, a sleep disorder, joint pain, and inflammation in only the seventh month of 2020,” McCray said. “As I stood face to face with this very present reality, I knew I had to make some choices.”
McCray had two options--- proceed with business as usual or to emulate Conley and shift.
For Conley, the shift was a complete lifestyle change that involved changing his daily habits.
“Man, I was used to staying up late and eating Taco Bell at three in the morning. I host parties so all the indulgences come with nightlife I truly enjoyed.” Conley stated.
Conley was already walking one or two miles a few days per week. However, in March, he shifted his life into high gear. That shift involved walking three to five miles seven days per week. Clean eating, a vitamin regimen, and scheduled quiet time put him on the road to health. Conley’s meals now include lots of healthy, lean protein, vegetables, and fruit.
“Since having to shelter in place, I have totally changed my eating habits. I make rest a priority. I drink plenty of water. Since I cannot attend church, I now set aside a portion of my morning to connect with myself and God. I have opened myself up to anything that improves G. Wayne Conley. Nothing is more important than my health and wellbeing.”
Near the close of the summer, McCray decided to shift her situation.
“In August, I began a personal quest to radically love and heal myself by developing a comprehensive plan which detailed journaling my weight loss progression, meditating, practicing Kemetic yoga, eating healthier, and walking. I began to practice Kemetic yoga three days and week. I increased my sporadic half-mile walks to three miles every day. I replaced two sugary cups of coffee with one and began eating more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of candy and chips,” McCray said.
Although McCray and Conley’s lifestyle changes were centered around weight loss, they both employed meditation and other spiritual tools to achieve their goals. “There is a direct correlation between our physical bodies and our minds. If you are not mentally ready to make a lifestyle change, you will not be successful. Centering oneself via meditation, yoga or prayer are important tools for any weight loss journey.” said Jackson, Miss., licensed certified social worker Jennie Hall.
Since implementing a lifestyle shift, McCray has released fifteen pounds while Conley has lost three shirt sizes and thirty pounds. Both Conley and McCray are still on their health journey. “I am very much looking forward to the end of the quarantine. However, this time in solitude has served me, and it has served me well,” said Conley. There is not much I can do to change what occurs during the quarantine, but I can change my response to what occurs. As Dr. Angela Davis said, ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.’