“How I Used Diet And Exercise To Become A Figure Athlete And Fitness Model”

Men began to stop her in the street to ask: “How much can you bench?”


Janine Stephen |

Lisa Ncetani, a figure athlete and fitness model, who in 2009 was placed second in the Ms Fitness/Short Class at the World Physique Federation (WPF) Universe Championship in Italy, started training in her mid-twenties. She’d been a slender child and young adult and had always gone to gym, but at 25, she says, her body started to change. She didn’t like the new curves. “I didn’t want to end up looking like somebody’s big auntie,” Lisa remembers.

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“When I was growing up, I loved Madonna’s body, and Grace Jones. Bruce Lee was my hero. I’ve always been drawn to an athletic physique. I knew starving myself wasn’t going to work. I’ve always liked lines, when you can see the separations of your hamstrings – you know, muscle definition.”

Hitting The Gym And Cutting Carbs

And so Lisa began to gym seriously, changing her diet and following a fitness plan. For a long time she didn’t have her own dedicated trainer; she did it alone, often asking other gym-goers for help. She altered her diet, cutting out most carbs and eating smaller meals six or seven times a day.

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She didn’t want to be one of the “big girls”; she had no intention of taking steroids, just to work “with what God has given me”. Lisa was after a form that is impossible to attain through surgery alone. And gradually, she redefined her shape. She slashed her body fat from 22.5 to 12 percent and men began to stop her in the street to ask: “How much can you bench?”

Lisa, who has a day job in IT and also works as a personal trainer, gets considerable pleasure from setting and achieving goals. The physical demands of training are often tough – when building a particular muscle, she can do up to 500 repetitions to target and shape it.

But People Are Always Gonna Hate…

But her extreme fitness hasn’t only earned her admiration. Although she still has curves, before competitions she does get extremely lean. “My mom doesn’t really understand it. She says I’m going to end up alone,” says Lisa. People make hurtful comments like: “Do you beat up your boyfriend?”

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She usually laughs it off, but sometimes it hurts; for example, when people presume she’s not South African and make comments about her body in a local language. All too often she hears that women “aren’t supposed” to look this way, and she does wonder whether “maybe no one wants to go out with a woman whose arms are more defined than theirs”. That said, she does get hit on a lot.

What The Experts Say

Psychologist Carolyn Black Becker is in favour of this non-invasive route to transformation. She thinks society’s belief that the body is completely transformable can have profound costs. “We have the most to gain from transformation when it focuses on function and health,” she says. Lisa agrees that the positives are there. Inspiring others is heart-warming, she says. She feels she’s more confident and it comes across in the way she carries herself.

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Whereas she used to be shy, now she feels good in her body and she’s proud of it. “This is like natural plastic surgery,” she says. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started. But I love travelling and the sport has helped me go to places like Italy and Uganda. I feel great when I train; some sessions are so awesome I get goosebumps. And this body, my shape, I see it as a work of art – something I’ve created myself.”

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