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Faith, Fitness, and First Place Bodybuilder Champion: Menia Johnson

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Edited by Nia Stringfellow

Menia "MJ" Johnson of Harvest Living by MJ is no stranger to the competition stage, but this May, she made it known to all that she's the one to look out for. MJ placed 1st in the Bikini Masters 40+ and 2nd Place in Bikini Overall with the National Physique Committee. She attributes much of her success to her surrendered faith in Jesus and redefining what it means truly walk alongside God in wellness. From battling thyroid cancer to depression, MJ tells the story of her journey through faith and fitness.

BCI had the honor of speaking with the champion herself! Meet MJ (harvestlivingby_MJ)

What inspired you to begin your fitness journey?

About 6 years ago, I discovered this world of wellness and fitness. I had an epiphany moment while bathing one day. That was the day I realized I needed to do something different. I was uncomfortable in my own skin and it brought me to tears. With 4 children, I was always a small person never having to work out. Then, I journeyed through divorce, gained a lot of weight, was depressed, and lived a very unholy lifestyle between being divorced and remarrying. It brought me into a very solid place of not caring for my body. I knew that signing up for a bodybuilding competition was the only way in my mind that I would do what was needed.

I had no muscle for my first show (November, 2016), but I went from 181 pounds to about 140 pounds for that first show. I showed up on stage like I had more muscles than everybody else. I was just super proud of myself for committing to the process, but I was sure that there was more that I needed to learn. I realized that I hadn't been a good steward of the body God had given me. The grace, time and time again, that God has saved my life from car accidents to thyroid cancer and having cervical issues. I was still treating my body like it wasn't a temple. I was allowing people, food, and things to take the place of who God created me to be. My body was not a reflection at all.

When we think about the blood of Jesus purifying us, what are we consuming that is not purifying our bodies, physically?

How do you combine fitness with faith?

The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and I think everyone should use that whether you're in fitness or not. Anyone can get a good coach, but what and who is going to sustain you when life comes at you, and you're depressed? Yeah, you can go to the gym for endorphins, but who created those endorphins? Who created our minds to chemically react to fitness and eating well and digesting the right food?

How do I equate fitness to faith? Faith helps you believe in Jesus Christ, and it's an act of sacrifice as gratitude to Him. When we think about the blood of Jesus purifying us, what are we consuming that is not purifying our bodies, physically? If we believe in Jesus Christ and that it was His blood that was shed, why shouldn't we have a mindset of keeping our body pure if it's from Christ? I use cardio as my prayer time, because I'm grateful that God has given me an opportunity to move my limbs and literally allow my body to be a reflection of His grace and sacrifice. When it comes to what we consume on a daily basis, we're choosing to be a living sacrifice by not consuming too much sugar, sodium, alcohol, and fast food. If we are in a position to realize these small details, it's our duty to make sure we are as pure as possible.

I realized that in my second competition (October, 2020). God woke me up at 2:30 one morning, and I asked, why do you have me here? I'm not as defined as some of the women here. I barely have the glutes that I need to have for presentation. I had to lean into the call for why God has me in this sport. It's to make His name known, and to deny myself of what I like. I needed to go through this process to know how hard it is. Understanding the mental frustration cannot be done by anyone who's not in it. Every time I compete, the Lord gives me names to put in my path. I've been able to lead people to know Christ right before we went onstage to compete.

You made a lot of sacrifices to compete. Can you tell us more about those lifestyle changes and what you had to give up?

Time is the biggest sacrifice. There's not a lot of hangout time with friends for brunch or girls night. Date nights with my husband looked different. Choosing what I can have on the menu looked different. I had to schedule time to spend with my boys while still scheduling time to train. When I'm in competition prep, there is drastic cardio for 60 minutes in the morning followed by strength training. There's time in meal prepping, time away from people which is very hard, and there's time for rest. I have to schedule my naps because our bodies don't respond to wellness if we’re not actually rested properly.

Emotionally, I would say not getting into cultural norms or the comparison mindset because bodybuilding is a competitive sport. I've had to sacrifice my idea of what I should look like for what God wants me to look like and the purpose behind me actually competing. He also lets me remember that I'm human, and I want to win too! takes more than 21 days to break a habit. It actually takes 3 cycles to fully break a habit and that's discipline.

This guided devotion helps us get back to the root of the issue with childhood trauma. It gives you opportunities to reflect, capture your thoughts, and pray. The Lord impressed on my heart to write about the lack of discipline in the world, and not knowing how to set boundaries. If Christ has called us to be disciples, then part of that word is discipline. We cannot be full disciples if we don't have discipline. If you don't know how to set boundaries, it's because boundaries were probably crossed when you were a child with food, with people taking your time, and not getting rest.

I offer spiritual accountability. One of the greatest testimonials is from one of my clients. She lost 75 lbs with me in a matter of a year’s time. She completed the devotional 6 times, and every time, more weight comes off spiritually and physically. I do believe and it's scientifically proven that it takes more than 21 days to break a habit. It actually takes 3 cycles to fully break a habit. It's a continuous choice. You don't have bad habits in a month's time; these are learned behaviors. We have to unlearn patterned behaviors in wellness.

Thank you, MJ, for sharing your story and being such an inspiring example of leading wellness!

More About MJ

Menia “MJ” Johnson is a wellness enthusiast with a passion to empower, inspire, and encourage mindful wellness through weight training and Christ-centered coaching. MJ is author of Harvest Living, a Guided Devotional to Choosing Wellness. She's a wife, mother of 4, and a grandmother of one precious 3 year old girl. In addition to wellness, MJ holds a position as the Sr. Director of Communications & Experience at Anthem Church in Hammond Indiana. Through trials she has overcome sickness, depression and rejection using wellness in Christ as her foundation. MJ offers personalized virtual wellness coaching to men and women who are prepared to be disciplined disciples of Christ.

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Editor: Nia Stringfellow

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