Lebanese American leads Middle East fitness
Q & A interview with Lebanese American fitness expert Maya Nassar, Lebanese government endorsed bikini fitness athlete.
Nassar entered the Miami Pro European Championships in 2013 in London, England. She did not place in the event, but returned to competitions the following year at the 2014 Pure Elite UK Championships endorsed by the Lebanese minister of sports becoming the first Lebanese athlete to be endorsed by the Lebanese government to compete in a bodybuilding event outside of Lebanon.
Nassar won first place in the bikini babe category. She received second- and third-place trophies in fitness modelling at the 2015 Pure Elite UK Championships, and earned its People’s Choice Award. In May, she was selected a brand ambassador for the decathlon. She has been featured on the cover of several magazines in the Middle East.
Nassar blogs about her training regimen and competitions on her personal blog, Start Living Right. Her website led to the creation of the Start Living Right fitness application, the first fitness application created in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Ministry of Youth and Sports has given the application its endorsement. Start Living Right has also been ranked number one by Apple store multiple times. It offers users a range of fitness tools: exercise diagrams, a fat loss calculator, calorie counter, videos and articles.
Nassar lives in Beirut, Lebanon with her husband. Her website is www.startlivingright.net
What made you want to be a professional bikini fitness athlete?
After gaining a lot of weight, I set a goal to lose it all and reach a healthy and normal weight. I reached this goal within a few months and discovered I had a passion for fitness. This made me eager to achieve more and push even harder.
I always say success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep on trying. This is when I decided to start competing professionally. My dream was to get up on stage in the best shape of my life.
You are endorsed by the Lebanese government? How did this come about and why do you think this is important?
These fitness competitions do not exist in Lebanon, and as I was one of the very first few females to compete abroad, I decided to approach the minister of sports and ask for an endorsement. After learning about this sport, the minister wrote me a letter endorsing me and giving me permission to represent Lebanon internationally.
I believe this is very important as I was the first female bodybuilder to be endorsed by an Arabic government. After receiving my endorsement, I also received a lot of media attention and helped raise awareness about female bodybuilding. My goal was and still is to raise awareness and to empower other females through bodybuilding.
I’ve read somewhere that you want to defy the male dominated fitness culture in the Middle East. How is this culture male dominated and how are you defying this?
At the moment, female bodybuilding competitions do not exist for women in Lebanon, however they exist for men. More men than women are also into weightlifting and bodybuilding. My goal is to organize my own bodybuilding show for women and to encourage more women to start lifting.
I encourage women through my website and mobile app, through my TV show and also through social media. I believe I have contributed positively to the bodybuilding scene in that more women have started weightlifting after hearing about the benefits and several girls have even started competing.
Is there a lot of interest from other Arab women to compete in (international) bodybuilding? If no, why do you think that is?
At the moment, I have seen an increase of interest over the last couple of years. I believe women were not into it because they simply did not know it existed. I discovered this sport almost by accident a few years ago and became really inspired. Another aspect that might prevent women from competing is that the Middle East is more conservative than other parts of the world and some girls are still scared of being judged. However, I want to change these perceptions and encourage women to compete.
You used to be overweight yourself and one of your goals is to help others like you become the best version of themselves. How do you do this? How do you reach people.
I have a website and mobile application that contains meal plans, exercise programs and lots of free information and advice. Anyone in the world can benefit from the information for free. My goal was to change peoples’ lives and help anyone like my old self who did not know what to do or how to lose weight. I also have a TV show where I demonstrate exercises that people can do at home, and I upload all these episodes onto my website and mobile app. At the moment, I am also working on launching customised meal plans and exercise programs on my website.
What is the future of female bodybuilding in the Middle East/ Arab world?
I believe it is really going to pick up over the next few years and we are going to see more and more women get into competing. My goal is to organise these shows starting next year and even encourage Arab women to compete internationally. This sport has changed my life for the better and I want to help other women achieve the same thing.
A lot of women also incorrectly believe that weightlifting will make them look bulky and masculine. This is completely incorrect as women do not have enough testosterone in their bodies to bulk up the way a man does. Women who are masculine take anabolic steroids. I also believe once we break this stereotype, more females will start bodybuilding.
What is your ultimate fitness goal?
To open my own gym. I have wanted this for a long time and I hope to make this dream a reality in 2017.
What is your best advice for Arab Daily news readers who want to get in shape after the holidays?
My advice is for them to pay attention to their diet as this makes up about 80% of their results. Your readers need to eat natural whole foods consisting of protein, healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, raw nuts, etc, whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, potatoes, lentils, etc, fruits and veggies daily. They need to pay attention to overall calorie intake and make sure they are burning more than they consume a day.
The next step is to exercise. Many people do not understand the benefit of training with weights. Weightlifting helps to burn fat much quicker and is the only way to naturally transform the shape of your body without doing any surgery. The perfect workout program would consist of both weightlifting and cardio.
The final step for your readers is consistency. It’s not enough to keep up this lifestyle for 2 weeks and then return back to old habits. They need to diet and exercise for at least 2 to 3 months to see noticeable results.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia as the Special US Correspondent for the Arab News at www.ArabNews.com, the TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appeare in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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