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Interview with Mom, Wife, and Fitness Competitor & Model – Nana Kim

Nana Kim

Can you briefly tell us about yourself (where you were born, how it was like growing up, profession, education, where you live, etc.)?

My name is Nana Kim. I am 34 years old. I was born originally from Seoul, Korea. I come from a very close knit family of my mom, my dad, and my older sister. We moved to the United States when I was 7 years old. Growing up was not so easy for me, I have to admit! While I have been super blessed to come from such a supportive, loving family, I got teased a lot as a child. My peers picked on me constantly for being fat, for being a foreigner, for having a peculiar name, and even for having my rather deep voice. My childhood is not a place I like to revisit. I don’t even like pulling out my old childhood photos to this day!

Life wasn’t always so hard though. Growing up, I was always very smart and artistic. Things always came easy to me. I got good grades and was always at the top of my class. I also loved to draw and write. My parents were the typical “Asian” parents, who had my sister and I involved in tutoring classes and many extracurricular activities.

I studied at UC Riverside as a psychology major, but failed to finish school (I had a pretty rocky young adulthood). After I got married, I obtained a Professional Make-Up Certificate at Joe Blasco Make Up School. Currently, I am a full time homemaker, and I love being an active part of my daughter’s childhood. It also gives me time to chase my true passion on the side, which is fitness!

As a young adult, you struggled with anorexia, drugs, alcohol, and partying. Can you share how you battled through these life events and how it has affected your life to start living a fit and healthy lifestyle?

I struggled with eating disorders most of my young adulthood. A lot of it, now I see, has to do with my childhood. As silly as it may sound, when you are a child and people say ugly things about you, you will believe yourself to be just that.

I battled with anorexia when I was 16 years old. It lasted severely for a year, but it is honestly something I will probably battle with for the rest of my life. It started out with missing breakfast, which led to missing lunch, which led to eventually eating nothing at all. Sometimes I could go for a couple days without eating anything, and I would eventually get so hungry that I would crash and binge on chocolate, or something else. Sometimes I would chew the food and spit it right back out. It was horrible! I would so often fall asleep in class, but somehow it made me feel so powerful every time I could say “no” to eating.

Senior year of high school, I got introduced to a deadly narcotic, better known as “crystal meth”. It was such an easy fix to stay thin, and other than that, it was so much fun. I was immediately addicted. Crystal meth was the gateway drug that introduced me to my life as a hardcore “party girl”. Most of my early 20’s, I was always out partying, and I was always very heavily intoxicated. While I was not abusing crystal meth the whole time, I was always drinking and mixing other recreational drugs. I always took everything beyond the limit. Most nights I would black out and get myself in some kind of trouble.

In the year 2005, I met my husband. My life was spiraling downward when I met him. I was abusing crystal meth again, but more heavily. It was to the point where I was starting to lose sense of reality. He had this way of bringing me back to feeling somewhat normal and safe. Anyway, we got pregnant and decided to get married. After we got married, I was mortified from gaining so much weight and began abusing laxatives. I would spend roughly $1000/month on laxatives, and my weight plummeted down to 85 lbs at my lowest! Both my husband and I had reached rock bottom by that point. My life was fading away at a precious time when my baby girl was growing. We both decided that I needed a change.

In the year 2008, my husband and I decided to sign up with a personal trainer as a last resort. I laugh now at the thought of a “healthy living” as my last resort. I was determined to turn my life around. When I first started working out, I was only 90 lbs or so! I was so self-cautious to go to the gym, that I would force my husband to do workout videos with me at home. Eventually, I got the courage to step into the gym and I got hooked right away. I could spend hours in the gym and not get tired. It was like my new addiction. Through channeling my addiction to the gym, I started researching on nutrition, and slowly started to introduce my body to eating healthy again. I was amazed at how my body responded to working out and eating healthy. I was convinced as a child that I was born fat! It helped me to learn about my body and eventually feel comfortable in my own skin.

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After you started living a fit and healthy lifestyle, what and/or who inspired your decision to go into fitness modeling and compete?

On January 1, 2012 I decided to take my passion of fitness to another level by signing up for a transformation challenge on bodybuilding.com. I signed up to challenge myself and to change my lifestyle as a New Year resolution. I fell in love with the discipline and dedication of the competition lifestyle and learned that there were shows locally that I could enter. It motivated me to give it a try and from there on, the rest is history!

When you first started out, were there any major obstacles or setbacks you had to overcome?

The hardest part when I first started out was gaining weight, and getting used to eating normally. I was still very cautious about how much I ate, and it was hard for me to accept that I had to consume so many calories. I was only 110 lbs . At the same time, it was very frustrating because I had so much muscle I had to put on to even step on the stage. It made me realize that I was not eating enough up until that point. I almost felt like I did not belong in the sport, but it was just something I was so passionate about! Thankfully, I did not give up. :)

On the flipside, what have you accomplished and what else do you wish to accomplish as a fitness model (titles, personal goals, etc.)?

I feel very fortunate for my accomplishments thus far. I have won 3 trophies (5th Place Open- Southern California Championships, 2nd Place Novice- Southern California Championships, 2nd Place Class D- Iron Games). I feel honored to have worked with amazing photographers, such as Natalie Minh, which also gave me my first magazine feature in GLAM Magazine. I am fortunate to have a few more upcoming features in other magazines this year.

My fitness modeling career is something I definitely would love to expand on. I would love to be featured in other magazines and to get my face out in the fitness world. I am also working on creating a brand for myself and eventually starting up my own website. I feel like my fitness career is just starting, so watch for me! :)

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What is your diet is like today compared to your past lifestyle? Are there any differences and/or similarities to what you eat on a typical day? Do you give yourself “cheat days”?

I definitely eat way more than I ever have in my past! Before I got into fitness, I would eat one meal a day and try to eat as little as possible. Once I started working out, I started to introduce healthy foods back into my diet, but I was still very scared to gain weight. I would count calories and it would be hard for me to consume 1200! Now, I eat almost the same things I did back then (chicken breast, lean fish, beef, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheats, fruits, vegetables, etc.), but I eat bigger portions 6-7 times a day. When I am not training for a competition, I do allow myself cheat days, especially during special occasions. You have to enjoy life once in awhile! I try and stick to a healthy diet throughout the week and allow myself a cheat once or twice on the weekends.

What does your training routine consist of? (Please include a few details – training split, sets/reps, exercises, types of cardio, etc.)

I train 6 days a week. I usually train my legs 3 times a week and upper body 3 times a week. Lots of plyos and active rests are added in between sets and most of the sets are supersets. The workouts are intense! I also train my abs every day when I am preparing for a competition and glutes. I will touch them lightly every day. When I am doing my cardio, I always do them on an incline or do the stairmill with kickbacks to focus on my glute muscles.

My workout day would look similar to this:
Monday: Legs/ Glutes/ Shoulders + Abs (30 minutes cardio on incline)
Tuesday: Plyos/ Back + Abs (30 minutes cardio on incline)
Wednesday: Legs/ Glutes + Abs (30 minutes HIIT cardio)
Thursday: Back + Abs/ glutes (30 minutes HIIT cardio on incline)
Friday: Glutes/ Plyos + Abs (30 minutes cardio on incline)
Saturday: Arms + Abs (30 minutes HIIT cardio on incline)

In addition to your diet and training, do you believe in supplements? If so, which kinds do you use and what results have these given you?

I believe there is no other better supplement than your diet. You are what you eat! I say that because when I first started working out, I literally thought I had to take everything in order to achieve my goals. Some of the supplements included: CLA, L-Carnitine, Chromium, Green Tea Extract, Alpha Lipoic Acid, etc. I would take them all in one sitting, thinking that it was the answer to achieving my dream body. Needless to say, I do not take all those right now and I am in the best shape of my life. There are, however, some supplements that can aid  your health that you cannot get from food. Right now, I’m taking Multivitamins (for all my vital nutrient needs), HERS Essentials (for healthy hair, skin, and nails), and Protein Powder (to nourish the muscles and my workouts).

As a mom, wife, and fitness competitor and model, how do you make time to juggle everything and also workout? What is the most challenging part?

I am very lucky to have a supportive husband who is willing to go out of his way to support my career. I usually get all my workouts in in the morning while my daughter is at school. I will utilize every minute of that free time to get done everything I possibly can. From the minute I pick up my daughter, I go back into full-time mommy mode. I try to focus all my attention on her and not get distracted with other stuff until she goes to bed. We are usually busy running around to her after-school activities, doing homework, or having play dates for me to even get distracted! Once she goes to bed (luckily her bedtime is around 8), I will resume everything else that I have to get done.

The most challenging parts are those curve-balls that are thrown unexpectedly to scatter the routine! That’s when I start to freak out a little and that is when my husband always steps in and helps out. For example, last minute fitness events or when my daughter comes home sick (like today) and I am thrown out of my “routine”. My husband has never once complained and will even work throughout the night just to come give me a helping hand during the day. I am so thankful to have him!

Also, another challenging part is that I don’t want to miss out on my daughter’s childhood while chasing my dreams, so I will try to juggle more than I can handle. It drives me nuts at times, especially when I am prepping for a competition, but I honestly would not have it any other way.

Where do you get your motivation from to stay consistent and continue to strive in your fitness career and lifestyle?

For me, fitness is almost like an addiction. I recognize that I have an addictive personality and fitness is where I channel all my addiction to. I don’t really need a motivation to stay consistent. It is my life. I can’t imagine not having it in my daily routine. I would freak out. Literally. My friends know. :) I’ve been consistent for many years now and my motivation has thankfully not gone down any!

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What advice would you give someone who has had similar struggles as you and wants to transition their life towards a more healthy and fit lifestyle, but don’t know where to start?

It is never too late to become the person you want to become! The first step is recognizing that they want that change. From there, they have to take the actions to start living a healthy life. The first step is always the hardest. I would suggest that they look for support from family, friends, organizations. Bodybuilding.com is a great place they can go to for support. Facebook has many fitness groups they can reach out to as well. They must find the motivation to get them started and somehow it will become a habit. Once it becomes a habit, they must find a way to make it last. For me, personally, it was the best decision to overcome my struggles through changing my lifestyle. I know that if they want that change, they can do it. They just have to find it in themselves. I am always open to talk to others who need help as well.

What are your future plans and goals? Do you have any competitions coming up?

My current goal for the year is to compete in my first national show this summer! I plan on taking the next few months until then to dedicate my life to training and give myself a shot at earning my pro card. Hopefully, I will do 2 national shows this year. Other than that, I am working on creating a brand for myself and will hopefully have my website set up by the end of the year. My next show will be in March, Jon Lindsay’s Musclecontest Championships.

Lastly, any shout outs and where can we find you on the Internet?

Thank you, Natalie Minh, for allowing me to share a little bit about myself! Thanks to my wonderful hubbie, who has stuck by me through the worst times and always believes in me. Thanks to my family who has seen me go through it all and have never once gave up on me. Thank you to my Team EDGE teammates and coaches, Ingrid and Joe, for transforming my body and helping me to grow mentally everyday. Thanks, also, to the Musclecontest Organization for giving me the opportunity to chase my passions! Lastly, thank you to everyone who has believed in me and supported me, from the bottom of my heart.

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