The McGuffie family works to leave behind a legacy of wellbeing
The headlines were haunting. Austin and Fantasia McGuffie were seeing article after article reporting that Black people were being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the CDC, Black people are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 complications and nearly twice as likely to die, as their white counterparts. As health and fitness coaches, the McGuffies wanted to do more than sit home and lament these statistics.
“We were dying at alarming rates,” Austin says. “We began to wonder what’s going on and how we can get to the root of this problem so we can heal our community.”
The McGuffies believe the path to this healing is paved by what they call “building generational health.” They want to help Black people adopt healthy habits and lifestyles and pass those on to their children and their communities.
Unearthing the Root Cause
With Austin focusing on fitness and Fantasia specializing in nutrition, the McGuffies work together to help clients reach their health and wellness goals.
“When it comes to tackling people’s health issues, we try to get to the root cause,” Fantasia says. “So, it’s not necessarily just, ‘Here’s your workout plan, here’s your nutrition plan.' It includes your mental health, your physical health, and your spiritual health. We put all of that together when we devise a plan for our clients.”
The Atlanta-based couple also runs a health and wellness program at the Forest School where they teach kids about the importance of physical fitness and lead them in hands-on nutrition activities.
After seeing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Black community, the McGuffies decided to rebrand their company. Now called Noiresh (a play on the words nourish and noir), the McGuffies offer not only health coaching but also entertaining and educational content that they hope will help close racial health gaps.
“What we’re finding is our population has the highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease,” Austin says.
The McGuffies believe many health disparities among Black people can be traced to systemic racism. For example, many Black communities are food deserts because of racist practices such as redlining. In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration began to systematically deny mortgages to Black, Latinx, and Jewish residents. This process became known as redlining because banks and government officials drew red lines on housing maps to single out African American and Latinx neighborhoods deemed unworthy of investment. Though redlining officially ended in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, many of these neighborhoods are still woefully underserved.
“We’re still overcoming some things our parents and grandparents had to deal with,” Fantasia says.
The McGuffies don’t use guilt to get their clients in shape. “We let our clients know that the condition of their body is not their fault,” Austin says. “Genetics has a big role and the food culture that we have in this country is just not set up for success—especially for people of color.”
But Austin and Fantasia want their clients to know they can still be healthy against all odds. The McGuffies empower their clients—especially clients who are people of color—to do what they can with what they have to improve the health factors they can control.
“As we’ve been learning and figuring out the root cause, we find that education plays a big role,” Fantasia says. “If we’re not educated, we don’t know how to do better.”
Julian Miles knows that knowledge is power. She started working with Fantasia in 2019 to improve her diet and in 2020 she got serious about fitness too. “I am more knowledgeable about my body,” Miles says. And this has made all the difference.
After struggling to improve her health for four years, Miles now has lost 24 pounds, she’s stronger, and she works out three to five times a week.
“I’m putting better stuff in my body, exercising, drinking water,” she says. And she’s working to pass on these healthful habits to her twin teenage daughters.
Miles, who met the McGuffies through church, says she wanted to work with them on her health and fitness goals because she found the couple so relatable. They understood her challenges as a busy mom.
“They actually are doing what I do every day—trying to work and trying to build health,” Miles says. “Fantasia gets the struggle of trying to do this while you’re mothering.”
A Family Affair
For Austin and Fantasia McGuffie, building generational health begins at home. They’re the proud parents of four children ages eight, six, four, and two. And health and fitness are top priorities in the McGuffie household.
“With our first child, I made all of his food from scratch, and I took a deep dive into everything nutrition,” Fantasia says. “As he got older, I started to include him in those activities.” She taught her son how to have fun with cooking, making smoothies and apple donuts. “It became a way of life for him,” she says.
Fantasia continues to invite her children to join her in the kitchen. “They know about sugar and protein, and they know how to read food labels,” she says. “That doesn’t mean they always make the best decisions. But at least they’re hearing that language so as they get older it will start to make sense to them, and it will click.”
Meanwhile, Austin teaches the kids about the importance of exercise and building muscle.
“Anytime I leave the house, the kids ask, ‘Dad, are you going to the gym?’ ” Austin says with a laugh. “I think the most important thing that we can do is be an example. They see us eating healthy and exercising. More than what we tell them, it’s how we show them.”
Works in Progress
Austin and Fantasia McGuffie strive to be a good example for their kids and their clients, but they’re quick to say they’re both works in progress.
“We have not arrived,” Austin says. We are not the prototype. We’re both still struggling with individual things regarding our own health and wellness, and we’re going to figure those things out.”
Fantasia’s interest in nutrition was sparked during her first pregnancy when she was diagnosed with preeclampsia. She was eager to learn how her dietary choices affected her blood pressure. Now, she’s focused on overall gut health.
After a failed business venture, Austin turned to the gym to find a sense of self. And while he was there, he found a new passion and purpose too.
He says that as he began to build muscle and bulk up his once slender frame, “everybody started asking me for advice, and I thought, I think I know what I’m doing!”
Just as Austin and Fantasia make health and fitness a family affair for their children, their wellness journey is a cornerstone of their marriage too. “We’re a team,” Fantasia says. “When you can do something like this together—that’s fun.”
Austin says working together also helps their marriage. “When you have a marriage/co-worker relationship, one is going to bleed over into the other,” Austin says. “We have to work hard to make sure that both are doing well so that neither is adversely affecting the other. It forces us to communicate.”
For anyone interested in beginning a wellness journey of their own, Austin and Fantasia both say to start small.
“Instead of setting really big goals, set small daily habits that are realistic to maintain,” Austin says.
Fantasia adds that it’s important to set realistic expectations too. “It’s not something you’re going to do overnight,” she says. “It might take you 90 days to see results.”
To stay encouraged, Fantasia recommends finding a coach or accountability partner and listening to motivational podcasts or watching documentaries about other people improving their health. “When I can see somebody else, it makes it more real,” she says.
Also, give yourself grace. “Don’t be afraid to start over,” Austin says.
And while it’s never too late to get started, the sooner you begin, the better off you’ll be.
“You only get one of these very luxurious vehicles that we call bodies, and it’s supposed to take you through a long and enjoyable life, and everybody is entitled to that,” Austin says. “It just requires a little bit of work to obtain it.”