Lifestyle Prior To Change
Before I began my fight to be fit I felt like a slug. My energy levels were often low and my eating was sporadic and full of sugars, coffee and weekend alcohol binges. Consciously, I was always thinking about fitness but my efforts to lose weight would culminate in the form of fasting, doing lemonade cleanses, cardio or running until my knees felt they’d cave in. In general, I was all over the place with what I wanted and how I’d get it.
What was your low point or turning point?
After spending a beautiful day in the city, I returned to my neighborhood in high spirits but was instantly pulverized emotionally when a group of men began harassing me with one in particular shouting at me every terrible name that would describe me as overweight. I couldn’t get inside my apartment fast enough to cry and blurrily see my roommate’s issue of a popular fitness magazine on our coffee table. Picking up and flipping through that publication solidified my drive to change. And that feeling made me sick to my stomach with a twisted excitement about never being made to feel bad about my weight EVER again.
Were there any unique challenges or circumstances that made your transformation particularly difficult?
The excess weight from the years took a toll on my knees, as all through high school I weighed over 200lbs with my heaviest being 215lbs at the age of 17. Joint issues may also be attributed to a mysterious disease I am currently battling that has caused me to have Chronic Uveitis for the past ten years – a disease that causes overactive white blood cell activity in the eyes. My doctors think Rheumatoid Arthritis is the culprit, although my tests come up inconclusive.
I am currently in remission from my Uveitis, but just this past March I found myself blind from complications of my disease. During this time, I was training for my very first competition and used the hurt and anger I felt about my disease and blindness to fuel my intensity. NEVER once was blindness an excuse not to train hard. After training hard, praying hard and dreaming big, my vision was restored medically just two weeks before I stepped on stage to compete for the title of the 2010 Ms. Bikini Universe in Miami, Florida.
- Transformation Start: In my head I was this gorgeous and beautiful woman – radiant and sexy, but I felt so crushed when I’d catch my reflection in a mirror and my feelings about my appearance would shift completely. Sometimes even the smallest reminder about my size would ruin my entire day – clothing shopping, being out with friends and seeing a photo, jeans out of the dryer...etc. I was so angry with myself for making continual excuses about why I couldn’t get fit. In the end, the only person suffering from my excuses was ME. On March 21st of 2009 I squeezed into the only bikini I dared to own (size Large) and set my camera timer to capture who I “used to be.” I was anxious and giddy knowing that life as I knew it would be different from this day forth. I made a PROMISE to myself that no matter how much I wanted to quit that I wouldn’t. I was going to give myself a chance to be successful.
- Milestone: After one month of living cleanly, lifting heavy and focusing on progress, I was hooked on this lifestyle. Motivation is never an issue to me, as fitness has become so engrained as a major part of my identity.
- Milestone: I am a fat burning furnace! I used to swear that metabolism must’ve been a trait I never received from either parent, but since lifting heavy and eating cleanly, my body is like a well oiled machine and diet deviations don’t devastate my physique.
- Milestone: Even wearing flat shoes, most people second guess when I tell them my height and respond “wow, you look so much taller!” My body is lean and proportioned, with the curves in ALL the right places!
- Milestone: Discipline, sacrifice, determination and will has an entirely new meaning in my life. I found a relationship with my creator through the sport of bodybuilding.
- Transformation End: I don’t consider my transformation to be over, as there’s so much I am learning and applying daily. I am also an artist and approach this sport in a similar fashion using weights and nutrition to mold my clay. Currently, I am working on my craft to bring my shoulder caps up, trim my middle back, and perfect that bubble butt!! I am ecstatic with where I am at now, but the fun about bodybuilding is the constant changes you can undergo with minor adjustments. Blaming genetics for not being fit is BULLS***!!!
Shani's Training And Cardio Approach
What was your weight training approach and split during your transformation?
Though I didn’t have a lot of experience with it, I just knew in my heart that lifting heavy would capture the results I was looking for. I decided to split my routine with separate days for arms and shoulders, back and a day for legs, aiming for an all around gain in muscle mass. As I progressed further and attained more knowledge, I’d change up my split every few weeks to focus on building spots as I needed to.
- Monday - Legs, 20 Minutes High Intensity Interval Training (step mill).
- Tuesday - Shoulders and Chest, 20 Minutes High Intensity Interval Training (step mill).
- Wednesday - REST.
- Thursday - Triceps and Hamstrings (I am currently targeting those hams and working them 2x weekly), 20 minutes of HIIT.
- Friday - 20 minutes of HIIT.
- Saturday - Back and Biceps, 20 minutes of HIIT.
- Sunday - 20 minutes of HIIT (optional).
Please detail your cardio approach during your transformation?
High Intensity Interval Training is the only form of cardio I will do, as you can do more in less time. I also find it to be much more tolerable, mentally, than steady state cardio which makes me crazy after ten minutes. HIIT is a blast and I love to move, and keep to about 5-6 sessions of 20-25 minutes a piece weekly. I find that it’s been awesome for helping me trim down fast without losing the muscle I’ve been building and also keeps my metabolism on fire.
Please list 3 things you learned about exercise, weight training and/or cardio during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- Muscle is sexy!!
- Many women out there are still cardio queens who do ‘1,000 crunches a day’ – I am on the forefront of changing that perception, as I’m pretty much LIVING PROOF of how ‘lifting like a man,’ can transform your body.
- More is NOT better – four days lifting for me is perfect, and results happen outside of the gym, when you’re resting!
How are you currently training, and has your training changed since the completion of your transformation?
Today I’ve fine tuned many of the details I implemented into my program when I first began. Being a mad scientist of sorts, I was never afraid to experiment with new routines, meal plans or supplements. I eventually ended up coming to my own conclusions as to what works for most people universally, as well as what works for my body specifically. With the confidence of knowing what works, I make sure to change up everything I am doing every two weeks to ensure continual forward progress.
Shani's Diet And Nutrition Approach
What was your diet/nutrition approach during your transformation?
I aim to take in an average of 1800 calories daily, take in my goal weight in protein, match that number with carbs and fill in the rest with healthy fats. It’s not rocket science – once you know what works for your body. Although when I was finding all this out on my own, my fridge was LITTERED with color coded spreadsheets with my plans and numbers mapped out to a “T.” Hey, I loved every second of my macro frenzy.
Can you provide us with a sample eating plan (please be specific):
Below is a typical training day nutritional layout. On non-training days, I eliminate the pre and post-workout meals and reduce carbs slightly. I make up the lost calories by increasing fats and protein.
- Upon Waking (5.30am): 1 scoop Optimum Nutrition Hydrowhey, 1 large carrot.
- Meal 1 (7am): 4 egg whites and 1 whole egg; ½ cup oats with 1 tsp cinnamon; 2 capsules Optimum Nutrition CLA, 1 capsule Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women.
- Meal 2 (10am): 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 medium sweet potato, 1 cup green beans and carrots.
- Meal 3 (1pm): 4 oz tilapia, 1/8 cup chopped walnuts, broccoli, 2 rice cakes.
- Meal 4 (3.30pm): 4 oz. ground turkey, ½ cup brown rice, 1 chopped red bell pepper; 3 ON Enteric Coated Fish Oil Capsules.
- Meal 5 (5.45pm): Optimum Nutrition Whey Crisp Bar in Marshmallow Treat.
- Meal 6 (8.00/30pm): Post Workout – 1 scoop Optimum Nutrition Hydrowhey, 1 banana, 3 capsules Optimum Nutrition Glutamine 1000.
- Meal 7 (9.30pm): ¾ scoop Optimum Nutrition Casein mixed as pudding with small handful of crushed walnuts.
Were there any diet/nutrition mistakes you made that you learned from?
When I first began, I ate way too much. I was cleanly and eating the right kinds of foods but overall my daily caloric intake was massive and I didn’t realize the importance of keeping macros in check. For each of my six to seven daily meals, I was focused on getting a fat, a carb and a protein. In the end my macros were way off for what my goals were and the calories were too high. I learned this early, and ended up benefiting from this initial mistake, as it kicked my body into building lots of muscle immediately. As soon as I felt my progress slowing, I learned how to calculate my macros and have been building nutrition plans around that ever since.
Please list 3 things you learned about diet & nutrition during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- Food is NOT the enemy – and yes, you NEED carbohydrates AND fats!!!!
- You’ll never realize just how vital nutrition is to your plan until all you have left to lose is that ‘stubborn little pooch’ on your tummy. DIET WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR RESULTS!!
- I work way too hard to build this muscle and keep these curves. Preparation is key and I am adamant about keeping my body in an anabolic state – which sometimes means carrying smelly chicken breasts in my purse.
Did you allow yourself cheat meals?
Cheat meals are planned and worked into my routine! I learned how to cheat smart and chose foods that allowed me to indulge without sacrificing progress.
What supplements did you use during your transformation?
I used Optimum Nutrition supplements almost exclusively during my transformation, as I was adamant about using the best, and they never failed me! And trust me, this little ‘fitness mad scientist’ tried it all.
Advice For Others
What are your best tips for someone looking to make their own transformation?
- GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE TO BE SUCCESSFUL. If you give up, the only one you’re letting down is you. And no one will do this for you. So who cares if you quit – I don’t care if you quit. I truly hope you don’t quit, though. Do you care enough to give yourself a chance??
- Time is an illusion when you’re TRULY transforming. I get many people that ask me ‘at what point of your transformation did you feel happy with your results’ to which I tell them I felt happy the very second I decided I was going to change my life no matter what. And it’s true. That’s when you know you’re truly transforming – when the progress that comes with each new day is something exciting instead of thinking “ugh it takes too long to get results!” This mindset will introduce you to the “built in motivation” that each one of us has inside when we find what we are passionate about.
- Develop your own theme music and set it to the ‘story of your life.’ Hum when you train and find what makes you feel on fire for making those changes. Have you survived abuse? Do you suffer from disease? Has anyone ever told you “NO”? These things drove me to fight like a champion. Find your fight.
How do you stay motivated? What advice would you give to someone who’s having trouble staying on track?
If you aren’t motivated, back off for a few days and study your favorite athletes – FIND your favorite athletes and learn everything you can about them – biography, training, goals and dreams. Don’t be hard on yourself for falling off the wagon or it’ll take you longer to get back on.
More From Shani Mojica
What is your life like now that you’ve made a transformation?
14 months into my change, I stepped onstage for my first competition, placed fourth in my second bikini competition and shortly thereafter was offered a sponsorship with Optimum Nutrition and American Bodybuilding. Today, I am proud to represent the best products in the business and thankful to be amongst a family of amazing people and athletes driving this industry today. My passion and goal in life has become to share my story and encourage others who feel hopeless and lost that MUCH adversity can be overcome once you decide that it can be. I am looking forward to where I will go, as my heart’s been set ablaze with the lives I’ve been able to touch just by taking the initiative to care for my own physical health and emotional wellness.
What motivates you currently to keep improving yourself?
The team I am so blessed to be part of has me constantly focused on progressing and aiming higher with my life and fitness goals. I am a huge believer that you are who you surround yourself with, and I enjoy surrounding myself with positively passionate people who share my goals and can help me expand my vision.
Anything else you would like to share?
Thank you Muscle and Strength readers for checking out my story! Natural, to me, also includes not needing surgery – and YES, it is possible to drop weight and not need surgery!!
How can people contact you?
I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line through my contact form on my website, www.shaniariel.com.