A CANDID CONVERSATION: Priyaanka Khatri Shape Shifter

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Priyaanka Khatri with her mother Veena Farah Deobhakta.

by Junita Thakorlal

Her giggle caught me at first. I smiled thoughtfully at the energetic 24-year old as I watched her draw everyone in around her like a magnet. I also couldn’t help but consider that although she was tiny, she could probably lift me quite easily in the air without breaking a sweat. So, THIS was Miss New Zealand Shape, I thought.

Priyaanka Khatri’s passion for bodybuilding began when she was just 11 years of age as a cheerleader for her mother Veena Farah Deobhakta, a noted competition participant and winner in the National Amateur Body Building Association’s Figure category. She was involved in her mother’s training, poses, show day makeup, and more. “It wasn’t until I was in University that I realized that I wanted to give it a go for myself. With mum’s encouragement, I found that I was still able to study and compete at the same time, finding that balance.”
Now working as a newly admitted Solicitor for the largest general practice law firm in Taranaki, New Zealand, she still credits her mother as her inspiration. “The sport has definitely brought us closer together, her discipline inspires me. She is now 56 and still competing!”

Khatri landed the Miss NABBA New Zealand Shape title in her second year of competing after she had won regional titles throughout New Zealand. She has since switched to the International Federation of Body Building Pro League which is recognized globally as the largest bodybuilding federation in the world and has awarded athletes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger the coveted title of Mr. Olympia.

“My first show was a win, and so I caught the bug,” she confided. “There’s a positive effect here, not only is it a huge accomplishment but there are improvements to the physique and psyche that continue to motivate me. I’m tired and hungry most of the time, but its seeing the result of physical and mental conditioning that keeps me going. Plus, I’m always striving to improve, to be better.”

Khatri wasn’t always lean, recalling a time when she was 20kgs overweight. “I kept telling myself that I was travelling, that I’ll burn it off. I was struggling to bend over and put my own shoes on without having my tummy get in the way. That was when I decided to get back into a healthier way of life. Those struggling to simply start, just dust yourself off, re-discover who you are and push towards your goals just like I did.”

Now known for her buns of steel, which entices onlookers to glare openly with envy, Khatri shared that her body comes with major conditioning of the mind, body, and spirit. “There are three different areas that I recommend everyone work on, even if they aren’t planning on competing: training, nutrition, and rest and recovery time.”

“When I first started, I knew nothing about lifting weights. I leaned on my mother who is a qualified Personal Trainer. She taught me everything I needed to know about exercise and competing. No one has the same body shape or capability so for newbies, I do suggest consulting an expert to learn the proper technique rather than do 50 squats daily for a month and not make a significant difference in your body shape,” she said. “Walking into a gym can be pretty intimidating, but trust me, everyone is focusing on their own bodies so don’t feel self-conscious.”

When asked about nutrition, she claimed, “most people know about basic nutrition and that fad diets don’t work. Indian food tends to be high carb with roti and dal, but you have to see how you can make these foods work within your diet. I suggest sticking with a plan where your plate is split into three parts: ¼ high protein meat, ½ greens and ¼ carbs such as brown rice or sweet potato. Try to stay away from breads, pasta, and sugar-based foods or they will store as fat if you don’t burn it off.”

When asked about recovery, she talked about the importance of decompressing the mind which is just as important as giving the muscles a break.

She also shared that often women are not satisfied with their own body shape. “There’s a huge movement out there right now to bring awareness to body-shaming and self-acceptance. But the questions really start from within where we should ask ourselves ‘am I happy with who I am? Or am I ready to make a change in my life to be healthier and happier? Are there habits I can change?’ I work hard every day to look the way that I do. Others may look at me and think it’s simply not achievable. I get judged for being muscular just as others do for being thin or overweight. But it’s not about the comparison of who’s journey is easier or more difficult, it’s about being healthy and happy in the skin you are in.”

Before parting, she shared, “the great thing about this sport is that nothing is ever 100% perfect, there is always room for improvement. If you shift to this mindset, and surround yourself with positive people, you will achieve your fitness and health goals no matter what your body shape is.”