Maya Nassar, Lebanon’s first government endorsed female bodybuilder, has a story that many of us can relate to. It all started when Maya finally realized that she didn’t want to be overweight anymore.
What was her motivation to go down this inspiring journey, we asked her in a Skype interview from Beirut, where she lives.
“It was my health. I was tired of being sick,” she revealed. Usually, most people equate weight loss with being beautiful or attractive, but Maya’s motivation stemmed from the fact that she had become more prone to illnesses, since she didn’t take care of her body and that is something most people fail to take into account when talking about ‘fitness’.
“I never had a healthy lifestyle but when I entered my twenties, I realized that my metabolism had started slowing down. Things I could get away with when I was younger, I couldn’t do those anymore.” Maya also had a low immune system, she shared, which would lead to her being constantly sick.
It eventually reached a point where she decided that she was responsible for her own life. “I had a desire to change.” After countless training sessions at the gym, eventually the results started showing and since then, Maya has managed to turn her life around. She dropped 20 kilos and came down five dress sizes. “I discovered a passion for fitness and decided to get certification to make this my profession.”
When one thinks of female bodybuilders, an image of a big woman with rippling biceps comes to mind. “I wanted to preserve my femininity,” she contradicted the stereotype.
Female body builders aren’t common in Lebanon as the fitness craze has only recently started seeping into their culture but bodybuilding is now becoming common and it can be easily said that Maya Nassar has played a role in bringing about this revolution as she has advocated the cause very openly.
“Things have really picked up since the last four years but women still have a few misconceptions about weight training. For instance, many women think that lifting weights will make you bulk up like men.” There are other possible reasons behind women’s hesitance towards bodybuilding. “Sometimes the financial aspect hinders many women as well. It’s not easy to pay for all the travelling or to find a sponsor who’ll back you.” Also, she believes that religion is also a factor because some religious families won’t encourage girls to participate in state level sports.
Maya further adds that while the ideal body type is changing all over the world, where ‘fit’ is the new ‘skinny’, Lebanese women still hold the size zero look in high regard. “A lot of girls come to me and say that they want to be skinny. I try my best to educate them that while everyone can be fit, not everyone can be skinny as it depends on your body type.”
Thankfully, she also dispels other weight loss myths that women believe in. “The first thing I would like to educate women over are low calorie diets. I find so many women who think that if they consume lesser calories or eliminate one food group, they will lose weight. This is incorrect because all this really does is deprive your body of the nutrients it needs which ultimately slows down your metabolism.” This makes weight loss even more difficult. Women already struggle to lose weight because biologically, they have slower metabolisms than men, but she advises against what is called ‘yo-yo dieting’ as it could further damage the body’s ability to burn fat.
While the young bodybuilder advises women to control their diet, she also wants to remind everyone that being fit isn’t an overnight journey. “I just want to say that there is no easy way out. There are no diet pills or other weight loss methods that won’t come without side effects. You cannot achieve fitness if you don’t put in the hours and hard work required.”