As an entrepreneur, Maya Nassar is working to empower women, educate people about nutrition and training and inspire people to be proud of their bodies.
Hey Maya, can you tell us about your background, and your journey into the world of fitness?
I initially had no background in fitness and used to lead a very unhealthy lifestyle. When I was in my early 20s, my lifestyle caught up with me and I ended up gaining a significant amount of weight. After hitting rock bottom and becoming very insecure, I woke up one day and decided that I wanted to change. I realized I am responsible for my own lifestyle and that I did not want to continue being this way.
This is when I literally changed my diet overnight and started going to the gym. Within three months I lost all the weight I had gained plus more. This is when I developed a passion for healthy living and realized I wanted to pursue fitness full time. I reached one goal and decided it was time to reach another and this is when I looked into fitness modeling competitions.
What 3 simple nutritional changes can anyone make to set themselves on a healthier course?
- Do not drink any liquid calories. Drinks such as soda and alcohol are loaded with sugar and can easily cause weight gain. Stick to zero calorie beverages or low calorie drinks and sweeteners.
- Replace white carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice with brown carbs. Wholegrain carbs are far more nourishing and control your blood sugar levels, keeping you fuller for longer.
- Restrict junk food and sweets to no more than once a week. This might seem difficult for many people, but I always say it takes three weeks of hard work and dedication before your body becomes conditioned to clean eating. Eventually all cravings for sugar and sweets will go away.
Why is training, a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition important in the long run?
It is important because life is not just about how you look and feel today, but also about being around to watch your grandchildren grow up.
As we get older, our immune system becomes weaker and this is where being fit and healthy plays a major role. A healthy lifestyle will prevent diseases and keep someone’s body strong. Being fit also keeps the elderly independent without needing to rely on others to care for them. It also ensures a long, healthy and happy life.
THE MEDIA, BODY IMAGE AND WORKING IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Insecurity about body image, especially in younger girls and women, is growing more and more prevalent. Google reported that over 10,000 people per month ask its search engine the question ‘am I ugly?’ Based on your own experiences, how do you think exercise and fitness can improve confidence and self-worth?
I believe fitness plays a major role in improving someone’s self-worth. When we exercise, we release anti-stress hormones called endorphins which help to make someone feel really positive.
Doing regular exercise will constantly keep someone happy and in a good mood, which will improve your overall self-confidence. Also, committing to an exercise a program requires a great deal of dedication and discipline. Reaching your fitness goals creates self-satisfaction which boosts your confidence. I personally try to promote positive body images on my online platforms by encouraging others to train to be strong and healthy, not skinny.
You are paving the way with your optimistic message and your excellent ethics of self empowerment for women especially, but men too. Have you met any resistance, challenges or troubles along the way?
I am lucky to have a very supportive network around me and that I was very smoothly able to reach my goals. One challenge that I have faced is that these competitions never existed in my country and I had to figure everything out and break into the industry through my own hard work and research. I did not have any help with that as there was nobody to share their experiences with me.
‘I have also dealt with criticism by religious extremists, but this only inspires me to work harder and reach more challenging goals.’
As a Lebanese fitness model, entrepreneur and competition winning athlete, what has the response been like to your work been like throughout the Arabic world, and internationally too?
I have had an incredible mix of reactions. Most people are supportive and I have had lots of rewarding emails from people all over the Middle East telling me that I have inspired them to live a healthier lifestyle.
Many people are not aware of female bodybuilding and I love raising awareness to show that women can be strong and beautiful without losing their femininity. When most people hear the term “female bodybuilder”, they envision a really masculine woman with bulging biceps and I like showing that there is another side to this.
Unfortunately I have also received major criticism as I live in a conservative part of the world and many people reject the idea of a woman in a bikini on stage. However, I respect that not everyone is going to agree with what I do and that there will always be criticism no matter what you do. I focus on the positive messages I have received, rather than the negative, and use this to push me forward and keep on inspiring people.
What effects do you feel the media has on shaping social norms and ideas of beauty?
The media plays a major role in defining beauty. This alienates a lot of girls who do not fit into this standard of beauty. As mentioned, I promote being strong, healthy and fit. I am always telling young girls that strong is beautiful and that their goal should never be to become skinny or thin.
What would your perfect gym be like?
My perfect gym would be one that is a fully equipped to change peoples’ lives. It would include an on-site nutritionist along with certified trainers. I would want it to be an escape where people can come and fully put in their trust that we have what it takes to change their lives and help them reach their goals. I have firsthand experience with fat loss and can share all the techniques to help someone stay motivated and lose fat the natural, safe and healthy way.
Do you have a favourite motto or quote?
“life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.”
This reminds me that we have no control over what happens to us, but we are fully responsible for what we do with it. If we fail, it is up to us to work hard and never give up. Some of the biggest world leaders have failed hard, but reached the top because their determination helped them overcome all obstacles.
Why is it so important for people to educate themselves about healthy eating and nutrition?
It is important because there is a lot of conflicting information available and I know that many people do not know what they need to do to live a healthy lifestyle. I personally had no clue what to do when I started my fitness journey. Many people think that they need to follow calorie diets or cut out major food groups which is incredibly wrong and will only set them up for failure. I also say it is very important to educate yourself about nutrition because you will never see any physical results in your body if you do not follow a clean diet. It is impossible to out-exercise bad eating habits if your diet is not on point.
Simone De Beauvoir once said ‘Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.’ Why is this important for turning your life around like you did? And what can people do to overcome any fears they might have about setting off on the road to get fit?
This is very important because life is all about seizing every opportunity and living to the fullest. One of my favorite quotes is:
‘We get things done when we quit talking and start doing.’
- Being proactive and taking action to reach goals that are important to us is the key to self-fulfillment.
- The best way to overcome one’s fears is to simply take action and not to be scared of failure.
- You will either succeed or learn from your failure and bounce back stronger.
I always use my fitness competitions to illustrate this. At my first competition, I was absolutely terrified of being on stage and putting myself out there. I faced my fear and did it anyway. I did not win anything, but grew stronger, wiser and more confident. I competed a year later and ended up taking home first place.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
That is a good question! I think I would choose the power to become invisible because that would be pretty cool.
Can you tell us 3 things on your ‘bucket list’, amazing things you would love to do in your lifetime?
- Swim with great white sharks in South Africa.
- Have dinner with the president of the United States.
- Change the lives of thousands of people through my passion of health and fitness.
And finally, what’s next for you?
I have plans to open my own gym very soon in the near future. I also have another fitness competition coming up at the end of July. Finally, once my gym finally opens, my plan is to be dedicated to changing the lives of as many people as possible and showing them that health and fitness is a gift to your mind and body.
You can find more out about Maya here: