Nicole Grays Owens may not be a cast member of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” but she certainly qualifies as one. After a 25-year stint in corporate America working with such media giants as CNN and Paramount Pictures, it was a natural transition for Nicole to become a host her own podcasts, “Catch the Convo” and “Pillow Talk: Live in the Living Room with Niko Grey.” The charismatic and sexy California transplant is a fixture on the Atlanta scene and is frequently described as stylish, unapologetically transparent and most importantly DOPE.
One of her proudest accomplishments was building BISON, a multi-million dollar Payroll and Staffing company with then-husband Wesley Owens. Currently perusing her passions on a full-time basis, Nicole is a celebrity wardrobe stylist and aspiring novelist. When she’s not working, Nicole enjoys down time with her 3 incredible step children, or sitting poolside sipping champagne and puffing on a hookah while contemplating her next move.
Women Fitness joins Nicole in an interesting chat over what inspires her to live the life that she lives. Catch up with her below.
You started off with a 25-year stint in corporate America working with such media giants as CNN, Turner Broadcasting, Fox Sports and Paramount Pictures, before moving on in 2016 to pursue your personal passions on a full-time basis. Introduce us to a day in your spectacular life.
Spectacular? Wow! I guess from the outside looking in, some would think my day-to-day is pretty terrific. In actuality it’s just me working on myself and building my brand (Niko Grey). Seven days a week I roll out of bed with the intention of conquering personal goals and overcoming hurdles. Writing (there is a fictional novel in the works, a treatment for a reality tv show, and a drama that could be a weekly series), collaborating with my designer, Faith DeFaria, on my clothing line (dopesince1969), thinking up creative ways to inspire my growing Social Media following via my live podcasts, and healing – both mentally and physically from the obstacles and losses I’ve had to overcome in 2016. I’m getting stronger every day. Sprinkled in between that organized chaos, I’m sometimes sitting in a chair with a make-up artist getting glamorous because it’s a day of filming for one of the reality-TV shows I’ve been cast for, that are currently in production here in Atlanta. Sleep, yeah, there’s not a lot of that.
You are best known for your dramatic weight loss endeavor wherein you lost 150 pounds and transformed not only your physical health, but your entire emotional outlook on life, aptly referred to as “The Rebirth.” Walk us through your incredible weight loss journey.
Buckle up. It’s quite a ride!
I wasn’t always overweight, but but once the pounds started hanging around permanently in my early 20s, depression set in and I was no longer that upbeat, carefree California girl. Quickly got sucked into a downward spiral. Family and friends alike noticed me becoming less social, more of a recluse. I was feeling embarrassed by my weight gain, unable to find clothes that would fit, not wanting to travel – those tiny airplane seats are no joke and no one wants to sit next to the fat person. I was out of control. My body was like a runaway train. I basically hid out at home. Alone. Those feelings led to me becoming an ’emotional eater’ and it just kept getting worse, until I reached a little over 300 pounds.
You name the weight-loss method, I gave it a go. Lost a few, but couldn’t keep it off, so I felt like a failure…repeatedly. I tried everything, but nothing worked.
It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta that I decided it was time to take back control over my mind and body, no matter the cost. Living like this wasn’t living, it was merely existing.
What led to the answer for my obesity was a co-worker who quietly took a leave of absence and when she returned her weight loss was immediately noticeable. She glowed and looked radiant. And I wanted that too! After watching her journey and transformation over a period of a year, I worked up the nerve to ask her how she’d done it. She confessed she’d had gastric bypass surgery. I took her to lunch to pick her brain about the process and the procedure. She gave me the name of her surgeon I decided to take the leap!
Although I qualified for the surgery due to my ailments (chest pain, difficulty breathing,crazy cholesterol levels, at risk for diabetes and a high BMI) I almost got rejected by my insurance carrier because over the years of exams, annual check ups and the like, I staunchly refused to let nurses weigh me, so my weight had not been documented in my medical files. I had to write a detailed letter to my insurance carrier explaining my attempts to lose weight on my own from the age of 20 something to 39. And with that, I was cleared.
I underwent gastric bypass surgery, but not before a psych eval, classes with a dietician and therapy that prepared me for what my life would be like after the surgery. For me, the ‘after’ was a breeze. And no, I’m not trying to make it sound pretty. I’d literally gotten to the point where I’d rather be dead than to continue living life as a fat girl. This was the right solution for me and I was excited about it!
After surgery, the weight began to fall off immediately. Of course it stalled at times, but after hitting plateaus it would kick in again and more pounds would fall away. When I went in for surgery they weighed me. I refused to look at the scale, but was told a number slightly above 300, and by the time I reached my 40th birthday in August of 2009, I’d met my goal. I weighed 170 pounds and was a perfect size 10. All my friends and family were proud and shocked. Since I didn’t tell anyone I was having the surgery and I now lived in Atlanta, my return home to Los Angeles was a huge surprise. My mother, who was always a size 6 or 8 kept, having me undress and try on different pieces in her wardrobe. She just couldn’t believe it. Everyone was in awe.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t state Gastric Bypass surgery is a “tool,” not magic. There are a lot of adjustments. Mostly mentally. You can’t consume the amount of food you used to. In fact, kid-sized portions were sometimes too much, but this came after a year of only being able to eat food one ounce at a time, and almost hourly to keep up my energy. I lived off seasonal fruit and grilled chicken and nothing else for the first year. Sometimes I’d have oatmeal, periodically one single bite of pizza (my favorite), but not much else. As an avid crunchy snacker, I was always terrified that a potato chip would somehow damage my new pouch, so I’d bite it to hear the crunch then let the rest dissolve on my tongue for flavor. Sounds gross, but true. Although the stomach I was born with is still inside my body, my surgeon created a new one which is referred to as a “pouch.” It’s also up higher than where a regular stomach would be, so not only do you not have room for much food, you also feel full more quicker because it’s up higher. When you’re full, you’re full. Taking that extra bite is never a good idea. It can leave you feeling horribly nauseated, make your heart beat rapidly, it’s sometimes difficult to breathe. You might even begin to perspire and the only thing you can do is wait for that moment to pass. Here it is 8 years later and I still order from the menu like the ‘fat girl.’ Everyone laughs because they know now my eyes are bigger than my stomach, literally; but mentally I still can’t help myself, so I taste everything and then I’m satisfied.
GPS has other serious downsides as well. Digested food, fat, vitamins and nutrients your body needs bypass the small intestine and go directly to the large intestine, which is for waste. So after GPS, your body absorbs everything differently, including medicine and vitamin supplements, which I take twice daily to compensate for what I’m not absorbing naturally. This process varies from person to person. My biggest letdown is that dairy is out for me. I’ve not enjoyed a bowl of cereal or a stop of mint chip ice cream since 2008, but I’d say it’s still worth it. Given the choice again, I’d choose GPS at the drop of a hat.
That part was a doozie, right? Well, I’m not done yet. I stayed at a size 10 until 2012, then slowly the pounds started creeping back up, a little over thirty to be exact. Remember GPS is a tool, it’s not magic. Eventually I got to the point where my pouch could hold almost a cup of food in one sitting, because over time, just like my stomach stretched, so did my pouch. If you’re not careful and I wasn’t, that’s what happens and so manyGPS patients gain their weight back and I too was on that road. Slowly soda and junk food started to sneak it’s way back into my mouth and landed on my stomach, thighs and buttocks. Even my face got fuller. My 10’s became 12’s, my 12’s became 14’s and I just skipped 16’s altogether and landed smack in an 18. When the scale read 208 pounds I lost my mind! Swimming daily, doing lapser an hour or more became my routine, I joined a nearby gym for early morning cardio and went back to eating healthier. The pounds started coming off slowly, but this was the first time since my GPS that I’d done any physical activity to get the weight off. It was hard making my way back to my 10’s and it took me two years to get there in 2014.
By the summer of 2015 I started losing weight due to stress and by April of 2016 I was a size 4, weighing in at 135 pounds. I didn’t look healthy, I didn’t feel healthy and I looked older than my 46 years of age. There was a tremendous upside to this unexpected loss. I was finally ready mentally and financially to have a complete ‘Mommy Makeover’, without the being a mommy part. After consulting with plastic surgeons I opted for 3 phases of surgery and 14 procedures at the skilled hands of Dr. William Hedden and Dr. Christopher Schaffer at Hedden Plastic Surgery and Spa at Greystone, in Birmingham, AL.
Phase 1 took place in April 2016: I had brachioplasty (arm lift), breast lift, breast implants, blepharoplasty (under eye bags removed) and a tummy tuck, wherein Dr. Hedden created an entirely new belly button, after removing so much excess skin. Phase 2 was in July 2016: I had an upper body lift, brazillian butt lift and fat transfer to my buttocks, but there wasn’t much to transfer, so I knew I’d have to do it again in the last stage. Phase 3 was in October 2016: The last hurdle. Inner and Outer thigh lift with fat transfer to buttocks and labiaplasty (there’s a funny story in there as to why that was even necessary, but I’ll keep that inside joke between my surgeon and I. Throughout each phase I added Botox to my forehead, in-between my brows, at my crows feet and filler around the laugh lines at my mouth. Which I will continue to do I love Botox.
Whew! I’m exhausted just recalling all of this. After months of recuperating from the surgeries I’m actually excited about my next steps. Yoga and working out with my personal trainer, Karlene Claimon. Never in my 47 years have I had a craving for cardio, building muscle and total flexibility. Since there won’t be anymore cutting on this bod I’ve gotta keep it in tip top condition.
Full interview is continued on next page
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