Sonja Bella – Fitness Model Interview and Photos


Sonja Bella – Fitness Model Statistics

  • Name: Sonja Bella
  • Height: 5’8″
  • Weight: 128 pounds (competition 117 pounds)
  • Date of Birth: 9/20/1971
  • Hair Color: Red
  • Bust: 36″
  • Waist: 26″
  • Hips: 34″
  • Location: Burleigh Heads, Australia

Sonja Bella – Fitness Model Interview

What is your background?
Inspiring body transformation specialist, fitness model, author and speaker, Sonja Bella has helped thousands of people to improve their health, well-being and vitality through her sensible and realistic approach to healthy eating and exercise.

In her book, The Real Body Plan, Sonja explains how to achieve and maintain a healthy weight without dieting or having to give up your favorite foods. Covering what Sonja feels are the three main areas for maintaining a healthy weight; positive mindset, healthy eating and an exercise program that can be done from home or in a gym, this comprehensive step by step plan guides people through what can often seem so confusing, in an easy to understand and simple to implement manner. To help people see how simple it is to prepare quick, easy and healthy meals that taste great, Sonja has also written a recipe book titled The Real Body Real Food Plan.

sonja-bella-13Part of Sonja’s passion and drive to deliver a sensible approach to healthy eating and well-being comes from being diagnosed with borderline osteoporosis at the age of 32. Having dealt with many years of poor self-esteem and body image after modeling as a young adult, Sonja’s 10 years of constant dieting deprived her body of vital nutrients and caused this silent disease to rear its ugly head. Through healthy eating and regular exercise Sonja’s bone mineral density is now almost back to normal but has left her determined to help other people avoid the terrible trap of ill health that often comes from long term dieting.

While Sonja has a wealth of experience around health and fitness, including holding several martial arts titles in her earlier years and representing Australia at the 5th Kubota World Cup Championships, she is also a well respected and successful business woman; her previous business (What Women Want Personal Training) was nominated as a top six finalist in the Quest Business Achievers Awards alongside Fitness First, YMCA, Fernwood, Bodywise and Zest. Sonja’s latest business venture, Real Body World Wide, has also seen her develop a new meal planning software program that is set to revolutionize the fitness industry.

Author of:

  • The Real Body Plan (
  • The Real Body Real Food Plan & Recipe Book (
  • Sonja Bella’s Ultimate Bikini Body Program (

Qualifications and Experience:
I have been professionally involved in the health and fitness industry for over decade, at both a national and international level. Currently I am the Director at Real Body World Wide and Founder of Nutrition Complete and The Australian College of Weight Loss Consultants.

From 2003 to 2006 I was Owner and Director of What Women Want Personal Training, one of Brisbane’s most prestigious and successful personal training studios.

After selling my business in 2006 and moving to the UK, I was recruited by the world’s largest health club chain, Fitness First and was quickly promoted to the position of National Fitness Manager.

Leaving Fitness First in 2008 to travel and consecutively write two books, I then returned to Australia to launch my current company Real Body World Wide which focuses on delivering online meal planning and nutritional products and services to the fitness industry globally.


  • Australian Institute of Fitness – Student of the Year 2004
  • National College of Business – Climber of the Year 2004
  • Quest Business Achievers Top 6 Finalist (Health & Fitness Category) – 2005
  • Gold Coast Business Awards – Finalist Owner/Manager of The Year 2011

How did you get started in the fitness field?
Well, I can tell you that my decision to enter the fitness industry was not all that inspiring! 10 years ago I walked into my local gym and saw a sign saying “careers in fitness”. At the time I hated my job, I had no direction, no self-confidence and very little self-esteem; so I thought I would enroll to become a group exercise instructor to kill some time while I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up; mind you, I was 32 at the time!

To this day, I really don’t know why I enrolled because I didn’t even like doing group exercise classes. In fact I had always been more into strength training, so I guess I always put it down to fate because getting involved in the fitness industry has absolutely changed my life.

sonja-bella-11After a bit of soul searching I decided to change courses to become a personal trainer and what transpired over the following months I always find difficult to put into words. I went from having no self-confidence, no direction and feeling like I had nothing to contribute to the world to finally finding my passion. I found something I truly believed in and I just knew that this was what I was meant to do; I really wanted to make a difference.

Four months after enrolling to become a group exercise instructor to “fill in some time”, I graduated from the AIF with a burning desire to open my own chain of Personal Training studios and to change the world of women’s fitness.

I chose to focus on women’s fitness because it was an area that I felt I could really contribute to and make the biggest difference in. This is because I had overcome my own health issues in the past. At 21, I was at the peak of my martial arts training, holding the Australasian Kata and Kumite titles for Karate and representing Australia at the 5th Kubota world cup championships in Los Angeles, but then suddenly, out of the blue I started experiencing excruciating pain in my lower back and legs. I couldn’t sit down or stand up for more than 10 minutes at a time without feeling like someone was sticking knives into me.

After several specialist visits I was diagnosed with lumbar scoliosis, which is a sideways curvature of the lower spine. I was told I would never be able to run again and I would have to give up my martial arts training. I was absolutely devastated. But luckily I am little bit stubborn and don’t always listen to reason, so since I was already strength training, my gut feeling was to continue but just to take it very slowly and carefully. It took 5 years of strength training and chiropractic care but I did manage to get myself to a point where I was pain free and running again. And I guess that is why I am such an advocate of strength training, particularly for women.

The other health issue I had to overcome was when I was 32. Just before I enrolled at the AIF I had quite a bad cycling accident where I ended up doing a great impersonation of Superman flying over the top of my handle bars and landing on my head! I ended up with a crush fracture in my spine. Now, although I had quite a bad fall, my doctor still thought it was strange that at such a young age I had crushed one of my vertebrae. So I was sent off for a multitude of tests and I was then diagnosed with borderline osteoporosis, so at the age of 32 I basically had the bones of a woman twice my age.
The reason I had borderline osteoporosis was because I had dieted for 10 years when I was younger. Many people, particularly women, who have issues with their self-esteem also have issues with their body image. And this I understood all too well, since you don’t need to be overweight to become a perpetual dieter. And so began my fascination with nutrition and my journey of recovery through healthy eating.

What is the #1 thing you like best about being into fitness?
I love being strong and the overall feeling I get from training. I can’t ever imagine not training and I am sure I will still be going to the gym when I am 90 and 100! I get up at 4am every morning to be at the gym by 5am. Starting my day by training gives me energy and puts me in a great mood for the rest of the day.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in the fitness field?
sonja-bella-16It would definitely be competing in 3 Figure and Fitness Model competitions in a 4 week period and getting “stage ready” in just 4 months with a 10 day overseas business trip and short stint in the hospital during my training! Oh, and running my company! I often get asked how I found the time to train and prepare all my meals, but I guess when you really want something, you will find a way to make the time and make it happen.

I loved the whole journey but I must say that it gave me a new level of respect for figure and bodybuilding competitors who compete year after year. There is a lot of dedication, discipline and hard work to get “stage ready’ and a lot of sacrifices along the way. The ultimate prize though goes to all who compete as we get to go home with amazing physiques as our trophies.

What is the best way to get started in the fitness modeling industry? Should I just contact the photographers directly or should I use an agency?
Competing in fitness model competitions is a great way to gain exposure, particularly at those events being judged by fitness model agencies or those who invite the agencies to attend.

It’s important to have a professional portfolio of images, so make sure you do your research to find a reputable photographer. Sometimes using a photographer who is well connected to the media may assist, but it is certainly no guarantee and I would be wary of any photographer who makes these kinds of promises.

I would suggest going directly to the agencies and asking for an interview. If you don’t already have a portfolio of photos, then I would also suggest waiting until you have met with some agencies for their feedback before investing in your shoot, unless of course you are going to use the photos for yourself or your business anyway!

Please describe a typical day for you. What is your daily routine like?

  • 4:00am: Wake up and get ready to leave for the gym by 4:30am.
  • 5:00am: Personal training session (I do 4 PT sessions per week) followed by abs or a 5-6 mile run (60 minutes of cardio).
  • 6:00am: 20 minutes of stretching.
  • 7:00am: Get ready for work.
  • 8:30am – 5:30pm: Work.
  • 6:00pm: Some days I go for a walk if I have been sitting at my computer all day just to stretch my legs.

Food: I typically eat 6 times a day and take a pre and intra workout supplement. Below is an example of my daily eating plan:

  • Pre-Workout Drink – Mesomorph
  • Intra-Workout Drink – Xtend
  • Breakfast – 6 egg white omelet (spinach, avocado, macadamia nut oil)
  • Snack – Protein shake with water (whey protein isolate)
  • Lunch – Warm prawn salad with coconut oil
  • Snack – Protein pancakes (made with whey protein isolate)
  • Dinner – Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables with olive oil
  • Snack – Protein shake with water (whey protein isolate)

I don’t have that much time during the day to workout, so I really want to burn major calories in a short amount of time. What is the #1 “bang for the buck” cardio exercise I should do to burn serious calories?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been reported to be the best type of training for fat burning, particularly for those who are short on time. There are different types of training programs you can do, and the Internet is a great resource for finding a program that suits you.

How much weight (pounds) should I focus on losing every week? What is a safe amount to make sure I keep it off?
This is always a tricky question as there are a few determinants that will affect a person’s individual results, including:

Starting Weight – Someone who has a considerable amount of weight to lose will lose weight at a much faster rate than someone trying to lose those last 10 pounds.

sonja-bella-14Fat Weight Vs Body Weight – If strength training is part of your training program, which it should be if your aim is to lose body fat, then the scales will not accurately reflect your actual fat loss. Muscle weighs more than fat because it is much denser, so you may lose 10 pounds of fat and put on 2 pounds of muscle, but the scales will only show a difference of 8 pounds which is why measuring body fat is a more accurate way of measuring your progress.

Diet and Exercise History – How much activity you have done in the past and the types of activities you did (cardio or strength or both) as well as how often you have dieted or skipped meals in the past will impact your metabolism. Someone who has a higher metabolism will lose weight (body fat) at a faster rate than someone with a slower metabolism.

Having said that, the general “acceptable” rate of weight (fat) loss is 2 pounds a week. If you think about it, anything faster than that will most likely also be water and muscle because to lose 2 pounds of fat you need to create a caloric deficit of 7,000 calories in one week (3,500 calories in 1 pound of fat).

In other words, the calories you burn through exercise and daily activities (in addition to calories burned at rest which is your resting metabolic rate) must be 7,000 calories more than the calories you take in through food and liquids each day over the course of one week.

What type of food or supplements should I take before and after my workouts to help me see results in gaining lean muscle and losing fat?
There is a lot of debate around supplements and whether or not they provide any benefits. For me personally, there are a few “staples” I believe help with my workouts, burning fat or building and preserving muscle. These include:

  • Pre-workout supplement – Mesomorph (energy, stimulant)
  • Intra-workout supplement – Xtend (BCAA’s – Branched Chain Amino Acids)
  • L-Carnitine Tartrate (fat metabolism)
  • WPI protein powder (whey protein isolate)

How do you deal with cravings for junk foods, sweets and salty food? I can stay on a diet for maybe a few weeks but I eventually get really bad cravings and binge on snacks and fast foods.
I plan to have a cheat meal every week. This way I know each week I can have whatever I feel like on that day and that seems to work for me. I have a serious sweet tooth, and this works for me.

The other benefit of having a cheat meal is if you are invited out for dinner you can make that meal your cheat meal or if you do accidentally slip up, you can just use that as your cheat meal instead.

I’m trying to create a healthy shopping list to stick with. What are some of the main foods I should include to maintain a lean and muscular physique?
Try to eat as “clean” as possible, so steer clear of packaged and processed foods as most of these are laden with hidden sugars and salts. Great food choices are lean cuts of meat like chicken, fish, beef, lamb, pork and also eggs.

Good fats are important to include in your diet like avocado, raw nuts, olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut oil. Try to use your oils raw, drizzled over salads and vegetables rather than frying with them as they lose their integrity over high heats.

Carbohydrates are best derived from fresh vegetables. Fruit is of course another healthy choice, but try not to eat too much as they still contain sugar in the form of fructose. Berries are a great choice for fruits as they are lower in fructose (sugar) and full of antioxidants.

I’m about 35 pounds overweight. I have never started an exercise program and really don’t know where to start. What tips can you give me to get started on the right track?
The best advice I can give you is to make small changes over time. Most people who fail with their weight loss attempts do so because they try to change everything all at once and usually follow some fad diet which would be impossible for almost anyone to stick to. Look at your current diet, keep a food diary for a few days, and see where you can make some changes to eat more “clean foods” as I listed above.

sonja-bella-12Exercise is of course also important, so if you don’t know where to start I would suggest joining a gym or seeing a personal trainer to get you started on the right track. Another option would be to buy a program that you can do at home if you don’t want to join a gym.

Ultimately, the more you move and the harder you workout the more calories you will burn. So take every opportunity to move more during the day. Take the stairs instead of the escalator, pace up and down when you are on the phone, or get a piece of exercise equipment to use while you are watching TV.

Always remember, that you can’t out train a bad diet, so if you are training and not seeing results, then it is likely your diet that needs addressing.

I tend to eat out most of the time and really don’t know what healthy foods to order from the menu. What tips do you recommend for eating out at restaurants to make sure my diet will not suffer?
Here are my top tips for eating out:

  • Ask for sauces or dressings on the side or better yet, leave them off completely.
  • Always look for grilled, boiled and steamed as the healthiest options.
  • If the menu is not very descriptive, don’t be afraid to ask how the meal is prepared and let them know you are looking for the healthiest options available.
  • If the servings are quite large, share the dish with someone or order from the starter menu.
  • Alternatively, you could eat half and take the other half home for lunch the next day.
  • Avoid eating bread since most people fill up on bread before their meal and still eat their meal anyway.
  • Avoid anything deep fried!

What exercises do you recommend for getting a bigger, rounder and fuller butt?

  • Lunges, lunges and more lunges! Personally these are my favorite butt exercise!
  • Squats are also great for your butt and overall core strength.
  • Deadlifts are more advanced, but definitely worth adding to your program.

There are different alternative methods for doing squats and lunges, so mix up your program to include a variety of these. Another great exercise choice for your cardio workouts is sprint training, hill sprints and stair runs.

What is the most challenging thing you deal with about consistently staying in top shape?
I can’t say I find leading a fit and active lifestyle challenging, it’s more about choice for me at the end of the day. I am clear that I want to be fit and active for my whole life, not just part of it, and the thought of being old and frail is not something I allow myself to entertain.

I guess training for competitions also makes me find ways to get more creative with healthy meals and making the time to prepare meals and portions so I’m never stuck somewhere without the right food to eat. We all have a choice, even doing nothing is choice.

Please describe your normal diet. What do you eat in a typical day to stay in shape?

  • sonja-bella-15Pre-Workout Drink – Mesomorph
  • Intra-Workout Drink – Xtend
  • Breakfast – 6 egg white omelet (spinach, avocado, macadamia nut oil)
  • Snack – Protein shake with water (whey protein isolate)
  • Lunch – Warm prawn salad with coconut oil
  • Snack – Protein pancakes (whey protein isolate)
  • Dinner – Grilled chicken, steamed vegetables with olive oil
  • Snack – Protein shake with water (whey protein isolate)

What type of exercises do you include in your routine to stay in shape?

Strength Training Exercises: I use a personal trainer so my program is constantly changing, but my 4 sessions per week are broken into the following muscle groups:

  • Tuesday: Shoulders and Chest.
  • Wednesday: Legs.
  • Thursday: Back and Triceps.
  • Saturday: Shoulders and Biceps.
  • Abs: After each personal training session.

Cardio Exercises:

  • 5-6 mile run, 1-2 times per week.
  • Cross Trainer and Rower HIIT sessions for 20 minutes, 2 times per week.

Additional Training: Stretching after every training session.

What are the top 5 tips (specific exercises, diet advice, etc) you recommend for developing toned and defined arms?

1. Eat a clean diet! 80% of your results are what you eat.

2. Reverse barbell biceps curls.

3. Seated incline dumbbell curls.

4. Skull Crusher barbell triceps extensions.

5. Bodyweight dips.

What are your top 5 tips for losing unwanted body fat?

1. Keep a food diary! Research shows that most people forget what they have really eaten throughout the day if they try to use their memory recall. Keeping a food diary will help you to see clearly what food choices you have made and where you can improve.

2. Never go grocery shopping or to parties and events on an empty stomach. You are far more likely to make poor food choices and/or overindulge.

3. Drink plenty of water since the more you exercise, the more you need to rehydrate. You should be aiming to drink 1 liter for every 50 pounds of bodyweight. Water is an important part of keeping your body healthy and functioning optimally, including fat burning.

4. Strength training is a must! Muscle is metabolically active tissue which will help you burn more calories at rest as well as when you are exercising. Plus, muscle will help give your body shape and definition.

5. If you find you have a lot of stress in your life, you need to find a way to relax and unwind. One of the hormones released by stress is cortisol which can lead to weight gain, particularly around the stomach area.

What are your top 5 tips for gaining lean muscle mass?

1. Eat regularly throughout the day, every 2.5 to 3 hours. Never skip meals!

2. Use an amino acid drink (BCAA) during your workouts.

3. Make sure not to overtrain. Resting and giving your body time to recover is just as important as your workouts.

4. Avoid low weight, high repetition exercises. To build muscle you have to train hard and push yourself harder than you thought possible.

5. If you love doing cardio, opt for HIIT training over long cardio sessions.

What are the top 5 tips you recommend for staying motivated on a fitness plan and truly making a healthy lifestyle change?

sonja-bella-171. Know why you are doing it. As the saying goes, if the “why” is strong enough, the “how” will take care of itself. Have a goal that truly inspires you, not simply “I want to lose weight”, but the real “why”. For me, every time I see an old person hunched over with a walking cane I know that’s not the future I ever want and it reminds me how important my health is to me. What’s your “why”?

2. Have a photo of how you looked before or a picture of someone who has a similar body type to you that has a body that you would like to achieve and put it somewhere where you will see it every day.

3. Be realistic. If you set yourself up for failure it will be hard to stay motivated. You want to challenge yourself but not to the point where it’s almost impossible to achieve your goals. Set your goals, set a date you want to achieve them by and set yourself “mini goals” along the way that you can check in with every 4 weeks so you know you are on track.

4. Create a support network of friends and family. Share your goals with those closest to you and let them know how they can support you. Whether it’s just to lend a listening ear when you need one or to keep you honest with your food and exercise program by checking in with you daily.

5. Remember to reward yourself for the things you do well. It’s important to acknowledge all the improvements you make, no matter how big or small. How you reward yourself is up to you, it could be buying a new outfit or simply taking some time out for a bubble bath, a round of golf or coffee with friends.

What is your training routine like? (Please include a few details – training split, sets/reps, exercises, types of cardio, etc.)

Monday: 5-6 mile run.

Tuesday: Shoulders, Chest and Abs (3 sets x 10-12 reps per exercise)

  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Chest Press Machine
  • Chest Flys – Reverse Flys superset
  • Barbell Upright Row
  • Seated Dumbbell Side Raises
  • Cable Front Raises
  • Cable Concentrated Abdominal Crunches
  • Hanging Leg Raises
  • 20 minutes HIIT on Cross Trainer
  • 20 minutes stretching

Wednesday: Legs and Abs (3 sets x 10-12 reps per exercise)

  • Leg Press
  • Leg Curls
  • Leg Extensions
  • Sumo Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Abductor Machine
  • Lunges
  • Crunches
  • Side Crunches
  • 20 minutes stretching

Thursday: Back, Triceps and Abs (3 sets x 10-12 reps per exercise)

  • Wide Grip Lat Pull Down
  • Narrow Grip Seated Row
  • Narrow Grip High Reverse Pull Downs
  • Standing Bent-over Barbell Row
  • Barbell Skull Crushers
  • Overhead Rope Triceps Extension
  • Plank
  • Reverse Curls
  • 20 minutes HIIT on Rower
  • 20 minutes stretching

Friday: 5-6 mile run or hill sprints.

Saturday: Shoulders, Biceps and Abs (3 sets x 10-12 reps per exercise)

  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Standing Dumbbell Side Raises
  • Standing Dumbbell Hammer Grip Front Raises
  • Rear Delts Cable Crossover
  • Reverse Grip Barbell Curls – Barbell Curls superset
  • Low Set Cable Curls
  • Medicine Ball Overhead Crunches
  • Medicine Ball Twists
  • 20 minutes stretching

Sunday: Rest day!

What are the top 5 tips (specific exercises, diet advice, etc) you recommend for losing fat around the stomach and developing a toned and defined midsection?
sonja-bella-10Unfortunately, it is not possible to “spot reduce” fat from a particular area. Getting lean and defined is about having low body fat levels so that the muscle is visible from beneath the skin. Her are my top 5 exercises:

1. Hanging Leg Curls.

2. Plank.

3. Cable Curls.

4. Crunches and Side Crunches.

5. Reverse Crunches.

What are the top 5 tips (specific exercises, diet advice, etc) you recommend for toning the thighs, hips and butt?
As noted above, keep in mind that “spot reducing” is a myth that does not work. Here are my top 5 exercises:

1. Lunges (all types).

2. Squats (all types).

3. Straight Leg Deadlifts.

4. Abductor Machine.

5. Hill Sprints.

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